Christmas in Beijing/Hong Kong?

Old Dec 2nd, 2003, 01:06 PM
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Christmas in Beijing/Hong Kong?

We're hoping for a little advice from Peter and all the other great advisors on this board....

Unexpectedly, we find ourselves with a little time to travel over the Christmas/New Year holiday (three weeks from now!). We could have 8-9 days on the ground, not including travel time. Since we prefer to experience places without the throngs of tourists that go during high seasons, we thought perhaps it might be a good time to go to Beijing (we've never been to mainland China). Given the postings we've read, however, we are wondering if Beijing would be enjoyable in late December/early January. We would be so grateful for any input on whether the cold weather impedes visiting sights in the city or the Great Wall. It would also be helpful to know if there are other reasons that this could be a good or bad time to visit. We'd like to treat ourselves, so advice on the benefits of staying at the St. Regis versus the Palace is most welcome (we love good hotels).

If we go, we thought we'd spend the bulk of the time in Beijing but perhaps celebrate New Year in Hong Kong for a couple of days at the end of the trip. Any thoughts on that combination (and advice on the best airline for a one-way Beijing-Hong Kong flight) would be great. If you think that is a good idea, we'd love any thoughts on the Ritz Carlton in Hong Kong as a hotel choice.

Finally, has anyone had experience getting a visa for China in the US last-minute (since we'd be leaving in three weeks if we go).

Thank you all for your help!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2003, 05:38 PM
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Many visitors enjoy greatly enjoying Christmas in Beijing for the extra decorative effect of snow on the ancient monuments, especially the Great Wall, and for often having the monuments almost all to themselves. Others, however, are made miserable by bitter cold. The simple answer, of course, is to wrap warmly, particularly for a Wall trip.

All sights are open as normal. Christmas Day is not a holiday, obviously. There's an increasing amount of Christmas decoration going on, and an element of crowding in the few open churches, mainly from curiosity rather than an intention to participate. Otherwise everything goes on as normal. Joint-venture hotels have special Christmas meals and special events. The GM may dress up as Father Christmas, for instance.

Of the two, I'd probably choose The Palace, although the St. Regis was traditionally the number one hotel before increased competition. But why limit to those two? I'd probably choose the Grand Hyatt over either, not least for its prime location over a metro station at a time when traffic may be moving even more slowly than usual. And then the Marco Polo is usually excellent value for money. But any of these would do. Or the Kerry Centre (the most popular hotel in Beijing in recent times), or China World (a very expensive refit just completed).

New Year's Day is a public holiday in both the mainland and Hong Kong, so you shouldn't let that affect your choice of route. You are better off to buy your Beijing to Hong Kong ticket once you've arrived in Beijing, and to do so from a travel agent, and bargain for a lower price. This isn't a holiday season for the Chinese, and you'll likely pay no more than half what you would if you tried to book from overseas. Chinese domestic airlines are much of a muchness, although I might pick China Southern over the others if I were taking that route. It's also considerably cheaper to fly to Shenzhen, and than take the jetfoil from the airport straight to Kowloon. Unless you are particularly loaded down with bags you might find this and entertaining way to enter Hong Kong.

I think there are several other luxury hotels superior to the Ritz Carlton, with its deep pile carpets and white furnishings, far too heavily laden with logos for my taste, although its oddly arranged entrance gives it a slightly private feel. However, I'd choose The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, or Grand Hyatt over the Ritz Carlton, if reasonable rates are available. Others will vote for the Shangri-La, or Conrad, I'm sure.

Three weeks isn't last-minute for a visa by any means. If you are in the U.S. or Canada then note that you have to visit a consulate in person, or get a visa agency to act for you, which adds to the expense. The last time I checked, most other countries still seemed to be accepting applications by mail or courier. Download the application forms from the consulate Web site and get moving! One benefit of going to Hong Kong before Beijing might be that if you are from a Western developed nation no visa is required, and mainland Chinese visas are easily acquired in Hong Kong.

Peter N-H
http://members.axion.net/~pnh/China.html
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Old Dec 3rd, 2003, 04:56 PM
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Hello,
two years ago we traveled to China. Left the U.S. on Dec 26 and returned mid January. We visited the Great Wall in Badaling...it was very cold and windy but we were dressed appropriately: heavy winter coat, scarf, hat, gloves and thermal underwear. A major advantage going at this time of year is that there are fewer tourists on the Great Wall. I think it was definitely worth it going in the winter and not having to deal with hordes of tourists. It was also cold at the Summer Palace. However, it was actually warm in Hong Kong in January...about 70 F. I admit I was initially concerned about traveling at that time of year but I think it is worth it to avoid the crowds. Just remember to dress appropriately.
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Old Dec 5th, 2003, 09:40 AM
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Peter and Kwoo - thank you for your responses, which were very helpful indeed. If you don't mind, we are hoping to get a few more thoughts from you. Thank you so very much for your help!

