Tag Archives: shanghai

China 2014: Bund Riverside Hotel Review, Shanghai

I’m taking a week-long pause in my Southeast Asia 2014 trip report to bring you a week of posts about a trip to China that I took in July 2014. During this trip, I went to Shanghai and Beijing with a friend: Shanghai to eat; Beijing mostly to see the Great Wall of China.

In Shanghai, we stayed at the Bund Riverside Hotel, mostly because it was pretty cheap and had a decent location. The room rate was about $65 per night all in, which is only marginally more than booking dorm beds at a hostel would be. That being said, there’s a reason why the hotel is so cheap, because it honestly wasn’t a very good hotel and had some very strange service.

Note that the location on Google Maps for the hotel is incorrect if you search for “Bund Riverside Hotel”. It has the right address, but the location is just wrong (like it’s not even on the right street). If you search by the Chinese name, you’ll find it. Here’s the correct location: https://www.google.com/maps/place/上海新协通国际大酒店/@31.2406138,121.4839093,17z/data=!4m6!1m3!3m2!1s0x0000000000000000:0x30234c08c8a06c9c!2z5LiK5rW35paw5Y2P6YCa5Zu96ZmF5aSn6YWS5bqX!3m1!1s0x0000000000000000:0x30234c08c8a06c9c?hl=en

Hotel lobby

Hotel lobby

Our room wasn’t anything fancy, but it was functional. Nothing was great (like the beds were a bit hard, the pillows a bit meager), but I’m not going to complain too much given the price that we paid.

 

Twin beds

Twin beds

Room furnishings

Room furnishings

Bathroom

Bathroom

The location is also pretty decent. It’s a little over 5 minutes to the East Nanjing Road metro station, and East Nanjing Road is one of the main touristy shopping streets in Shanghai. There’s also a fair number of street food vendors on the way to the metro station, if you’re feeling adventurous (as you should, since Shanghai has some of my favorite street food in the world).

The odd part came when we left. We were taking an overnight train to Beijing, so we needed to get a taxi to the train station (the central Shanghai rail station, not Hongqiao). We asked the front desk to get us a taxi, and they said that they would. So we waited. And waited. After about 15 minutes of waiting, we were worried that we wouldn’t have enough time to get our tickets and make our train, so we went out on the street to try to catch a taxi ourselves since the front desk was being unhelpful and just told us to keep waiting.

We found someone getting out of a taxi at the hotel, so we thought to ourselves, great, we can just catch this taxi. But the doorman was physically preventing us from entering the cab (like he stood in the open car door). He kept saying that we couldn’t take this taxi because the front desk had already called us a cab. After trying to argue with him in Mandarin and failing, I got the concierge to come out and knock some sense into this doorman. The concierge said that of course we could use this cab, and so we were on our way.

Anyway, just an odd story. This hotel is pretty bare-bones, but it’s a decent budget option. Just be warned about potentially odd service.

Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


Costs:
$950 for airfare
$30 for ground transportation (in Shanghai and in SF)
$60 for eating in Shanghai and incidentals
$60 for one night at the Crowne Plaza Shanghai
$140 for a one year multiple entry tourist visa to China
Total: $1240

(Tangible) Benefits:
28,473 American miles for the flights (1846 for SFO to ORD; 7057 * 1.25 for ORD to PVG and gold bonus; 7057 * 2 for PVG to ORD and platinum bonus; 1846 * 2 for ORD to SFO and platinum bonus)
5,000 American miles as a goodwill gesture for the flight from PVG to ORD since it ran out of water with over 4 hours to go on the flight
4 500 mile upgrades
Platinum status
Total: The miles are worth at least $500 to me (at a valuation of 1.5 cents per mile); 4 sticker upgrades are maybe worth $50 total to me (they should be moot once I qualify for Executive Platinum, but they also don’t expire); Platinum status is worth maybe $150 (I got better seats on my flights from PVG to SFO, and I’ll get better seats on my flights to Helsinki in a week; other benefits are mostly redundant for me); total tangible benefit is thus around $700

One of my favorite sites from Shanghai: badminton in front of Starbucks

One of my favorite sights from Shanghai: badminton in front of Starbucks

The most valuable benefit, though, was the chance to visit a new city, even if only very briefly. I really enjoyed Shanghai: I ate some ridiculously delicious and cheap food, I got massaged/pummeled by a Chinese man, I watched people practice tai chi and play badminton early in the morning, I rode the subway during rush hour, I saw people spit everywhere, I practiced my crappy Mandarin, and I rode the Maglev and freaked out when it passed another train. All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and I can’t wait to go back/amortize the cost of my visa over several trips.

