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Shanghai, Seoul, and Beijing -- trip report

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Apr 10th, 2010, 05:43 PM
  #1
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Shanghai, Seoul, and Beijing -- trip report

1 week - late Feb - early March 2010

I don't have much time, but I hope to do a quick trip report for what was a quick but fantastic trip. We covered a lot of ground in one week, so I'm happy to share what I learned and answer any questions. We didn’t use a travel agent or anything, just booked it our selves (like we do all trips!) with great help and tips from fodors friends! Thank you!

Travelers: We are a couple in our mid 40s. First time travel to Asia (mostly enjoy travel to Europe). We love food, culture, history, shopping.

Itinerary:
This was a very quick business trip for my husband and I tagged along:
2 nights in Shanghai
2 nights in Seoul
2 nights in Beijing


Airline: Air China
We chose Air China because of the low fares. It was like flying on a low-budget airline – but on an overnight flight across the Pacific! It was tough – one movie screen for the whole cabin, which was completely blocked from husband’s window seat (because of an awkward curtain that was blocking the seats in front of us) and partially blocked for me. Movie was blurry and black and white, anyways. Thank god for ambien, as I was able to sleep for several hours. (Needless to say we were traveling coach. Business class looked VERY nice!)

Airline: Korean Air
This flight was WAY too short (Shangai to Seoul). (I'm pretty sure I’ve never said that about a flight before!) Huge cabins with high ceilings and amazing service. Personal TVs with current movies. Great food. AWESOME!

First stop…
SHANGHAI
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Apr 10th, 2010, 06:48 PM
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Looking forward to more, dina! How was the food on Air China - we have a nearly 15 hour flight from Australia soon.
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Apr 11th, 2010, 12:18 AM
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Hi Carabella,

We did not eat anything on the Air China flights. We brought our own snacks, and we slept a lot since it was an overnight flight. Sorry I can't help you with that!
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Apr 11th, 2010, 12:25 AM
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SHANGHAI

Weather was COLD and drizzly in late February. Also very overcast and foggy. Never saw the sun or blue sky.

We had two nights and two full days here.

Hotel: Le Royal Meridien
Excellent service at this hotel! 

As starwood platinum members, we had an upgrade that included the great breakfast. Check-in was easy, they brought us tea. Car service was great. The complimentary breakfast buffet was amazing! Room was comfortable and nicely appointed, and fairly spacious.

 Location was great, too.
 Would easily stay here again!
(taken straight from my tripadvisor review)

Food:
JEAN GEORGES -- DELICIOUS dinner in beautiful setting. LOVED it. Highly recommend!

T8 – Lunch here ranged from good (my husband’s opinion) to excellent (my opinion). Honestly, thought it was a very expensive lunch. Not sure if it was worth it. The décor of the restaurant was absolutely gorgeous. Walking around Xintiandi was lovely. You shouldn’t miss the area.

NANXIANG DUMPLING: GREAT restaurant. They sat us upstairs in a lovely room. They seemed to have a lot of different dining areas, some nicer than others. Food was fun and delicious. Really enjoyed our lunch here! Ate so much, in fact, and so late in the afternoon that we never got hungry for dinner. Jet lag got the best of us and we went to bed really early.


Sightseeing:

Nanxing Road
It was so endearing to see the senior citizens waltzing and exercising in the early morning. During the day, it was crowded. When I walked without my husband, I was almost constantly accosted by people trying to get me to “come see” the stuff they were selling. While I never felt unsafe, it really did get annoying after a while. When we walked as a couple, we were definitely approached, but probably half as many times.

Walking along the Bund
They still had major construction going on. Couldn’t actually walk on the promenade or even really see much of the river. Buildings were beautiful, so it was still definitely worth it to walk along the sidewalk and enjoy the architecture.

French Concession
Lots of shopping and cafes. Tree lines streets were charming. Definitely worth a stroll.

Yu Bazaar
Arrived at Bazaar on last day of Chinese New Year. VERY festive and VERY crowded. It was quite exciting. We loved it.

Yu Garden
The Yu Garden was a haven of peace within the old city. Absolutely gorgeous. Many great photo ops. Highly recommend.

