Seven years ago, China’s Yunnan Province started to gear up for high-end travelers with the opening of two Banyan Tree hotels: one in Lijiang, the other at Ringha, a two-hour drive north of the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Jinsha River. This is one of the most richly cultured swaths in China, and now the dreamy riverside Anantara Xishuangbanna Resort & Spa (rooms, from $300; Menglun Town, Mengla County; 86-691/893-6666; xishuangbanna.anantara.com) has opened in Xishuangbanna—a southerly prefecture, its densely forested hills spotted with the traditional villages of the Dai, Jinuo and Hani people. Activities include hiking and boating along the Luosuo River—and plenty of opportunity for shopping, as the local textiles are some of Asia’s most collectible. (To navigate the best possible route through this territory, look no further than Imperial Tours [imperialtours.net], the Beijing-based tour operator and regional authority.) When the new AmanDayan (rooms, from $800; 29 Shishan Rd., Gucheng District; amanresorts.com) opens in Lijiang’s UNESCO-protected Old Town this summer, the perfect two-stop trip will finally be a reality. —Sophy Roberts
The New Bullet Train... At 186 Miles per Hour
The world’s largest network of high-speed railway lines is well under way in China. The government is determined to connect much of the country by rail in a project that has already cost upward of $640 billion. In July a high-speed railway line will open between the eastern Chinese cities of Hangzhou and Ningbo, cutting the two-hour journey to just 35 minutes. This 93-mile stretch is dwarfed by the approximately 1,430-mile Beijing-Guangzhou route, currently the longest high-speed rail line in the world. Service began in December last year and cut a 21-hour journey down to just eight hours.
China has developed four train models to operate on these new lines and is claiming ownership (after earlier technology transfers) of the aerodynamic designs and advanced braking and traction motor capabilities that allow these bullet trains to cruise at speeds of 236 miles per hour and to regenerate much of their electricity use.
The sleek aluminum-alloy trains have been tested at a world-record speed of 302 miles per hour. But after a fatal accident near the Chinese city of Wenzhou in July 2011, which resulted in 40 deaths, speeds were reduced across the system, with most lines now operating at about 186 miles per hour.
By 2015, expect more than 11,185 miles of high-speed rail line, stretching to the northwest city of Ürümqi. Tickets start at $140 for Beijing-Guangzhou; travelchinaguide.com. —Kit Gillet