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Reaching for 5 stars

UNLOCKING CHINA countdown to the 2008 olympics

A new crop of luxury hotels has opened across the country. They're a triumph of style but not service.

February 10, 2008|Susan Spano | Times Staff Writer

As I wound my way around the terra-cotta-colored structure dramatically pinioned against the hillside, I heard music and laughter. At the top I leaned against the old stone of China's Great Wall and gazed at the dream houses in the canyon below me. Just then I saw activity on the roof of Cantilever House: chairs being set up and wedding guests assembling. Then I saw the bride, heard the unmistakable first four notes of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" and felt a lot better for some reason known only to the great architect in the sky.

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susan.spano@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Planning this trip

THE BEST WAY

From LAX, nonstop service to Beijing is offered on Air China and China Eastern, and connecting service (change of planes) is available on Cathay Pacific, United, All Nippon, JAL, Korean, Northwest and Asiana. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $700.

From LAX to Lijiang, connecting service is offered on China Southern, Air China, Thai, Asiana and China Eastern. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $1,007.

From LAX to Guilin, connecting service is offered on Asiana, Air China and China Southern. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $937.

TELEPHONES

To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 86 (country code for China) and the local number.

WHERE TO STAY

Banyan Tree, P.O. Box 55, Lijiang 674100; 888-533-1111, U.S. reservations (800) 525-4800, www.banyantree.com, is on the outskirts of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; villas start at $500.

Commune by the Great Wall, at Shuiguan Exit, Badaling Highway, Beijing; 10-587-88-33-1, Ext. 250, www.kempinski.com, has guest rooms in replicas of 12 original award-winning villas designed by Asian architects near a spur of the Great Wall; doubles start at $210.

Hotel of Modern Art, Yuzi Paradise, Dabu Town, Yanshan District, Guilin 541006; 773-386-9009, www.homarc .com, is about 15 miles south of Guilin. The hotel is near the entrance to Yuzi Paradise sculpture park and atelier; doubles start at $130.

TO LEARN MORE

China National Tourist Office, (818) 545-7507, www.cnto.org.

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On travel.latimes.com

To see more view of these luxury hotels, visit latimes.com/china luxe.

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