First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 6 (August 18-September 7, 2015): 16.
With a surfeit of natural wonders, breathtaking landscapes and historic and cultural treasures, China tourism is also riding on the popularity of theme parks. Filled to capacity with domestic tourists, the theme parks are beginning to look at expanding their market to visitors from neighboring countries in Asia.
The Guangzhou-based Chimelong Group is at the forefront of this trend, with the original development in Panyu, just outside Guangzhou, that features the Chimelong Safari (which has over 20,000 animals, including the largest population of white tigers in the world), Chimelong Paradise (which recently put in a new 4D theater), Water Park and International Circus and the Crocopark Guangzhou, all of which are still drawing throngs since they first opened almost two decades ago.
In November 2010, the Chimelong Group launched the RMB20-billion Zhuhai Hengqin Chimelong International Ocean Resort in the coastal city of Zhuhai, a mere five-minute ferry ride from Macau.
By 2017, when the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge opens, it will be an easy 15-minute drive. In March 2014, the resort welcomed its first visitors.
At the center of this mega-resort complex – built on reclaimed land in what used to be oyster beds in Hengqin Bay – is the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (長隆海洋王國), which features eight “lands” each with its own attractions.
The main Hengqin Ocean area is the site of the musical fountain and the nightly “Glamorous Sky Over Hengqin” fireworks show. A grand parade with nearly a hundred costumed participants on brightly decorated floats is held here every 3 p.m.
The world’s largest aquarium can be found at the Ocean Beauty section. The aquarium – 8.3 meters high holding 48.74 million liters of water – holds a Guinness record, as does the 0.65-meter thick acrylic panel through which visitors can view over 15,000 fish, including three whale sharks.
The whale shark is the marine park’s icon, and a 190-foot high statue of the giant fish greets visitors at the entrance.
The Amazing Amazon area features another record-holder – the 1,278-meter long, 50-meter high Parrot Coaster, one of the park’s most popular features.
Other less heart-stopping rides include the Walrus Splash, Spirit of Adventure, Polar Explorer (which takes you through the polar bear exhibit), Battle of the Pirates and several kiddie rides.
Opened last April is the 5D theater, the largest in the world with a capacity of over a thousand.
Other theaters feature beluga whale, sea lion and dolphin shows. There is a Fun Zone just for kids, with a game arcade, tide pools and a beaver exhibit.
Nightly, the Hengqin Bay International Circus dazzles with death-defying stunts, acrobats, magicians, clowns and the amazing Frozen Ice act which really defies gravity.
This newly-built arena seats 2,750 and is host to the annual China International Circus Festival; a larger, 5,000-seat circus arena is being planned in another area of the complex.
Obviously, a whole day is not enough to take in all the attractions and activities in Ocean Kingdom.
The resort complex has three hotels, led by the 5-star, 1,888-room Hengqin Bay Hotel. Sitting on 300,000 square meters, the hotel has its own convention centre, a water park with a lazy river, swimming and surf pools, a dolphin pool, beach volleyball and football areas, and nine restaurants.
Each of the 2,000 rooms in the Penguin Hotel is themed as its name suggests, with family rooms that have boat-beds for kids. The 700-room Circus Hotel is likewise geared for fun. Each hotel features its own sumptuous buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The resort is usually packed on weekends; on holidays like the lunar new year and National Day, they have had to turn people away.
Development continues though, and a new RMB30-billion resort complex broke ground in Qingyuan, also in Southern China, that will bring the Chimelong brand of theme park to a new level.