I must confess that while “See Great Wall of China” has been on my bucket list forever, I didn’t think of what a trip to China would mean beyond that. I did know however, a trip hosted by our partners at Shangri-La hotels was going to be a treat so I jumped on it!
The Jing An Shangri-La in West Shanghai was our home for 2 nights. Every guest is welcomed to their room with a hot pot of tea. The soft colors and delicate details of the décor made me feel like I was in a glamorous 1920’s boudoir.
We dined at Calypso and I can see how this is a Shanghai hotspot in the summer. It has a glass ceiling and glass walls that can completely open to allow for al fresco dining. Sadly, we were there in February so al fresco was not an optimal choice. But, the upside of a trip in February is that we caught the end of the Chinese New Year celebration and were surprised with traditional soup filled dumplings as a welcome treat.
Our guides in China were the most amazing tour guides I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Lily, in Shanghai, made history come alive by the way she colored the tour with stories from her own childhood. She read our group’s mood well and suggested that in lieu of luxury shopping we visit a typical working-class Shanghainese neighborhood.
On the way, Lily pointed out ancient neighborhoods being demolished to make way for new construction. It was a poignant image to have in mind as we entered what could be the next neighborhood to go.
As we walked, Lily described what it was like for her growing up in a similar neighborhood. She said the neighbors all helped each other out and meals were often communal with each family contributing what they could.
Wistfully, she pointed out “locks” that residents currently place on their water spigots to keep neighbors away. She remarked how that never happened when she was growing up.
Our time in Beijing was a rollercoaster of ancient and modern marvels. The modern high rises spoke to the money, power and politics changing the Chinese cultural landscape; while the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven stood as stark reminders of its past. One highlight for me was visiting the Olympic Park of the 2008 Olympics. Though it was windy and bitterly cold, a couple of my travel buddies and I waited for each venue to light up as the sun went down. Totally worth it. The subway was a very easy way back to China World Summit Wing where we stayed during our time in Beijing.
The China World Summit Wing is a smaller hotel located in the tallest building in Beijing. The rooms are large, decorated with wood paneling and feature amazing views out the floor to ceiling windows. Atmosphere on the 80th floor is a must for handcrafted cocktails, amazing views, and checking out the young trendy patrons. Many Shangri-La properties, like China World Summit Wing, are situated above or adjacent to commercial centers, so there is easy access to shopping, dining and public transit.
Our guide in Beijing was just as exceptional as Lily in Shanghai. John painted a vivid picture of everyday life in Beijing through his personal anecdotes. I loved hearing about the structure of the modern day Chinese family. Children move out of the family home but live “a soup’s distance” away. This means the family lives close enough together that they can travel to one another’s home before their bowl of soup gets cold.
I also found it fascinating to watch elderly residents exercising in the Temple of Heaven park. The outdoor calisthenics equipment was plentiful and in amazing condition, provided by and maintained by the government. The people working out were in incredible shape, showing off their flexibility and strength to us passing tourists. One gentleman even challenged someone from our group to an ab-roller face off! Our guy made a good effort but you could tell the old timer took it easy on him.
Look at me! This far into a blog post and I haven’t even mentioned my reason for going, my bucket list item, The Great Wall of China. To tell the truth it was....
And being there in February meant we had it practically to ourselves. Plus, you can enjoy the way down with a toboggan ride!
The amazing day at the Wall was capped off by an artistically spectacular lunch at Green T House Living. I don’t know that words can do it justice. It was pure edible beauty.
I returned from my journey so much more intrigued by China than just “Visit Great Wall” or “growing economic powerhouse”. This is a destination where you must have a guide to bring everything you see to life, to give context to the modernity next to the ancient, to tell you the stories that don’t get published. I never expected to want to return, I am embarrassed to admit I thought it would be a destination I was happy to have done once but not again. Instead I am hungry to learn more about the temples, visit Xian and Chengdu, and oh yeah, eat more of those dumplings!
Want to go? Clients who book with Avenue Two Travel receive the following benefits at Shangri-La Hotels:
- Breakfast for two daily
- Upgrade to the next room type category at the time of booking, subject to availability
- Hotel credit – USD$100 or equivalent to 10% of average daily room rate, whichever is higher (one credit per stay)