Surprises:
Yikes!
This city is like one giant shopping mall! Could not believe how western and how pervasive the shopping was here. (Is Karl Marx rolling over in his grave??) Starbucks and Coffee Beans seemed to be on every corner.

Wow!
Service was incredible. As I mentioned above regarding the Le Meridien, people were extraordinarily accommodating, friendly, and helpful.


Overall, we loved exploring Shanghai and did a lot of walking. Wish we had more time to spend here.
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Apr 11th, 2010, 12:34 AM
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Yes, Shanghai is an interesting place. I was there towards the end of February, and weather was miserable.

I went to Beijing for 5 days early March, and had 4 grey days and only one sunny day.

Got back to Shanghai twards the middle of March,and it was grey and rainy. So miserable...
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Apr 11th, 2010, 05:33 AM
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Nice report. Thanks. Looking forward to the rest.
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Apr 11th, 2010, 07:26 AM
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gearsau - sounds like we were there at the same time!

next stop was seoul...
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Apr 11th, 2010, 07:32 AM
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SEOUL

Weather was really cold here, too, but sunny. (high was 35 degrees F)
We had 2 nights and 2 full days.

Hotel:
COEX Intercontinental
First time ever staying at an Intercontinental and was pleasantly surprised!

The service was excellent! Wake-up calls include complimentary coffee (I had a delicious latte!) brought to your room, and the server even refused a tip! Complimentary breakfast in the lounge was excellent! Nice lobby bar/restaurant for drinks and snacks. 

We had a suite. It was one-room, but extremely spacious and comfortable. Great bathroom and amenities.

Location was far from cultural sites, but okay for shopping. Would not stay here if purpose of trip was just sightseeing.
(taken directly from my tripadvisor review)


Food:
We were lucky enough to be hosted by some very generous and gracious business associates, whose hospitality was beyond belief. They took us to all of our meals at what we could tell were upscale wonderful restaurants. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the places we ate. We did have lunch a traditional Korean lunch at SamChungGak, which was in a lovely setting. I do remember, however, that Korean food is not my favorite – sorry to say.

Sightseeing:
Gyeongbokgung Palace
We had a private guide here and truly enjoyed our visit to this beautiful palace. She brought the history and culture alive. I definitely recommend a visit!

MyungDong Night Market
We walked around here for a little bit after dinner. It was very crowded. Lots of young people shopping. Lots of street vendors. Lots of neon. Not really our kind of scene, but interesting. I bought a warm scarf (which was used immediately after purchasing) from a street vendor for about $5.

Cheonggyecheon Stream
Did a quick stop here to see the urban renewal project. It was beautiful! All lit up at night with nice waterfalls.

InSaDong
A great place to buy traditional Korean souvenirs. We spent about 30 minutes walking around and browsing.

Bukchon Village
Drove through here on the way to lunch. Wish we could have walked around! Very charming, picturesque with cute cafes and art galleries. Try to make time to visit this area.

Hyundai Department Store:
This was right next door to our hotel. It was a beautiful department store, but too pricy for us. Very much like a Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Ave in the U.S. There was a really interesting grocery store and take-out food section in the basement.

Disappointment:
Oh no!
Missing Dragon Hill Spa – so sad I didn’t have time to visit this place!

Surprise:
More Outback Steakhouses and Dunkin Donuts than I've ever seen in my entire life in the U.S.
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Apr 11th, 2010, 08:26 AM
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Thanks for the report on Seoul - I'm thinking of visiting S. Korea this fall, and there isn't a great deal of info here.

Do you know if the private guide at Gyeongbokgung Palace was hired at the palace? (I.e. could anyone show up there and hire a guide.)
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Apr 11th, 2010, 08:44 AM
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Dina: Thanks so much for posting! I look forward to reading the Beijing part, too!
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Apr 11th, 2010, 12:01 PM
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Dina, thanks for the report, glad you enjoyed Shanghai!
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Apr 11th, 2010, 12:10 PM
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Thanks for reporting, dina. I love reading what surprised you!
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Apr 11th, 2010, 04:26 PM
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hi Thursdaysd --
she definitely was a docent that was hired from the palace. i would check their website. i know they have free english group guides, but our hosts somehow booked her through the palace. sorry i can't be more helpful. it was a lot better than walking around ourselves.

