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6 Aug, 2015

China Exclusive: New Orient Express on track to popularity

HOHHOT, Aug. 5, (Xinhua) – A luxury long-distance train service linking Beijing and Moscow and modelled on the infamous Orient Express is bridging cultures and harking back to an era before low-cost air travel.

Ticket sales are picking up steam since the first of the trains departed earlier this summer, according to the local authorities and travel agencies behind the service. On Wednesday, the latest train arrived in Erenhot, on the China-Mongolia border, carrying 187 passengers.

“The route of the Orient Express has changed and it has been suspended many times over the past century, but the spirit remains — exploring the unknown, seeking common understanding and accepting differences as well,” said Wang Danyang, deputy chief of the tourism bureau of Erenhot.

The city government partnered with three travel agencies, one in Beijing, one in Erenhot and the other in Germany, to launch the train service on May 20, scheduling 12 journeys this summer.

“Six trains start from Beijing and six from Moscow. Today’s train is the seventh and we are looking forward to more in the future,” said Wang.

The total length of the route is more than 7,800 km — about one fifth of the circumference of the Earth. Tourists usually spend 11 days on the train and stay in hotels at a cost of more than 40,000 yuan (6,442 U.S. dollars) per person.

Many Chinese are familiar with the Orient Express through the Agatha Christie detective novel set on the train and its film adaptation, but long-distance train travel is becoming a novelty as the country’s burgeoning middle class turn instead to flying, said Yao Jun, president of the Erenhot China Youth Travel Service.

However, Yao believes a slow but relaxed train journey gives passengers a chance to appreciate culture along the way.

And what culture. The route covers much of the ancient “Tea Road” created by Chinese merchants in the 17th century. They brought tea, china, silk and other goods by camel from Fujian Province to Russia and then to other European countries.

Li Haoming, a Beijing native who took the new Orient Express in June, described the experience as like being in a “mini UN.”

“Most of the tourists were foreigners. We tasted vodka together in Russia and rode horses in Mongolia. Then some fellow Chinese travelers taught everyone how to do tai chi. I’ve never felt so close to people of other cultures before,” said Li.