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Johnmango's 28-Day trip to Shanghai (Huangshan, Xitang), Hong Kong and Lijiang

Johnmango's 28-Day trip to Shanghai (Huangshan, Xitang), Hong Kong and Lijiang

Old Jun 10th, 2007, 02:44 PM
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Johnmango's 28-Day trip to Shanghai (Huangshan, Xitang), Hong Kong and Lijiang

Our party of 4 spent about a month in: Shanghai (Huangshan, Xitang), Hong Kong and Lijiang this past May. I won’t write a trip report because I am not good in writing travelogue. However I will list some travel tips and observations (just won't call them trip reports) that I have gathered as they may benefit other Fodorites and fellow travellers:

Flying in China

- Entering China you will need to complete the following: In-bound Custom Declaration Form, Immigration Ariival Card, and the Health Declaration Form. Leaving China, you will need to complete just the Custom Declaration (Out-bound) Form and the Immigration Departure Card.

- Although we have flown only 5 times in China, in general the planes are on time and the service very professional and efficient. Exemplified by the flight attendant turning on the reading light for me (quite a few times) when I was reading but forgot to turn the light on. I cannot say the same for Air Canada: The flight back from Hong Kong to Vancouver (June 4th, flight #AC8) was a flight from hell: I rang the bell for the flight attendant because the food tray was broken and the hinges were full of sticky whatever leftover food stuff and I accidentally touched it – so I needed a rag to clean my hand and the tray. No one came for 2 hours! Also the flight attendant was blatantly racist: instead of asking passengers what they want – as there was a choice between sandwiches and soup noodles – she gave chop sticks/noodles to all the Asian passengers and forks/sandwiches to the rest!! )

- Although all the airlines that we’ve flown are quite good, if I have to make a distinction (for example seat space/comfort), I would rank them as follows: Dragon Air and Shanghai Airlines are first, then China Southern, then China Eastern.

- They seem to always serve food even for a one-hour flight (Shanghai – Huanghsan/Yellow Mountain). Although that was just a bun with sweet bean paste, it was still better than many North American Airlines. Last time I flew Air Canada 3 hours from Edmonton to LA and they only gave the passengers 2 cookies each.

- For beverage there is always juice and Chinese tea. If you want coffee: sorry you are out of luck. So if you are a heavy coffee drinker: load up on coffees before you get on the plane.

- Many flights depart through bus gates, where the bus will load up passengers and take them to the planes. That means you have to be at the (bus) gate at least 30 mins before departure time.

- For flights within China, the limit for carry-on liquid is 1 liter (1000 mLs). For flights leaving China (International flights), the limit is 100 mL, like in North America.


Washrooms in Shanghai

- Let’s take care of business first: yes there are many squat toilets in Shanghai; but in train stations, airports, department stores etc. there is always one western toilet in each washroom.

- I believe in North America the general rule is that all the food establishments have to have a toilet. Not so in Shanghai. So when you go to Starbucks hoping to use the washroom there may not be one.

- Most toilets do not have toilet papers inside the stalls: there is usually a location in the bathroom (usually at the far wall), where there is a toilet paper dispenser. Get them before you go into the stall. Of course you can always bring some tissues with you.


Taxicabs in Shanghai

- Shanghai cabs come in yellow, white, green, blue, red, dark blue and dark red denoting different taxi companies. Most of the time there is no choice because you just want a cab – but if you have a choice, stay away from the dark blue and dark red ones. They are not very well maintained (e.g. seat belts not working). Turquoise and light green ones are the best. White, green, yellow are ok too.

- Don't try to hail a cab at a crossroads, as taxi drivers cannot stop their cars within 30 meters from an intersection to pick up passengers.

- In Shanghai, pooling a cab with strangers is banned.

- Cab fare: Generally about 15-25 rmb if you travel within the Luwan (French Concession) and Huangpu/Bund area. It is so cheap that we ended up taking cabs all the time instead of using the Subway. Hongqiao Airport to Bund area is about 50 rmb, Putong Airport to Bund area is about 150 rmb.

- No tipping is required: cabbies in Shanghai are not allowed to take a tip.

- Most of the drivers are amicable, but their English is limited. So it's best to get someone to write down your destination in Chinese.

- Remember to take the receipt Fa Piao; the driver is required to give it to you, and may yell at you if you start to get out of the cab before it is printed. So, pay first, then wait to get the Fa Paio, then step off the cab. The slip will contain information on the taxi car number/ plate number, the taxi company, date, time you get on the cab, time you get off the cab, milage and cost. In case you leave something in the car, the receipt will give you all the information to locate the cab.

- During the day the cab fare starts at 11 rmb; at night after 11pm the meter starts from 14 rmb.

