Go Back  Fodor's Forum > Destinations > Asia
Reload this Page > Beijing and Shanghai for 2 Weeks - What Should I See and Do?
Notices

Beijing and Shanghai for 2 Weeks - What Should I See and Do?

Reply

Apr 16th, 2012, 08:10 AM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 104
Beijing and Shanghai for 2 Weeks - What Should I See and Do?

Hello everyone!

I will be travelling to China later this year for a two week business-related trip, spending 1 week in Beijing and 1 week in Shanghai. This will be my first time in China. I will be busy during most weekdays, but I will have the evenings and some weekend days free. I will have about 2 full free days in each city, and evenings free. Because my personal time will be limited, I want to make the most of it while I am there. Could you please suggest things that I could see and do, and things that I shouldn’t miss while I am there? I know that we will have a scheduled visit to the great wall. I would also consider a day trip to one of the surrounding areas by train if I have time.

Could you also suggest foods to try while I am there? I have been told that Americanized “Chinese food” is very different from traditional Chinese food. I would like to try some good traditional cuisine while I am there. I also love very spicy food, so could you suggest some spicy hot dishes as well?

Thank you in advance for your responses!
VeeDubb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 16th, 2012, 12:28 PM
  #2
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 947
VeeDubb:

Glad you got the Japan leg of the trip sorted out so well and can now focus on China.

It is tough to get good quality answers to such an open-ended question about "things that I shouldn't miss" though. Have you had a chance to look at a guide book or browse on-line to sample some possibilities? If we have a better sense of your interests, we can give you more responsive advice.

Also, you hinted in an earlier thread that your professional hosts are going to organize some visits such as to the Great Wall and "maybe the Forbidden City." I wonder if you could find out what is on your schedule already so we could better advise you about how to spend the balance of time available to you.

You are correct that there are differences between Americanized Chinese food and what you can sample in China. It is also true that you can sample many different regional cuisines in China or its big cities; after awhile, you won't even think of it as "Chinese food." Try to get hold of a copy of the book BEIJING EATS by Eileen Wen Mooney. Although I got my copy in Beijing, I just checked and it is readily available through Amazon. She does a wonderful job of introducing us to the different regional cuisines and recommending restaurants to try for each.

http://tinyurl.com/7lqefbs

If you are very interested in food, we can recommend where to take a cooking class while you are there. You don't have much free time though and you are staying in enormous cities in which it requires much time to travel across town. Just a heads up.

Come back with more questions.
marya_ is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 16th, 2012, 06:41 PM
  #3
kja
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 17,173
Ditto what marya said.

In Beijing, for Peking duck, I thought Da Dong was amazing!

Enjoy!
kja is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 17th, 2012, 05:56 AM
  #4
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 104
Thank you Marya!

I recently purchased 7 travel books on Amazon for Japan and China I will also check out the book that you recommended.
I prefer the Eyewitness Travel guides if I can find them on specific areas. I purchased one that covers both Beijing and Shanghai, and another that teaches some basic Mandarin phases and includes a CD for pronunciation.

Am I correct in assuming that Mandarin is predominantly spoken in the areas that I will visiting, rather than Cantonese? I am going to try to learn basic phrases in both Chinese and Japanese before my trip. I will also learn the important customs and traditions. I have been focusing on Japan up until this point, so I haven’t had a chance to look at my Chinese books. I will do some research and review the books to come up with some ideas. It is too early to know for sure, but I am pretty confident that we will have a day set aside for the Great Wall, and possibly the Forbidden City. How far are each of these from the cites that I am visiting? I also do not yet know the areas or hotels in each city where I will be staying. My colleagues will be setting this up.

I am really interested in culture and history when I travel. I am also interested in experiences that are very different from what I can find here in the U.S. I also want make sure that I make the most of my limited free time while I am there. I am looking for places that I can spend the day walking around. I also want to pick up some souvenirs while I am there. I always hear of the “copymarts” where you can bargain for authentic-looking goods. I have also heard that real pearls are very inexpensive in China. I would like to bring back some jewelry for my family.

