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Beijing and Hong Kong - May 2018

Old May 28th, 2018, 09:45 AM
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Beijing and Hong Kong - May 2018

We are a married couple from the United States in our late 50s/early 60s and have been to Europe several times, 1 of us has been to Asia 3 or 4 times before for work. This trip was a bucket list item of sorts, to see the Great Wall and experience Beijing, also to finally get to see Hong Kong.

Trip went very well despite the challenges of flying 19,000 miles overall via coach. Using British Air miles may not be the best strategy since they make you pay $1200 in taxes then subject you to long layovers which adds to the burden. In retrospect from the eastern US we would have been better served by flying to the west coast then staying a day or 2 in San Fran or Seattle, then going to China.

Day 1 & 2

flying overnight from Phila to London leaving 5/5 - had a long layover so we called Windsor cars and had them pick us up at the T5 Costa Coffee. (some issues with my phone, had to call AT&T)
Went to Windsor Castle very warm and clear sunny day. We paid to get in and were very jet lagged, then went back to Heathrow around 1:30
Flight to Beijing left on time at 4:30 – long 10 hour flight – landed 5/7 9:40am but after 3 separate immigration lines and 1 customs line we go to our driver by 11:00am (we had a separate immigration for 144 hour no-visa agreement)
  • note the 144 immigration no-visa agreement saved us having to pay/obtain a visa, hard to get a straight answer from govt websites but you can stay 6 days in one city if you show you have a flight to another city that is not your home (sounds weird but that is the fine print...we were fine because we had a second destination (Hong Kong))

May 7 thru May 12

Had a driver meet us at the airport, $50 US, he did not speak English but got us to our hotel by 12noon – room was ready – 1501 and very nice. Hotel is right on Wangfujing street which is a main shopping area with lots of western stores, very nice Renaissance, nice club lounge. Room is 1501 – lounge is on the 17th floor, hotel lobby is big and fancy.

For dinner around 8:30 we walked to a Duckhouse SiJiMinFu whole duck – scallion pancakes – 2 beers – 2 sodas – 290 RMB. = $45 US - excellent

Tue May 8, 2018

Did not sleep well but got up at 7 went to breakfast at the lounge and met our tour guide at 9am

Her name was Lisa – she was fine. We went first to the temple of heaven, long drawn out walking around for 2 hours then went to lunch, long drawn out wait for 1.5 hours and then went to Tienanmen square and then to the forbidden city. These attractions are not really slicked up – no summary areas or modern exhibits – just replicated or actual large areas and buildings that are of historic significance.

Later we went out for a light dinner at the nearby food mall – had soup dumplings and spicy noodles and then went to the Wangfujing street market – incredibly packed and full of smells, grilled food on a stick being devoured by mostly young Chinese people – scorpions, squid, baby ducks, etc.

Wed May 9

Did not sleep all that great but got up late at 8am and went the lounge for breakfast. We decided to go to the Lama temple via metro but then reconsidered and went via taxi.
The temple compound was really big – populated by about 70 monks, lots of Buddhists worshipping, elaborate carved buddhas some of them are 50 to 70 feet high.
Had to hail a taxi afterwards and it took about 20 minutes to grab one. We made it back and took a nap and then went shopping till 6pm and then went to Hotel happy hour.
We walked around a bit afterwards and then needed to sleep a bit early.

Thu May 10
Met Lisa again for day 2 of our 2 day tour (total cost 3750 rmb = $600. – included a driver and a guide.
First stop was a 90 minute drive to the great wall of china – mutianyu – spectacular views but difficult chair lift over gorges and a difficult climb. We didn’t go all the way to the top because it was very steep and fairly hot/humid so Jack went up an extra section compared to connie but he decided not to go the entire way. The great wall was stunning though and a real highlight of our trip.

our guide took us to a nearby place and had a mediocre lunch of kung po chicken and dumplings and chicken fried rice then picked up a couple shirts and a shotglass but didn’t do a good job bargaining and overpaid.

Then another long drive to the summer palace – another long walk thru a old restored place that doesn’t have any modern touches – plus crowded with groups of Chinese tourists. Worth seeing but not that great were suffering from crowd fatigue – should be spruced up a bit with some sort of modern area explaining things better, etc.
We got back to the room tired and got ready for happy hour and went back to the Sijiminfu duck house again, shared a table with a german couple 1 was originally from the USA so he spoke very good English.

Tired afterwards and walked back to hotel, grabbed an ice cream cone at a local store on the way back.

