11/10 – LAX to Seattle then Seattle to Beijing on Hainan Airlines – I got a great business class fare so decided to try this airline. Two things I really liked about the business class of service with Hainan is that the seat configuration is 1-2-1 so if you are by the window, you have a seat to yourself. The second thing is that they give you pretty pjs for the flight! Seats lie flat. Food was ok but I am not normally impressed with airplane food regardless of the carrier.
11/11 – Arrived in Beijing around 5pm – was met and whisked through customs, collected my luggage and off to meet the guide and driver. It was rush hour on a Friday night in an already congested city so it took 1 1/5 hours to get to the Peninsula. The hotel is part of a high end shopping mall – Chanel, Harry Winston, etc.
The Peninsula is just completing a major renovation which will be complete in the spring (?) The rooms are very nice and quite large – I was in a deluxe king room. There was a separate office alcove, sitting room and bedroom and bathroom. You operate everything in the room with a tablet – easy for some, might not be so easy for others! The bed was ginormous and extremely comfortable. I was warned that the construction would be bothersome in the morning and while it was a bit noisy, I was awake and ready to explore.
11/12 - After a delicious breakfast, I took a cab to Panjiayuan Antique Market – a weekend only open air market – locals set up their wares of “antiques”, books, beads, etc. I know nothing about antiques but bought something that I liked and didn’t spend a lot on it so as not to be disappointed if it is a fake. It is commonly known that you MUST bargain with the sellers – offer ½ or more less than they tell you then you start to negotiate from there.
I walked around for a while then took a cab to the Pearl Market –a lot more haggling and a ton of little shops all trying to get you to buy something/a lot! It is definitely overwhelming the amount of merchandise (most of it the same as the next shopkeeper’s) I was feeling a little bleary-eyed, bought a couple of things then headed back to check out of the Peninsula and into the Rosewood.
11/13 – Spent the morning at the 798 Arts District – quite a large area, many blocks of art galleries and shops. This seems like a popular thing to do with the locals on the weekend as there were lots of people walking around. Did a little more “window-shopping in Old Beijing Hutongs – the sights, sounds and smells sown these little alleys, I wont soon forget.
Ready to meet the rest of the Wild China Fam participants and start our journey.
After checking on to the Rosewood, we gathered and shuttled to a local book store where the owner of Wild China, Mei Zhang was featured at a book signing party celebrating her new book, Travels through Dali with a Leg of Ham. Two of the travel advisors on our study tour arranged a pre-tour centered on the book. Clients who are seeking off the radar adventure in an emerging area of China (or, are real foodies) would love it.
11/14/16Early morning and out to the Great Wall – an absolutely spectacular day – clear skies and crisp cool air. We went to the Mutianyu section of the wall. We hiked all the way up – many many stairs!! You can also take a gondola if you don’t want to hike. It was incredible! After walking around and taking tons of pictures, we climbed up inside a tower and when we emerged, there was a white clothed table set up with champagne and lunch for us – pretty special!!
After lunch we took a toboggan ride down to the bottom – great fun!
Onto the Summer Palace – so beautiful and transports you back in time. The Aman Beijing is next to the Summer Palace and what a delightful property. We ended our afternoon with a private tea service at the Aman.
Back to the hotel for dinner and site inspection of Rosewood
Pros of Rosewood – dining outlets, club level, swimming pool, spa, live music nightly
Cons – too dark in bathrooms and closet
11/15/16 – Tianenman Square, Forbidden City, Temple House, Rickshaw ride, cricket man, calligraphy, site inspection Peninsula, site inspection and dinner Waldorf
Early morning tai-chi lesson with a master at the Temple of Heaven.
Tiananmen visit is a must and thankfully WildChina knew from their experience when we had enough (about 20 minutes). The van was close-by for a easy departure. The Mao mausoleum is not worth standing in queue unless you are a diehard Maoist.
Our visit to the Forbidden City was accented with private access to Chonghua Palace, closed to the general public. This was exceptional as it was special and informative.
WildChina arranged for a bicycle driven rickshaw through a non-tourist trekked Hutong with a surprise, hilarious visit with China's master cricket fighting coach. Following the cricket fighting session we had a wonderful calligraphy lesson and home visit with our calligraphy teacher. Neither one spoke English, however our WildChina guide served as an excellent simultaneous translator (obviously not his first time doing this tour).