Please let me know your thoughts and recommendations. Thanks again!
VeeDubb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 17th, 2012, 06:47 AM
  #5
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 28,815
as mary has suggested it is best to read the books a bit and then ask more specific questions.
rhkkmk is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 17th, 2012, 07:55 AM
  #6
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 2,553
BEIJING

Culture and history will not be a problem in Beijing! To answer your question, the Forbidden City is in the very center of the city, adjacent to Tienanmen Square and government buildings. The Great Wall is, of course, quite long; how far outside Beijing you'll be will depend on which section your colleagues opt to take you to.

The subway system in Beijing is good, and as a whole wayfinding signage in the city is too - written both in Chinese characters and pinyin (Chinese spelled out in western alphabet). On the subway, the announcements are in Mandarin and English.

Where you will be staying - or where the office is - is important to know for logistics purposes. The city is SO huge it's hard to grasp the scale of it! Distances that appeared walkable on our maps turned out to be much longer; it took a while for my brain to adjust to the fact that the map scale was completely different from any other city map I'd ever used. Taxi drivers in one part of the city don't know other areas because it's just so big. (Since we were not staying in the tourist center, we found it easiest to tell a driver the name of the nearby subway station, then give turn-by-turn directions from there.)

In addition to the historical sites that abound throughout the city, if you have time for it and the hours work out for you, I highly recommend the Beijing Urban Planning Museum (also called the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall). It's walking distance from Tienanmen Square. A lot of the museum covers engineering developments in the city (housing, transportation, etc.) with a distinctly propagandist bent. There is a scale reproduction of the Forbidden City. And the most amazing exhibit is a very detailed, up-to-date, room-sized scale 3D reproduction of the entire city! It even changes the lighting for day/night simulation. After having been in the city for a week or so, I really appreciated seeing the model and being able to pick out landmarks I recognized.

// You are correct that Mandarin is spoken in Beijing. It's great that you want to learn a little before you go. Just know that it's not easy to get the pronunciation right! Words change their meaning entirely on differences in inflection. I consider myself pretty good at picking up languages, but after a month there I still couldn't discern most of those inflections!

// Spicy food also won't be a problem to find. Look for dishes with the amazing Schezuan peppercorn. Also, a popular meal is hot pot, and there are hot pot restaurants throughout the city. (With hot pot, you order spicy or mild broth, or a combination that comes in a sectioned pot. You also order meats, vegetables and noodles that you cook yourself in the broth. Communal, yummy and fun!)

I happen to love Chinese food, am lucky to live in a NYC where it's plentiful and good, and eat it so frequently that I don't consider it exotic. That said, I loved it in China even more! And as you can imagine with a country that geographically and culturally vast, there are so many variations to try.
ggreen is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 17th, 2012, 08:53 AM
  #7
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 947
There is some good information above, particularly about the extraordinary scale of Beijing.

Let me add a gentle caution about buying pearls or any jewelry of (presumed) value if you are not already very knowledgeable about pearls and other gemstones. Fakes abound. If you want to do any serious shopping, you need an advisor. Otherwise, why not just buy some attractive costume jewelry that merely appeals to you and seems to suit the family member in question? Be sure to bargain hard for it with a certain amount of humor and ironic detachment and readiness to walk away. Learning about the dynamics and theatrics of bargaining is an essential part of the Chinese experience. Great fun if you can relax into it.

That DK Eyewitness guide to Beijing and Shanghai that you bought is a good place to start browsing because the photographs and the balance between graphics and text are all very easy on the eye. There are also good maps. See what grabs you and come back to let us help you prioritize. If you can get your hosts to identify where you will be staying and what escorted visits to sights are confirmed, so much the better. That may not be possible though.

You are off on a great adventure.
marya_ is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 17th, 2012, 09:29 AM
  #8
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 947
Another thought.

Since you are happily planning months in advance -- I believe that your trip is in October -- you may enjoy sampling some Chinese and Japanese films over the course of late Spring, Summer and early Fall. You can get lots of good reccos from folks here.

I'll start with China. You have probably already seen some popular films by directors Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou. If not, do check them both out and start sampling.

I like the social commentary of Jia Zhangke.

