Tourists set to benefit as high-speed trains open China up to the world

It has long been the playground of China's rich and famous - and the place where lovers have gathered for centuries too - but now the country's brand new high speed trains are helping to open up the historic city of Hangzhou to the world as well.

When the first bullet trains simultaneously left Shanghai's Hongqiao Station and Hangzhou station on Tuesday, it marked a new era in transport in China - and a new era for international tourists as well.

A first-class ticket between the two cities costs just 156 yuan (17 euros), while a second-class ticket will set travelers back 98 yuan (11 euros). What's more, the journey features nine stops on the way - meaning cities throughout Zhejiang Province can now be explored as part of your trip.

The high-speed project has cut more than half an hour off the Shanghai-Hangzhou journey, which previously took almost 90 minutes by train or two hours by car or bus. Its opening means China now has a high-speed network of 7,431km - the world's longest - and the country has plans to extend this to 13,000 km by 2012.

By that time the country expects to have a total rail network that stretches 110,000 km.

Much has been made in the Chinese media about the progress of the project and the fact the Shanghai-Hangzhou train last month reached speeds of 416.6 km/h during a trial run, which is a world record. On normal days, though, the train will travel at 350 km/h

By its completion, the high-speed network will connect China's two main cities - Shanghai and Beijing - and the trip will take less than five hours.

But for those wanting to take advantage of the service now, Hangzhou offers some of China's most fabled sites, including the picturesque West Lake (something tradition says every couple should visit at least once in their lifetime) and the Jingci and Yue-Wang Temples.

The city has recently also helped develop a series of high-end boutique resorts and golf courses to cater for the wealthy Shanghai crowd which has for generations used it as their retreat from the bustling financial center.

For more information on Hangzhou, log on to http://eng.hangzhou.gov.cn.

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