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Help Me Plan My Trip to China

by on January 2, 2012 · 46 comments

in American, Trip Reports

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This is an installment in my series on my January 2012 trip to China. Posts include: Help Me Plan My Trip To ChinaFlight Review: American Airlines 777 International Business Class to BeijingHotel Review: St. Regis BeijingBeijing Overview: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Peking DeckA Great Day at the Great Wall of China,  Flight Review: Air China 777 Domestic Business ClassHotel Review: Andaz ShanghaiTrip Report: Terra Cotta Warriors and a Wild Goose Pagoda in XianHotel Review: Sheraton Xian, and My China Trip Wrap Up: China Eastern, Hainan Airlines and the Westin Beijing.

One of my travel resolutions this year is to explore more of Asia. For the past couple years I’ve almost been exclusively traveling to Europe and South America, so 2012 is going to have a strong focus on Asia and Australia/New Zealand.

In fact, this week I leave for China on a trip that was originally planned to maximize the current American Airlines double elite qualifying mile promotion, but is now going to be an 8 night excursion around China. The $1,600 fare will net me almost 32,000 elite miles. I could have stretched my routing out even more, but I try not to exhaust myself too much before going on a trip to Asia and I certainly don’t like unnecessary segments after coming back from a long trip.

I’ll be writing trip reports of my experience, but unfortunately won’t be able to Twitter from China (unless someone has any tips to get around that), but you should still follow me if you aren’t already!

I’m flying on America to Beijing and my current plan is to spend the first two days in Beijing, then spend 3 days over the weekend in Shanghai, then Xi’an for two days and then one final day in Beijing. Hotels are still TBD, but will be a mix of Hyatt and Starwood properties.

If you have any insider tips for any of those three cities, please feel free to share. I’m traveling solo and meeting up with friends in Beijing and Shanghai, but I always like meeting TPG readers on my travels, so email me if you’d want to meet for a meal or something of the sort (I’ll even treat so I can get the points! ;-))

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Youhavebeenupgraded
  • http://twitter.com/peteryared Peter Yared

    You can use a proxy server to bypass the great firewall… note the free ones suck so get a paid one instead, they’re pretty cheap.

  • JMC

    Bundle up; just came back from Shanghai and it is really, really cold (I’m sure Beijing is way colder).

  • Anonymous

    In Shanghai, a hidden gem is the Taikang Lu arts/crafts area. It is an old Hutong neighborhood from the 1930′s that now houses stores and restaurants. By contrast, when in Yuan Gardens area, you will be constantly accosted by touts trying to sell you a rolex or iphone. Here, you can enjoy some leisurely shopping without the intrustions. It is near the old French concession area.

  • Yi

    I would say Beijing is pretty good since I spent 4 years there pursuing my bachelor’s degree. It is perfect time to visit Beijing because you can find that people are all busy preparing for the Spring Festival as the Chinese traditional New Year’s day is Jan 23rd this year.

    If you want to have some delicious food (Yeah, I am a fan of Chinese food ), I also suggest you visiting a street call Gui Jie Street, where 90% of stores are for different kinds of food and most of them open until midnight. For the winter season, try hot pot!

    The Forbidden City is worthy of visiting if you have not done so, but it may be not the time to visit the Great Wall or Xiangshan Hill (Fragrance Hill) due to the weather. Also, Hutong is the unique view of Beijing.

    For the twitter, some VPN service are useful. When I went to China, I always purchase VPN service for a few weeks so that I can visit Gmail and Facebook.

  • Dhammer53

    We were in China in November 2009. Head to the Mutinyu(?) section of the Great Wall. Less crowded, although there are no crowds this time of year. The Terra Cotta warriors in Xi’an are awesome. We stayed at the Sheraton and it was delightful.

  • 4johnmoore

    You can use text messages to post to Twitter as a backup plan. Pickup a local SIM and you can text for pennies.

    For hotels and in country flights, take a look at http://www.ctrip.com. Have used it for years with no issues.

    Brunch at Shangri-La in Shangihai is an experience including the Lollypops.

    Safe Travels.

  • 4johnmoore

    M on the Bund is an excellent place for dinner…down the street from the Westin Bund.

  • Youhavebeenupgraded

    You should go to the great wall at Jinshanling. Better than Mutianyu.
    http://youhavebeenupgraded.blogspot.com/2011/12/1000-places-of-interest-24-chinesische.html

  • Dhammer53

    Translation to English…

    This repaired another section is located 120 km from Beijing. With a taxi driver is a nice day trip. The advantage: compared to other Mauerabschnitten there are no tourists. During my visit I was completely alone on the wall. Later, then a North Korean tour group had been there. You have probably the deserted section is selected, in order to allow yes no contact with other people.

