China’s high-speed rail system is not just a phenomenon of infrastructure – it’s also the way to see stunning vistas previously inaccessible to the regular traveller. Here are the most spectacular journeys you can take on the Middle Kingdom’s new rails.
Beijing to Guangzhou
Year opened: 2012
Distance: 2,298 kilometres
Time: 8 to 10 hours
Must-see sights: a mighty river and a jade green lake
To witness the most dramatic change in scenery from beginning to end, take this route in winter: going north to south, you’ll see icy landscapes make way to lush, tropical vegetation. The first part of the journey covers the North China Plain, which is sweeping and flat. After about an hour and a half, you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for the Yellow River, which the train crosses on a modern bridge suspended by six white towers in a matter of seconds. Towards the end of the trip, in Guangdong province, the train passes through the scenic rivers, lakes and rolling hills of Qingyuan. If your journey ends around sunset, the sight is even more stunning.
Shanghai to Kunming
Year opened: 2016
Distance: 2,252 kilometres
Time: 10 to 12 hours
Must-see sights: canola fields and a sky-high bridge
A journey on one of China’s longest high-speed rail track will take you from the country’s most cosmopolitan city to one of its most scenic destinations, with a wide range of natural landscapes to take in along the way. While traversing Anhui province in spring, passengers get a view of Guizhou’s farmland that turns yellow with blooming canola flowers. This route also takes the world’s widest reinforced concrete arch bridge, Beipanjiang River Bridge, which is in Guizhou. The bridge spans 445 metres and reaches a vertiginous 300 metres height from the river valley below. This feat of engineering took six years, but you’ll have to pay close attention to catch a glimpse: the train crosses it in eight seconds.
Hefei to Fuzhou
Year opened: 2015
Distance: 852 kilometres
Time: 4 hours
Must-see sights: mountain views
As far as man-made marvels go, this rail track is just a little more marvellous than most: more than 80 percent of it runs on bridges or in tunnels. It just goes to show how much uneven terrain the engineers had to slice through. But the mountainous landforms that required all those tunnels also mean beautiful scenery for passengers, with the train passing near many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Huangshan and Wuyi mountains. Through much of Anhui province, the train passes by and tunnels through verdant hills, often misty from the higher elevation. In Wuyan County, it is hard to miss the vast sprawl of terraced fields.
Harbin to Dalian
Year opened: 2012
Distance: 921 kilometres
Time: 3.5 hours
Must-see sights: sunsets over snow fields
Running in the northernmost reaches of China, this rail line stands
out for the cold, snowy landscapes it passes through in winter.
Train buffs will want to experience the vehicles themselves: they’re designed to withstand extreme weather, operating smoothly in snowstorms and temperatures ranging from 40°C to -40°C. Out the window, it’s a sight of snowy fields, frozen lakes, and sunsets that glow warmly against a white wonderland – so Instagrammable.
Cathay Dragon flies codeshare from Hong Kong to Dalian seven times a week and to Harbin seven times a week.