“Slow boat to China?” Nope.

Small towns are a hoot, but I like to hit the road now and then to keep the world in perspective, as regular readers know. Later this fall, I’m returning to China for a week — this time to visit Beijing. I’m also going to visit Chengdu, home of the famous Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

Most of these trips are spontaneous, thanks to fare wars. The unrest in Hong Kong and ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute — now in its 18th month — has dampened travel, leading to some deep discounts. (Hong Kong Airport, for example, suffered its biggest monthly drop in travelers in a decade in August, the South China Morning Post is reporting).

The trade war is hurting the tourism business between China and the U.S. after years of booming growth. The weak demand has led to lower airfares. “Been considering a trip to China? Now’s the time, because we’re seeing some amazing deals out of west coast airports to China, with nonstop flights going for a low as $283 round-trip,” reports The Points Guy, one of my favorite airline travel websites.

I found and booked a roundtrip ticket to Beijing (with stops in Chengdu on the flight out and in Changsha on the return) on Hainan Airlines — one of only 10 airlines to receive a five-star rating by Skytrax. I scored a business class ticket (with lie-flat seats for the nearly 15-hour journey) for less than $1,500.

Hainan flies the Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner aircraft on this route, one of my favorites for long-haul flights (AKA “all jet, no lag”). “The two most progressive planes to combat jet lag are the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner. These planes pump the highest pressure, which actually makes conditions on the plane feel more like those found on the ground – on earth,” as one travel website explains.

A Chinese airline’s classical music concert at 30,000 feet

Hainan gets high marks. It even hosted a classical music concert at 30,000 feet. “On the 21st of January 2016, Hainan Airline was the first airline to ever introduce scheduled flights between the Californian city of Los Angeles and the historic city of Changsha in the Hunan Province.

“To celebrate this historic event, Hainan Airlines came up with a brilliant idea to host the first-ever concert in the skies. The world-famous Chinese Pianist and Grammy Award winner Lang Lang played his piano at the altitude of 30,000 feet. The passengers loved it and turned into an unforgettable experience for everyone aboard.”

I’m looking forward to visiting the giant pandas at the Chengdu Research Base, home to about 50 pandas. In Beijing, I plan to visit the Forbidden City,  Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, the Great Wall and other sites. I also plan to attend a classical music concert and enjoy the local cuisine.

For a trip that’s 5,873 miles from Nevada City, it’s not an expensive journey. But I know it will be an entertaining and educational one.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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