Just back from China TR

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Jul 3rd, 2007, 08:16 PM
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Just back from China TR

This will be short since we just got back from China late last night. First of all, thanks to all who answered many of my questions before we left. I quoted you all many times on the trip. Very useful info to have before we went. If you have any questions I might be able to answer, please feel free to ask. Still experiencing jet lag, but will jot a few notes down about the hotels in case that would be of help to anyone.

We went to Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou , and Shanghai in that order.

Stayed at Beijing Peninsula-it was wonderful. They had automatic switches to control just about everything. The staff was very courteous and very eager to help. The hotel itself was beautiful in the lobby and rooms. Everything was VERY accessible which we did not find in our other hotels. Very enjoyable stay, we were sorry to leave. Only one we stayed at that had a plasma TV and also mini TV in bathroom.

They have a wonderful daily breakfast buffet at Jing. I ate the same thing everyday-congee, salty eggs, pickled cucumbers, barb. pork buns, peanuts, wok fried noodles, sponge cake, I've forgotten the rest but I loved it!! They also have a wide variety of american breakfast items.

The other restaurant had excellent dim sum which we enjoyed.

FYI, I did buy a cell phone specifically to use in China from Tiger Direct before I left. It fit all the specs needed for China. At the airport I immediately headed for the SIM card/IP card station. I bought one there. They could not get it to work. So, then I tried it at the Peninsula. The concierge was nice enough to try for a couple of hours to get it to work with her SIM card and colleague's cells and it wouldn't work. I went down the street from the hotel and went to a mobile phone store. They assured me the SIM card would work, etc. I asked them to call each other with it and sure enough it again didn't work. So I ended up buying another mobile phone in China and used that. So if I had it to do over again, I would not buy one in the states. I know people had suggested I just go to China to buy one, but I was afraid I would not be able to communicate enough do to it. I should have just done it the first time.

Another aside: I found that most of the the reception folks and the concierge folks could speak English. But other than that, most do not. ie the housekeeping folks, the engineers who fix the rooms, many of the staff in the restaurants, etc.

Anyway in short, we really liked the Beijing Peninsula.

Next was the Sofitel in Xian. This was supposedly the best hotel in Xian and the newest from what some said. We really disliked this hotel. There is an east and west wing. We were placed in the west wing. It's very inconvenient. We had to walk quite a distance to get to the morning breakfast, etc. This is fine if you have a lot of time, but when you want to see so much and are on tour, time is of the essence and it was inconvenient. Then there are the rooms. We got in late, wanted to get to bed and get up early for the tour the next morning. First the toilets didn't flush. They sent a maintenance guy who didn't speak English who said he fixed it. I didn't check , just believed him. Then while taking a shower, the shower drain didn't drain. That was really disgusting. Then the sink water didn't drain. I called down and the same maintenance guy came. He just started banging on the drain with a wrench. I complained to the manager and they offered me a fruit basket. I said I don't want a fruit basket, I want a room that works!!. They did switch us to another room. That one still had the problem with the toilets, but was usable. You could tell it was really decorated nice and new, but things weren't constructed right. For instance when you slide the glass door to open, it doesn't follow the track right and runs into one of the bathroom fixtures. This was just my experience. Many of you could have had a great experience. We did relay our problems to our tour guide and she said she has had many similar complaints.

Next was the Shangri-La in Hangzhou. I liked that hotel, does show its age a bit. Same problem about a lot of walking up and down the halls to get to places. We didn't think to ask for rooms close to restaurants. Nice hotel, not as glitzy.

Food excellent in the main restaurant, blocking on the name, maybe Shang. They had the Hangzhou specialties of Dong Po pork (oh so yummy) and the crystal shrimp with tea leaves. Hangzhou food was very light and delicate. Very good. The banquet or buffet they had at night wasn't as good as ordering specific dishes for us.

