Guangzhou on the go

China’s third-largest city of­fers an in­trigu­ing stopover al­ter­na­tive

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Asia - MICHELLE ROWE

MOST of us are fa­mil­iar with Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Dubai or Abu Dhabi as stopover des­ti­na­tions to break a te­dious long-haul flight to Europe.

But Guangzhou? If China South­ern Air­lines has its way, we’ll be di­vert­ing our at­ten­tion to China’s third-largest city, a thriv­ing tourism and busi­ness hub.

From to­mor­row, the air­line will in­crease its Can­ton Route ser­vices from Guangzhou to Lon­don from thrice weekly to daily. Aus­tralians con­nect­ing from Sydney or Mel­bourne, with a three­hour stopover in Guangzhou, will be in Lon­don within 26 hours, which is quicker than fly­ing via, say, Sin­ga­pore or Dubai.

Pre­vi­ously known as Can­ton, Guangzhou is home base for the air­line, which has op­er­ated out of Aus­tralia for more than 12 years but re­cently ramped up its op­er­a­tions to com­pete with car­ri­ers such as Sin­ga­pore Air­lines and Cathay Pa­cific, and to cap­i­talise on the enor­mous growth po­ten­tial of the Chi­nese mar­ket.

China South­ern launched a new re­gional head­quar­ters in a her­itage build­ing in Sydney ear­lier this year and has thrown big spon­sor­ship dol­lars be­hind the Sydney Fes­ti­val. In the past 18 months, it has in­creased its Aus­tralian and New Zealand flights from seven to 42 a week; ear­lier this month it be­came the first Chi­nese car­rier to fly the Air­bus A380, launch­ing the air­craft on its Guangzhou to Los Angeles route.

The good news for trav­ellers — and for food- lovers in par­tic­u­lar — is that Guangzhou, on the Pearl River delta 163km north­west of Hong Kong, is the birth­place of Can­tonese food. Dur­ing my 24-hour stopover en route to Tokyo I in­dulge in ex­quis­ite pan- fried turnip cake, steamed shrimp dumplings, pork buns and con­gee at the bustling Panxi Res­tau­rant, a lo­cal favourite.

This city of 16 mil­lion is also a bustling cul­tural, artis­tic and shop­ping hub. From my gue­stroom win­dow at the RitzCarl­ton Guangzhou, be­side the river, I can see the quirky lac­quer-box ex­te­rior of the Guang­dong Mu­seum.

The city’s opera house, Warner The­atre and Guangzhou Mu­seum of Art are within a 10-minute walk. Shamian Is­land is a short drive away; with its beau­ti­ful colo­nial build­ings, cafes, bou­tique shop­ping and park­lands, it em­bod­ies many of the British and French in­flu­ences on the city.

While China South­ern’s Guangzhou stopover is a wel­come new op­tion for Aus­tralians want­ing to stray off the beaten path at a com­pet­i­tive price, there is still some way to go be­fore the car­rier can com­pete on a level play­ing field with the likes of Sin­ga­pore Air­lines, Cathay Pa­cific or Qan­tas. For ex­am­ple, ser­vice needs at­ten­tion (there are lan­guage prob­lems, and staff lack the cheer of those on more prom­i­nent car­ri­ers) and busi­ness­class flatbeds are not as com­fort­able as those aboard most com­peti­tors. Michelle Rowe was a guest of China South­ern Air­lines and The Ritz-Carl­ton Guangzhou.

THINKSTOCK

A riverside view in Guangzhou

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