- The cab line at the Putong airport is long but it moves very fast, and there is a traffic control person directing the cabs. When you are hauling luggages towards the cab line you may be approached by people asking you if you need a cab. Ignore them because they may be independent drivers or not even real cab drivers.

- For 4 adults each with one piece of luggage plus a small bag, the cabs would not take us, saying that we need 2 cars. It’s the same when I enquire about the private car service. I ended up calling the driver recommened by Ekscrunchy (Mr. Zhong Wei Ren of Jin Jiang Taxi Service). He was busy but he sent his friend another cab driver. We had no problem putting all the luggage into one cab, so we ended up spending 150 rmb from Astor House Hotel to Putong airport, instead of paying 300 rmb for 2 cabs. Thanks Ekscrunchy!!!


Eating in Shanghai

We tried a few of the restaurents recommended by fellow Fodorites and travellers: South Beauty (In Yan’An Xi Lu; www.qiaojiangnan.com), Sashas (Italian; http://sashas-shanghai.com/index.htm), Zen (dim sum in XinTienDi), Southern Barbarians (grilled spicy food, it has a Flickr page with photos and prices of some of their menu items) and 1221 (Shanghai cuisine). They are all good restaurents but none really stands out for me. We wanted to try Shanghai Uncle at the Bund Center (Westin Hotel), but they had a wedding banquet that night, so we opted for 1221. South Beauty had stunning décor and great service, and Sashas is housed in a beautiful European mansion, formerly a Soong family residence, great for outdoor dining in their garden/patio).

The food that moved me the most are those served in the hole-in-the-wall eateries. When you spend less than 10-20 rmb per person for a meal/lunch, you should, like one reviewer says, just shutup and enjoy the food. For taste alone, their food ranks higher in my poll than many of the fancy haunts.

- None of them have English menu, so you will have to be brave enough to ask or point to what others are eating and order the same things. Go before 11:30 am or after 1 pm, and the staff may be more inclined to attend to you if you don’t speak Chinese, because most don’t speak English. The food is cheap so they make money by volume, and they will not have time during busy lunch hours to explain the menu even if they want to.

- For all of these restaurants you will have to order at the front desk FIRST. There is always a menu on the wall behind the cashier. Pay for your order and then look for a place to sit. Again, be prepared to share a table as they are usually crowded.

- Jia Jia Tang Bao (638, South Henan Road by Wenmiao Road). They make only XiaoLongBao (Small Basket Dumpling): pork, chicken, crab meat. We ordered: Chicken and pork XLB (10 rmb for a basket of 12). Many opinions on how to eat them properly. Mine: wait till they are cool enough to put the whole dumpling in your mouth, bite slightly to break the skin and let the juice run out and tingle your palate, and bite into the meat and enjoy.

- Xiao Yang’s (54 Wujiang Road, 1 block south of Nanjing Xi Lu, just west of Shimen Yi (No1) Lu). Also serve Chungking Hot and Sour Soup but it’s most famous for their ShengJiangBao. They are potstickers: “large” XiaoLongBao which are crunchily charred on the bottom, yet soft and savory on the top, and full of tasty pork and dribble-down-your-chin juicyness. As they are too big to put the whole thing in your mouth, you will have to bite off the top a bit, and suck out the juice before devouring the rest. They have 2 shops a few doors apart. One sells take-out only, and the other (usually with a long lineup), sells both take-out and eat-in. We ordered: ShengJiangBao (set of 4 buns for 4 rmb).

- Wan Shou Zhai (123 ShanYang Lu, between Si Da Lu and Ji Xiang Lu, Near Duolun Lu. Shan Yang Lu is in Hongkou District, where Sichuan Bei/North Lu makes a 90 degree west bend and becomes Tong Xin Lu). They are famous for their Hun Tun (Wonton), especially the Three-Fresh (San Xian Xun Tun) in soup, and their Nan Xiang Soup Dumplings. About 10-12 rmb per bowl of 6-8 Hun Tuns. Yum!!!