Review: First Class Lounge No. 69 Shanghai Pudong (PVG)

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


From checking the Priority Pass app, I knew that there were a number of lounges that I could access through Priority Pass at the Shanghai Pudong airport, but only one of them was said to have showers, so that is where I went, the First Class Lounge No. 69 (the 69 refers to the gate that’s nearest).

Directions to the various lounges

Directions to the various lounges

Entrance to the lounge that I chose, No. 69 (right beside the Cathay Pacific lounge)

Entrance to the lounge that I chose, No. 69 (right beside the Cathay Pacific lounge)

Upon entering the lounge, my first order of business was taking a shower as I had been out walking all day in Shanghai prior to getting to the airport. There are two shower rooms, one for men and one for women. The shower room for men smelled like cigarette smoke, and it was a little on the dirty side, but it wasn’t so bad that I felt like I needed to shower again after using it.

Shower

Shower

Toiletries and towels

Toiletries and towels

After showering, I went into the main part of the lounge. Ostensibly, there are two different seating areas, one for first class and one for business class, but there’s no one policing the two sides, and they looked identical to me.

Business class side

Business class side

First class side

First class side

The lounge was a little crowded, but there were still plenty of places to sit. I scoped out the food options, and it seemed like there was an okay selection for a Priority Pass lounge, but it was unimpressive by international premium passenger lounge standards. I didn’t partake in anything since I was still stuffed from eating in Shanghai.

Hot food options

Hot food options

Cup of noodle

Cups of noodles

Sandwiches

Sandwiches and alcohol

Snacks

Snacks (note that the small things that look like they should be hard candies are actually beef jerky)

Some drinks

Drinks

One thing that I did partake in was the massage chairs. There were two massage chairs in the lounge, and it felt good to sit in them and get massaged, particularly after my soreness from my Chinese massage the day before.

Massage chairs

Massage chairs

Ultimately, the biggest problem I had with the lounge was the wifi, or lack thereof. I couldn’t manage to get the wifi to work (or else it was just so slow that I was too impatient to get it to work), which was a little frustrating.

Overall, a decent lounge, and I’m not going to complain about getting the opportunity to take a shower and sit in a massage chair.

My First Time Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


In the same vein as trying a Turkish bath in Istanbul, during my trip to Shanghai, I wanted to try Chinese massage aka tui na (推拿) for the first time.

Just as I’d heard that the Turkish bath experience could be somewhat painful, I knew that Chinese massage had a reputation for being… harsh. It’s not like relaxing and therapeutic Swedish massage, but rather like a man/woman trying to beat you up. I’d also read of some embarrassing experiences of guys looking for massage experiences and instead finding fronts for prostitution.

Armed with this cursory knowledge, I set off to find a massage place. I had attempted to look up places on Google, but that was somewhat useless as most resources seemed unreliable. But as I walked around the area of my hotel, I saw numerous signs advertising massages, and I settled on one place that was located in a small strip with some other signs advertising massages and that seemed to have little risk of being full of prostitutes. As an additional benefit, their menu of services had English translations, so I knew what I was getting myself into, and the price (88 yuan or ~$15 for 1 hour of tui na) seemed extremely reasonable.

Sign leading me up to the second floor

Sign leading me up to the second floor

Menu of services

Menu of services

Heading up to the second floor, I was apprehensive as I didn’t really know what to expect. The spa had a decent ambiance and a slightly gruff man who quickly asked me what I wanted, and after I had barely spoken the words for “Chinese” he immediately barked “tui na” and lead me into a small room.

He said some other things to me in Chinese, which I didn’t completely understand, but I just kind of nodded along and he left. A woman came in to bring me tea and quickly scurried off. I removed my jacket and shoes and just sat on one of the adjustable loungers that they had in the room. Eventually, a man came into the room, told me to lie down, and went to town on my back.

In full disclosure, I don’t have much experience with massages. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve received a professional massage, and pretty much every time that I’ve received a massage, the masseuse comments on how tight my muscles are. This could have contributed to the shellacking that I was about to experience.