UP THE YANGTZE, a film by Yung Chang, is a personal favorite of mine. It gives you a sense of the social changes unleashed by the Three Gorges Dam project. You have to be patient with slow camera work to enjoy it but that, in my opinion, is what makes this film such a treasure.

BLIND MOUNTAIN and BEIJING BICYCLE are other films I would recommend.

Since you are interested in Chinese food, get hold of a copy of EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN if you haven't already seen it.

Let us know if this is a productive avenue of inquiry or not so much to your liking.
marya_ is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 17th, 2012, 11:37 AM
  #9
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,206
Since we are talking about films about China, this one should be on everyone's list:

http://www.documentary.org/magazine/...migrant-worker

Do not think of "Chinese food" as all of a piece. The local foods in Beijing, for example, is very different than that of Shanghai and I would suggest sampling both. I've got lots of food information in my trip reports, although the Beijing portion is a bit dated as I was last there in 2007. Of course you will find restaurants specializing in food of the other regions of China as well in both of these big cities.

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...g-shanghai.cfm


http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...yssey-2010.cfm
ekscrunchy is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 18th, 2012, 10:49 AM
  #10
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 104
Thank you for all of the great information!

Would you recommend using the subway or cabs when travelling around Beijing and Shanghai? I read that cabs are very inexpensive, but most of the drivers do not speak English. Are the subway lines easy to follow, and can I get a daily or weekly subway pass?

I did some quick research on food in China, and some of the dishes seem very exotic for a Westerner. I am definitely willing try any food at least once, and I am adventurous about trying new foods. Are there any foods I should avoid, with a Western palette, or should I just try anything that looks good?
The hot pot meals sound tasty; do the restaurants have servings for just one person? I would definitely like to try some Peking Duck and some of the spicy Schezuan peppercorn delicacies.

So far, I would like to start early one day at The Forbidden City. I am interested in seeing a traditional Hutong neighborhood and travelling around Beijing by bicycle. Are bicycle rental shops easy to find, and how much do they typically charge? Coal Hill Park and the Shichahi Lakes look like nice places for a bike ride. The Legation Square looks interesting. Have you been to the Panjiayuan Flea Market? I will have early Saturday and Sunday free when I get there. I am also looking for some good photo opportunities; I just bought a nice new camera.

I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

Thanks!
VeeDubb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 18th, 2012, 11:56 AM
  #11
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,206
I wrote about my visit to the market in the trip report I linked above. (It is also called the Dirt market). By all means, go, but go early and be sure your wallet, etc is stored away securely. It gets very crowded as the hours pass.

Beijing is the place for Peking duck. South Beauty is a popular Sichuan chain in both cities, with menus in English, but there will be many others. Sichuan food can be fiery hot. You will often find the degree of spiciness indicated by red chili peppers listed next to each dish.

Here is the menu from one of the best Sichuan restaurants in my area (NYC); you can look at the dishes, and even see some photos, in this link; notice the chili pepper designation next to some menu items:


http://www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com/b...ttlepepper.htm

Here are some more pics that will give you an idea of some of the dishes you will find in China at a Sichuan place:

http://www.dishtip.com/r/ny/flushing...p-dishes/26269



Keep in mind that most Chinese cuisines will have some form of dumplings; these can be outstanding, and are always a safe bet. The soup dumplings (xlb) in Shanghai are legendary and you must try when you are there. Again, I have lots of details in my trip reports.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 18th, 2012, 06:25 PM
  #12
kja
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 17,173
> Would you recommend using the subway or cabs when travelling around Beijing ...? I read that cabs are very inexpensive, but most of the drivers do not speak English. Are the subway lines easy to follow, and can I get a daily or weekly subway pass?

In Beijing, the subways are incredibly easy to use and extremely affordable, with written and oral information in English. I far preferred using the subway system to taking a taxi in Beijing. I didn't go to Shanghai.

> The hot pot meals sound tasty; do the restaurants have servings for just one person? I would definitely like to try some Peking Duck

I had delicious hotpot and extraordinary Peking Duck for 1 in Beijing. I already mentioned Da Dong for the duck (which I think ekscrunchy also recommended). Order 1/2 duck, and definitely make a reservation in advance.

