Tag Archives: Shanghai

Part #18: Thoughts on China

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great
Part #8: Beijing’s Art District
Part #9: Bulletting Toward Shanghai
Part #10: Radisson Blue Shanghai – A Review
Part #11: Family History in Shanghai
Part #12: Breaking News: I Did Not Find a Husband in Shanghai
Part #13: Traveling Like a Local to Zhijiajiao
Part #14: Traveling Solo and the Great Tea Festival Scam
Part #15: Ancient Shanghai
Part #16: The Perfect Night in Shanghai
Part #17: Loving the Indigo in Shanghai

I spent a week and a half in Beijing and Shanghai, which makes me nothing close to expert. But it allowed me to form some very definitive views about traveling in China.

1) First and foremost, traveling in China is hard. This surprised me. I have been to other foreign cities that were neither as big nor as urban as Beijing and Shanghai and had no trouble getting around. I had heard that English was a rare commodity in China, but I convinced myself that the mega-cities of Beijing and Shanghai would be different.

I was wrong.

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English fail! This is supposed to say: “Across People’s Ave… Please Walk Through Pedestrian Tunnel.”

If I didn’t have my destination written down in Chinese letters, the cab drivers had no idea what I was talking about. One day, I hailed a cab for a quick ride across the river in Shanghai, thinking I could simply point to the towering Oriental Pearl Tower to guide my driver…disaster ensued.

Shanghai and Beijing are also huge. Transferring subway lines underground might mean a 10 minute walk. I’m embarrassed to admit that crossing the street was sometimes a challenge. We often underestimated distances, thinking we could walk what turned out to be a 30-45 minute “stroll.” We often accomplished less in a day than we intended, and were often more tired by the end of the day than expected.

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A wide boulevard in Shanghai and the pedestrian bridge above it.

2) Jet lag is a bitch. There are some magical people out there who have no trouble traveling to foreign countries. I am not one of those people. The jet lag was at its worst when I returned to the U.S., but it was no fun in Asia either. We often fell asleep at six p.m. and woke up around three a.m. starving. Good thing we brought snacks. Thank god for Trader Joe’s trail mixes.

3) China is big and it’s getting bigger. As I walked around Shanghai I was surprised by how much construction and development there was. New apartments, new hotels, new shopping malls – there are signs of a bigger and better China everywhere.

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4) China is a mix of modern glamour and old-school poverty. High-end shopping centers mix with decrepit poverty. I suppose every city has elements of this dichotomy, but the images are so striking and so close to one another.

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Shanghai’s swanky French Concession neighborhood with its high-end shops and restaurants.

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How the other half lives in Shanghai.

5) The Great Wall of China is worth it. Go hike it. Now.

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6) The wifi is shitsville. The wifi was incredibly slow and drove me a little nuts, never mind the limited access to gmail and Facebook in some locations. I know some people love disconnecting when they go on vacation, but I love being connected. The contrast with the wifi in Japan was stunning.

7) The Shanghai skyline is impressive. I prefer the Hong Kong skyline with it’s mountains, but it is a sight to behold in its own right.

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Summary: The trip to China was fascinating and eye-opening and not at all what I expected. I expected a little more Hong Kong and a little less cultural isolation and grit. But those unexpected details are part of what made the trip interesting. As a student of politics, it is fascinating to watch China enter the twenty-first century, bursting with technological advancement and modernity, while it drags the rest of its expansive population in its wake. China is growing and building at such an accelerated rate, the China of today is nothing like the China of 10 years ago. Similarly, I would not be surprised if the China of 2035 will be vastly different from the China I experienced in 2014. Perhaps in 20 years, I will go back and see for myself.

 

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Part #17: Loving the Indigo in Shanghai

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great
Part #8: Beijing’s Art District
Part #9: Bulletting Toward Shanghai
Part #10: Radisson Blue Shanghai – A Review
Part #11: Family History in Shanghai
Part #12: Breaking News: I Did Not Find a Husband in Shanghai
Part #13: Traveling Like a Local to Zhijiajiao
Part #14: Traveling Solo and the Great Tea Festival Scam
Part #15: Ancient Shanghai
Part #16: The Perfect Night in Shanghai

I LOVED – yes capital L-O-V-E-D – the Indigo hotel in Shanghai. The Indigo brand is part of the IHG hotel group, offering a boutique, modern hotel experience. Thanks to my IHG credit card, I used my free annual night at the Indigo for my last night in Shanghai, and fell deeply and irrevocably in love. Sure, there are other hotels that offer better free perks. And the location, while stunning, is not ideal for sightseeing in Shanghai. The Indigo is located in a newly developing area on the riverfront, at least a 17-20 minute walk from the closest metro station. It would not have been ideal for a long stay, but for my last night in Shanghai, it was perfect.