- Chun (Spring) : 124 Jinxian Lu; phone +86 21 6256 0301
A tiny restaurant with only 4 tables so reservation is a must. I called about a month in advance after reading about this restaurant on the internet but the owner said it was too early, so with my broken Mandarin I called again just before I left Canada (about 5 days ahead) and managed to secure a table for 4. She also wanted me to re-confirm at noon the day of the reservation. It is like a small private kitchen because there is no menu, and the amicable proprietress just brings out whatever Shanghainese food she decides to make for that day. We had river shrimp, crab, steamed fish, house soup … about 7-8 dishes in total. Great food and atmosphere. We don’t drink and the bill for 4 came up to be about 400 rmb.
- One of our “greatest” find, along with these small eateries, is the Portugese Tart. (O.K. they are not Shanghai food). The best ones are actually made fresh by a pastry chain called Surprise. They have an outlet in the underground tunnel crossing Xizang Zhong/Central Lu (by the People/Renmen Square) between the New World Shopping Mall and the Shanghai Number 1 Department Store. But we tried the outlet just 3 doors east of the Shanghai No 1 Department Store, on Nanjing Dong/East Lu: The Shanghai Taikang Food Company is a store which has many small food outlets inside, like a foodcourt. Once you go in, turn left and follow the wall and you will come across the Surprise outlet. There are 2 places selling the tarts, but the ones made by Surprise tastes 10 times better than the other one. If you like the Chinese egg tarts in dim sum, these are similar except that the custards are made of coconut milk and egg yolk. One should forget about counting calories when the warm custard slides down your throat and when you chew on the incredibly flaky pastry shell. They are different from what one finds in dim sum sometimes, called Yeh Tart (Coconut Tart) which I find too sweet. Cost: ~3 rmb for a small Portugese Tart.

Lastly, I also read about a few “newer” restaurants in Shanghai which I have not seen mentioned much in this forum: they all have websites which only work sporadically. I have not tried these places but thought somebody may and can report back here!

One is the Hugo Shanghai (www.hugoshanghai.com) address #4, Lane 289 Weihai Lu. It is a Dutch-French restaurant owned by a Dutch-Chinese. The other one, Fu1039, is housed in a beautiful 1930 mansion and serves classic Shanghai food (www.fu1039.com). The last one is the Black Café, modelled after the Dan Le Noir in Paris. In the dark zone of the restaurant, food is served in the dark so if you want you can eat with your hands and genuinely taste the food instead of being distracted by the surroundings. Remember that their website, still under construction is www.blackcafe.com.cn. Make sure you type in “cn”. Without “cn”, it is an adult site.

(to be continued …)
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Old Jun 10th, 2007, 03:26 PM
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John this is excellent! I tried to reserve a seat at Spring and was told they were sold out every night for dinner for the days I was in the city. Glad you enjoyed!

But about Jia Jia Tang Bao..do they have two locations? Because the address you gave is different from the Jia Jia that I sampled....
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Old Jun 10th, 2007, 04:00 PM
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Good catch, Ekscrunchy!

Jia Jia's address is 90 Huanghe Lu, just north of Nanjing Xi/West Lu, by Feng Yang Lu. It is basically a bit north of the People/RenMen Square.

They moved there from 638, South Henan Road!
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Old Jun 10th, 2007, 04:53 PM
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thanks for your comments
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Old Jun 10th, 2007, 07:01 PM
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Thanks, Johnmango. (By the way, this looks like a trip report to me!)
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Old Jun 10th, 2007, 07:30 PM
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oh .. by "trip report" I meant something like on what day we did what .. like a diary; and I can never write so beautifully like Ekscrunchy.

Huangshan Yellow Mountain

What can I say? I live near the Canadian Rockies and the Huangshan is still awe-inspiring. There is no need to repeat information on Huangshan which one can get somewhere else; but here are some tips:

- Late April/early May appears to be the best time to visit because the mountain is dotted with mountain azaleas and wild rhododendrons.

- In May there is only one evening flight (Shanghai Airline) from Shanghai Putong Airport to Tunxi (Depart 21:30hr, arrive 22:30hr), which is the closest airport to Huangshan. Tunxi is about 1.5 hours from the Huangshan Cable Car so the best is to stay overnight in Tunxi.

- The cable cars start getting busy in the late morning. We left the Tunxi hotel at 7:30 a.m. and arrived at the Eastern cable cars at ~9 a.m. and we did not have to wait. I heard that the wait could be up to 1-2 hours as the morning progresses. The same with coming down: if you arrive at the cable car station after ~11 a.m. expect a 1-2 hour wait.

- If you have bad knees it is better to stay on the east side of the peak, which is generally easier to hike than the west side of the mountain, where there are many steep steps to negotiate. It took us about ½ hour to hike from the White Goose Range Stop, the cable car station at the East side of the mountain, to the Beihai (North Sea) Hotel as the trails are relatively flat, but it took us about an hour to walk from the Beihai Hotel to the Bright Summit Peak, which is only about half-way to the cable car station , The Jade Screen Telpher Stop, on the west side of the mountain.

- If your knees really give out, there are sedans available, and price is negotiable but is ~200 rmb from the Beihai (North Sea) Hotel to the eastern White Goose Range Stop. Seeing how steep the west side is, I would not contemplate using a sedan for that part of the mountain. What about the sedan carriers slip while carrying you?!!

- Hotels have jackets for guests who want to get up around 4 a.m. to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately for us, it was raining so we could not see the sunrise through the thick mist.