I don't know about the latest versions, but the Frommer's guide to China used to have an outstanding section on regional foods, with names and descriptions in English and with the Chinese characters, making it easy to order.

My trip report describes the meals, and experiences, I had in Beijing - its VERY long, but the Beijing sections are easy to find because they are at the start and end of my trip. Just click on my name to find the report.

BTW, I wouldn't describe Coal Hill Park as a good biking destination, although it is a good place to go for views and people watching. But maybe your ideas of good biking destinations differ from mine....

Hope that helps!
kja is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 18th, 2012, 07:03 PM
  #13
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 947
I use taxis and the subway in Beijing. While there are many more subway lines now than there used to be, they don't always go exactly where you want. They are easy to use for the English speaker though and very inexpensive.

While taxi drivers don't usually speak any English, you will be prepared by having cards from your hotel (carry extras because you may occasionally forget to take your card back) and also a card with any destinations written out (in characters for the driver with a pinyin notation for you to keep all your cards straight). Taxis are inexpensive although traffic congestion has gotten to be quite a problem. Some judicious mixture of taxis and subways will serve you well.

Sorry, I am not a big fan of biking in Beijing because of the "might makes right" philosophy of motorists. Others may advise you differently.

The South Beauty chain that ekscrunchy mentions above is a very good recommendation. They have many branches in Beijing and Shanghai. Their menus are quite easy to use. They accommodate western palates, but I still think that their gongbao jiding is absolutely wonderful. I have had Peking duck several places but most enjoyed it at Da Dong.
marya_ is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2012, 04:30 AM
  #14
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,206
I loved the duck at Da Dong! One of my favorite meals of the entire trip.

I dined there alone and felt very well cared for and very, very well fed! Make sure to reserve. I also had excellent duck at Made in China at the Grand Hyatt. But there, as in some other restaurants, you should reserve ahead if you are planning to order only half a duck. Just ask the hotel to call for you.



http://www.thebeijinger.com/director...ong-Roast-Duck


http://www.beijing.grand.hyatt.com/h...?hyattprop=yes
ekscrunchy is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2012, 05:44 AM
  #15
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 104
I read that September and October are the months for the "hairy crab" in Shanghai, which is when I will be traveling there. Has anyone had it; is it good? Is it served all over Shanghai, or just on the coast?

I was given the book “Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe” as a gift. It has good sections on Chinese food in Beijing and Shanghai.

Thanks again!
VeeDubb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2012, 08:35 AM
  #16
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 2,553
VeeDubb, to your latest post about Beijing:

Agree with all of the above about subways and taxis - and Peking Duck! Regarding taxis, I know that leading up to the Olympics there was a concerted effort to get more of the drivers to learn some English - but who knows how much of that has been retained four years on.

// I'm happy to hear you're adventurous about trying new food! I think if you generally like "American" Chinese food, you'll be happily surprised by the "real thing". IME, most of what we see on Chinese menus here in the States is based on Cantonese dishes, so you might not see recognizable dishes on a menu in mainland China. But not to worry - so much of it is bright and fresh, with a complexity to the flavoring that is such a surprise compared with the typical stuff we get here!

As for "foods to avoid", of course go by your own judgement on what you like/don't like in general. (There may be some exotic proteins in use in some dishes, but I never saw a menu where there wasn't something I'd order. And while there I met a girl who was backpacking across the country, but always was able to order the chicken dish she likes most when home in the States.) Personally, the worst thing I tasted was fermented tofu, but it was more of a dare than an ordered entree. Plus, now that I've seen Anthony Bourdain eat some, I'd be up for revisiting it when I make it back to China!

Having a guide book with pictures, English/pinyin and Chinese characters is very helpful when out on your own ordering food. And this may be sacrilege to the others on this thread(!), but may I suggest at least entering an American fast food joint or two while you're overseas. I'm always fascinated seeing the local variations! In Beijing one night we ended up in a KFC, where I didn't order chicken but did enjoy a lotus root salad! (Lotus root has a crunch and flavor almost like a water chestnut and such a pretty, lacy shape.)

// A lot of the traditional Hutong neighborhoods have been torn down, and some have been cleaned up and gentrified. No matter what, I too find them interesting to explore.

