Thursday, 12 April 2012

China - Shanghai and Beijing

The Travel Diary: Things to do in Hangzhou
Luxury travel in one of China's most renowned city

West Lake, Hangzhou's most famous tourist attraction, looks best within the haze. The best time to visit would be in Spring or Autumn.

If you've already visited Hong Kong,Shanghaiand Shenzhen, and are ready to move onto the rest of China, consider putting Hangzhou on your list.

Although often left in Shanghai's shadow (the cities are only a short train ride away from each other), Hangzhou has much to recommend it in its own right: from lakes to tea fields and historic attractions.

Even though most of the touristy masses will be heading towards West Lake (the city's main attraction), opt out of the chaos and head down a more exclusive path to take advantage of the city on your own terms, from a private rowboat ride to local delicacies and soothing massages.

Where to stay

Banyan Tree Resort Hangzhou is built with traditional Chinese architecture, with bridges and canals scattered around the premises.

Banyan Tree Hangzhou is isolated from the traffic of nearby West Lake, making it the perfect for a quiet getaway. People go to Banyan Trees worldwide for their spas, and this one lives up to the brand reputation, so be sure to book one of their traditional Chinese massages while you're there.

Be prepared to be left speechless (in a good way of course) by the resort's spacious Siheyuan rooms, modelled after traditional Hangzhou homes, but with the added benefit of a coming equipped with huge tub, quaint patio, Chinese chess sets, relaxing incense and mouth-watering traditional snacks.

Although the resort has golf carts to take you around the site, opt to walk so you can take in the area's traditional Chinese architecture, including the bridges and canals scattered throughout the premises. The area is especially romantic in the evenings, when the lights are lit and reflecting off the canal.

Where to visit

Xixi Wetland is the only wetland park situated in a city centre in China.

If you stay at or around the Banyan Tree Hangzhou, take advantage of your location and visit the scenic Xixi National Wetland Park, the only wetland park in China. The 10-square-kilometre park is densely crisscrossed with six main waterways, and is home to various ponds and lakes.

Take advantage of all the water around you and hop in a private rowboat, which offer traditional teas during your ride. While you're there, also make sure to stop in the model fishing village and local heritage sites, including Autumn Snow Temple and Hezhu Street.

Although Xixi is a full-day's excursion on its own, it would be a shame to go to Hangzhou and not visit West Lake, the city's most famous attraction. Plan an evening stroll to hopefully avoid the tourist groups, and be thankful you already got your row boating in at Xixi, so you won't feel the need to wait online here.

Where to eat

A great place to sample their renowned Dragonwell Tea and healthy farmhouse dishes would be on the Lion Peak.

Su Dongpo, a revered poet of Song Dynasty, once wrote that there are no better banquets in the world than those comprising Hangbang cai -- or Hangzhou food. Hangzhou cuisine is more subdued compared to the strong sweet and salty flavours of the nearby Shanghai cuisine.

A great place to sample Hangzhou's renowned Dragonwell tea and Hangbang cai is on Lion Peak Mountain.

You can find all the classic dishes here including Dongpo pork, beggar's chicken, long jing fried shrimp and West Lake vinegar fish, as well as Dragonwell Tea, one of the best quality Chinese green teas.
You can easily spend a day there, munching away, sipping tea and immersing yourself in the relaxed atmosphere.

If you're looking for a place that's a bit more upscale for dinner, try Shan Wai Shan. The restaurant is known for its wide selection of traditional Hangzhou dishes and seafood sourced from the lakes in and around the city. Bonus feature: it's located in Hangzhou's Botanic Garden.

Where to shop

You might have visited JNBY's flagship store in New York Soho, but have you paid tribute to their original store in Hangzhou yet?

If you're from United States orJapan, you may be familiar with JNBY shops, but you probably didn't know that JNBY has its humble beginnings in Hangzhou. From here it has firmly established its palce in the international fashion world.

The brand is known for using neutral, muted colours as well as natural materials such as cotton, linen, and silk. Their specialty, as New York Times calls it, is "making ‘shape shifters', where one piece of garment can be worn in many different ways."
Head over to for full details on things to do in Hangzhou.