- When we lined up to get the cable car tickets up and down the mountain, we were approachd by people selling the same tickets. Not knowing if they are legitimate we declined and bought the tickets at the ticket counters. However on the way down, as there was a 1 hour wait for the cable car, a woman in uniform approached us while we were about to buy the tickets, telling us that there are VIP tickets, about 10 rmb more each, that enable us to bypass the waiting line. Since I saw her talking to the ticket agent a few mins earlier, we said yes and she took us to a store a few steps away from the ticket booth, and asked us to have some tea and wait so she can get us the VIP tickets. A few mins later she said that the ticket manager is away on breaks and asked us to wait a few more mins. then she proceeded to show us some CD/DVDs of Huangshan, and souvenirs from the store, and that raised a red flag. We said that we would wait in line like everyone else – if she suceeded in finding the manager and get us the VIP tickets, then she can come and get us since the wait now is about 1.5 hours. We waited in line eventually like everyone else and never saw her again. So it appears that the ticket agent knows her and I am not sure if they are in this together?!

(to be continued ..)
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Old Jun 10th, 2007, 07:43 PM
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Great information! I'm looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip!
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 03:01 AM
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Me, too!
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 10:31 AM
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Johnmango: This is so refreshing! Instead of a trip report, you have done an amazing job in providing travel tips and observations. Can't wait for the rest!

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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 11:04 AM
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Will mark this for reference when we start planning our first independent trip to China next year. Hope you will continue your notatripreport.
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 01:55 PM
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Johnmango: Would you share your itinerary, and your impression of the Beihai Hotel on Huangshan?
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 02:06 PM
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Enjoying your observations, awaiting more!
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 03:53 PM
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Hello Shanghainese:

We left Shanghai on a Thursday evening and returned to Shanghai on Saturday evening

Putong Airport – Tunxi
Shanghai Airline FM9625 (21:30/22:30)

Tunxi - Hongqiao Airport
China Eastern MU5562 (19:05/20:05)

The first evening we arrived in Tunxi fairly late, and stayed at the International Hotel at Tunxi. The hotel was recently renovated as evidenced from the strong solvent smell from the paint and tile glue in the hotel lobby. Friday morning at 7:30 am the driver picked us up and we arrived at the Eastern slope Telpher station at 9 am.

We arrived at Beihai (North Sea) Hotel at around 11am, checked in and did a little hiking in the afternoon around the east side of the mountain, and returned to the hotel for dinner.

The next morning on Friday, we got up at 4:30am to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately it was raining so we couldn't see through the thick mist. Then we spent the day hiking around the west side of the mountain.

On the third day we got up leisurely and walked back from the Beihai Hotel to the East cable car around 10:30 am - waited for about an hour and descended the mountain, where our driver was waiting for us. We spent the afternoon doing a bit of sightseeing around Huangshan, and returned to Shanghai in the evening.

- I picked mid-week because it will be very crowded in the weekend.

- we originally wanted to descend the west side of the mountain; but one of our member's knee gave out and she could not walk down the deep stairs of the west side; so we had to change the original plan and came down the east side - same side we went up the mountain.

- if you are an avid hiker, I would spend an extra day exploring the new Xihai (West Sea) White Cloud Stream Scenic Area. The scenery is there is spectacular; but if you just want a taste of Huangshan and a bit of sightseeing, spending 1.5 days like we did up at the peak area should suffice.

- Beihai Hotel is an OK hotel, regardless of some very negative review at Tripadvisor. The breakfast is also OK with fairly good selection of items. I would not call it a 3-star hotel, but of course there is no real criteria of giving oneself whatever number of stars. Remember that tehere are only a very limited number of hotels at the peak: for me it is either the Shilin, Beihai, and the Xihai. They are all very similar hotels. The Beihai has the advantage of closest to the sunrise-watching pavillion: just a 5-10 minute walk. You don't want to walk too far at 4:30am in the morning in the dark.

- just remember that if you go, be sure to bring (1) a small flashlight, and (2) hiking pole. There are wooden poles for sale at the peak hotels but we brought our own. If you bring the poles make sure that they are collapsable to fit inside your backpack. Otherwise you will have to check your poles. Our poles were too long to fit in the backpack and we were not allowed to carry them onto the plane "as-is", so we had to put them in our back pack, put the whole thing in a large plastic bag and checked them in as luggage.

- Also, unless you are super-resourceful, I would advice having a travel agent getting the airline tickets and provide you with a driver. That way you do not have to figure out how to get from Tunxi to Huangshan gate, and how to get from the gate to the airport. We had a driver/van at our disposal and it was way more comfortable than taking the bus.



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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 06:50 PM
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continue ... Huangshan

sorry, I meant "I would advise", not "I would advice"... in the last post

- if you are dying for a decent cup of coffee: have one at the Tunxi airport by the departure gates (after you've passed through security). I was pleasantly surprised that an airport coffee bar can make a great cup of coffee.

