China's unique take on B&B accommodation

China's version of B&B offers travelers an alternative to star or budget hotels. City dwellers appreciate the chance to experience village life and get close to nature. 

Once upon a time, standard star hotels or budget hotels were the only choice for travelers touring China. But that has all changed with the flourishing of minsu, the Chinese version of bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Gloria Wan, a Shanghai resident, spent two days with her family at Lianmin Village in the Pudong New Area, home to the city’s first licensed B&B project, during the Spring Festival. They took part in hand-painted crafts, baking and ceramic art activities.

“We strolled on countryside paths at night and the sky was studded with twinkling stars. Farms in the village raise chickens, ducks and plant vegetables. It is a very pleasant and relaxing journey for urban dwellers,” Wan said.

The village, a watertown, is about 5 kilometers south from Shanghai Disney Resort. At present, some 30 rooms at nine houses, all homes of villagers, have been turned into B&Bs, according to village authorities. They were fully booked during the seven-day holiday.

“Most tenants are Shanghai downtown residents who come here to experience village life and get close to nature,” said Yao Cuiping, Lianmin’s Party secretary. “They prefer a tranquil and laid-back lifestyle, which they can obtain here.”

Each B&B at the village has a distinctive theme and activities are based on that theme. They include spinning, dyeing cloth, ceramic crafts, painting, photography, baking, yoga and tea ceremonies.

By the end of this year, the village will have 47 B&B houses with 190 rooms, some of which are now under renovation, according to Yao.

In the future, vacationers will be able to experience agricultural activities such as picking fruit, planting vegetables and fishing, Yao said.

The project benefits villagers, who receive rents that rise by 5 percent every year over a 15-year period. Most of them grow vegetables or work in factories.

Authorities in Songjiang and Qingpu districts in Shanghai’s suburbs have also announced the building of B&B establishments, with potential spots including Maogang, Xinbang and Sheshan towns.

Outside Shanghai, B&Bs are also springing up. Moganshan was once an unknown secluded mountain in nearby Zhejiang Province. But now it is an extremely popular retreat because of its up-scale B&B market. Moganshan’s appeal among urban vacationers has grown hand-in-hand with its booming tourism and bed-and-breakfast scene.

It has become a template and landmark in China’s mainland B&B market. Over recent years, it has become a popular weekend getaway destination for Shanghai residents looking to get back to nature. It has also had plenty of attention outside of China, with both the New York Times and CNN Travel recommending Moganshan as a top travel destination.

Strong demand

“In 2010, there were just several B&Bs in the Moganshan region, but by the end of last year, there were over 1,000 such establishments operating in the region, which represents the current development of China’s B&B industry,” said Xia Yuqing, vice president of kaishiba.com, a lifestyle investment platform based in Hangzhou which operates a B&B service arm.

Some of Moganshan’s B&B establishments, such as Naked Retreats and French country-style Le Passage Mohkan Shan, are priced at over 4,000 yuan (US$615) and 6,000 yuan per night respectively in peak season, and vacationers have to wait months if they book late.

Moganshan boasts plenty of bamboo forests, as well as refreshing lakes and rejuvenating spring waters, and is just one to three hours of drive to nearby cities such as Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing.

“The demand for vacations is strong particularly for urban dwellers in a metropolis like Shanghai, and Moganshan is close to Shanghai, inspiring many vacationers to spend a weekend there,” said Xia, who is known as the first person of Moganshan B&B. He opened a B&B there more than 10 years ago, renovating it from an abandoned house growing with weeds over 1 meter high.

Qian Lu, a Shanghainese, has experienced dozens of B&Bs in China.

“For business trips, I may choose standard hotels, but for private trips with family or friends to some leisure tourist destinations like Yunnan and Sichuan, I prefer B&Bs which provide different and unique accommodation experiences,” she said.

“Hygiene conditions, comfort and environment of B&B are the priority for me,” she said. “Moreover, service quality is also very important as butler service will certainly add points.”

Qian said the quality of China’s B&Bs vary, and some fail to incorporate the essence of minsu.

“Minsu is a good supplement to common accommodation, and it satisfies the demand of tourists who pursue non-standardized accommodation experiences,” said Liu Deyan, an associate professor at the Shanghai Institute of Tourism of Shanghai Normal University.

These tourists look for a “small and beautiful” accommodation style, she said.

“But some businesses are cashing in on the overheating market, and a number of potential concerns such as safety hazards in fire, hygiene conditions and food also emerge,” said Liu.

In addition, the prices of some B&Bs in China are not reasonable and they are even higher than star hotels, she added.

Sunsite

Personalized desire

The desire for B&B among Chinese travelers is growing with Fridays and Saturdays the most preferred days for vacationers, according to a report by domestic B&B rental website Tujia.com.

The cities in China with the most B&B rentals last year were Chengdu, Shanghai, Beijing, Sanya and Hangzhou, while overseas they were Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Bangkok and Chiangmai.

Japan and Thailand are close to China and both boast rich tourism resources, convenient traffic and visa application, Tujia said. In addition, their B&Bs are growing mature, attracting tourists to experience folk culture and local customs, it said.