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Why? Because the views were stunning and the decor was to die for. I am moderately obsessed with modern, funky furniture and design. And if I could, I would have happily taken every piece of furniture for my own home.

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The entrance to the Indigo Hotel

The funky decor hits you as soon as you walk in: Modern art with an Asian twist.

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The hallway:

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And my room – did I mention I’m in love?

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Oh, and check out that view.

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And that view:

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Is it weird that the bathroom was my favorite room? It was huge, with a separate area for a super large bathtub and stunning views of the Pudong. You know, just in case I wanted to leave the blinds open while I took a bath.

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And a TV in the bathroom!

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And one of those new-fangled toilets that prepared me for my trip to Japan. Peeing was never so complicated.

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Even the slippers made me smile.

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The rest of the hotel was just as beautiful, including a library, a lounge area with computers and massage chairs, an uber-modern restaurant and a penthouse bar.

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I wandered outside and walked along the water for a bit. It is hard to beat this view.

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When I came back at night, I was surprised to find a present waiting for me. I’m not much of a wine drinker, but it was a nice touch.

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I was excited to hang out at the rooftop bar, taking picture after picture, but the weather had turned rainy and painfully frigid. I snapped this mediocre shot before I relented and ran indoors. It must be amazing to sit outside on a warm night, nursing a diet coke and watching the lights of the Pudong come to life.

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Part #16: The Perfect Night in Shanghai

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great
Part #8: Beijing’s Art District
Part #9: Bulletting Toward Shanghai
Part #10: Radisson Blue Shanghai – A Review
Part #11: Family History in Shanghai
Part #12: Breaking News: I Did Not Find a Husband in Shanghai
Part #13: Traveling Like a Local to Zhijiajiao
Part #14: Traveling Solo and the Great Tea Festival Scam
Part #15: Ancient Shanghai

There is one distinct advantage to traveling solo: Going on a much awaited photoshoot of the Shanghai skyline.

There are few people in my orbit who have the patience or desire to spend several hours attempting to capture the perfect picture. And I don’t blame them. On a rational level, I can see how sitting on the floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center while my butt grows numb from immobility might grow tiresome after the first hour or two. But I find the process strangely calming and satisfactory – especially when that perfect shot shows up on the LCD panel and I say to myself – “That’s it. That’s the one.”

Even my extreme hatred of the cold is dulled by the irrational need to capture the perfect picture, to never be satisfied with an okay shot, to keep trying different settings, different angles, until I get that feeling inside of me that says, “okay, I can go home now.”

That’s how I spent my second-to-last night in China: Thoroughly alone and content. It was also my first introduction to the Pudong and made me wish I had carved out a little more time to explore the towering skyscrapers, luxurious shopping centers, and vast array of parks and museums.

I timed my arrival for shortly before sunset so I could capture the skyline as it changed from sunset to dusk to night. Here is a good reference for the tallest buildings (not structures) in Shanghai.

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At 2,073 feet, the Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in Shanghai and the second tallest in the world. The Shanghai World Financial Center, nicknamed the bottle opener building, is the seventh tallest at 1,614 feet. China’s third tallest building, the Jin Mao Tower, clocks in at 1,380 feet, making it the 17th tallest in the world.

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Shanghai’s three tallest buildings

I paid the admission fee and rode the elevator up to the Shanghai World Financial Center’s observation deck on the 10oth floor – the third tallest in the world. I found a relatively uncomfortable spot on the floor with a perfect view of the skyline beneath me. And then I snapped, and waited, and snapped and waited, and snapped some more.

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Little by little, the lights started to come on.

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After a couple of hours, I ventured outside. The potential for picture taking seemed endless, even as the wind snapped across my cheeks and nibbled at my fingers. So what if I risked frost bite. I was in photography heaven.

This is one of my favorite shots: Shanghai’s three tallest buildings basking in the moonlight.

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Part #15: Ancient Shanghai

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great
Part #8: Beijing’s Art District
Part #9: Bulletting Toward Shanghai
Part #10: Radisson Blue Shanghai – A Review
Part #11: Family History in Shanghai
Part #12: Breaking News: I Did Not Find a Husband in Shanghai
Part #13: Traveling Like a Local to Zhijiajiao
Part #14: Traveling Solo and the Great Tea Festival Scam

Yuyuan Gardens in located in the ancient city of Shanghai. When I got off of the subway, I didn’t know what to expect, and all of a sudden, the modern malls give way to ancient architecture.