- At Huangshan area we did try some local dishes, including fresh bamboo shoots (not the flat slices from a can - these are light yellow colored fresh bamboo shoots), and a local wild vegetable called Juit Choi (Juit, as in "absolute", Choi, as in "vegetable").

Next we took a day trip to Xitang - Water Village 1.5 hours from Shanghai

Xitang

To get to the water village Xitang (where some scenes in Mission Impossible III were shot), you can:

1) Hire a private guide/driver, or 2) Take Subway Line 1 or Light Rail Line 3 to the Shanghai Nan Zhan (Shanghai South Station). There, look for the South Long Distance Bus Station. Catch the hourly bus to Jiashan. At Jiashan, take a minibus to Xitang, or 3) Take a direct tour bus from the Shanghai Stadium (Shanghai Sight-Seeing Bus SSSB).

- The SSSB trip costs 125 rmb, which includes admissions to 9 sight-seeing spots plus the return bus tickets. The SSSB office is under No.5 Staircase at Gate 12 of Shanghai Staduim.

The best way to get to the SSSB is taxicab, because if you take the bus or metro, you will still have to find the No 5 stairs/Gate 12. But if you must, take buses 43,15,89,111,92,42,104,73, or Metro line one or three. If you take Metro line 1, get out at Shanghai Station, Gate number 1. Walk towards the Outdoor Stadium (the first one you get to see is the Indoor Stadium, not this). Follow the "Yesbar" signs, and you will get to the Bus Office.

http://lyw.sh.gov.cn/en/bus_center/loc.aspx

http://www.64265555.com/

There is also a branch at the Shanghai Hongkou Football Field and departure yards at various locations in the city.

There are many local dishes in Xitang which you may want to try. However, you may be disappointed if you expect to be bedazzled. These are local peasant dishes, and may not be agreeable with everyone’s palate. We tried:

- Malt sugar cake: the seller boasted that these sugar cakes will not stick to your teeth. Not true: I almost had to chistle them from my teeth with a hammer. But ths taste of malt carried me back to my childhood when we used to dip a chopstick into a jar of malt syrup as candies.

- Preserved mustard green with Chinese bacon (meigan cai kou rou): the preserved mustard green is tasty but stay away if you are wary of fat. We had to bite off tactfully that little bits of meat at the end of the fatty pork fats.

- Panpi fish: these little ½ to 1” size fish swim in groups along the river banks; we ordered them deep fried, and they are quite tasty – just like deep-fried smelts.

- Conch fired in bean sauce: these conches are so small (about the size of half a small finger tip) that it is imposible to get the meat out. Without any skewers we resorted to just sucking on them, and ended up sucking in more air than conch meat. Dan in our group said that they must have been scraped off the side of the tour boats. When we did succeed in getting the tiny flesh out, the inside end was still pinkish – they look more like ear wax to me than appetizing. They are NOT like escarcot. I who considered myself fairly adventurous in food, could not eat them.

- one local dish we did not order was the Baixi Yu (Fish), which is usually served steamed. However the guests at the next table did ordered it (it looked good) , along with some nice looking bean-curd wrapped “egg-roll” type dishes. I did try my very best to refrain myself from reaching across to grab one, since the guests had already left and the waiter had not come to clear the table.

(to be continued)
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 07:02 PM
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Hong Kong

Compared to Shanghai, to me Hong Kong is more in-your-face: more crowded, more noise … more of everything to saturate your senses. Maybe that’s one reason some people feel overwhelmed. You may pass one pungent Chinese herbal store and the next one is a Lush soap then, then it’s a restaurant, and then it’s a bakery....

Taxicabs in Hong Kong

- Shanghai’s cab fare is incredibly cheap (15-20 rmb if you travel within HuangPu/Luwan, something like US$2-3). Hong Kong’s cab fare is comparatively more expensive. My estimate is about 3 times more: ~HK$40-60. The exchange rate of HK$ to China rmb is about 1 to 1, with rmb slightly higher.

- Starting cabfare is HK$15. There are also toll fees ($5-10) if you use , for example, the cross-harbour tunnel, or going to Stanley Market using the Aberdeen tunnel (I believe). If you have luggage to put in the truck it is $5 per piece.

- One reason cab rides are more expensive in Hong Kong than in Shanghai (it’s still cheap compared to, say New York), is that there are many restrictions on where cars can turn, some depending on time of the day. So the cab may have to go around the block in order to reach the destination.

- Drivers usually do not give receipts, and I have never asked for one. It is also not customary to tip the driver. If you do, they certainly would not refuse.

- Although Hong Kong’s streets are busy like Shanghai, you don’t hear much honking there, because there was a campaign to “minimize horn blowing while you’re driving”. In Shanghai you can hear cars honking every second that it is unnerving. Sitting next to the driver in a Shanghai cab is an adrenalin-rushing experience because the cars don't seem to stay within the lanes much. Not so in Hong Kong.