Best markets in Shanghai
Seven hot spots where Shanghainese go for serious shopping

Who actually buys stuff at Shanghai's pricey luxury malls? Even the nouveau riches seem mostly to go to see and be seen, Starbucks lattes in hand.

The markets are where locals spend their renminbi-- and though the settings are sometimes dingy, the deals are glee-inducing.

Here's a pick of seven of the city's best markets, selling everything from vintage propaganda posters to cheap prescription glasses and Burberry-style kids' coats.

1. Qipu Lu clothing market (七浦路服装批发市场)

Qipu Lu shoppers need patience. You'll find cheery RMB 20 scarves, but first you'll have to weed out the ruffled pajamas, smelly fake leather pants and rhinestone-studded underwear.

Qipu Lu isn't for everyone -- but if your idea of fun is digging through a cardboard box to find an RMB 15 T-shirt with Hello Kitty prints, then it's worth a stop.

It's also a must for fans of clothes that sport amusing or incomprehensible Chinglish slogans. I laughed out loud at a billboard advertising the DULL apparel line -- DULL for Delicate, Unique, Lovely and Legendary, of course.

The Qipu Lu main drag encompasses outdoor shops as well as dingy malls with floors covered in fabric fuzz, peanut shells and who knows what else.

Enjoy the cheapness while it lasts -- the kilometer-long shopping mecca will eventually be replaced by a fancy fashion district. But no specific timeline has been released for the street's transformation.

Qipu Lu clothing market, Qipu Lu, near Henan Bei Lu七浦路, 靠近河南北路,10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.,

2. Hongqiao Bird and Flower Market (虹桥花鸟市场)

A trip to the Hongqiao flower market outside Shanghai downtown is a peaceful mini-break for anyone sick of the skyscrapers.

The Hongqiao indoor flower market is the place to go to escape from the futuristic Shanghai landscape and pretend for an afternoon that you're in charming Paris instead of hectic Shanghai.

The flowers are fresh, cheap and abundant, with clusters of purple and pink blooms that seem transported out of an Impressionist painting.

Orchids go for RMB 20 or 30 a stem. Small glass vase centerpieces brimming with delicate buds are another bargain at RMB 20.

The local homemakers from the sedate Hongqiao neighborhood come for the tasteful housewares on offer, from quilts to wicker baskets to dainty ceramic dishes with pastel glazing.

But anyone seeking flashier fare will not be disappointed.

The market also stocks eye-catching pets, including enormous goldfish, floppy-eared rabbits and birds that squawk "ni hao."

And don't miss the kitschy lawn ornaments, such as a hulking white unicorn with an asking price of RMB 22,000.

Hongqiao Bird and Flower Market, 718 Hongjing Lu, near Hongsong Lu 虹井路718号, 
近红松路,8 a.m.-6 p.m.

3. Neon Kids Plaza (霓虹儿童广场)

Moms come for the cute clothes, kids whine for the toys.

It's damp, it's underground and it has all the charm of a subway station. But this children's market in central Shanghai is known to make thrifty Shanghainese swoon and throw cash around. To make matters worse, the shops accept credit cards.

The sign outside says bargaining is appropriate, but shopkeepers here seem more resistant to haggling than at other markets.

No matter -- there are still deals to be had, including Western brands overstock, some with imperfections.

I bought Stride Rite sneakers with no visible flaws for RMB 59 and a gauzy Disney princess costume for RMB 120.

This is the place to stock up on kids' party supplies, toys, stickers, swim gear, Halloween costumes and stocking stuffers.

Patient shoppers -- those who come without kids --can unearth Kenzo and Burberry overstocks from the bins. For anyone crazy enough to shop with little ones in tow, there's a play area where kids can scamper and overwhelmed parents can stare into space.