Chinese massage is a clothed experience, and there’s not as much gentle rubbing as there is aggressive, rhythmic pushing and hitting. He started off with my shoulders, using a fair amount of force, but it felt good as I had just gotten off a 14+ hour flight from Chicago. At that point, he asked me how his pressure was, and I told him that he could be harder if he wanted. This was my mistake.

He seemed to take my suggestion as a challenge. He definitely became more forceful, which was good in most parts, but slightly painful to moderately painful in others. In particular, at one point, he literally tried to push all of his body weight through his elbow into my back, climbing on top of me to get more leverage; in another instance, he spent a lot of time massaging/bruising my neck back and forth, which left me with a sore neck for the next couple of days.

Overall, I’m glad that I tried it, although it was not a relaxing experience. It left me more sore than I started, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I’m sure that the most painful parts could have been avoided if I had just spoken up. Next time, I think I want to try a blind massage. Anyone have any suggestions on where to go?

Travel Stories from an Asian Man #6 (Shanghai Style)

Links to stories #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5.

I’m a bad Asian. My parents are from Taiwan, but I don’t speak Mandarin very well, and I’m pretty much illiterate in Chinese. So I was a little nervous heading to Shanghai and trying to rely on my subpar Chinese skills.

At one food stand, I ordered what I wanted, and since it was clear that I wasn’t local, the following conversation happened in Mandarin:

Worker A: “So where are you from?”

Worker B: “I bet it’s Korea”

Worker A: “Yeah, I think it’s Korea too”

Me: “I’m visiting from America”

Worker A: “But you’re from Korea, right?”

Me: “…”

Worker B: “You speak pretty good Chinese for a Korean person”

Eating in Shanghai

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


Yang’s Fry Dumpling
Holy moly, this was possibly the best $1 I’ve ever spent on food. I went to a location on the day that I arrived and loved it so much that I knew I had to eat it again the next day. Yang’s is a chain that serves pan-fried soup dumplings (生煎包), and I’ve eaten plenty of dumplings in my life, but these are probably the best I’ve ever had (including Din Tai Fung). It’s like a soup dumpling, but it’s pan fried on the bottom so it’s crunchy and textured, and it seems all the more miraculous that there’s so much soup inside.

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One of the locations that I visited

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People making deliciousness

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It’s 6 yuan (~$1) for 4. Given how meaty and soupy and fried these are, 4 was a good number for me as a mini-meal or hearty snack.

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Hot sauce and vinegar

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The juicy innards

If you go to Shanghai, I think you must go to this place at least once. It’s so cheap and ridiculously delicious, and I’ve never had anything even close to this in the US. And there are a number of locations in the city, so chances are you’ll be able to find one not too far from you.

Jian Bing (煎餅)
This isn’t a place, but rather a street food that you can get. I got mine on Fengyang Road between Huanghe Road and Xinchang Road just north of People’s Park (bonus: there’s also a Yang’s Fry Dumpling on Huanghe Road around here). Essentially, this is a Chinese version of a crepe, and it’s also ridiculously delicious. If Yang’s was the best $1 I’ve ever spent on food, this might have been the best 60 cents I’ve ever spent on food. After waiting in line, the man made me a crepe that was sweet, savory, spicy, crunchy, and pliant. All for 3.5 yuan.

The storefront

The storefront

The master

The master at work

All those delicious layers: crepe, onions, cilantro, crispiness, savory sauce, spicy sauce, and probably lots of other stuff that I can't identify

All those delicious layers: crepe, onions, cilantro, crispiness, savory sauce, spicy sauce, and probably lots of other stuff that I can’t identify

This is another must eat, again because I’ve never had anything like this in the US. And it’s also ridiculously, ridiculously cheap. You should only be limited by your stomach space.

Dou jiang (豆浆) and you tiao (油条)
Again, another food item(s) rather than a place. Not far from where I got the jian bing, I saw some tables on the side of the street and lots of locals sitting down over bowls of dou jiang aka soy milk. I was super full from eating other things, so I just watched for a while as I marveled at these two people cooking up all sorts of food and locals coming and going, but eventually, one of the women goaded me into ordering something. How could I say no to a hot bowl of soy milk and a Chinese donut (literally translates to oil stick, but it’s like fried dough)? So I sat down with my food, dipped my donut into my milk, and relished an extremely local experience.

