Five emerging cities in China to watch out for

23 Jan 2013 by ReggieHo
China Wuhan
HANGZHOU Where is it: The capital and largest city of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China, Hangzhou is a sub-provincial city at the Yangtze River Delta. Its position on the Hangzhou Bay and being just 180 kilometres southwest of Shanghai gives it economic advantages. Why it is hot: Industries such as e-commerce, IT services, pharmaceuticals, electronics and food processing, among others, are growing. Hangzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone, the Hangzhou Export Processing Zone and the High-Tech Zone constantly are also expanding. Among the recent enhancements are the high-speed, 45-minute rail service to Shanghai, an upgrading of Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport, the November launch of the Hangzhou MTR system, and the recent rollout of the first phase of a wifi initiative, providing free internet access in some parts of the city from an access point dubbed i-hangzhou. What are the fun parts: For centuries, Hangzhou’s idyllic lakeside tableau has captivated eager pilgrims, from artists to men of letters and high officials in ancient China. Everyone almost at once gravitates to the West Lake area, which continues to be the city’s biggest tourist draw. Other scenic attractions include the Longjing village where the famous tea originates, as well as Xixi National Wetland Park, where it is said the first dragon boat races took place. Renowned local delicacies include West Lake fish in sweet and sour sauce, shelled shrimp in Dragon Well (Longjing) tea, Dongpo pork and Beggar’s Chicken, and the establishments to go to for these include Louwailou Restaurant on 30 Gushan Road, established in the 1800s by a Qing dynasty nobleman. To appreciate the city with a bit of drama, head to director Zhang Yimou’s sumptuous Impression West Lake outdoor stage performance ( Who fly there: Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport, located 27km from downtown, is served by airlines in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, as well as Asiana Airlines, ANA, AirAsia, and KLM. For more on this scenic city, read Inside China in the January/February issue of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific.   TIANJIN Where is it: Directly administered by the Beijing central government, this port municipality faces onto the Bohai Gulf and Yellow Sea. Why it is hot: Tianjin first attracted the world powers in the 1900s, who used it as a convenient base for their merchants. Today, Tianjin’s profile has hardly dimmed, impressing 76 Fortune 500 companies enough to set up operations in the Binhai New Area, representing pillar industries such as telecommunications, food and beverage, electronics, biochemicals and logistics, among others. Airbus also has a final assembly line in Tianjin. One of China’s earliest high-speed train services linked Beijing and Tianjin in 2008, shortening the journey to a mere 30 minutes. What are the fun parts: A stuffed bun called “Goubuli”, meaning the “dog who doesn’t talk”, is very popular here. The legend has it that a Qing Dynasty character named "Doggie" (Gou) invented the tasty bun, which was given its name by customers who loved eating it but lamented that the restaurant owner was too busy to entertain them. The main establishment is at 77 Shandong Road, Heping District, but there are over 89 branches in town and more than 90 varieties of the stuffed bun. Tianjin’s after-dark scene may begin with Italian Style Town in the former Italian concession near Beian Bridge. From the aptly named Marco Polo Square, ringed with cobblestones, saunter down the street that’s dotted with restaurants, trattorias and pubs, some of which are German-themed. A cruise on the Haihe River is a lovely way to sail back into the city’s past. For a different experience, you can hop into one of the 48 passenger capsules attached to the Tianjin Eye Ferris wheel on Yongle Bridge that go up to 120 metres high. Who fly there: Tianjin Binhai International Airport is home to Tianjin Airlines as well as low-cost carrier Okay Airways. In 2009, a second runway began operating, easing congestion. Besides all the major and minor Chinese airlines, foreign carriers AirAsia X of Malaysia, Scoot from Singapore, Dragonair, Asiana, Korean Air, Japan Airlines, Eva Air, Mongolian Airlines and Vladivostok Air all fly here. The first phase of a terminal improvement project was unveiled in 2008; when completed within the next five years this will allow processing of 40 million passengers. For more on this thriving industrial city, click here. XIAMEN Where is it: Commonly known as Amoy, this Chinese special economic zone is located on the southeast coast of China, facing the Taiwan Strait. The original urban area is located on an island but new districts on the hinterland have been incorporated into the city in recent years. Why it is hot: For a long time, Xiamen’s development was limited by politics because of its proximity to Taiwan and the tense cross-strait relations. With that being the past, the city is now booming. Dell, the world’s third largest personal computer maker by market share, has its regional headquarters here to take advantages of the city’s deepwater port and mature infrastructure. Other important industries here include machinery manufacturing and the chemicals sector. Tourism remains a big revenue generator and MICE is growing. What are the fun parts: Xiamen is known in China as having good quality of life, with a lot of waterfront areas conserved for residents' enjoyment and generally good air quality. Along the pedestrianised Zhongshan Lu, shops are always buzzing and the small lanes that branch out are where to go for delicious street food ranging from noodles to Chinese omelets with baby oysters for a few US dollars. Zeng Village, near the waterfront in the north, features little boutiques, seafood restaurants and bars, including one called Temple Café ( that was converted from, well, a temple. Gulangyu, an islet off the mainland, was once a foreign settlement, but it is now a popular tourist destination featuring boutique hotels in heritage buildings, museums and a beach. Haiwan Gongyuan (Bay Park), on the west coast of Xiamen Island, boasts a nightlife scene that would not seem out of place on West Coast America, with many bars looking out to the waterfront and offering outdoor seating and live music. Who fly there: Xiamen International Airport is quite well linked, with international airlines serving it including ANA, Dragonair, JAL, Korean Air KLM, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways. For more on this city, click here.   