Neon Kids Plaza, 10 Pu'an Lu, near Jinling Lu 普安路10号, 近金陵路, +86 21 5383 6218, 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m.,

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Related article: Top tips for shopping Shanghai's clothing colossus, Qipu Lu

Beijing nightlife: Hutong hide-aways

The regeneration of Beijing's old hutong alleyways is ushering in a new wave of drinking venues
By Tom O'Malley

Great Leap Brewing

Hidden in a maze of gray alleyways in the Nanluoguxiang area, this microbrewery occupies what was once the library wing of a Qing-era mansion. But it's hops, not history, that draws the crowds. A dozen locally flavored ales are handcrafted on-site; among the best is Honey Ma Gold, made with Sichuan peppercorns and organic Shandong honey. Regular bluegrass jam sessions add to the homey feel (6 Doujiao Hutong; 86-10/5717-1399;

Mao Mao Chong

A kaleidoscopic sweep of infused vodkas lines the bar at this laid-back Nanluoguxiang hangout, glowing like potions in a science lab. Australian co-owner Steven Rocard is something of an apothecary, blending gin with beetroot, bourbon with figs, and vodka with just about everything else. Try the Beetniks, a zesty creation of vanilla vodka, beetroot gin, apple juice, and mint, or the tea- infused Feng Shui. Rocard also bakes some of Beijing's best pizza (12 Banchang Hutong; 86-10/6405-5718;


A dusty, deserted Beijing alleyway is the last place you'd expect to find a Vietnamese courtyard restaurant and cocktail bar-but it's well worth seeking out. Impeccably assembled pork spring rolls, zingy salads, and delicious grilled fish are complemented by themed libations like the Quiet American, a mix of whisky, lemon, ginger, and grapefruit bitters that is best enjoyed alfresco under the shade of Susu's old scholar tree (10 Qianliang Hutong Xixiang; 86-10/8400-2699).


Savoring an aged single malt on one of Zajia's mismatched armchairs, your gaze darts from one quirky art installation to the next. "Everything here is non-permanent, just like Taoism," says owner and art curator Ambra Corinti. Looking up at the soaring, wood-beamed roof, you see what she means: though it's not visible from the street, this Gulou-area bar is housed inside the vestiges of a 500-year-old Taoist temple. Zajia is also the hangout of choice for many of Beijing's indie artists, musicians, and filmmakers, who congregate regularly to stage experimental theater or music recitals (23 Doufuchi Hutong; 86-10/8404-9141).

Orchid Bar

Located in a months-old boutique hotel of the same name, the Orchid is a whitewashed hutong oasis, with chaise longue seating and low tables of reclaimed wood. Tall windows look out onto a vine-strewn courtyard, with under-floor heating for the winter months. Standout drinks include a gin and tonic made with limited-edition Botanist Islay gin, and bottles of Xinjiang Black, a dark lager from northwest China. Step out onto the trio of terraces to catch sight of the Drum and Bell Towers looming over the tiled rooftops (65 Baochao Hutong, Guloudong Rd.; 86-10/ 8404-4818;

See other Beijing-related articles here.

A bullet train to Beijing

By Yahoo! Newsroom

Hold onto your seats! The bullet train from Tianjin arrives in Beijing before passengers can get too comfortable on their plush swivel chairs. Travelling at a maximum speed of 350 km per hour, the train takes just 30 minutes to pull up at Beijing South Railway Station.

The ride is so fast that it takes less time to reach Beijing by bullet train from Tianjin then it takes to navigate the traffic congested roads from Beijing international airport into the heart of the capital.

When it was launched in 2008, before the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government said the train was the fastest in the world. Tianjin, about 115 km east of the capital, is a port city with a very different vibe from the country's capital. Tianjin hosted some of the soccer events of the Beijing Olympics and it revamped its waterfront area for the Games. The fast connection between the two cities opens up a wide array of tourist destinations for visitors to China. Even the train ride to Beijing gives visitors a glimpse of panoramic views of the Chinese countryside and farmers at work in their fields.

For only US$15 per ticket for a deluxe seat, which comes with a herbal tea, or as low as US$8 for a seat in the cheapest class, the bullet train is a tourist attraction in and of itself.

Meanwhile, visitors who want to spend a little time in Tianjin before moving onto the sights and sounds of Beijing can enjoy a wide range of attractions in this northeastern Chinese city. Among them is the Dabei Monastry, a Ming Dynasty monastery, a Qing Dynasty Confucian Temple and a wooden mosque that dates back to 1644.

The street life in Tianjin is enticing as well with street vendors spilling onto narrow lanes, and a wide array of streets with houses in traditional Chinese architectural styles. There is even a quixotic street called Machang Dao which is lined with staid English homes. Tianjin has an excellent antique market with many bargains as few foreigners shop there and prices are lower than antique and thrift markets in Beijing.