Yes, we loved our every minute of our trip. It was such an adventure!

Will post about Beijing really soon -- maybe i'll have time later tonight!

thanks for your nice comments!

ekscrunchy -- did you go on your asia trip already? i know you were traveling after us, but can't remember!
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Apr 11th, 2010, 05:04 PM
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Looking forward to Beijing.
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Apr 11th, 2010, 08:23 PM
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BEIJING

Omg, we especially froze in Beijing. It was really really cold, but at least it was sunny! Didn’t seem smoggy, either, which so many complain about.
We had 2 nights and 2 full days here.

For those interested in how we broke up each day:
Day 1 (Fri)
(early AM business meeting and off to the Great Wall at 11am)
Great Wall at Badaling
Summer Palace
Lunch in Beijing
Temple of Heaven
Pearl Market

Day 2 (Sat)
Forbidden City
Tienemen Square
Walk along Wangfujing Street and popped into Oriental Plaza
Peking Duck lunch at Da Dong
Shopping at Silk Market
(packed up to go home for late night flight)


Hotel:
St. Regis
For about $250/nt, I’m not sure why anyone would stay anywhere else. It’s worth every penny. From the moment the hotel's car service met us in the gate (yes, INSIDE the gate -- within 10 steps of actually stepping off the plane), we were treated like royalty at this hotel. 

As starwood platinum members, we were upgraded to a huge, beautiful, luxurious suite with our own butler, who gave us his email/phone# in case we ever had any questions while were traveling around Beijing or if we were lost and needed him to pick us up. Check-in was in our room. The complimentary breakfast buffet was amazing! Had a lovely dinner upon arrival at Danieli. When I asked for a late check-out because our flight was at 9pm, they told us we should leave the hotel at 6pm, and offered (yes OFFERED) a 6pm check-out at no extra charge.

I have stayed at St. Regis hotels elsewhere in the world, and also at a few other 5 star hotels, but I have never experienced service like this. 

I seriously can’t wait to go back to Beijing just to stay here!
(taken directly from my tripadvisor review)


Food:
Danieli (in St. Regis hotel)
We arrived in Beijing late in the evening and we were really tired, so we ate at the hotel’s Italian restaurant. It was delicious and, yes, very expensive. Worth it for the food and convenience.

DaDong
not sure which branch it was, but it took over an entire floor of a very high-end shopping mall (think: 2 story Burberry)
Everything we ordered was absolutely delicious, including the duck. We went for lunch. It was very crowded and we seemed to be the only non-Asians in the place. Loved it and highly recommend!

Noodle Loft
Tried it for lunch because of Anthony Bourdain’s TV show. It was very good. Not spectacular, though, and not in a convenient location. I would not recommend unless you’re in the area.

Danieli
okay, I confess. It’s true. After climbing the Great Wall, touring the Summer Palace, touring the Temple of Heaven, and going shopping at the Pearl Market – ALL IN ONE DAY !!! -- we were practically comatose. So yes, we ate at Danieli – again! Sort of pathetic, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Especially since it really was SO good!

Sightseeing:
So, as I just mentioned, we did a lot in one day!
We had an excellent guide and hired the hotel car service to take us to the Great Wall at Badaling and the Summer Palace.

Great Wall at Badaling
Yes, we saw the cable car, but my husband and our guide looked at me like I was insane when I suggested we take it. They were right, though.
As we headed up by foot, we took a left at the fork in the path. It was definitely the road less traveled. The path on the right was much more crowded and, I believe, led to the cable car when you got to the top. With snow dusting the mountains, and practically no one in sight, climbing the great wall (and it’s definitely a steep climb!) was an incredible experience. It was really windy and cold, but we enjoyed every moment. A truly unforgettable experience and the highlight of the entire trip!

Summer Palace
We figured a quick tour was better than not seeing it at all. We entered in the East Gate and enjoyed walking around for about an hour. It was absolutely beautiful!