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I love the contrast between the soaring Shanghai Tower and the ancient Chinese buildings.

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As I walked over to the gardens,  I meandered through narrow alley ways jam-packed with stores and people.

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I finally found the gardens and paid my 30 RMB admission fee. It was a chilly day, but the blue skies, gentle landscape, and the emboldened sense of freedom warmed my spirits.

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The gardens were beautiful and incredibly peaceful. I would have definitely spent more time there on a warm day, luxuriously taking pictures and stirring in my thoughts. Instead, I put my gloves back on and walked the 30 minutes back to my hotel.

The walk back was an opportunity to see less touristy parts of Shanghai. Instead of massive boulevards and modern buildings, I navigated through tiny streets that were not meant for cars and people and bicycles. I wandered through traditional street markets, and successfully avoided getting trampled on. All in all, it was a pleasant afternoon for my first solo international adventure.

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Part #13: Traveling Like a Local to Zhujiajiao

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great
Part #8: Beijing’s Art District
Part #9: Bulletting Toward Shanghai
Part #10: Radisson Blue Shanghai – A Review
Part #11: Family History in Shanghai
Part #12: Breaking News: I Did Not Find a Husband in Shanghai

On my sister’s last full day in Shanghai, we took a day trip to one of the many ancient water towns on the outskirts of the city. If you google “water towns near Shanghai,” you’ll find an abundance of options, each with advantages and disadvantages. After going back and forth, we finally decided on one of the closer towns – and we were very happy with our choice. Traveling by bus in China is not an easy feat for an English speaker. I was convinced we were going to end up halfway to Tibet before we realized we were on the wrong bus.

Thankfully, that did not happen.

zhujiajiao map

Zhujiajiao is a one hour-bus ride from the bus stop just south of the People’s Park. Thanks to some very detailed blog posts (here and here), we knew we were looking for the pink bus on Pu’an Road with the express symbol (it looks like this:快). And just to be sure, we asked every Western looking person on the bus, “Zhujiajiao?” and took their tentative nods as a good sign.

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Note: The bus will be very crowded. Leg space is non-existent.

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Once we got to Zhujiajiao, we took a pedicab to the entrance of the ancient city because we were afraid of getting lost. Okay fine, I admit it. I was also freezing. The directions are actually pretty straightforward and an easy 10-minute walk.

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One of the common complaints about Zhujiajiao is that it’s overly touristy and crowded, but we didn’t find it to be either of these things – maybe because we are tourists, and the cold weather kept the throngs away.

The thing we enjoyed most about Zhujiajiao was its effortless charm: the narrow alleyways that wind every which way; the elegant bridges; the houses and souvenir stores tucked into tiny corners; and the cultural oddities that make you stop in your tracks. We had a great time simply walking around. We splurged on a boat ride for 65 RMB just because it’s the kind of thing to do at least once in our lives.

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I’m obsessed with this shot. I love that there is a chair in the middle of all the laundry.

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Me taking pictures on a bridge:

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Here, we stumbled upon some kind of calligraphy shop:

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Our Chinese version of a gondola ride (without the crooning and so much cheaper):

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Part #12: Breaking News: I Did Not Find a Husband in Shanghai

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great
Part #8: Beijing’s Art District
Part #9: Bulletting Toward Shanghai
Part #10: Radisson Blue Shanghai – A Review
Part #11: Family History in Shanghai

Most people go to Shanghai to see the mesmerizing skyline. I desperately wanted to see the Shanghai marriage market. Every Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of Chinese citizens gather in the People’s Park with descriptions of their children (or themselves), in search of the appropriate mate. For some reason, this fascinated me.

People’s Park is huge, so I asked concierge where exactly I could find the marriage market.

Concierge: Which market?

Me: The Shanghai marriage market.

Concierge: I don’t understand. Which market?

Me: The marriage market?

Concierge: Which market? What are you looking to buy?

Me: A Chinese husband!

So I set out to find the marriage market on my own. Luckily, it was hard to miss. Despite the afternoon rain, there were tons of people gathered in the park under umbrellas hawking pieces of paper.

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I was pretty impressed with their ingenuity. Everything in sight became a platform for hosting posters.

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I did not find a husband in Shanghai, and I got yelled at in Chinese, but I had a great time. The Shanghai marriage market should not be missed.

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Part #10: Radisson Blu Shanghai – A Review

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great
Part #8: Beijing’s Art District
Part #9: Bulletting Toward Shanghai

The best thing about our Radisson Blu hotel in Shanghai was the price and the location. The hotel itself was just okay. The decor was a bit outdated; the room was on the small side; and I didn’t get much for my gold status.

