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Xiangjiang Safari Park: Holiday for some, ordeal for others
Part of Guangzhou's massive Chimelong Travel Resort, the safari park manages to be surreal, intriguing and disconcerting all at once
About two hours by road northwest of Hong Kong, Chimelong Travel Resort in Guangzhou is one of the most popular weekend getaways for Hong Kongers seeking an affordable trip that will keep the whole family entertained.
It's also a place that invokes a less positive reaction from animal-welfare organizations such as Animals Asia, as well as other out-of-towners.
The 130-hectare travel and entertainment development is Guangzhou's premiere tourist attraction, receiving a five "A" rating from the national tourism authority.
It has everything: a gigantic zoo called the Xiangjiang Safari Park; the Chimelong Grand Circus, which performs nightly; the Chimelong Amusement Park, which features crazy rollercoaster rides; the Changlong Golf Center; a crocodile park; the Chimelong Water Park; and several very good hotels.
Most of Chimelong is about what you'd expect from a big resort, but the animal-based attractions leave some visitors reeling.
Chimelong seems conflicted when it comes to its animals.
On one hand, it advocates animal conservation and houses more than 460 species, including many endangered animals.
Xiangjiang Safari Park is also a research and breeding center for white tigers. Since opening in 2006, it has successfully bred more than 100 of the rare cats -- that's about half of the world's white tiger population. Two of these were given to Taiwan in May as a diplomatic gesture.
On the other hand, Chimelong perpetuates the problematic treatment of animals typical of Chinese zoos.
Overcrowding in animal enclosures is a problem throughout the zoo, and when six koalas were imported from Australia in 2006, animal rights activists were appalled. Performances by animals can be seen at the zoo and form a large part of the show at the adjacent Grand Circus.
Nightly circus acts, such as bears balancing on tightropes and acrobatic horse routines involving long whips, would be considered positively medieval by many Westerners.
But the swarm of domestic tourists that flood the place can't get enough of the spectacles. Visitor will have to decide for themselves if when in China, they will do as the Chinese or not.
Xiangjiang Safari Park, Dashi, Pan Yu, Guangzhou, +86 020 8478 3333, www.xjzoo.com.cn
In Guangzhou, take Line 3 on the metro to Hanxi Changlong station and get out at Exit E. A free shuttle bus transports visitors to Chimelong Travel Resort.
For Hong Kong travelers, the best bet is to take the ferry from the China Hong Kong City Terminal to Lian Hua Shan and change to the Chimelong Travel Resort bus waiting there.
Alternatively, join one of Chimelong Travel Resort packages from China Travel Service that includes hotel and transport arrangements.
For more details on transportation see www.chimelong.com.