Dining Tips and Habits in Hong Kong

- there are many coffee chains like Starbucks and Pacific Coffee, where you can order latte, cappuccino like in U.S. But if you go to a “local” restaurants (for example in Café de Coral), if you order “coffee” the default is coffee with milk; in many cases they use evaporated milk. Some people may find the taste of evaporated milk peculiar. If you want a black coffee you have to ask for it, the local term is “Jai Fare” (don’t pronounce the R. “Jai” means in this case, “without”, like “sensa” in Italian). If you want to order dry toast, it is “Jai Door” (again don’t pronounce the R; “door” is an abbreviated term for Door-See, a “Chin-glish” borrowed from TOAST).

- How do you pay your bill in a restaurant? The convention is that, if the waiter/waitress leaves a bill on your table after you ordered (as in many cheaper restaurants), you take the bill and pay at the cashier. No tip is expected. If you have to ask for the bill and they bring it to you, then check the bill. Usually there is a 10% service charge. In that case, I also do not tip. If I pay in cash I may just leave the spare changes on the tray. If there is no service charge then you tip as per your preference.

- When the bill arrives, the waiter/waitress will not leave the bill on your table and come back later to collect the payment. There, they stand there and wait so if you want to pay in cash you may want to have the money handy so you don’t have to fumble around your purse/wallet, or start collecting the shares from your dining companions.


Comfort Food in Hong Kong

Like New York, there are so many restaurants in Hong Kong that I’ll leave it to experts like Cicerone to recommend the fancier ones. Her recommendations are always spot-on. As for us we eat cheap. The only fancier restaurant we tried was the Hutong. If you take away the fancy décor, the peculiar washrooms, the harbour view and just critique the food: I have to say that it is very average. Of course it is my own opinion and it all depends on what one orders – and maybe we ordered the wrong dishes: Huashan bamboo shoot (pretty uninspiring/plain), spareribs with fennel seed (good dish but not outstanding), salt and pepper bean curd, steamed buns, salted fish and chicken fried rice, and the worst: Mongolian grilled vegetable. Basically it is a plate of grilled asparagus, leek (still half raw), beans and other vegetables. If you’ve tried the Japanese robatas they are miles better than this. The only thing that maybe makes it “Mongolian” is the small dish of dipping spice.

I have however, not seen many talk about cheap eateries in Hong Kong (except maybe Rkkwan: he mentioned both Kau Kee and Mak’s in previous posts in this forum). By “cheap” I mean everyday comfort food that many locals enjoy, and we rarely pay more than HK$30-50 per person (except the spicy crab – see below). So this is what I have assembled:

- Clay-Pot Rice: these are one-dish entries with everything cooked with rice in a clay pot, such as chicken/mushroom on rice, chicken/Chinese sausage (lap cheung) on rice, lamb and vegetable on rice etc. etc. Some restaurants use charcoal-fired burner, and the result is that the rice is nicely charred and crispy at the bottom. Many locals restaurants serve them. The famous ones include:
1) Sheung Kee, address 1-2 Kwei Heung Street, Western District; phone: 2803-7209
2) Sun Chui Wah, address #12, Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay; phone 2803-4801 or 2893-8264

Tang Lung Street is one block north of Russel Street where Times Square Causeway Bay is located. They only serve rice pots from 5pm – 12 am. The pots range from HK$35-55. Ask for the English-Japanese menu which she keeps at the front desk.

- Beef Brisket Noodle (Ngau Naum Mien)
Again many noodle restaurants serve them; The recommended ones include:
1) Kau Kee; address 21 Gough Street, Central District; phone 2815-0123
2) Da Li Qing Tang Nang; address 13-15 Electric Road, Causeway Bay; phone 2570-4103.

Da Li is at the east side of Victoria Park, behind the Tin Hau subway station. Beef brisket with noodle, ~HK$20. If you just order beef brisket the meat may be considered too chewey because it is too lean. If you don’t mind a bit of fat, ask for “Hang Naum” (Hang with a long “a” , as pronounced in Christopher MArlow). Qing Tang (or Ching Tong in Cantonese) means Clear Soup. You will not find lots of gravy on top of the beef briskets in these noodles. The flavor is subtle.