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If you look closely you can see the Oriental Pearl TV Tower all the way on the Pudong.

That said, the price was hard to beat. Since I have the Club Carlson credit card, I get the last night free whenever I book a night with points. To maximize this bonus, I booked the first two nights as one reservation on points – getting the second night for free. I booked the third night using cash. And I booked the last two nights with points, getting the fifth night for free. In the end, I used 100,000 Club Carlson points and about $200 for five nights at a decent hotel. Not too shabby.

Radisson Blu Map

The next best thing about the hotel was the location. Shanghai is huge, with many distinct neighborhoods. The Radisson Blu is located across the street from the People’s Square and the intersection of three subway lines. It is also a pleasant 15 minute walk to Shanghai’s famous Bund. Finally, it is located on Nanjing Road, which is the equivalent of New York’s Broadway or Fifth Avenue. Teeming with stores and people, Nanjing Road stretches from east to west from the Bund all the way across Shanghai. It also contains a pedestrian-only stretch which fills with people day and night.

We spent some time walking around Nanjing Road at night, reveling in the throngs of people and the conflagration of lights. Think of what Times Square would look like if cars were prohibited – that was Nanjing Road at night. Except Times Square doesn’t feature spontaneous Chinese dancing.

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Part #9: Bulletting Toward Shanghai

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great
Part #8: Beijing’s Art District

I confess: I was pretty excited to experience China’s bullet train to Shanghai. Sure, we have Acela in the U.S. but it’s a poor excuse for high-speed rail. At its fastest, Acela travels 150 mph, but on the DC to New York City route, it averages a measly 81.7 mph. I’m generally a rah-rah America is the best kind of girl, but when it comes to high-speed rail, Asia and Europe have us beat. The G category train is the fastest on the Beijing – Shanghai route with a maximum speed of 186 mph and an average speed of 173 mph. Suck on that America!

The G trains offer second, first and business class, with business class being the most luxurious and expensive. We decided to splurge on first class seats (approximately $140) which feel and look similar to Amtrak’s Acela business class seats.

Our Hilton concierge purchased the tickets for us a couple days in a advance, and we hopped a cab to Beijing’s South Railway Station Friday morning. The train station was extremely busy, but it was easy to find our way around. We had to go through security (you have to go through security everywhere in China), but it was quick, and we had plenty of time to spare.

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China’s famous bullet train!

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The seats were comfortable – I fell asleep pretty quickly upon sitting down, but given my preternatural ability to sleep pretty much anywhere, that may not be much of an indication. photo 3 (1)

And the view was pretty neat too!

photo 4Seat61 has all the details on the different train options, prices, and times. At just over five hours, my sister and I found the train trip very relaxing and enjoyable. I highly recommend it over flying any day.

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IT’S TIME TO GET EXCITED

It is officially time to get excited. In three weeks and two days, my sister and I will board a plane (two planes, to be exact) for China. We are finalizing plans, and I’m starting to get that thrill in my bones that makes me want to turn the music up to its maximum volume and break out some very uncoordinated dance moves.

Some of the things I am excited about:

(1) Hike the Great Wall: We finally settled on a guide and hike for the Great Wall. As you probably know, the Great Wall of China is huge and you can see it and hike it at many different portions alongs its windy route. We settled on Dandelion Hiking which received very good reviews on TripAdvisor and offers guided hiking trips at half the price than many other companies ($73 compared to $150 and up). So far, they have been very responsive and helpful. They deliberately offer “off-the-beaten-track” trips, which means I won’t have throngs of tourists obstructing my photographs. They recommended the Chen Castle Great Wall hike, which is about five miles and looks amazing.

Chen Castle

(2) The Shanghai Marriage Market: I just discovered this gem. Every Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of Chinese parents gather in the People’s Square, hawking pictures and descriptions of their single children, looking for prospective marriage partners for them. The People’s Square is right across from our hotel, and I am definitely going to this.

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(3) See the second tallest building in the world: At 2,073 feet, the Shanghai Tower is now the second tallest building in the world, behind the Burj Khalifa which I don’t expect to see anytime soon. Growing up in Chicago, I always took for granted that the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) was the tallest building in the world and would always stay that way. Boy has the world changed.

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(4) Visit a canal town: There are a whole bunch of canal towns a short distance from Shanghai, and we plan to take a day trip to explore one of them. We haven’t chosen which one yet, but it should be fun.

