Category 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.

Indigo hotel map

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 #14: Traveling Solo and the Great Tea Festival Scam

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

My adventure as a solo traveler officially began Tuesday morning when I put my sister in a cab for the Shanghai airport, and I promptly freaked out.

What was I doing? I’m the girl who called my parents every day from sleepover camp because I was so homesick. Now, I had two days in Shanghai and five days in Japan to fend for myself. Seven days seemed like an eternity stretching out in front of me. I cursed myself and my incurable wanderlust. It’s easy to enjoy the promise of wanderlust in the comfort of my apartment; it’s  alot harder when I’m alone in a foreign country thousands of miles from home.

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But then I grabbed my camera and told myself to make the most of it. And I’m so glad I did. Traveling solo is scary, but it is also empowering and relaxing. I missed my sister, but there is a freedom in waking up when I wanted to, going where I wanted to, falling asleep when I wanted to. If I wanted to spend an hour (or three hours – who’s counting?) trying to get the perfect picture… well, I could. There was no one to stop me. Plus, it’s hard not to revel in the extraordinary pride I felt swelling in my chest. As I hit the streets, I found myself thinking: I am wandering around Shanghai all by myself. I’m awesome.

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I did discover the downside of traveling solo in China: I quickly became the target of a famous – and somewhat beguiling — traditional Chinese scam.

As I wandered over to Yuyuan Gardens I was stopped by a couple of young Chinese natives who told me they were students in Beijing on break. They told me how much they love meeting English speaking tourists so they can practice their English. I took this all in stride. Then, they invited me to join them at a famous Chinese tea festival. That’s so cute, I thought. “A Chinese tea festival! But I don’t like tea, and I had my heart set on seeing Yuyuan Gardens. I politely declined. They insisted I’d be missing out and they really wanted to practice their English. I thanked them and went on my merry way. What a nice bunch of kids, I thought.

Not ten minutes later, I was stopped by another small group who gave me the same shpiel. They were on break from school and headed to a traditional tea festival. I must come, they told me, and they would love to practice their English. Wow, I thought. The next generation of Chinese citizens are really committed to practicing their English. Again, I politely declined.

As I continued on my way, I thought: That can’t possibly be a coincidence. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what kind of scam they were attempting. I checked my backpack and all my essentials were still there. They clearly were not trying to pick-pocket me. Why in the world would they want me to go to some tea festival?

Later that night, I googled the words “tea festival scam,” and was shocked by the results.

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Apparently, the Chinese tea festival is a famous scam that has hoodwinked many a tourist. The Chinese “students” lure unsuspecting tourists to a hole in the wall (this would be the alleged “festival”) where a local offers an array of tea flavors to sample. After all this, the tourist is charged an exorbitant sum for the pleasure of partaking in this event.

For some reason, I found this hysterical. And a significant boost to my self esteem. On my first day as a solo traveler, I escaped the famous tea festival scam unscathed!

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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 #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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How Much Does It Cost to See China and Japan in Style?

I have finally booked all the pieces of my trip to Asia this fall. I will start off in China with my sister where we will see Beijing and Shanghai. After my sister flies home, I will spend a couple of days in Kyoto, Japan by myself. Here is the route.

Flight Map

Weirdly, the most expensive part of this trip has been my visa application to enter China. I could have applied for the visa myself, but I have limited time and even more limited patience, so I mailed everything to Allied Visa & Passport which was recommended by The Points Guy.