- Wonton noodles
Wonton is like Hong Kong’s answer to Shanghai’s XiaoLongBao. Everyone makes wonton but one famous one is Mak’s

Mak Kee; address 77-Wellington Street, Central District (11 am – 8 pm); phone 2854-3810. They have another branch at 44, Jardine Street, Causeway (11 am – 12 midnight), and 2 more branches in Kowloon.
Wonton dumpling without noodle is ~HK$28, with noodle, HK$35. Some people complain about the serving size being too small; Mak says that the portion is kept small so that the wontons do not get soggy by sitting in the soup for too long! The story also goes that the owner descends from a family of famous noodle makers. In the 1930s Chinese warlords used to fly down to Canton especially to eat Mak’s sensational noodles

- Spicy Crab and other “Typhoon Shelter Food”
In the good old days, the Typhoon Shelter close to Causeway Bay had sampan restaurants – these have all moved to land and some of these local dishes can still be found in some restaurants. One popular restaurant is the “Under Bridge Spicy Crab” (http://www.underspicycrab.com)
They have 4 branches all located within one block: 2 are on Canal Road West (North of Lockhart Road), and 2 are on Lockhart Road between Canal Street West, and Marsh Road)

They are, of course, famous for the spicy crab: freshly cooked crab covered with roasted chilies, scallions and chopped garlic. Seafood like crab and fish are charged by weight: a small crab for 2-3 people is about HK$200, a large one for 4-5 people is about HK$300. Try also their Salt and Pepper Mantis Shrimp. These large shrimps are about HK$120 each and it’s good for 1 shrimp per person. Another signature dish is Typhoon Shelter Shrimp.

- Dai Pai Dongs
These were small street booth-style restaurants that were popular with locals long time ago. Many were closed by the government in the 80’s and/or forced to move inside (many on the second floor of) municipal service buildings, where the indoor wet markets (food markets) are located. The one to try is Tung Po (address 2/F, Java Road Municipal Building, 99 Java Road, North Point; phone 2880-9399) – famous because Chow Yun-Fat was reportedly a regular. The dish to try is their Steamed Rice with Duck Sauce Wrapped in Lotus Leaves, which has to be ordered a day in advance.

- Home-cooked meals
There is a restaurant called Home Feel started by a housewife but has now successfully turned into a 2-restaurant chain. The premise is based on home-cooking. Supposedly they do not use MSG, the food is less greasy, and there is always a daily home-made soup. www.home-feel.com
Address: 7th Floor (7-C), Lee Theater Plaza, #99 Percival Street, phone 3105-0339. Their original store is at #460-462 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay, phone 3105-0456. Please note that Lee Theater Plaza is behind Times Square. It is different from the Lee Garden Plazas. I had set-lunch one day: a steamed fish, rice and soup for … about HK$30.

Lastly, if you are in the mood for some Western food, I also found a couple of neighbourhood cafes. These are not 3 or 4-star restaurants. But the food is decent and you won’t spend more than US$20 for a meal there. Personally I do not have the budget to spend US$30-40 on every meal. They are both in the Tai Hang area close to Metropark Causeway Bay.

1) Café on the Corner; address #4 King Street phone 2882-7135. Please note that King’s Street is different from King’s Road. King’s Street is a little street a few blocks south of the Hong Kong Central Library in Causeway Bay – or more correctly, in the Tai Hang area. I liked their Pork Chop in Balsamic Sauce (HK$98), roasted potatoes; another house specialty is T-bone steak with mustard sauce. Don’t forget the cheese cakes – they would not be out of place if you serve them in a 3-star fancy restaurant.

2) Cherry Garden; address #7 Wun Sha Street, Tai Hang; phone 35280852 or 28821441; just around the corner from Café on the Corner. This restaurant is recommended by Suzie Wong, a local (TV?) celebrity who goes to different Hong Kong neighbourhoods in search of little-known gems. This place gets really busy because of the Suzie Wong’s review so expect a long wait.
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 09:36 PM
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Johnmango,
Did you have a preference between Shanghai and Hong Kong? I may only have time to go to only one of those cities during my trip in July. I will have spent about 7 days in Beijing earlier. Any recommendations would be appreciated! Great job with your "travel tips and observations"!
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Old Jun 12th, 2007, 05:41 AM
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Right on about eating in Hong Kong, though I want to mention one thing. "Jai" - as in "Jai Fair" and "Jai Door" - is the word for vegetarian food. No meat. But locals use the term liberally for other uses.

As for Mak's noodles. A much more simpler and true reason why the sizes are small is this - that's the way they were. Most other eateries have increased the portion size over the years to make wonton noodles large enough for lunch. But wonton noodles used to be a snack and not a meal. And Mak's have kept it that way.
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Old Jun 12th, 2007, 05:46 AM
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Thanks for the great information! I'm heading to China October 2008 and I'm already hungry!

Monica
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Old Jun 12th, 2007, 08:03 AM
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Travelgo7:

I think Cicerone and rkkwan have answered your question beautifully in your other post: Shanghai or Hong Kong. It really comes down to personal preference of "what you like to do".

