Guangzhou on the go
China’s third-largest city offers an intriguing stopover alternative
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.
A riverside view in Guangzhou