  • Youhavebeenupgraded
  • Lauren

    We were there last year and stayed at the St. Regis Beijing and St. Regis Shanghai. As SPG Platinum we got upgraded to suites at both. SRB gives platinums free breakfast in their restaurant which was an incredible spread. SRS has a 2-story club lounge with wonderful breakfast and evening receptions.
    For Beijing we had private drivers both days. Did one day at the Great Wall and that afternoon at the Summer Palace which was awesome.
    The second day we did the Forbidden City in the AM and Temple of Heaven in the PM.
    Best meal of Beijing was at Dadong Restaurant which is famous for their duck. Best bar we went to was called BED.
    For Shanghai we downloaded walking tours from Frommers which were awesome. One day we did the Shanghai Museum in the morning and Old City & Yu Yu Gardens in the PM (stop at Hu Xin Ting Teahouse).
    The nightlife in Shanghai is some of the best in the world! Best meal we had there was at Lost Heaven right off of the Bund. Try to have a drink at the Waldorf and/or the Penninsula hotel bars. We went out to Bar Rouge, M2, and Monkey Lounge at night. There are even clubs that open at 7am and have after-parties. Shanghai is a city that knows how to party so enjoy!

  • Jason Jeon

    Beijing
    - stay in the Westin Chaoyang or Park Hyatt (Westin Financial is too far from everything, St. Regis is too old and bad value). the sunday brunch in the Westin (if you’re here) is awesome! the Park Hyatt has a very nice bar (China Bar) on the top floor with views of the city and a club on a middle floor (Xiu). Westin is closer to Sanlitun which is the center of nightlife and the expat community.
    - if you want to use twitter/facebook i suggest setting up a vpn (strongvpn.com is the most reliable)
    - to visit the great wall i suggest getting a private driver. i can set you up with one our company uses for 400rmb (~$60)
    - eat at Dadong for Beijing duck. if you are staying at the Westin Chaoyang per my recommendation its only a 5min cab ride away. (there are several but there is one i frequent on the 3rd ring road)
    - for a nice massage which i also recommend go to Bohdi, Oriental Taipan, or Dragonfly
    - check out thebeijinger.com and cityweekend.com.cn. they are websites catering to expats in china. nearly everything can be discovered there

    feel free to shoot me an email for more info. i’m an american expat in living in beijing for the past 2 years and a fan of TPG :)

  • ASB

    The Rui Jin hotel in Shanghai is the best hotel I have ever stayed at in the world. Period. Not from a luxury standpoint mind you, but from a cultural experience. It is an absolute must. It used to house the elite of the Communist party and is right in the middle of the city with huge rooms and beautiful gardens. Make sure you upgrade from the standard room to the large rooms – they are unbelievable.

  • Mighty Mouse

    Witopia is an excellent vpn service that I have used successfully all over the world. The company’s tech support, if required, is prompt and efficient. The reasonable yearly fee is a no brainer considering how much you travel and use public WiFi where the potential for data compromise is higher. Total set up time is about 3 minutes. http://www.witopia.net.

  • DS

    Agree with the comments below.

    - Definitely do Dadong for Peking duck in Beijing. Utterly unreal.
    - Stay at the Park Hyatt in Shanghai.
    - Wander the Hutong in Beijing and spend an hour or two enjoying delicious brews at the Great Leap micro-brewery (it’s hard to find, so check their website: http://www.greatleapbrewing.com/)
    - Definitely do the GPS self-guide trip at the Forbidden City.
    - Try and survive the horrendous smog.

  • Bem247

    Stay at the Grand Hyatt Beijing!! It is so nice and they have the best indoor pool. Also eat a Made in China (in hotel) and my favorite South Beauty ( in the shopping mall next door)

  • Katie S

    If you want to see the Great Wall, I suggest hiring a taxi and going to one of the sections further out. Granted, in the winter it might not be crowded at the close sections. When I went in 2004, we went about 90 miles out and there were less than 20 others on the wall at the same time. It was amazing!

    In Shanghai, I have no idea the name, but we went to a flea market for some excellent authentic Chinese shopping.

  • Phil

    Wall will be empty but cold….just get a ride not a guide, after all, there’s not a lot to say when you’re there. Forbidden city has a ton of people there who can give you a guided tour cheap. Would recommend Ankhar Wat on your next trip to Asia…or some time in HKG or SIN

  • Michael

    Bring face mask to help you breathe and download new version of google translate for iPhone which has amazIng voice commands –

    – don’t eat the dead chickens!