Temple House – multi use space – Unesco site, one building was a Bhuddist Temple. The owner and 2 Chinese partners created a complex with Art exhibition space, and event space. Very cool! He also had a hotel but it is now more for friends and he has had some problems with the govt on it. Lunch at the restaurant there – TKB –It was incredible – very funky, hip complex but eclectic with the Bhuddist Temple there – they have concerts and events in the temple.
On to The Peninsula for site inspection. They are about ½ way through a major remodel going from some 500 rooms down to approx. 200. Peninsula pros – rooms, location
Cons – part of a shopping “mall” anchored by Chanel, no lobby, not warm and inviting
11/16/16 – Early morning flight to Xian
The Terra Cotta warriors exhibition is something to witness. Prior to viewing the site we had a private lecture in a very comfortable setting with tea served during the hour plus session. We left with a top level history of imperial China and the accidental finding back in the 1970's (still being excavated). So, when we entered the exhibit we were able to place it in historical as well as contemporary context.
The visit is in several large hangars and it takes about 1hr. So, is it worth a plane ride and and one or two night hotel stay? I would say, yes! The other Xian activity is to tour the old part of the city during the day. We had a very brief tour due to very poor air quality. In the evening the air quality improved and we witnessed the city coming alive in the Muslim quarter at the calling of the evening prayers. Xian is the home to more than 80,000 Chinese Muslim residents who have freedom to worship.
Within walking distance of the mosque, the main street is an open air festival of food stalls and tchotchkies, drones and toys for sale (all made in China). It was clean, safe and fun for about an hour before heading to dinner.
We stayed at the Shangri-La as it was the Virtuoso property in Xian. We did a site inspection of the Sofitel Legend and THIS is the place to saty – gorgeous, historic building, beautiful rooms, great location.
11/17/16: Early flight to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province and a modern, contemporary city. I was pleasantly surprised at how much this city has to offer – SO much more than jus the Panda experience. Great shopping, restaurants and hotels.
We arrived for a late lunch and abbreviated site visit at Temple House (fully committed except for the Exclusive Suite) before checking into the Ritz Carlton for two evenings.
We had one evening at the Sichuan Opera. This was not what you would expect. It was a vaudeville and Ringling Brothers side show experience. At first not sure what to make of it, but once you just get into the zone (no idea what they are saying) and watch the reaction of the Chinese crowd, especially the children's joyful expressions, it was a marvelous cultural and authentic experience. Glad they arranged it. While viewing the 'opera' an usher approaches you for a complimentary ear cleaning. These services are given during the performance on the side line -- another activity had families dressing in Ming dynasty robes and having photos taken.
The following day we drove into the countryside to see the pandas at the Dujiangyan Panda Research Center. The public areas of the research center were quite impressive and expansive settings for the traditional black/white pandas and red pandas.
11/18/16 – off to Shanghai
Upon arrival our bags were taken ahead of us to the Peninsula while we experienced the Maglev train from airport to city center at 300 km/hr, cutting the 90 minute drive to 8 minutes! We were entertained by a motorcycle sidecar ride through the city followed by a dumpling lunch at a local chain restaurant bustling with a multigenerational and international crowd.
One evening we attended a very modern Chinese acrobatic performance -- a Cirque de Soleil Las Vegas quality show with lights, rock music, and motorcycles in a globe. We had VIP seats and you had to turn your head several times during the performances thinking one of the acrobats were going to end up in your lap (or, slice off your head).
To fit the most into two days, WildChina expertly arranged for us to experience a range of specialty guides and city sights. We spent one hour with a series of guides in different venues - the French concession, Jewish Shanghai (actually over lunch with an Israeli guide who lives in Shanghai for 15 years), Bund walk and Shanghai museum. Each guide was an expert in their respective field and kudos to WildChina for orchestrating this approach for a study tour.
We stayed at the Peninsula and it was decorated in style for the Christmas holiday which, is not typically celebrated by the Chinese! The hotel has a roof top bar that symbolizes and brands Shanghai as the most exciting destination in China. The rooms were spacious at 600 sq. feet for those at the entry level and modern appointments throughout. You cannot go wrong staying here while in Shanghai.