I spent my childhood in Hong Kong and had visited there maybe only 2-3 times in the last 20 years; some of my family members still live there so I have a natural affinity for the city. I had only spent a week in Shanghai so it would be ridiculous to profess that I know the city. But from the perspective of a tourist this is what I think (also repeating some comments from Cicerone and rkkwan):

- Shanghai to me is more "parvenu" - seems to have this new surge of energy from this sudden found wealth as China rises again economically. There are constructions everywhere and people say that it will look completely different in 10 years time with all the old neighbourhood disappearing. Hong Kong always has energy and seem to be more in-your-face because things seem to be closer together: buildings are smaller and narrower, restaurants are smaller. You seldom see, in Hong Kong, a restaurants like South Beauty or Sasha in Shanghai that take up a converted mansion/villa.

- Citiscape-wise I prefer Hong Kong because it has a beautiful harbour, nice buildings (bank of China designed by I.M. Pei is one example; the HSBC designed by Norman Foster is another) and lots of green space. Shanghai is more like a concrete jungle, but it has more interesting buildings because the Chinese spared no expense in hiring world-class architects in designing their new buildings; also there are many art-deco, neo-classical buildinds in Shanghai which I love. I love the Shanghai Art Museum, Peace Hotel, Park Hotel, Pacific Hotel, Metropole Hotel, and all the buildings along the Bund, and even love the old Broadway Mansion which is all run-down but now closed for renovation north of the Suzhou Creek. I also like the new Radisson New World Hotel, the LeRoyal Meridien, the Hong Kong New World Tower, the Shanghai Grand Theater, the Jimao Tower …

- Night view: Hong Kong's harbour is world-famous with all the neon lights reflecting off the harbour water; but I have to admit that it pales in comparison to Shanghai because all the major buildings lit up at night so it is like a light show. They do turn off the lights after 11 pm.

- Dining-wise Shanghai is much less expensive; even at South Beauty we only spent about US$15 per person without wine. Hong Kong offers a wider range of choices: you can eat fairly well, like most locals and office workers, at <US$10 for a meal, or you can spend easily US$100 for a meal in many restaurants. In Hong Kong even the less expensive restautants are reasonably clean.

- Shopping: if you go to the Japanese department store like Sogo, or to the stores like Ralph Lauren, Armani, Prada, Escada, Hermes, the price is pretty much the same. Hong Kong however has more variety and offers more choices. If you like silk, like Cicerone says then go to Shanghai. Personally for cloths I like Hong Kong better because there are some local chains like Giordano, G2000, Bossini which one can get decent cloths at a fraction of the price you pay in US. Like I got some short-sleeved shorts (many linen) from Giordano for about US$15. These stores are also packed with local shoppers.

- Besides shopping and eating, Hong Kong has many places you can go (Ocean Park, the Peak, hiking trails, Lantau Buddha etc. etc.) Even Lamma Island is only a 30 min ferry-ride. On the other hand, both cities offer day-trip (same day return, 1-2 day layover) opportunities: From Hong Kong you can go to Macao , Shenzhen or the Pearl River Delta region. Shanghai you can make day trips to the surrounding water villages, as per other posts.

- If washroom is important to you: Hong Kong is all western toilets; Shanghai is mostly squat toilets with some access to western ones in malls, hotels, stations etc.

- History-wise, I personally like Shanghai’s history – the foreign concessions, the Jewish migration, and I also find the 1930’s era in Shanghai kind of romatic – the lounge divas, the jazz bands etc. etc.

- Although Shanghai has about twice the population as Hong Kong, I find Shanghai more spread-out. Where the tourists hang out (The Huangpu, the HongQiao, the Luwan French Concession ..) is about maybe 1/10th of Greater Shanghai. Hong Kong is more concentrated: on the Hong Kong island, most people live in the narrow strip of land between the peak/mountain and the harbour, and in Kowloon. So the city appears more crowded.

- Transportation wise I really like the subway system in Hong Kong. With the Octopus Card you can download money into the card and use it for bus, trams, subway, grocery stores and even use it as access card into your residence. Since Shanghai is more spreadout it is not as “walkable” as Hong Kong. Even going from one district (Huangpu) to the next (Luwan) we ended up taking cabs. On the other hand, cab is really cheap.
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Old Jun 12th, 2007, 08:20 AM
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Rkkwan:

My sister who lives in Hong Kong said that there is a restaurant in Causeway Bay which serves wonton noodle just as good as Mak's, but the serving is larger!! She doesn't know the street, but she says if you get off at the Causeway Bay mrt station, there is an exit which is close to a street with many restaurants (there is a Cafe de Coral on that street). The wonton restaurant is next to the store that sells bean curd desserts (dou fu fa). She said it is not Jaffe Road or Lockhart Road - if I am thinking that it is a street by exit F, on the south side of Henessey Road.

Do you have any idea what street?
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