  • Danray

    Park Hyatt’s are amazing. Breakfasts are amazing for diamonds. Most beautiful from the outside is park Hyatt shanghai. Amazing. Also shopping under the science museum. Anything you want. tale maglev from airport for fun then taxi to hotel

  • Gavinmac

    I like The Den pub/bar/restaurant in Beijing.

  • Scwam

    My wife is Chinese and we picked Hyatt on the Bund for Shanghai. It was a good hotel with awesome views, expecially from the bar. Jacuzzi at the bar just outside. Ratings of it have gone down somewhat recently though. I suggest going to that open air market in Shanghai, it’s some popular place. You must go to top 360 degree glass floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center building to experience the closest thing I’ve felt to skydiving as you walk over it. For Beijing definately go to “The Place” and witness one of the largestoverhead televisions screens in the world. It’s massive.

  • Cameronrjoe

    When I left Tokyo in Mid November of 2011, the Japanese firm MIXI announced a new partnership with TWITTER. Perhaps this new alliance will allow consumers to use Twitter or MIXI in China?

  • Mjones

    I used to be the Bureau Chief of a major news station in China. You really should visit Dandong – a pretty amazing gem right on the border with North Korea. There is a Crowne Plaza there, but the Zhonglian Hotel is even better. Even if it’s for a day – you’ll love it! Air China (*A) & China Southern (ST) fly there.

    Hotels in China are dirt cheap. Never book on the hotel’s site – go to ctrip.com (yes, you still get points).

    A great way to get around the Twitter block is a VPN. I recommend MocaVPN (see http://moca.io/).

    In Beijing – go do Tai Chi with the locals at the Temple of Heaven. My favourite hotel in Beijing is the Raffels (formerly the Beijing Hotel). It was home to all of us journalists during the Tiananmen Square massacare & has eons of history to it.

    At the pier in Shanghai, locals sell really great quality Rolex knockoffs (you can’t even tell that they’re fake!).

    THE GOLDEN RULE IN CHINA: Make sure that you negotiate everything. Everything, even flights, are negotiable. I once negotiated a last-minute flight with a China Eastern check-in agent down to 500RMB from 2000RMB.

    If you need any help anywhere on your trip – don’t hesitate to let me know. Enjoy your trip!

  • Sonomawine

    In Bejing be sure to spend one night at Commune by the Wall. It not only has direct & private access to an unrestored part of the Wall, the architecture collaborative is noteworthy. It was a Kempnski property during our stay.

  • Jenny

    The Westin Beijing Chaoyang is a great property with excellent Platinum treatment. Take the airport express train from PEK to the subway and go one stop south, exit the southwest and you are literally right there. So much cheaper, faster and nicer than a cab!
    Know you’re a SPG and Hyatt guy, but if you need a night at the airport before departure, the Crowne Plaza and the Hilton are both good.

  • http://twitter.com/Bumpin_around Greg Milam

    Some good suggestions from the readers below – I lived in Beijing from 2008 – 2010 as an expat, so was afforded a lot of opportunity to explore – my highlights –

    Hotels – most below are spot on – my .02 –

    Park Hyatt – By far the best in Beijing – bars, restaurants and accommodations. Too bad youre going this time of year, Xiu is one of the better rooftop bars on the planet, but unless you want to freeze, you wont want to go here.

    Westin Chaoyang – good expat neighborhood – By far the best Sunday brunch in the jing. Free flow Veuve for about $60 per person (also includes food)

    Grand Hyatt – I lived in the apartments next door – the person who commented on the pool is right – its phenominal. The best thing about the Grand is it is right on the Wangfujing walking street with the night food market (must see), and is within 15 minutes walking distance from Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City south entrance. Close proximity to Temple of Heaven and Hohai.

    Made in China – restaurant in Beijing is largely considered the best duck in town, but its pricey and not very ‘Chinese’. Li Chun is in a hutong just east of Tiananmen and is very authentic.

    Whoever recommended the Commune was absolutely right. It’s fantastic and they have their own unrestored section of the wall. But, will be too cold to truly enjoy the property, so could be a miss this time of year.

    Most will go to the Badaling section of the Great Wall – I would recommend Mutienyu – its just as close and about 10% of the people. Plus there is a luge that you take to get off the wall. If you have more time, take the drive to Jingchangling and make the 10km hike to Simatai – it’s mostly unrestored wall – beautiful.

