June 01--Past and present events continuously affect the relationship between China and the Philippines--the 2010 Manila hostage-taking that claimed lives of Chinese tourists; the recent poaching of 400 Philippine sea turtles by Chinese fishermen; and the unending disputes over the Scarborough Shoal, Spratlys and the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.
As these unfortunate incidents led to further tension between the two governments, they have also stirred misconceptions on how the Filipino and Chinese people perceive one another.
Amid the discouraging consequences, Cathay Pacific tries to bridge the growing gap by promoting China's emerging tourist destinations to Filipinos.
From May 15 to 18, the Hong Kong-based airline flew select Philippine dailies to China to experience its newly conceptualized "The Best of Ocean Kingdom-Zhuhai Tour." The trip is part of the exciting and offbeat travel packages offered by Cathay Pacific in partnership with Shenzhen-based tour operator Century Holiday.
With highlights including a quick immersion to Macau via hop-on-hop-off bus and visits to Zhuhai's replica of a summer palace and newly opened ocean theme park, the media trip showcased a different perspective of China--one that is far from intimidating but instead, truly charming.
Hop on to Macau
Arriving in China through the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), the Philippine media group led by Maiel Perez, marketing communications executive of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., immediately crossed over to Macau where the tour officially began.
Macau is easily accessible via ferry. The Hong Kong Ferry Terminal, which is connected to the airport, is just an hour away.
Besides Hong Kong, Macau is one of China's two Special Administrative Regions since it was colonized by Portugal from the early 16th century up until 1999.
Because of this, Portuguese architecture is still very prominent amid the towering hotels and casinos that define the Macau skyline today. And the new Cathay Pacific-Century Holiday tour will allow its travelers to see this interesting mix through a sightseeing tour aboard an open-top bus.
For 45 minutes, The Manila Times went around Macau in a circular route with stops at tourist spots and historical sites.
From the ferry where the bus ride began, the first sight to behold is the Macau Fisherman's Wharf, the largest leisure and entertainment complex in the peninsula inspired by different ports of the world. Following this is the Macau Science Center, which features planetariums and an exhibition center.
Truly awesome is the 21-meter Kun Lam Statue known as the Goddess of Mercy. According to the onboard tour guide, the statue "combines the traditional Buddhist culture with the European style of sculpture."
Further stops include the Wynn Macau and the Hotel Lisboa Macau, which are two of the most famous casinos in the peninsula. The New Yaohan, one of Macau's biggest and newest shopping malls, is also nearby.
The bus then finds the Macau Tower, the 10th tallest tower in the world that offers various activities. Lucky visitors might get to the chance to witness a live 300-meter bungee jump at any given time.
From modern Macau icon, a historical site comes next with the Temple of A-Ma. Also called the A-Ma-Gau (Place of A-Ma), the tour guide revealed that it is from the site's name that the word "Macau" originated.
The last two stops on the road will take tourists to Ponte 16, a hotel and casino where Asia's first Michael Jackson Gallery stands, and the three-storey Red (Wet) Market.
At each destination, tourists can hop off the bus to explore the site and its nearby attractions. They can hop on again at the next available sightseeing bus to complete the tour.
Also make sure to visit Macau Centro, or the Historic Center of Macau, where Chinese and Portuguese cultures best converge. It has been named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for successfully preserving Chinese and Portuguese influences for more than four centuries.
There, churches and temples co-exist with one another like the St. Augustine's Church and the A-ma Temple. It is also a place for the old and new as establishments selling traditional cuisine still thrive among the retail district of current international brands.
Other popular spots include the Ruins of St. Paul, and the Senado Square where a sizeable Filipino community assembles every weekend.
To cap the Macau experience, make sure to visit one of the many casinos not necessarily to try your luck, but also for an exciting shopping and eating spree.
After the short visit to Macau, the trip's main destination of Zhuhai takes up the whole of days two and three.
Lying on southern coast of Guangdong province, Zhuhai is one of the four cities declared as Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the early 1980s along with Shenzhen and Shantou, also in the province, and Xiamen in Fujian province.
Today, Zhuhai has grown to become one of the most progressive port cities in China in terms of economy, transportation, education and tourism.
And because it serves as the border city of Macau, one only needs to cross the Macau-Zhuhai Bridge and the Gongbei Port of Entry to get there.
Upon arrival, the media group met with Century Holiday's tour guide who simply introduced himself as Peter.
In his brief description of the city, Peter said that among China's four SEZs, Zhuhai remains to be the best place to reside as its population is only around 1 million. Moreover, there still remain ample spaces for residential buildings in the city despite massive development.
Peter allowed the group to experience the locality through a shopping stop at Gongbei Underground Mall located right outside the border. Surprisingly, the mall was very similar to the Philippines' own Divisoria or 168 where products sold are also China-made.
And just the same, there too abound imitations of gadgets, clothing, accessories, and bags. The only difference is that Gongbei has a wider variety of stores from very high end to local brands. There are also a lot of dining choices including street food, specialty cakes and milk teas.
After lunching at a Chinese family restaurant, the group then drove over to New Yuan Ming Palace. Peter said, "This is a one-of-a-kind culture theme park that features reproductions of 18 spots from Beijing'sOld Summer Palace, set against lush trees, blooms, and lakes."
He added that the replica was built in Zhuhai because parts of the old summer palace that were destroyed during the 18th-century Opium War were never reconstructed in Beijing.
Entrance to the palace is free and subsidized by the Chinese Government.
Sights inside the park included Chinese palaces and pagodas, metal sculptures of mythical creatures, traditional costumes and vehicles, and a big manmade lake. Inside the palaces, there were also reenactments of scenes showing China's youngest and last emperor, Puyi.
There are also children's rides and games as the park is a favorite field trip destination for Chinese students.
The last day at Zhuhai was spent at the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom located at the Hengqin Bay. Opened only in March, it now holds the record as the world's largest ocean theme park.
This achievement by the way is just one of its five Guinness Book of World Records entries besides the having largest underwater viewing dome, the largest aquarium tank, the largest aquarium window, and the largest acrylic panel.
The theme park offers eight attractions namely the Ocean Avenue, Dolphin Cove, Amazing Amazon, Ocean Beauty, Polar Horizon, Fun Zone, Mt. Walrus, and the Hengqin Ocean. A must-see is the Whale Shark Aquarium filled with 15,000 sea
Because of its accessibility, modernity and tranquility, Zhuhai is now one of China's top--and charming--tourist destinations.
Besides The Best of Ocean KingdomZhuhai Tour, Cathay Pacific is also offering The Best of Avatar Tour and The Best of Guilin Tour through Century Holiday.
Cathay Pacific, together with sister airline Dragonair, now connects travelers to over 20 destinations in China.
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