Mala­gasy magic

A grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese fall for the is­land’s charms

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Xu Lin re­ports. Con­tact the writer at xulin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Sev­eral Chi­nese celebri­ties are mov­ing qui­etly in the for­est. They whis­tle, with peeled bananas in hand, un­til sud­denly a cute lemur ap­pears from a tree and grabs a ba­nana for a bite. More lemurs ap­proach, ea­ger for their snacks.

The scene is An­da­sibe-Man­ta­dia Na­tional Park, Mada­gas­car. It’s a part of the on­go­ing re­al­ity show Our Laws pro­duced by Anhui Satel­lite TV, fea­tur­ing the ad­ven­tures of seven Chi­nese celebri­ties, in­clud­ing Ni­cholas Wu and Li Yapeng, in Mada­gas­car and Ecuador.

The re­cent episodes show­cased Mada­gas­car’s rich bio­di­ver­sity and unique land­scape, which ap­peal to Chi­nese tourists. They can get a visa on ar­rival in the coun­try.

“Many tourists want to see Mada­gas­car’s flora and fauna, about 90 per­cent of which can’t be found else­where in the world,” says Lan Piaoxue, sales man­ager for China at the travel agency Mada­gas­car De­cou­verte.

About 10,000 Chi­nese vis­ited the coun­try last year, and more than 4,000 are trav­el­ers, ac­cord­ing to Lan.

She says the re­al­ity show vividly dis­plays Mada­gas­car’s unique at­trac­tions. The agency of­fers the show’s itin­er­ar­ies and some are suit­able for par­ents trav­el­ing with chil­dren dur­ing the sum­mer vo­ca­tion. Lo­cal flora and fauna ex­perts are on hand to share their in­sights, and vis­i­tors can also ex­pe­ri­ence is­land life, such as watch­ing whales.

“When you set up your camp in the for­est and watch the stars in the sky, you for­get all your tired­ness from hik­ing and im­merse your­self into the pre­cious scenery. It’s a land of idyl­lic beauty: You live on the moun­tains and lis­ten to the mur­mur of the run­ning wa­ter and wind,” says Liu Yun, 50, an of­fice worker from Bei­jing. She and her friends hiked for three days in An­drin­gi­tra Na­tional Park and fi­nally reached the moun­tain peak.

Last year, Liu trav­eled to the Mada­gas­car for 14 days and vis­ited five well-known na­tional parks. Pub­lic trans­port is not so con­ve­nient, so she rented a car, hired a driver, and asked a lo­cal agency to de­sign part of her itin­er­ary.

Dur­ing her jour­ney, Liu was amazed by the huge trunks and cork like bark of baobab trees, the color­ful chameleons, and fas­ci­nat­ing ter­rain such as lime­stone for­ma­tions with mag­nif­i­cent rocky spires.

Mada­gas­car’s dry sea­son lasts from the end of April to early Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to Lan. The best time to watch hump­back whales is from around June to Septem­ber, and it’s a spec­tac­u­lar sight when they come straight out of the wa­ter.

“The best time to watch birds is from Septem­ber to Novem­ber,” Lan says, adding that there are few Chi­nese guides for bird-watch­ing, so it’s best to make ar­range­ments early.

Lan says the av­er­age cost of a seven- or eight-day itin­er­ary, in­clud­ing air­fare, is be­tween 15,000 and 20,000 yuan ($2,989) per per­son. Ama­jor­ity of their cus­tomers are in their 40s and 50s, and they of­ten travel with fam­i­lies or friends. Many come for pho­tog­ra­phy and out­door ex­plo­rations.

There is no di­rect flight but Air Mada­gas­car plans to re­open its flights be­tween Guangzhou and the coun­try’s cap­i­tal An­tana­narivo not be­fore Novem­ber. The flights will have a stopover at Re­union is­land. It’s about two hours from the Port Louis air­port in Mau­ri­tius to An­tana­narivo. That makes a com­bined itin­er­ary easy for those who would like to stay in Mau­ri­tius for three or four days and then fly to Mada­gas­car.

“The com­mon thing among Chi­nese trav­el­ers is that they love tak­ing pho­tos and some are pro­fes­sion­als. In such a pic­turesque world, even a green­horn can get ex­cel­lent pic­tures.”

Lan says it’s best to be pre­pared with car­sick­ness pills, sun­block and long-sleeve shirts and trousers that will shield vis­i­tors from mos­qui­toes. Tourists usu­ally like to carry gifts for lo­cal im­pov­er­ished kids: Good choices in­clude can­dies and sta­tionery items such as note­books and pens.

“The coun­try’s unique nat­u­ral re­sources make it a per­fect place for out­door sports such as paraglid­ing, wind­surf­ing and div­ing. Hik­ing, rock-climb­ing and spelunk­ing are also pop­u­lar, and you can choose from sev­eral clas­sic hik­ing trails in na­tional parks,” says Tokiaritefy Rabe­son, di­rec­tor gen­eral of tourism for Mada­gas­car.

He says the coun­try’s more than 5,000-kilo­me­ter coast­line of­fers great po­ten­tial for re­sorts.

The tourism min­istry is mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for the ex­pand­ing Chi­nese mar­ket, he says. For ex­am­ple, it is co­op­er­at­ing with the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute to en­cour­age lo­cal res­i­dents to learn Chi­nese. There is also train­ing avail­able for po­ten­tial tour guides who can speak Chi­nese.

“Chi­nese tourists will love our cui­sine, which is a mix­ture of In­done­sian, Malaysian and Chi­nese. In­gre­di­ents are or­ganic be­cause lo­cal farm­ers don’t have the habit of us­ing fer­til­iz­ers,” he says.

Vic­tor Sikon­ina, Mada­gas­car’s am­bas­sador to China, says city dwellers can en­joy the beauty of forests, away from ur­ban hus­tle-and-bus­tle. There are more than 40 na­tional parks to bet­ter pre­serve the coun­try’s unique bio­di­ver­sity and de­velop sus­tain­able eco­tourism.

“Tourism co­op­er­a­tion and in­ter­ac­tion is an im­por­tant part of China-Africa Co­op­er­a­tion,” says the am­bas­sador, whose Chi­nese fa­ther moved from Guang­dong to Mada­gas­car to work.

He says tourism is the best way to strengthen ties be­tween peo­ple of the two coun­tries and quoted an old Chi­nese say­ing: “It is bet­ter to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books.

“Our friend­ship can be dated back to the early 20th cen­tury, when Chi­nese set­tled on the is­land.”

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Mada­gas­car’s rich bio­di­ver­sity and unique land­scape, such as its clean wa­ter, lemurs, baobab trees and lime­stone for­ma­tions with mag­nif­i­cent rocky spires, ap­peal to Chi­nese tourists.

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