    Nightlife – go visit the Legation Quarter – http://www.chienmen23.com/ – this is where Chairman Mao met with Kissinger in the 60′s. Good restaurants and bars. Daniel Bould has a restaurant here. Capital M is also great – has a view of the south gate of Tiananmen Square – http://www.m-restaurantgroup.com/capitalm/home.html .

    Also the Sanlitun area (near Workers Stadium) is also a good area for nightlife. My favorite bar on the planet is 2F (Second Floor).

    A good local (English based) guide for all things Beijing is on City Weekend (also available for Shanghai and other cities) – http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/

    Enjoy – China is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful place.

  • Aasdfsd

    “i’m flying on America (sic)” lol

  • SMGINTYO

    Just spent new years in Shanghai. Stayed at the Ritz Carlton Pudong (the newer Ritz there), and used my AmEx Platinum to secure some benefits. Although AmEx doesn’t always come through, it worked like a charm this time. Not only did I take advantage of the FHR stay three nights get the third free offer, but I also received a room upgrade to a suite, free breakfast each day, and complementary use of the hotel limo for 2 trips anywhere in Shanghai I wanted to go. Good offer – oh, and the hotel was quite nice as well. Not in the best part of town for sightseeing (the Penninsula gets that nod), but it was easily accessible to all that was needed, the restaurants were okay, and the facilities new and top notch. Enjoy…

  • Anonymous

    +1(00).

    1. Make sure you get Pro if you’re going to China as they block pptp/l2tp sometimes.
    2. 10% discount coupons abound for them. GIYF.

  • worldtraveller2

    The Old Beijing Noodle House was local, authentic and we were the only tourist! you will love it! Probably still owned by the government, it is loud, with old wooden tables, but a riot to go to for an American. The one across from the Pearl Market is my favorite, because you have to go there for some shopping!

  • Joe

    I just got back from Shanghai! You’ll have to hit up the regular Shanghai spots…walking along the Bund, Nanjing Road, Yuyuan Gardens, Xintiandi. There’s also a strip of restored homes with neat shops and cafes called Tianzifang in the French concession as well as an vast array of bars and clubs on nearby Hengshan Rd.

    I’d stay in the older side of the city in Puxi since that’s where all the history and character is rather than the Park or Grand Hyatt which are in Pudong. Being on the Bund would be ideal or the Le Meridian next to People’s Square which is the center of the city and right next to the metro which takes you everyone quickly and comfortably. As Lauren mentioned, the nightlife can be pretty insane, cabs are cheap and everywhere but make sure to have your hotel’s address written down in Chinese.

    There are also quite a few watertowns in and around Shanghai, Qibao is the closest and most touristy; Wuzhen and Tongli are bigger/better but further away.

    In Beijing, I loved strolling the hutongs and there are some neat spots with a lot of character along Houhai and Jishuitan.

    For FB & Twitter access, you can use your alma mater’s VPN used to access library resources. This is what I use even though I graduated a while ago. http://net-services.ufl.edu/provided_services/vpn/anyconnect/

    Have fun and keep us posted!

  • Charlie

    When is your trip? I’m a New Yorker living in Beijing for the past 2.5 years, would be glad to meet for a chat or coffee. You can reach me on yahoo email, backbay247.

  • Jess Pruz

    Shanghai – Restaurant in Shanghai – On the Bund & Yang’s Fry Dumplings. There is another dumpling place in Yu Gardens. It has a really long line. If its a clear day, going to the top of World Financial Center is really cool.
    Beijing – Great Wall was one of the coolest trips. Def bring sneakers. Its a hike & you will work up a sweat. Watercube was worth the visit – there is an indoor waterpark there. Friends of mine also enjoyed the ‘City Planning’ museum.

  • Carberrie

    I recommend Westin Chaoyang for Beijing & Park Hyatt or Andaz or Le Royal Meridien for Shanghai.

    Come to Shanghai last wknd of Jan and meet me there!!!

  • tivoboy

    I use hotspotvpn for vpn service they have weekly and monthly plans, about 5-10$, easy to buy easy to setup. Buy it for a pc and you get another free code for a cell phone vpn, like iphone or android. You’ll be able to skype out (2.99$ a month, GET IT!) and tweet to your hearts content.

    If you email me I have some china unicom sims that are still valid/active with airtime, or you can refill them for 10$ a month, 100 min calling, 500MB data and texts. Easy to top up with 50RMB when you get there.

    (email is me at gmail)

    Xian is my favorite followed by some of further out parts of the wall near Beijing and then the dam. Shanghai is nice, sort of vegas meets paris meets new york. Take the MAGLEVE from the airport, it is NOT to be missed.

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