Fri May 11

Had breakfast and decided to go to the silk markets for shopping today, took a cab over and ended up with a plan and resulted in some good bargains. Got 3 silk scarves, 2 adult t shirts, 2 kids t shirts. Took the subway back – easy to navigate – and got off near Tiananmen Square east and went to the national museum, lots of boring political stuff but some excellent ancient Chinese exhibits, plus its free admission but you need your passport.

Afterwards we walked thru some neighborhoods a few blocks off of Wangfujing street – got a lunch of excellent dumplings, beef sandwich and large beer for $7 or 43 rmb.
Got back to the room after a long walk and started getting ready to pack, confirmed everything with our Hong Kong hotel, Cathay Pacific flight, etc.

Went to another local non-touristy place for dinner in the neighborhood behind the capital theatre ordered dumplings, and a chicken dish that turned out to be cold chicken feet and rice.

Sat May 12

Got up and went to our last buffet breakfast on the 17th floor club level. Then found out our Cathay Pacific flight was delayed 30 minutes but we left for the airport at 8:15. Go thru immigration and security and the flight did not take off until 1:30, 90 minutes late, got to Hong Kong at 5:30, got thru immigration and customs and were met by our hotel icon driver with a Tesla – ride into Hong Kong was crowed but went smoothly. Cathay Pacific was excellent by the way, highly recommend that airline.

Hotel Icon met us at the door with a customer relationship specialist and she took us to the lounge on the 28th floor for an overview of our room and hotel benefits. Our room is 2614 and has a great view of the harbor.

Club level food is not much food compared to what you would expect, good bar service however.

Went out to a nearby ATM – area is gritty nearby but lots of people and lots of stores, restaurants, bars and we grabbed a light bite of chicken satay and a couple drinks at this overpriced and crowded outdoor western style bar.

Sun May 13 (mothers day)
Got up and had a breakfast buffet on the 2nd floor, huge selection of Chinese, Japanese, English breakfast items.
Met our tour guide ‘Apple’ at 9:30 in the lobby and we were off.

Very hot day – went to Victoria peak with great views, then went to the Wan Chai markets – old time local market of food, meat, fish, and lots of clothes, souvenirs, etc.
For lunch we went to Crystal Jade dim sum place – pretty good – average price but seems expensive compared to Beijing about $60 for 3, I paid for the guide although she offered to pay her own way.

Apple was very good with lots of stories about China, Hong Kong, religion, local customs, etc.
· Victoria Peak, Lugard Road walk
· Peak tram back to downtown Central
· Wan Chai local dry and wet markets, sampled HK style egg tart
· Dim sum lunch
After lunch we went to
· Star Ferry across the Victoria Harbour
· Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront Promenade
· Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery (Buddhist)

That night we went to happy hour then took a taxi to the Temple street markets, it was typical Hong Kong scene and very busy, crowded, etc.
We used yelp and found a local noodle house mak man kee noodle house – good bowl of wonton noodle soup for 2 with drinks for about $10.

Mon May 14

Got up and had another big buffet breakfast that comes with our room
Went to Hang Hom station and went to Hong Hom MTR station and took it to Nam Cheong (orange line) and switched there and went to Tung Chung on Lantau Island. Once there we got the 23 bus and took it to the giant Buddha – nice area – all transportation using the octopus card and pretty cheap. On the way back we switched at sunny day station and went to Hong Kong Disneyland – not to go in but to the hotels and gift shop.
Disneyland hotel was really nice…..we would actually not mind staying there if it wasn’t for so many kids there, it was the high end of the 3 hotels and set up like the Grand Floridian at disney world in orlando
We met a British couple on the way to Lantau island and had some nice travel discussions.
Left Disney and went back to Hang Hom to go to the hotel but we went out the wrong exit and thats a big mistake around here…took ½ hour to get back to the hotel after that
We have since learned you check signs for each exit landmark A-B-C-D or more…this is very important because if you get lost it takes forever since some many levels of highways are everywhere and you can’t cross the street.

Went to happy hour and then were told of a restaurant called Dim Sum Bar down at Harbor Place. Hard to find so we spent some time walking around for a bit but finally found it and it was pretty good with pork buns and dumplings. Harbor place area was packed so we had to wait for the shuttle about a half hour but made it back to the hotel.