For architecture buffs, the Beijing South Railway Station, the train's destination in Beijing, is an awe-inspiring building. It took just three years to build the sprawling train station which has glass walls and a glass roof. The station is even larger than the Bird's Nest stadium where the 2008 Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies and athletic events were held. The station generates its own electricity thanks to more than 3,000 solar panels on its roof.

Upon arrival in Beijing, visitors can get into the city by switching to Subway line 4, or they can grab a taxi or bus into the centre where the Forbidden City and many other tourist attractions await them.   

48 hours in Beijing

By Mitch Moxley.

This whirlwind tour reveals a city that's becoming known as much for its hip bars, restaurants and art as for its historic attractions

Factory 798 is a must for art enthusiasts.
Beijing was in a hurry to impress for last year's Olympics -- and it did. But since the Games the capital has become even cooler, with restaurants, bars, galleries and a whole lot more. Here's the best of Beijing for the visitor with only 48 hours to do it all. Obama, take note.


After years in Shanghai's world-class eats shadow, Beijing is finally coming into its own. Maison Boulud, which offers French fine dining in the Legation Quarter, is one of the best new restaurants in the city.
Other excellent options include Sureno, which serves Mediterranean cuisine from The Opposite House hotel, and Domus, an Italian bistro and bar in a hutong near Tiananmen Square.
For roast duck with a French twist there's Duck de Chine in 1949: The Hidden City.
Looking for comfort food? Quality burgers can be found at Let's Burger, Union Bar & Grill and the old stalwart the Den, all in Sanlitun.

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Drink it down

China BarMuch to the surprise of Beijingers who fretted about post-Olympic blues, the party hasn't died, even more than a year later.

For early drinks and an impressive view, visit the China Bar on the 65th floor of the new Park Hyatt, overlooking the CCTV headquarters and the recently scorched Mandarin Oriental hotel. Later, start a bar crawl at Salud, a French tapas bar, in the Drum and Bell area. Then roam the many bars of Naluoguxiang, a renovated hutong.

Another good bet is Bed, a bunker-like bar in an alley behind the Bell Tower and home to perhaps the city's best mojitos. Nearby is the much-lauded Hanggai, a Mongolian folk band that appears regularly at MAO Live House and Yugong Yishan, two of the city's best live music venues.

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There's no shortage of clubs in Beijing, which are mostly concentrated around the Workers' Stadium and raucous Sanlitun.

Although guilty of various crimes against good taste, club Chocolate near Ritan Park is where many recent Beijing nights end. The club caters to the city's Russian diaspora -- with Renaissance portraits hanging from the ceiling, velvet-draped walls and wild stage shows featuring such sites as fire-eaters and unicycles.

Other good late-night options are Punk in the Opposite House, as well as LAN Club. Song Music Bar and Kitchen in The Place shopping center have both undergone recent makeovers.

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See it all

No visit to Beijing is complete without a stop at the Forbidden City. But let's face it, dodging the tourist groups can be a drag. Thankfully, a part of the Forbidden City has been given a makeover. In the northeast corner, Juanqinzhai was built in the 18th century to be Emperor Qianlong's theater room. Untouched since the last emperor left in 1924, Chinese and foreign experts have spent six years restoring the theater.
Despite gentrification in recent years, Factory 798 gallery district, or Dashanzi, in northeast Beijing, is still a must for art enthusiasts. Ullens Center of Contemporary Art is worth a visit.
For a low-key alternative to sprawling Factory 798, check out the nearby Caochangdi district, home to Pekin Fine Arts. The Shop in Jianwai SOHO sells objects related to projects by Guangzhou-based Vitamin Creative Space, an alternative art center.

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Sleep it off

Hotel G, BeijingThe Opposite House, a Kenzo Kuma-designed boutique hotel in the sprawling Village at Sanlitun, provides an up-market vibe in Beijing's center of hedonism. Hotel G, only a year old, is a good boutique option.

For a courtyard experience, there's the exquisite Hotel Cote Cour, semi-hidden in a hutong not far from Wangfujing, the city's main pedestrian.

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