XIAN Where is it: The capital of Shaanxi province, this historical city is located in Central Western China and was the imperial seat of power for three of the most powerful dynasties - Qin, Han and Tang. Why it is hot: The city maintains a lot of its ancient capital splendor, including the most complete ancient city wall in China. Yet, it has also developed into an modern economic stronghold. Recent, it has beaten Chongqing and Beijing in winning a US$7 billion Samsung project, the South Korean conglomerate’s largest single overseas investment. Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation also produces aircraft components for Boeing and Airbus. Other booming industries here include textiles, chemical products, pharmaceuticals and building materials. What are the fun parts:The Terracotta Army is worth a visit, of course, if you are in town for the first time. But the site is actually quite far from the city centre - about 45 minutes' drive. If you just want to soak in the historical atmosphere, you can just stay in town. Inside the ancient city wall, there are many well-preserved historic sites such as the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, built in the 1380s. Beiyuanmen, located north of the Drum Tower, is commonly known as the Muslim quarter and features many street stalls and small restaurants serving specialities such as gosh nun, a round pie with a meat filling, mostly mutton. The streets around Shuyuan Gate, near the South Gate, feels like a movie set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and many shops sell souvenirs such as calligraphy stationery and replicas of Terracotta Army warriors. For a dramatic view into one of China’s most powerful dynasties, The Tang Dynasty Show (, created in 1988, offers choreographed performances that can be enjoyed alone or with a pre-show dinner included. Right near the wall’s South Gate (Nan Men), on Shun Cheng Nan Lu, a row of venues offer a bar scene that is decidedly contemporary, except you are having your beer with an atmospheric view of the fortification. Who fly there: Xi’an Xianyang International Airport opened its new Terminal 3 in May last year year, upping its total area to 45,000 sqm and capacity to 123 slots. Other than Chinese operators, airlines serving this facility include Dragonair, Korean Air and Asiana. Finnair is set to fly to Xian this summer, the first direct air link between the city and Europe (see story here). For more on this ancient capital, click here.   WUHAN Where is it: The capital of Hubei province, this city is the most populous in Central China. It lies at the intersection of the middle reaches of the Yangtze and Han rivers, arising out of the conglomeration of what used to be three cities – Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang. Because of its location, it is a major transportation hub. Why it is hot: The Wuchang District of the city was where the revolution that toppled the Qing Dynasty took place, and it later became the country's capital when China was ruled by the Kuomintang. Although the city's prominence may have faded, it is making a comeback. With the high-speed rail having linked it with Beijing and Guangzhou, it is attracting more travellers than ever from both the north and the south. Infrastructure is also quickly improving, with two metro lines having opened last year. By 2016, the metro system is expected to link up all the major train stations in the city as well as the airport. Some sixty per cent of France's business investment in China is in Wuhan, and Nissan and Honda also have facilities here. Wuhan East Lake New Technology Development Zone, called the city's “Optics Valley”, as well as Optoelectronics Industrial Park, Biomedicine Industrial Park, Software Park and the Electrical and Mechanical Industrial Park have also been developed. What are the fun parts: Like Shanghai, Wuhan was a city of foreign settlements and it has its own Bund lined with 1920s eclecticist buildings, many of which are now occupied by bars. Some of these watering holes have their interiors decorated like they belonged to the era in which the structures were built. Property developer Shui On, which is behind Shanghai's Xintiandi, has built Wuhan Tiandi here – albeit in a smaller scale. But the charm of this city lies in some of the smaller standalone places – if you are willing the explore, you might discover very quaint and unpretentious restaurants, bars or cafes opened by locals. Street food is found everywhere, and one of the must-trys is zhajiangmian (noodles dressed in a spicy, peanut-y sauce). On the Wuchang side, the East Lake is the tourist magnet. In March, when the cherry blossoms bloom, this area, especially the Mosan mountain, is one of the most breathtaking places in the world. The campus of Wuhan University is also a famous spot for appreciating cherry blossoms. Who fly there: Most recently, Air France (see story here) and Silk Air (see story here) have launched flights to this city. The airport is building a third terminal, set for completion in 2016. For more on the city, stay tuned for the Inside China report in the March issue of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific.   Reggie Ho
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