Tue May 15
Got up and hit the buffet for breakfast
Left around 9:30 and took the shuttle to the star ferry area. Walked around a bit and bought a couple egg tarts from a spot Dlo told me about and then decided to go on a 2 hour ferry ride to Lintau and back, it turned out to be almost empty so was a good time. After we finished we walked to Tsim sha Tsui station and went to Mong Kok to shop at the ladies market. Connie got a Louie Vatton bag for $24 or 190 HKD they wanted 350 HKD to start.
Very hot and humid again today – we found a small local shop selling roast pork, duck, etc, got a 1 of each with rice and vegetable with 2 sodas for $14…very good.
Afterwards we walked back to Mong Kok and took it down to Tsim Sha Tsui and walked to East Tsim Sha Tsui underground and then took another line back to Hang Hom. I called the hotel to find out the correct exit and it was D so it was a good thing I called.

Rested up at the room for a couple hours then went to happy hour for a bit and then decided to go to Victoria Peak at night for the views and to visit the hard rock café store.

Took the hotel shuttle to the harbor place stop, walked to the star ferry and took it to central, at central found the bus station and found bus number 15 which takes you to the peak for $2. The bus driver was insane…had to be a time contest because he had about 20 near accidents, we were in the top of a double decker bus in the first row so it was intense. I just decided to be calm and see what happens.

Views were amazing and we got the bus back, paid at the wrong ferry terminal so stopped before we got on but no money back had to ask someone and go to terminal 7 not 5, got back to star ferry terminal on Kowloon and called the hotel but the last shuttle was 10:00pm and it was around 10:15pm so we took a cab back to the hotel.

Grabbed a burger at the same western style place as our first night and went back to the hotel by 11:30 to check-in and reserve seats for our flights home.

Wed May 16
Last day in Hong Kong so trying to decide how much money to spend, how much to use up, where to go. Decided on one last shopping trip back to the wet/dry markets near Wan Chai, since those markets had things we did not see at the ladies market. Took the hotel shuttle to first stop, Tsim Sha Tsui and got the MTR to first station which was Admiralty, switched to the Island line and went 1 station to Wan Chai. Learned to read the exit definitions so we left via the correct exit and the market was right there. We got a bunch of souveneirs including a dragon, toothpick holders, pandas, hairclips.

Came back and showered, packed and were out of the room by 2pm, stowed our luggage and went over to Hung Hom to turn in our Octopus cards and get our deposit.
Have 300 HKD aka $38 so went to the mall near Hung Hom for lunch of good fried dumplings, just average noodle soup.
Back to the hotel by 4 and went to a nice waiting lounge on the 9th floor for guests waiting for a late airport departure.

loooong flights home with another 6 hour layover at Heathrow. Overall we loved our trip despite the flying....its the price to see the world and it doesn't kill you..just an inconvenience although shorter layovers are what to look for.....we won't go thru London to get to Asia again.

also key that we had club level rooms at each hotel, it was money well spent and we used the club lounge every day for breakfast and happy hour and for soda or snacks as needed.

flew 4 legs on British Air - PHL to London - London to Beijing - Hong Kong to London - London to PHL - for some odd reason a middle aged female that works for British Air at Heathrow connections decided our carry on wheeled luggage wasn't allowed on the 4th leg.....after British Air allowed it on the first 3.....lots of complaints did nothing so we let them check the bags. By the way - Cathay Pacific from Beijing to Hong Kong allowed our bags on the plane with no problem.....this is a matter of common sense vs enforcing rules for rules sake...our bags were less that a half inch bigger than their size box and many other passengers were allowed to bring similar bags on this particular flight....a case of selective enforcement is annoying to say the least.

regardless...we had a great time, agree with staying in a city longer gets you the vibe and lets you enjoy it more..thanks to all that helped with tips.......happy trails.
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Old May 28th, 2018, 06:24 PM
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Your trip

Hi—I followed your pre and post trip comments with interest. I visited Hong Kong, Beijing, Xi’an and other places for the first time in 2013 when i was 65. Like you, I had traveled in Europe widely but I didnt know how to do China. Luckily, a graduate student from Beijing arranged for her friend in Beijing to be my guide at no cost. I had booked a lovely boutique hotel in a hutong. In Beijing my guide was savvy and personable whether hiring a car and driver for a Great Wall trip or cruising around the city in tuk tuks. Thoroughly delightful trip.

In Xi’an more English graduate students escorted me to the Terracotta Warriors and to dumpling cafes in that thoroughly fascinating Muslim city on the Silk Road. Pretty much, the same experience in H.K. Loved that trip.