Here is the breakdown of all the costs:

  • Flight: Washington D.C. – Beijing (business class): 75,000 Aeroplan miles + $65.70 in fees.
  • Hotel: Four nights at the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing: 184,560 Hilton points + $99.91. I booked three nights with points and one night with cash plus points.
  • Hotel: Five nights at the Raddison Blu Shanghai New World: 88,000 Club Carlson points + $163.87. (I booked four nights using points and paid in full for one night, which I will split with my sister.)
  • Flight: Shanghai – Osaka, Japan (economy): 7,500 British Airways miles + $91.82 in fees
  • Hotel: One night at Indigo on the Bund: Free. I used my annual IHG free hotel certificate.
  • Hotel: Five nights at the Westin Kyoto: 40,000 SPG points
  • Flight: Osaka – Washington D.C. (business/first class): 80,000 United miles + $61.40 in fees. I will be flying business class to Beijing and then first class to Washington D.C. First class was only an additional 5,000 miles, so I said, why the hell not?
  • Chinese visa application: $140
  • Visa Service: $40 (normally it costs $45 but I should get a $5 discount for referencing The Points Guy) + $41 in FedEx fees.

Total out of pocket costs: $571.82 after my sister and I split the two hotel rooms I had to pay for. Not too bad. Not too bad at all.

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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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Holy Chicken Coop Batman, I’m Going to Beijing and Shanghai!

Yes, I just got back from Peru a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I’m a crazy person who can’t stop buying travel books (I now own more than 70). And yes, I love planning trips almost as much as I love taking them. So pretty much as soon as I got back to the U.S., I began searching for my next travel partner and destination.

The advantage of working in politics is that the dead time is entirely predictable. Nothing happens in December of an election year. Nothing. So I knew I could go pretty much anywhere I wanted, so long as I could find someone to travel with and I could make the miles and points work.

When my sister agreed to accompany me for a week and a half, that’s when I really went into crazy mode. We considered Argentina, Hawaii, Prague, Budapest, Berlin, and Chile. We seriously considered Hawaii because of the warm weather and the ease of staying in the U.S. But we were both somewhat daunted by the high prices and the annoyance of hopping from island to island. We considered a tour of Budapest, Prague and Berlin because of my weird obsession with Communist era history and my desire to stay in this freaking awesome hotel.

But then, in one of our many gchats, I typed: “Hey, you know, you could fly to Beijing for only 35,000 United miles in economy.”

And my sister typed, “Oh, I really want to see the Great Wall.”

And suddenly, it just became clear: We were going to China.

Sure, it’s going to be cold. Maybe even freezing. But there are so many great sights between Beijing and Shanghai that excited both of us, it became a slam dunk. And to top it off, this trip will be personal for us.

Our maternal grandparents escaped German-occupied Poland during World War II via Japan and then Shanghai. They were lucky enough to secure Japanese visas at the last minute and made their way to Kobe, Japan. When the Japanese realized they didn’t want a bunch of European Jews on their hands, they dumped them in Shanghai, where my grandparents lived for five years. Today, much of the Jewish Ghetto in Shanghai no longer exists, but there is a museum dedicated to the community, and I’ve heard good things about the experience.

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Finally, being the points-obsessed person that I am, I love how many great hotel options we have to choose from. It’s a cliche, but I really do feel like a kid in a candy store. So many gorgeous hotels for so few points — how will we ever choose?

Somehow, I think we will manage.

Here is the challenge: My sister doesn’t want to take too many days off of work, so she will be abandoning me after a week and two days. The question is, what do I do then? Do I stick around Shanghai and just explore the city’s many neighborhoods? Do I hop a plane to Xi’an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors? Do I hop a plane to Guilin to see the pretty karst mountains and these amazing rice terraces?

Rice Terraces

I’m a little wary of exploring China’s countryside by my lonesome. Big cities I can handle solo, but I literally do not speak a word of Chinese and I’ve heard it’s not the easiest country to navigate by yourself. Another option is to hop a plane to another country on the way home. I’m considering Kyoto, Japan because it’s actually warmer than China. I considered stopping off in Europe but the inefficiency of the trip gave me pause. A nonstop flight from Shanghai to the U.S. is about 13 hours. A nonstop flight from Shanghai to Germany is 12 hours! That is nuts. If I hadn’t already been to Hong Kong, that would be an obvious choice, but I was just there in November 2013.

So faithful readers, where should I go in early December?

China map

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