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China exported 3.2 million shipping containers last year -- more than any other country in the world. And now a handful of what the trade calls TEU -- Twenty-foot Equivalent Units -- are being put to a new use, one that should appeal to novelty-hunting travellers.

Nan Dazhan Cun (南大掌村), a rural village on the outskirts of Changzhi city in Shanxi Province, is set to open a
"luxury" hotel made from 35 new shipping containers next month. Meng Qingdong (孟庆东), the village governor and prime mover behind the project, said “Xiang Xiang Xiang Pray House” was designed to be a boutique hotel. Although the hotel is not officially rated yet, Meng said all the facilities were built to five-star standards.

Five-star containers
The hotel covers 5,000 square meters and has 21 guestrooms in total. The rooms come in two sizes: 15 square meters or 30 square meters -- both have 2.59-meter-high ceilings. Windows are installed on one side of the containers as well as in the roof.

The hotel's name is roughly translated as “Xiang Xiang Xiang Pray House” (香箱乡祈福所 in Chinese). The three “Xiangs” stand for incense, container and countryside in order. This is because the city of Changzhi is one of the most important places in northern China that regularly hosts large ceremonies to pray for good harvests and fortune. And the container hotel stands within the compound of City God Temple (天下都城隍), the major site for ceremonies.

A hotel inspired by Japan’s earthquake
“I lived in Japan for more than 30 years,” said village governor Meng. “During the Japan Tsunami Earthquake 2011, I saw the Japanese government imported shipping containers from China to build temporary houses for the survivors. “It’s fast [to build] and [looks] good, and that inspired me to build the hotel.”

Meng declined the request to reveal the hotel's building cost because he said he was afraid of copycat hotels. But he said a normal shipping container would cost US$50,000 and all the containers in this hotels are tailor-made and cost at least twice as much.

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The boutique hotel, which is fitted out with a traditional Chinese decoration, has an incense theme.

The rooms' amenities include free incense, sachets and a burner. One of the containers is designed for guests who want to hold incense-burning ceremonies

Other main facilities are a lobby, a restaurant, and function rooms where guests can watch tea ceremonies and artists playing traditional Chinese musical instruments.

Containers go green
The hotel, designed by Beijing-based Tonghe Shanzhi Landscape Design Company, also incorporates eco-friendly features. According to Sun Jie (孙杰), one of the main designers on the team, the containers were built in the seaside city Dalian in northeast China, then transported and assembled in Changzhi.

Sun said it only took the company three months to design, build, transport, and revamp the containers, all of which are painted with environmental water paint.

Sun said, compared to normal hotels with similar number of rooms, the construction of this container hotel saved approximately 60 percent in water and concrete consumption and produced only 30 percent of normal construction waste.

It cut the construction period by more than 40 percent, and boost the overall building efficiency by as much as three times.

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