I’m going back via a business class frequent flyer non stop from Chicago. The focus will be on high speed trains: Beijing to the walled city Pingyao to Xi’an then to Chengdu, the home of the Pandas and Szechuan cooking.

The next part gets tricky. Zhenyuan in the province of Guizhou (Southwestern China) is an area that most Chinese don’t know. There’s no way I could navigate my way around given that I don’t speak any of the dialects of these minorites or Mandarin. I will wrap up the trip with more high speed rail and two nights in Shanghai and a non stop back to O’Hare.
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Old May 29th, 2018, 03:58 AM
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That was an expensive flight considering that you were using points. Last fall I paid can$800 (about US$600) for a direct flight to Beijing out of Montreal. My girlfriend who left two week before I did paid even less.
You also paid a bit much for the guide and driver. A guide to the Great Wall is useless and a driver is about US$100 for the day (not per person). And a guide is about $100 per day. It seems that you managed quite well to find interesting places to eat on your own.
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Old May 30th, 2018, 03:11 AM
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sounds like you have an interesting trip upcoming, i feel like we know Beijing and HK very well and both subway systems are excellent. I love your idea of non-stop from Chicago and business class...our 30 hour elapsed time each way were rough.....but live and learn.....send reports when you go.

our next trip will probably be Japan, have to start looking for flights but will leave from chicago or west coast for sure.
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Old May 30th, 2018, 03:16 AM
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Yes we did overpay for our flights considering all those points i used up....flyer beware...do not go via london unless you absolutely have to.

I agree we did overpay for our guides but interestingly i complained about the so-so quality and they refunded me 50% of our total costs.

also agree you don't need guides to the great wall just a driver but we felt more secure having a guide......we did overpay a bit on the trip....but to us it was inexpensive at $7,000. USD for the 9 nights including everything....i was planning on spending $10K to $12k......so its all relative....
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Old May 30th, 2018, 06:02 AM
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I was surprised by your comments on Mutianyu. I visited in '97 and '01 and don't remember any difficulty, but I was younger then.

I was also taken aback by your desire to have historic places "spruced up". The Chinese are notorious for bad restoration, and in any case old places look old because they are old (at least one hopes so, the Chinese are also given to building new "old" places).
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Old Jun 1st, 2018, 05:46 AM
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not 'spruced up' just something using modern technology in an inconspicuous corner that would make things more compelling for modern visitors......in other countries there are small multi media centers that actually add to the experience.....to a modern visitor it gets tedious just walking thru ancient acres and acres.

in the US and Europe this is often done.
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Old Jun 1st, 2018, 03:58 PM
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I don't think that I quite agree that Chinese are doing bad restorations of important historical sites like the forbidden city.
There was a Starbucks in the FC a few years ago. It was promptly closed after a fair amount of protests by locals.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2018, 06:18 PM
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The next part gets tricky. Zhenyuan in the province of Guizhou (Southwestern China) is an area that most Chinese don’t know. There’s no way I could navigate my way around given that I don’t speak any of the dialects of these minorites or Mandarin.
Setting aside that all of China can reasonably be described as 'an area that most Chinese don't know', there's no connection between that claim and the problems foreigners may or may not encounter in trying to navigate through them. All that takes is a little common sense. A little preparation is handy, but not essential. With the characters for destinations written down (or circled on a map); a copy of the hotel's business card (for getting home again); a pen and paper; a calculator or mobile phone screen (for bargaining); and a bit of mime, any one can navigate any rural area of China all of which are linguistically equally bedlam-like to the average foreigner.

The question is not whether arrangements can be made on the fly by independent travellers who speak no variant of Chinese, for tens of thousands demonstate every year that it can. The only question is whether or not you want to bother, but it certainly shouldn't be assumed that it's hard. It's just less convenient. For some that's part of the adventure, while for others its more fuss that they want. But typically travelling into remoter areas is a much more pleasant experience that visiting any locale popular with overseas visitors, who often experience levels of hospitality, courtesy, and helpfulness unfortunately all too rare in the big cities. It's the places where English is fluently spoken that rip-offs are guaranteed, not the one's in which people willingly get together to figure out what it is that the foreigner needs.
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Old Jun 4th, 2018, 02:28 AM
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Fair enough, the national museum right at Tiananmen Square was very modern, its not a real big deal just a comment after spending 2 long days at the summer palace ,Forbidden city, temple of heaven.
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