Bespoke China 2014
TRAVEL UPDATE - Marlinda Angbetic Tan (The Freeman) - October 9, 2014 - 12:00am

When my travel mate Linda -- my classmate since Grade 3 at Sacred Heart School for Girls (now SHS-Hijas) -- insisted that our 9-day China (plus 3 days in Hong Kong before coming home.) sojourn will be on our own terms, I was somewhat perturbed.  Yet, she assured me that she hired a China-based tutor to hone her Mandarin (Putong Hua) for some sessions, a Mainland China authority to give tips on the places where we will be, and a thick Chinese dictionary for reference when she would be conversing in pure Mandarin when we will be there.

That's a basic MUST that one will have to consider when traveling on one's own, through a huge country that barely has English signage, much less locals who can speak English.  Reading knowledge of Chinese characters can be of help, even if one can't speak Mandarin -- the lingua franca in PROC. However, the prevalent use of "kan shia" or the shorthand way of writing, can be a big setback to those who are used to the traditional characters. I know we were bemused at how characters are done in huge signage in our journey.

Another warning is the non-acceptance of international credit cards in almost all the places we have been to: malls, markets, big restaurants, groceries, etc. Hence, one is forced to exchange one's money into yuan or RMB. Be aware that the biggest denomination of the yuan is only Y100 (about P7.30 to a yuan), so a thick wad it will be in one's wallet or hand luggage.  If possible, bring yuan when going to China so you will not be forced to exchange yuan at the airport banks.  The exchange rate there is MUCH lower than the bank rate anywhere else.  Better to change money in a bank -- rate is highest and the same throughout, but it takes time as the paper work can be tedious.

There is no Facebook throughout China.  We were off from social media connections when we were there. However, Linda made sure that all our hotels have wifi connectivity, so we went online before we went to bed and upon waking up. Not bad!

As we took Cathay Pacific, we had a connecting flight in Hong Kong to Dalian, a charming city towards the northeastern tip of China, just across the Korean peninsula and Vladivostok (Russia). This part of China was under Russia for many years, until the Japanese invasion during WWII. Russian, Korean and English signage were all over; Russian restaurants and vodka are common fares. So are Russian tourists. Our hotel: Ibis ( at US$87.50/night, non smoking room, centrally located with a bus/taxi stop in front, walking distance to malls, mini groceries, Nike factory outlet (the only shop that honored my credit card here!), street food areas, karaokes, even a huge Carrefour outlet.

We were told that taxi fare should only be Y40.00 or about US$6.00, and we managed to get a rent-a-car for that fee upon arrival late at night on Sept. 17. (We later paid Y36.00 for the taxi from the hotel to the airport.) The driver convinced us to get him to bring us to LV Shun (Lee Shun), the Chinese garrison that is Dalian's main attraction. It is two hours away, and we haggled Y250.00 for the trip, which should have been Y400 during spring/summer. Entrance to LV Shun is Y300/pax which is mainly an island-hopping cruise showing Chinese patrol boats (as this is the most vulnerable point, facing an open sea) and some other maritime vessels. We don't advise this destination -- hyped up with nothing to offer.

Next stop is the "Paris of the East" -- Shanghai.  We took Air China that lands in Pudong Airport from Dalian. Our hotel: 7th Heaven right smack at center in the Giordano Bldg. in the Bund area (Naomi at US$92.60/night, slippers, a mini water dispenser for hot/cold water in the room. Warning: no porters and there are steps leading to the public foyer. Reception area is on the 7th floor. Taxi from airport: Y170.00 as there was no traffic.

We got a whole day tour @ Y70/pax with lunch -- just 3 of us, with an American lady educator who was in China on official duty. The tour guide, Melody, had a heavy accent so we had to clarify her statements in many instances. As it was a Sunday, there were lots of people at the temple and the markets where we visited. So, schedule tours on a weekday!  Shanghai being the silk capital, we had a great shopping experience at the government-run Silk Museum, as it accepts foreign credit cards. Thank goodness!

On our last day, we got a day tour to Hangzhou @ US99.00 inclusive of a multi-course sit-down lunch. With our luggage in tow, we told the main Chinese tour guide that we would get off at the last stop -- Ling Yin Temple -- to get a taxi to our hotel.  This way, we saved on the fast train fare we could have taken from Shanghai. Our English-speaking tour guide Summer was late in picking us up from our hotel.   We were ready by 6am for our 6:45am pick-up. She arrived at 7am!  So the whole tour busload of people waited for us. There were only four of us in the English-speaking tour -- a genteel elderly couple from India were the other two. Summer's English leaves much to be desired. She is obviously young, inarticulate & inexperienced. We alerted Naomi about this!

Our standard business room at Renhe Hotel : US$105.00/night, no smoking room, with international room amenity standards: slippers, bathrobe, a separate tap for drinking water in the bathroom, aside from the daily amenity of mineral water bottles. The hotel location is the best: right across the fabled West Lake, the main tourist attraction of Hangzhou. Notable is the integrated look of the hotel.  As one enters into Hangzhou, one sees lovely rose bushes in bloom at the sides of the overpass, which is replicated in the rose motif brocade upholstery of the hotel.  In the bathroom, one finds "essence of roses" shampoo and tea extract body gel. (Hangzhou being known as the tea capital.) There is porter service upon arrival & a taxi service can be availed through the hotel, upon departure (Y260.00). Staff is friendly and there is always one who speaks English at the front desk.

Tipping in China is optional.

Our last stop was Hong Kong and since it was considered a stopover on our Hangzhou-Cebu sector, our luggage allowance is according to international departures: 20 kilos.

Travel safely now!

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