Next was the JW Marriott. Again, an excellent hotel. Very convenient to get everywhere. Very fancy. Excellent view of the city. Great location for shopping. Rooms were VERY fancy. They excelled in service everywhere!! More people spoke English, but still limited. Very nice hotel but no plasma TV. Only hotel with many TV stations in English. TV really not too important since mostly out touring. Truly high class hotel. We were very impressed.

Will continue later.



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Jul 3rd, 2007, 08:46 PM
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lost in china, have been wondering about you. Did the pollution get to you? I know you were worried about having a mask. From what you have written, sounds like all went well.
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Jul 4th, 2007, 01:54 PM
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Pat,
The pollution was very bad, but we didn't end up using masks. All three cities Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai had very hazy days. Hangzhou was the first city we actually saw the sky. It was great. Then back to Shanghai and we lost the sky again. The view was tremendous outside the Marriott window, but the haze kinda took away from that. I took a picture with skyline in the background.I could see it with the naked eye, but in the picture, all you see was what's in the front and haze in the backgroud. I took the same picture repeatedly and got the same thing.
Two in our party got upper respiratory illness probably triggered by pollution and is still sick here at home.

I asked the guide about how they are going to handle the Olympics next year with all the pollution? She said everyone in Beijing is getting 15 (?) days off with pay. That will alleviate a lot of the congestion on the roads and thus the pollution. INteresting way to approach it. They did move a lot of the heavy industries outside the city, but boy they have a long way to go.
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Jul 4th, 2007, 02:03 PM
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Before I forget there is one aside for whomever is travelling soon. When ordering your meals, many times the waiter (who usually doesn't speak English) will suggest a tea. We would usually just go along with their suggestion. BEWARE!! Some of these teas cost more than the dishes!! Better to ask for whatever tea is free unless you have a personal preference. We didn't, but got charged the extra expensive one assuming it's the free one that comes with the meal.
One comment about crossing the streets in any big city. They say you can tell how long someone has been in China by how they cross a street. if you just got there, you anxiously are looking both ways, crossing and hoping not to get hit. Once you've been there for awhile, you just cross and assume (and hope) that they will stop. I got better at it, but it is still hair-raising.
The driving there is challenging to say the least. One thing is all the drivers seem to know the dimensions of their vehicle down to the centimeter!! They came so close to each other, it is phenomenal that there are not more accidents. They know just in what little space they can navigate their cars. The guide told us the joke is the traffic lights are just suggestions.
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Jul 4th, 2007, 02:25 PM
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Sorry to hear about your cell phone problem. I would definitely raise issue with Tiger Direct. If they've sold you an unlocked GSM phone with 900/1800MHz, it definitely would have worked in China.
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Jul 4th, 2007, 03:56 PM
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rkkwan,
I was thinking of raising an issue with Tiger Direct. The box does say once you break the seal to open it, it's not returnable. I have to look for receipts, etc. Thanks for your suggestion. I was thinking the same thing, will see what they say
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Jul 5th, 2007, 07:30 AM
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If the phone is truly unlocked, then it would have worked in China. In a case like this it is Tigerdirect's problem and the open box shouldn't be an issue.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 09:52 AM
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These kind of "bubble travel" strings make me laugh. There should be a category named "I am fussier than you are - NO, I am much fussier than you!" I guess when people (over)pay for bubble travel -where they pay so much to demand every single amenity from developed world in their hotel - incl Phone in Bathroom & expensive TV - they expect to complain - even about having to walk a little. Staying home would cost a lot less & most people would speak English & you would not have to walk. My most recent hotel was a hut on stilts on an indonesia island which came with a bed & mosquito coil - and nothing else, but had a 40" monitor lizard and a wild pig underneath and 30-40 monkeys bouncing on the roof at 0400 & outside in the morn on a tree. The bathroom worked fine - a hole in the ground about 600 ft downhill. It was paradise for $7. a night. No AC, no Fan, nothing & I never complained a single word about it. But it was REAL Asia, real Indonesia, Real Indian ocean, not travel in a bubble.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 09:57 AM
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So happy that you were not lost in China, and sounds like you did well and had a good time. Hope to hear more about your trip after you get over the jet lag.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 11:07 AM
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merckxxx-sorry if you find my report of no use. I was just hoping to help some people who might be considering the same hotels.