BEIJING QUESTIONS
At Peter's suggestion, we decided to think about other hotel options in Beijing. We looked at the websites of the hotels that Peter suggested. It is always hard to judge from photos, but given that the China World has just undergone a major renovation, it seemed that might be the best choice. We have reserved a room there on the Horizon Club floor. Our only remaining question about the China World is the location -- it appears that there is a metro station nearby, but we also like to be able to walk to things to get a feel for a neighborhood. Are there good restaurants and shops (not tourist traps) in this area of Beijing?

With the current itinerary for flights, it looks like we will have five full days in Beijing. Given that we'll want to spend at least one of those on a day-trip to the Great Wall, is four days enough time to get a real flavor for Beijing? We are big walkers, so we'd love to spend as much time as we can just walking (if the cold weather permits?!) soaking in the different areas of the city.

We've read the different postings on guides/drivers, but would love some advice on that front as well. Our most recent trips (one to Uganda and the other to Bhutan) were definitely enhanced by being accompanied by a local guide. We are more than happy to spend the money to have the best experience possible, so cost is not an issue. Do you recommend hiring a guide to accompany us around Beijing and/or on our excursion to the Great Wall? If so (both or either), is the best way to find a knowledgeable and friendly guide to work through the China World hotel's concierge before we arrive? If not, is there a local agency that we can contact before we go? What should we expect to pay for the services of such a person, and is tipping customary? If we want to ride in comfort for our trip to the Great Wall, is it best to arrange a car through the hotel (rather than a taxi). Again, we are willing to spend the money to be most comfortable.

Our flight into Beijing will arrive at night and we will likely be pretty exhausted. If the hotel offers to arrange a car service from the airport, is this a good way to go?

Final question on Beijing, can you recommend good art galleries? We bought a painting by a Chinese artist at a gallery in Singapore last year. We would love to buy another painting on this trip, but would only want to do so via a reputable gallery.

HONG KONG QUESTIONS
The hotel options are a bit overwhelming. We appreciated Peter's caution about the plethora of logos at the Ritz. Before booking anything, we'd love further guidance if you are willing to indulge us.

For our three nights in Hong Kong we'd really like to indulge ourselves in a very cushy room. We'd also really like to have a lovely view of the harbor. From reading guidebooks and looking on websites, it is really hard to tell which hotels offer the most well outfitted and luxurious regular rooms (non-suite) with a view. Some guest rooms do not appear to have been updated/renovated in a while and we wonder if those hotels may be resting on their reputations (we've experienced this phenomenon in hotels around the world -- the "normal" rooms get very worn while they keep up the public spaces and the suites).

We'd love to have input on Hong Kong hotels -- nicest (renovated or new?) rooms with a view of the harbor. To give you a sense of our barometer -- our absolute favorite hotel room was at the Lanesborough in London (no view, but the room was so plush, well-decorated and wonderful that we barely wanted to leave it to venture outside!).

GENERAL QUESTION
We noticed that the China World is a Shangri-La hotel. The best rates on their website appear to be for their "Golden Circle" club members. Has anyone joined this club, and if so are there any comments about whether it really does merit better rates/service when staying at Shangri-La hotels?

Peter and Kwoo and anyone else who might reply to this message -- a million thanks for all of your help!! We really cannot tell you how appreciative we are of your advice on our trip to Beijing/Hong Kong. Thank you so much!
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Old Dec 5th, 2003, 04:33 PM
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The China World sits almost on top of a metro station (Guomao), but be cautious about thinking you could casually stroll from there to the Forbidden City, for instance. This might take an hour-and-a-half, depending on your speed--blocks are very long. In general, in Beijing, you get to an area and then walk around it. If the back streets interest you then you need to be a lot further towards the centre. At the China World you're on the Third Ring Road, and the hutong (such fragments as remain) are largely inside the Second Ring Road, which roughly follows the line of the long-vanished city walls.