Temple of Heaven
This is in a very large park. It was interesting seeing locals hanging out, playing card games, waltzing, and playing some kind of kicking game with something like a badmitton birdie. The temples were very beautiful, but we were now getting tired, and still had the Pearl Market on our agenda. If you had to choose between the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, I would choose the Summer Palace.

Pearl Market
Wow! This place was a madhouse. We surprisingly enjoyed ourselves, though, and bought some gifts and souvenirs – pearls, fake purses, etc. We stayed about an hour, but could have stayed longer! (We hate crowds, so this is especially surprising!)

Subway – (no not the sandwich chain, which was all over the place, but the metro system) It was pretty easy to navigate. All signage is in Chinese and English. We still had our guide with us, but we felt like we could have done it ourselves, actually.

Forbidden City
Amazing place!! We bought the excellent audio guide, which has some kind of GPS navigation system, so it knows where you are and works accordingly. You don’t have to punch anything into the device about your location or what you are seeing. It just knew! By far the best audio tour we’ve done. It worked really well, and we enjoyed our tour very much! We did pop into the clock museum (extra charge), which was fascinating, and the Imperial Garden, which was lovely. If your trip to Beijing is actually shorter than ours (or you can’t stand to move so quickly!), this should be your #2 destination (the Great Wall is #1, in my opinion).

Tienamin Square
We just viewed from across the street. Huge and dramatic. Very crowded and sort of tricky to cross the street. You had to go in an underground tunnel, which had a really long security line to go up into the square.

Walk along Wangfujing Street and popped into Oriental Plaza
Wangfujing was a bit of a disappointment, but we were really hungry, too. It didn't seem as grand or exciting as Nanjing Road in Shanghai, but perhaps we didn't walk up far enough. The Oriental Plaza is just another fancy mall with high-end stores.

Silk Market
Just like the Pearl Market, but close to our hotel. The two seemed pretty interchangeable to me, but I’m definitely not an expert here. Lots of great bargains on purses, pearls, etc. We bought a few more things.
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Apr 11th, 2010, 09:11 PM
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Thanks. Dina - great report. I'll have to review Air China food, won't I? You certainly fitted a lot in - I'm thinking Badaling in the morning, Summer Palace in the afternoon may be too much - but you did it before LUNCH! We won't have a driver, however, and in July, it will be hot.
It's lovely to get first hand reports.
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Apr 12th, 2010, 04:27 AM
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Dina: This is a truly excellent, concise report! I think you did very well managing your time, especially in Beijing. I stayed there a week and did not have time to visit the Summer Palace!


I returned about a week or so ago and am still getting my feet on the ground. And, I can hardly make fun of you for eating at the hotel twice in a row when I am on record for having room service club sandwiches more than once on my 2008 previous trip to Asia!

Good work, thanks again!
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Apr 12th, 2010, 06:27 AM
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carabella -
we did have a huge breakfast that tied us over, but we were pretty hungry by the time we ate lunch. I read somewhere that you can get a great dim sum lunch at the Summer Palace. We had contracted our driver to take us to the Wall and back, but we gave him a bit more to wait for us while zipped around the summer palace. Our guide was my husband's interpreter for his meetings, and she told us the bus takes a longer time because it stops in a lot of places. The driver then dropped off us off at our restaurant in Beijing, and we took a cab to the Temple of Heaven from there. We couldn't have made such good time without the driver, though. I think we paid the hotel under $100 for him. We were on such a tight schedule that we were very happy to do so. If we had more time, I think we could have found a cheaper driver.
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Apr 12th, 2010, 06:30 AM
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ekscrunchy-

i must be a real wimp because it took me almost a month to get completely over the jet lag. Granted it was a very busy time for me when we got back, but I had some serious sleeping issues. So happy to be back to normal now!

did you end up staying at the le meridien again? We really loved it!
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Apr 12th, 2010, 06:50 AM
  #20
cwn
 
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Sounds like you were able to sample most of what you wanted to see. Thanks for reporting back.

I also had a hard time getting over jetlag after coming home! Slept for almost 24 hours then felt like walking death for a week! Going over wasn't a problem at all.

I find flying into the sun gives me big time jetlag, but going with the sun doesn't bother me. That is why we flew west when we went around the world last year.
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