// I did rent a bicycle while I was there. My experience was rather different, though, because I spent three weeks in Beijing taking a class, and my classmates and I rented bicycles for the duration to get back and forth from the hotel. I recall it was cheap, and rather shabby. And I agree that riding on the streets is not for the faint of heart! Probably not for the sane, really. (Even with sectioned off "bicycle lanes", you are under the tyranny of the cars...) But renting in a park should be fun.

// Panjiayuan (Dirt) market is great for photo ops, and for picking up authentic-looking items like brushes, paper, ceramics... Do go early before it gets too crowded, and do keep your valuables in a safe place - especially if you might get caught up in the moment of a photograph and be less mindful of where your purse may be... This was one of the times we used a taxi or pedicab both to and from. From what I recall, there's not any real food options there; we followed it by a lunch of Peking Duck closer to the Temple of Heaven.
ggreen is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2012, 04:13 PM
  #17
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,206
On hairy crabs, and more:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6897844.stm
ekscrunchy is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2012, 10:24 PM
  #18
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1
Veedubb:

Hallo!

I come here to look after my travel guides, but I find your question about my city.

As a citizen of Shanghai,I think it is not enough that you have only 2 full days in Shanghai.

There are many styles in Shanghai, If you want to see the modernization, you can go to the Lujiazui, such as Jinmao Tower, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, SWFC and so on. If you want to see the culture of Shanghai, You can go to the Tian zi fang or Xin tian di. Many Foreigners like them. And Yu Garden is also a landscape. It is an accient garden from hundreds years ago.

If you want to a day trip to one of the surrounding areas, I recommend you WU ZHEN or XI TANG. There are both accient towns. I remember that a part of Tom Cruise's was filmed in Xi Tang. It is worth visiting there. They are not far from Shanghai. By your private car(if you rent a car), it takes about 90 minutes. However, by the public transportation, it will be cheap.

About the food, there are so many specialties you can buy in Yu Garden. The small steamed bun in Yu Garden is so famous. You can taste them.
If you arrive in Shanghai in Oct., you can try to taste "hairy crab". But as i know, many foreigners can not accept it. Some famous dishes of Shanghai I can’t translate. But I can tell you something about the pastry or the dessert which shanghai people always eat. You can eat them in two famous restaurant. One is in the West Nanjing Road, called “wang jia sha”(“王家沙”), The another is in the Middle Huaihai Road, called “guang ming cun” (“光明邨”). These two place both can be arrived by subway.

Shanghai's dishes are a little bit sweet. Of course, if you want to eat some spicy food, Shanghai has all kinds of restaurants. I recommend going to a restaurant. You can not only taste authentic spicy food, but also enjoy the traditional performance. It is called "shun xing"("顺兴").If you can find it, have a try!

Finally, I want to tell you that it is convenient in Shanghai to take subway. So you’d better live in the hotel near subway station. Shanghai has many places to visit, such as JingAn Temple, HengShan Road(Many pubs), Nanjing Road and so on.

Any question, you can feel free to ask me.
Geraldine_Fenrir is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 20th, 2012, 08:51 AM
  #19
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 104
I appreciate all of the helpful information!

Do most places take credit cards in China, or is it mainly a cash country similar to Japan? Are ATMs prevalent in Beijing and Shanghai, and do they accept foreign ATM cards?

Also, can you recommend any other good China travel websites so that I can do further research?

Thanks again and have a good weekend!
VeeDubb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 20th, 2012, 10:09 AM
  #20
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,206
There are ATMs and in theory they take foreign cards. However, once in a while the machine will decline to take your card and you will have to find another. So prepare for that. Credit vards are widely accepted in the larger commercial establishments like hotels, shops, restaurants, but there are many smaller local restaurants, mostly on the lower end of the price scale, that are cash only. You can often negotiate a more favorable price in shops and hotels by offering to pay in cash, so you should always have some on hand. And of course, you need cash for taxis, subways, entrance to most sights, etc.

This is oriented towards expats but has some great general information for tourists in China as well:


http://www.themiddlekingdom.org/
ekscrunchy is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On



All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:48 AM.