It's hard to answer the question on 'good' shops and restaurants, since even with the added information of 'not tourist traps', 'good' doesn't give much to go on. Aria inside the China World is a contender for the title of best Western restaurant in Beijing, but it's expensive, although certainly not a 'tourist trap', and who wants to eat Western food when visiting the Chinese capital. (Lots of people, apparently, but are you amongst them?) There's an excellent and very trendy Shanxi restaurant perhaps 15 mins (or one metro stop and five minutes) from the hotel, and possibly Beijing's best Roast Duck restaurant about 10 mins (at most) north by taxi. Back streets around have plenty of simple Chinese restaurants. But the immediate China World area is one of those little pockets of pseudo-Western development, with an excellent Indian restaurant, an American chain fast food restaurant, a branch of Starbucks, etc. etc. There's good Yunnan minority food about 10 minutes' drive away, too.

There's no need to spend a whole day on a trip to the Wall unless you want to go to a more remote spot. Badaling, Juyong Guan, and one or two more recently open spots are only a half-day trip, and easily reachable by comfortable air-con bus (919 from Desheng Men), for Y10 each way.

There will be numerous taxis waiting outside the airport when you arrive. Some hotels have a free shuttle bus for guests, so enquire when you've finally settled on your hotel. Paying a the hotel for a car to collect you may cost as much as six times the taxi fare.

All the other Beijing questions have been answered at length in other recent posts, so another search is perhaps in order.

But for a full discussion on tipping in China and on the relative costs of hotel cars vs. taxis, and on tipping, see

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34444029

For a lot on guides, see:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34395114

For a discussion on guides and on tipping see:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34436157

On possible sources of a reliable guide, if you must have one:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34455514

On booking taxis to further flung sections of Great Wall see:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34428371

If you stayed at the The Lanesborough, I'd recommend The Peninsula. There are toll-free numbers from most parts of the world, so you can call and discuss room size and view.

Peter N-H
http://members.axion.net/~pnh/China.html
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Old Dec 6th, 2003, 12:45 AM
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For a cushy non-suite great view in Hong Kong try the Island Shangri La. We stayed there in September - they were starting to renovate the rooms (and the newly renovated rooms look wonderful) but we stayed in a non-renovated room and that was lovely anyway. My tip: join the Shangri La Golden Circle Club (no cost - you can enrol on their website) and you can have rooms on designated Golden Circle Member floors - which at that hotel were from floors 39 upwards - excellent views. There are other benefits, like discounts on the rooms and upgrades to suites from US$75 in HK, US$25 elsewhere - all listed on their site: www.shangri-la.com/eng/gc/index.asp
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Old Dec 6th, 2003, 01:44 AM
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I've stayed on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon-side and, if you want great views, I would definitely recommend staying in Kowloon. For luxury and views, you can't do better than Peter's suggestion of the Peninsula, but SLIGHTLY less luxurious (and pricey!) but with near-identical views, try the Kowloon Shangri-La. Virtual tour available on their website at www.shangri-la.com/eng/hotel/index.asp?id=20

We didn't know about the Golden Circle Club when we stayed there 2 years ago, but have booked a Shangri-La in Borneo for next April, so I will be looking into that. Thanks for the tip!
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Old Dec 6th, 2003, 02:18 PM
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My vote goes to the Island Shangri-La. It has huge rooms and a breath-taking atrium (really - amazing). Location is wonderful as it is right on top of Pacific Place, one of Hong Kong's most prestigious shopping malls. For the Golden Circle membership, it applies to all Shangri-La hotels worldwide and all you have to do is visit www.shangri-la.com to enroll in the program, which entitles you to benefits such as free breakfasts. To give you an idea of Island Shangri-La's success, it has achieved the highest RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room) in Hong Kong for the past three years. In addition, rooms above the 48th Floor (rooms start at 39th floor) have just been renovated/upgraded. I promise you won't be dissappointed.
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Old Dec 8th, 2003, 04:53 AM
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We stayed at the Palace in Bejing. We arrived very early in the am and had the hotel pick us up at the airport. Well worthwhile. They had two people at the airport for us...one to greet and escort us and one to bring the car around. Then in the car after a few minutes ride, the car phone rang..it was for us!! OK, it was only the hotel desk asking us about dinner reservations and any other arrangements we wanted. They also met us at the car door and escorted us to our room with no wait at the desk. Great service..FYI.. the Palace has a great location, easy walking to the major tourist sites and good restaurants in the neighborhood. Their guide service to the Great Wall was very nice but included a stop at a jade factory. I would insist on not making that stop unless I really wanted to shop.
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