Shanghainese-thanks for your kind comments. Will try to report more soon.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 11:28 AM
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merck: you sound like the kind of very young traveler who would do better on backpacker websites and on the Thorntree on Lonely Planet.

Here, at Fodors, the folks tend to be a bit older and want some more comfort while travelling.

I, too, have "roughed" it in Asia when very young. Once, up in the hills of India, I had to take a shower because of the heat. The only place was a shower outdoors in the wild with as many holes between the board slats as there were boards. I hurried through my shower, all the time wondering what wild animals were out there and whether I would survive or not. The hotel with the "attached" shower probably cost $1 in those days. Adventures like these are good for stories to be told when older.

Now, that I am older, I prefer to stay in hotels like the Shangri-La. The service is awesome, the rooms are calming, and the food in their restaurants is great. This too is the REAL Asia. Asia is very diverse and the experience of Asia doesn't have to be confined only to the inexpensive end.

Your story about the beach in Indonesia is a great one to save and tell your grandchildren.

LostinChina: Thanks for your interesting posts. Please keep them coming. Every TR allows me to revisit some places or enjoy new places. Each TR is therefore fascinating in its right. so, please continue with yours! I check in always with the hope of seeing the continuation!
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Jul 5th, 2007, 06:25 PM
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easytraveler,
Thanks for the encouraging comments. After reading merck's comments, I was thinking about not continuing if it is no help to anyone.

On the trip, 3 of us got sick. One is still quite sick, so I haven't been able to write much.

As soon as we arrived at Beijing, we were eager to try the food. The guide who picked us up told us not to eat in the hotel, but rather to sample the food where the locals go. So we did. I don't recall the name (there might not have been an English name) but there is a restaurant right across from the Beijing Peninsula with two lanterns hanging in front. We went there as the guide suggested. I have to say, the food was horrible. In fact, each time someone suggested us to go to a place the locals go to, we weren't too thrilled. The food was VERY oily, not very tasty and probably comparable to bad Chinese food here in the states. I know that lots of you have commented on how great the food was in other restaurants, just seemed like the ones we were directed to weren't the best. The lunches that were included in the tours were generally not very good also. They had a preset menu and almost ALWAYS included sweet and sour pork which is considered a dish foreigners seem to like I guess. Anyway, we weren't too thrilled with the lunches. The "drill" was usually that you can have one soft drink which is included and all the tea you can drink and then 4-5 dishes. They were ok.

Our first day of touring was to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Forbidden City had so much history there.In each of the entrances there is a ledge which you must step over. They believed that these kept the evil spirits away. The evil spirits were short, so this small ledge kept them away. Also by making you step over the ledge, it forces you to bow which was their intention. Some tourists stood on top of the ledge. This is a big no-no. They said it's bad for the owners of the place and bad for you. I noticed that in the hotels, they all had a ledge right before you enter the bathroom. Not as high, but still there. I figured I would trip many times on those, you just don't expect a little step there!!

More later...

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Jul 5th, 2007, 08:48 PM
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Before entering the Forbidden City, this was the first time I got harassed by someone trying to sell me a book on the Forbidden City. He started walking up to me and talking in Chinese I assume trying to sell the souvenir book. I told him "wo boo yau" which means I don't want it, many, many times. He just kept lowering the price and lowering it. Finally he went down to 10 yuan. I probably should have taken it, I didn't. It appeared he was going to follow us forever. The guide told me later that the best thing to do is just don't make eye contact and don't talk to them. I did that from then on in and never had a problem.

Forbidden City I was a tad disappointed about not being able to go into any of the Forbidden City buildings. We were able to go up to a window and take pictures, but the windows were very dirty, maybe due to the pollution. Thus you could hardly see and the pictures didn't come out well at all. There are huge vessels at key points outside to hold water in case there ever was a fire. The vessels even were equipped with places for fire underneath to heat up the snow/ice during the winter.