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5) Acrobats: We plan on seeing an acrobatic show at Shanghai’s Circus World. Maybe it’s a little touristy and cheesy, but I like touristy and cheesy, especially if it involves gymnastics.

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(6) Take this picture: There is something quietly beautiful about Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto. I’m hoping the real thing lives up to the pictures.

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(7) New hotels: You know you’re travel obsessed when part of the fun of traveling is trying out new hotels. In total, I will sleep in four new hotels from four different chains (Hilton, Club Carlson, IHG, and SPG). Woohoo!

(8) Mockingjay: What!?!? Why am I talking about the Hunger Games? Because I have a tradition of seeing movies I really want to see in foreign countries and the third installment in the Hunger Games series comes out the weekend I leave for China. I’ve already mapped out all the good theaters in Beijing and Shanghai.

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The Ultimate Challenge: Booking our China Hotels

Booking our China hotels was simultaneously a challenge and an obsession. I love investigating hotels and figuring out the best options for my points. If that makes me something of a travel geek, well, I’m perfectly okay with that. And China is a travel geek’s heaven because there are so many chain hotels and so many options.

In Beijing, I knew I wanted to be close to the main attractions – The Forbidden Temple and Tiananmen Square — and also close to a convenient subway stop. This meant some terrific hotels were struck from the list: The Conrad and the Park Hyatt for starters.

So I made this awesome map:

Beijing hotel map

Key: The red pins are hotels. The purple pins are tourist attractions. The yellow heart is our hotel. And the circles and stars are subway stops.

Once my lovely map was complete, we had a couple of options: The Grand Hyatt, the new W hotel which doesn’t open until late September, the Hilton Beijing, and the Park Plaza. I have gold status with Hilton and Club Carlson (Park Plaza), and platinum status with Hyatt thanks to my new Hyatt credit card.

While the new W hotel looks amazing, I have limited SPG points, and the combination of my lack of status and the desire to use my SPG points elsewhere knocked it out of the running. My sister and I both recently applied and received our Hyatt credit cards which gives us two free nights each, but again, I decided to save that perk for a more expensive Hyatt property. The Park Plaza’s reviews were just okay, so that left the Hilton, where my gold status will get us lounge access, free wifi, and hopefully, an upgrade.

Here are some pictures:

Choosing our hotel in Shanghai was even more of a challenge. Shanghai’s tourist attractions are spread across several neighborhoods. Despite the allure of staying in one of the sky-high (literally) Hyatts in Pudong, we will probably spend more time across the river in Puxi, and I don’t want to bother with the constant commute.

This left us with a couple of options in central Puxi: Waldorf Astoria on the Bund (too expensive and used all my Hilton points in Beijing); Hotel Indigo on the Bund; Hyatt on the Bund; Radisson Blu Shanghai New World; Le Royal Meridian Shanghai; the Westin Bund; Shanghai Andaz Hotel.

It was time to make another beautiful map:

Shanghai map

Key: The red pins are hotels. The purple pins are tourist attractions. The yellow heart is our hotel. The gift boxes are shopping centers. And the circles and stars are subway stops.

My sister will be with me in Shanghai for four nights, and I will probably stay another two. The Hyatt on the Bund got amazing reviews, but it is a little out of the way. The SPG properties are similarly amazing but I have decided to go to Kyoto for a couple of days after my sister abandons me and want to save my SPG points for my limited hotel options in Japan. So I took a second look at the Radisson Blu New World and really liked what I saw. It is not as glamorous or modern as the sky-high Hyatts, but it is pretty nice. Thanks to my Club Carlson credit card, I get the last night of every reservation free, and my gold status should get us lounge access, free internet and possibly, an upgrade. Plus, the Radisson Blu is in a great location, overlooking the People’s Park, near the intersection of three subway lines.

Some pictures to whet your (and my) appetite:

I saw a little trick on one of the blogs that I will be putting to the test. When you redeem your Club Carlson points, the credit card gives you the last night of the reservation free. But I wanted to get at least two free nights out of our stay. So I booked one reservation for our first two nights using 44,000 Club Carlson points. I paid in full ($170) for the third night. And then I booked the fourth and fifth nights using another 44,000 points.

For my last night in Shanghai, I am using my free IHG night (I get one free night certificate a year thanks to my IHG credit card) at the rave-reviewed Indigo on the Bund. I’ve stayed at plenty of IHG properties over the years from Holiday Inn Express to the Intercontinental in Paris. But I’ve never stayed at the boutique Indigo brand and am very much looking forward to it. Its modern, artsy decor is totally up my alley and the views of the Pudong skyline look amazing.

More pictures:

 

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