The average price of a domestic B&B was 401 yuan per night last year, with August, September and October the highest, while it was 744 yuan overseas, according to Tujia.

The average price of B&Bs in Qiandao Lake area in neighboring Zhejiang Province was the highest, reaching 1,553 yuan because plenty of B&Bs there are villas, and it was 6,549 yuan for Chiba Prefecture in Japan, the highest overseas, as most B&Bs there are villas and Japanese-style hotels, making their prices higher than apartments, the website said.

The pursuit of higher travel quality, the more diversified and personalized desire of accommodation and emerging middle class in China all boost the popularity of medium and high-end B&Bs, Tujia said.

“Overall, the market share of non-standard accommodation in China is less than 1 percent, compared with 27 percent in Europe, and I believe there is still huge potential for B&B development in China,” Xia said.


SuYu Homestay

SuYu Homestay

The SuYu Homestay is at Lianmin Village in Pudong’s Chuansha Town, about 5 kilometers from Shanghai Disney Resort.

Renovated from villagers’ houses, each exquisite B&B features a different cultural theme, such as baking, ceramics and spinning, and they have a homely and relaxed atmosphere.

Guests are also invited to experience countryside activities and get close to nature.

B&B landlords, all local villagers, will share their stories with visitors.

The village is a watertown and guests will take boats to reach SuYu Homestay.

So far, the renovation of eight B&B houses has been finished, and a total of 100 B&B rooms will be available by the end of this year.


Moonyard

Mooyard

Following a straight path lined by dawn redwoods, you reach Mooyard, a B&B at the foot of Moganshan Mountain.

Life in Mooyard is tranquil, and it has the fragrance of earth and enchanting view of mountains and bamboo forests. The design of every detail of Mooyard embodies the pursuit of quality and beauty. Antique items collected from around the world can be found here.

Mooyard has two villas with 10 rooms. It boasts an open kitchen, a big living room, lawn, barbecue area, a swimming pool and a private bar.

Here, the sound of frogs can be heard and fireflies can be seen. Delicacies made of fresh ingredients are offered. It is a dream house for urban dwellers.


Lost Villa

Lost Villa

The name originates from “Shan Hai Jing” (“The Classic of the Mountains and Seas”), a classic of Chinese mythology. The name conveys the message of sparing some time to enjoy the beauty of life away from the daily hustle and bustle.

The B&B at the Biwu Village in Moganshan was founded in 2013 by two student friends at Tongji University. They were enchanted by the beautiful views and decided to stay there and encourage more people to experience country life.

Over eight months, they turned a house into a boutique B&B and converted a hogpen into a cafe. The B&B gained popularity quickly with 90 percent occupancy in the first year.

In the following three years, they turned seven houses at Biwu Village, most built in the 1980s, into six villas, a restaurant and a cafe.

Each villa, with three to five rooms, provides butler service, and guests can wash away the stresses of urban life in relaxing hot spring waters.

Vacationers are able to hike trails, participate in outdoor excursions, pick fruit, cycle, learn about ceramics and attend coffee classes.

Two other outlets of Lost Villa have also opened at Yucun Village in Moganshan and Hecun Village in Anji.


The Sunsite

The Sunsite

Manjuelong, a valley south of West Lake in Hangzhou, is known for its thousands of sweet-scented osmanthus trees. The Sunsite is here, amid the Baihe and Nangao peaks of Daci Mountain.

The three B&B houses maintain the features of typical Jiangnan residence of white walls and black tiles.

The fragrance of sweet-scented osmanthus latte permeates in the air, and old stone plates and teakwood furniture give the B&B an exquisite feel.

It offers a relaxed, homely and warm atmosphere where people can doze, sit, chat or read over a cup of coffee, and leave the urban treadmill behind. Time flows slowly here.

Guests are also invited to explore Longjing tea gardens.


Hillside Village

Hillside Village

Hillside Village is a retreat hidden amid mountains and bamboo forests in Moganshan.

The design concept of Hillside Village is the preservation and inheritance of traditional natural village culture.

The mottled bricks and old roof tiles are silent witnesses to the vicissitudes of time. The renovation of the Hillside Village B&B gave utmost consideration to the historical traces of these buildings with old tiles, wood, bamboo and bricks used, while amenities for the comfort of urban dwellers include a warm fireplace, spacious terrace, private restrooms and cozy sofas.

Environmental protection and luxury, primitive ecology and modernity harmoniously integrate here, creating a unique living experience.

Guests will be guided to take a stroll among local villages, bamboo forests, tea gardens, brooks and old factories to experience locals’ life. They are also invited to experience ceramic crafts, explore ecological food production areas along Qiantang River, have a meal at locals’ homes or learn how to make bamboo ware. At night, the sky is studded with sparkling stars.

In different seasons, visitors can even experience harvest in the rice paddy fields, fly kites and see fireflies.

Outside the windows, there are bamboo forests and valleys, and birds singing to wake you up.


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