At Tiananmen Square, we were very careful not to say anything about the 1989 tragedy. I had read in one of the guide books that this was very important and that there are police everywhere. But our guide brought it up herself. Interesting.

The next day was the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace. The Temple of Heaven was beautiful and we were able to view the inside. We saw the Marble Boat. Again, I was disappointed that we were not able to walk on it. I remember seeing pictures of tourists on it. When I asked our guide, she said tourists were allowed up until Pres. Clinton went on the marble boat and then ever since, no more tourists are allowed. We took a boat ride around the Summer Palace area which was scenic and relaxing.

The next day was the Great Wall. We went to the section newly opened which I think was called something like Jinyon Pass (?), part of Badaling. The guide liked it because you can drive pretty much right up to the wall. That was good. It was awesome. The steps were VERY steep and differing heights so you certainly had to be careful. It was pretty hot that day,so sweat was rolling off, but still worth the climb. I had seen pictures of long areas where it was flat.Not so with this section. This section was all steep and pretty much straight up. The day was hazy once again, so our pictures from the top don't show a lot.

I had another encounter while climbing the wall. A guy and his "girlfriend" (which I doubt they really were a couple) came up to me and started complimenting me. Then the asked if we could walk up the wall together. I kept discouraging him. I finally told him no. He then went on. He said he was curious and would like to talk to us. He could even help us up the steep wall. Later I asked the guide and she said that Chinese will talk to you briefly, but won't do something like that. The guide had dropped us off at the bottom of the wall and let us climb ourselves. She assumed he would get to the top and then either rob us or have his friends waiting to sell us things and we would feel guilty not to buy them since he "helped" us and was so nice while going up. Just be aware of this type of behavior.

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Jul 6th, 2007, 06:31 PM
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Hi, Lost!

Very good to see you continue your TR of your adventures in China.

So sorry the food situation didn't work out. Tour groups don't always have the best food.

You have to watch out for the guides as well. Sometimes they will bring up political/other controversial topics. I never know if they are asking out of curiosity or because they work for the government, so I always give them a bland reply - somewhat like tour group food, LOL!

I really don't understand why they won't let people on the Marble Boat, even after Clinton's visit. What did his visit have to do with cordoning off the area? Very strange. Actually, you didn't miss much. There were so many Chiense tourists on there when I went that it was not possible to move around, so I just got off and have never tried to get back on again.

How's your phone? Are you getting a refund?

Looking forward to more of your trip! Each person brings another different fascinating perspective!

(Are you having as much trouble posting today?)
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Jul 6th, 2007, 07:29 PM
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easytraveler,
Very interesting point you brought up about the guides working for the government. That thought never even crossed my mind!! She did talk about both Bushes a little too. I thought it was curiosity. Hmmm. What if they were working for the government? What would be their intention?

I just wanted to be able to go on the marble boat, don't know why. Just curious, I guess I didn't miss much from what you said. When she told us about no one goes on after Clinton visited, you wonder what happened during his visit???? I guess I was getting tired of being on the outside looking in on everything and being unable to enter anything except to look through dirty glass.

I emailed the "contact us" at Tiger Direct. Waiting to see what they say. Hopefully they will be reasonable. I think the phone was defective. According to rkkwan, it should have worked, and I believe him. The 3 places I tried it out also said it should work, no problem. They were puzzled. We'll see how much TigerDirect backs up their products.

BTW, I think I would recommend the part of the Great Wall we went on. There was only 2 stands where they sold things and NO ONE running up and harassing us and trying to sell things all along. I thought I read somewhere that at the main Badaling section, that was the case. No one asked us to buy anything, only if you stopped at the two spots and looked, they would ask if they could help you. I could have used a few more flat spots though to catch my breath. But it's all good.
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Jul 6th, 2007, 07:33 PM
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I thought it was crowded, but the guide said it wasn't bad. There was just a steady stream of folks walking up and a steady stream of folks coming down.
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Jul 6th, 2007, 07:52 PM
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One thing I wanted to ask whomever has stayed at the Sofitel in Xian. There is an odor in the rooms which we just couldn't place. All 4 rooms we were placed in had it. One smelled almost chocolate-like. I remember reading someone's post about a hotel room, can't place where-with an unidentifiable smell. When we entered this hotel, I thought of that post. It didn't seem like stale smoke left from a previous guest. Very strange. THis was the only hotel we stayed at with this problem.
The one thing the Sofitel had was nice comfy beds. So did the JW Marriott. They were very soft and comfortable. The Shangri La in Hangzhou and the Beijing peninsula were harder, but still not too bad. I didn't find them to be like sleeping on granite like some had said. The guide said the Chinese have softer bones since they don't drink milk or milk products. She said just lately the government is encouraging them to drink soy milk or milk products.
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Jul 6th, 2007, 08:04 PM
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My parents stayed at the Xian Sofitel just over a year ago. All praise, no problem. So, I'm pretty surprised that you don't like it.

But like many things in China, it can be fine one day, totally bad the next.
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Jul 6th, 2007, 08:08 PM
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A friend had told me about the Silk St and how we have to go. The guide wasn't suggesting it. She took us to the jade factory and Friendship Stores. Both were on the expensive side. This is where some say they get commissions off what we buy, right? Or is that just the jade factory? The tour for the jade factory was interesting. The intricate work they do is amazing.

The Friendship store doesn't allow any bargaining. From my understanding the stuff you buy there is real, is that true?

Anyway, back to the Silk Street. We were warned to keep our belongings in front and that pickpocketing was a huge problem there. The experience we had there was memorable. It's many stories high and it has everything you can think of. Great place to buy things for friends at home. Too bad I just bought them at a much higher price at the Friendship Store. We had heard that you bargain hard and heavy here, but nothing prepares you for what it's really like. It's fun and stressful at the same time. The first place we saw as soon as we stepped in was the Dolce and Gabana jeans place. We were rookies at this bargaining thing so didn't have a clue how low we should go. We learned along the way and by the time we were semi-good at it, it was time to leave. It goes so quickly (the bargaining) like an auction that I had trouble keeping up trying to convert to US dollars. They all use a calculator and they tell you, the price is this, but since I like you or some reason why they are willing to give you a discount (which they say to everyone by the way) I will give it to you for this price. Of course that price is still way too high. I assume all the things here are knock offs, though they tell you at length how they are the real thing. So this goes back and forth until we still tell them too much and leave. Then they physically grab your arm, hand, anything they can get ahold of. They tell you ok you give me a price. Reminded me of buying a car in America. Whatever you type in the calculator, they say you are kidding!! You're killing me!! I heard them say this to everyone too. But if you walk away enough or just count out that money and offer it, they usually took it. For instance the jeans started at 800yuan and we ended up paying 350. Looking back, I think we still got ripped. Little things like a packet of post cards, they would charge 85, we paid 5. A designer purse was 180-we paid 30. Many places offered the same items so you could play them off each other. That helped with the bargaining. The most helpful thing was just taking out the money and saying this is what I'm willing to pay. They would grab the money with a big frown on their faces. then go thru the same thing with the next person.

Another aside: I was wondering what to bring as gifts to the CHinese. NOTHING is made in the USA to bring over. We had water holders we had gotten at Disney World (which were lifesavers in this heat BTW). The CHinese LOVED them. I wish I had some to give them. They all commented on them, esp at Silk St. That is something they would love to get as gifts.

Also the expensive chocolates (I brought Godiva) were very appreciated. The guide told me that the chocolate they have is so bad that after 5 minutes, it is still in your mouth. She told me don't buy any Chinese chocolate.
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Jul 7th, 2007, 01:32 PM
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rkkwan,
I'm glad your folks like their stay at the Sofitel. I'm told that the Chinese can build a great hotel, but upkeep is a problem. Maybe that one year made a difference??? Or just could be we got 3 rooms that had problems. Each person has a different experience I would guess.
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