The "restaurant"

The “restaurant”

Some of the foods on offer

Some of the foods on offer

My soy milk and donut. Total cost: 2.4 yuan (~40 cents)

My soy milk and donut. Total cost: 2.4 yuan (~40 cents)

This isn’t a must eat, as you can find this in the US pretty easily, but it was extremely enjoyable.  And again, it’s super cheap, so why wouldn’t you try it? Warning: you probably won’t find much English at places like this, but you can probably get by using gestures and pointing. You might end up with things that you might not expect (e.g. salty soy milk), but it’s all so cheap that it probably doesn’t matter that much.

Lillian’s Egg Tarts
Egg tarts are very common in the US, but the egg tarts from Lillian’s are the best I’ve ever had. Living in SF, I don’t understand why people go orgasmic over Golden Gate Bakery’s egg tarts and wait in long lines, but I could totally understand waiting for an hour for Lillian’s egg tarts. But in Shanghai, there aren’t any lines for Lillian’s! Imagine the perfect cream for a creme brulee with a flaky but not dry crust and an almost cheese-like quality because it’s so rich. All for only 4 yuan. Yes please.

Storefront in the basement of the New World Mall near People's Park at the west end of the pedestrian part of Nanjing Road

Storefront in the basement of the New World Mall near People’s Park at the west end of the pedestrian part of Nanjing Road

So many delicious egg tarts

So many delicious egg tarts

The perfect egg tart?

The perfect egg tart?

Things That I Think You Should Pass On
Two other places that I ate at during my short trip to Shanghai were Lost Heaven and Nanxiang Mantou Dian, but I think both were overrated. Lost Heaven offers Yunnan cuisine and a decent ambiance (although it’s very reminiscent of an Asian restaurant in the US trying too hard to be ethnic and hip), but the food is pretty pricey by Shanghai standards (I ordered three dishes for 156 yuan or a little over $25) and not that memorable. Perhaps I ordered the wrong things, but I felt like I wasted valuable stomach space at this restaurant. As an aside, they also seemed really weirded out that I was dining alone.

Entrance to Lost Heaven in the French Concession

Entrance to Lost Heaven in the French Concession

It's a "nice" restaurant in Shanghai

It’s a “nice” restaurant in Shanghai

Green beans, Yunnan rice cakes, and Yunnan vegetable cakes. All pretty meh.

Green beans, Yunnan rice cakes, and Yunnan vegetable cakes. All pretty meh.

Nanxiang mantou dian is famous for their xiaolongbao (小笼包) aka soup dumplings, and people reportedly wait in very long lines for their dumplings. They’re cheap (20 yuan for 16 when I went) and good and better than most soup dumplings you’ll encounter in the US, but I’ve eaten at Din Tai Fung a number of times and prefer their soup dumplings, even though DTF’s are considerably pricier. But if you’re looking for cheap and delicious dumplings, I don’t understand why you would go to Nanxiang rather than Yang’s.

Nanxiang Mantou Dian in the Yu Garden complex. It's a fun place to walk around.

Nanxiang Mantou Dian in the Yu Garden complex. It’s a fun place to walk around.

16 dumplings for 20 yuan (~$3). The teapot is full of vinegar.

16 dumplings for 20 yuan (~$3). The teapot is full of vinegar.

Soup dumpling!

Soup dumpling!

Overall
I ate some ridiculously delicious food in Shanghai. I’m still salivating over the thought of Yang’s pan-fried soup dumplings and that jian bing I got on the side of the road. And it’s all the more remarkable that you can get both of those things for less than a dollar each.

Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


For my day in Shanghai, I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Shanghai, which I booked for 10k points when IHG was running one of their flash sales.

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The Crowne Plaza Shanghai is about a 5-minute walk from the Jiaotong University metro station on Line 10, so from the airport, I took Maglev to Longyang Road Station, Line 2 to East Nanjing Station, then Line 10 to Jiaotong University. All told, this trip probably took me a little over an hour.

Lobby

Lobby

Check-in was quick and efficient, and the agent both humored my poor Chinese skills and spoke very good English. She gave me a free drink from the bar just for being a member of the IHG rewards program.

Gaudy hallway

Gaudy hallway

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Welcome amenity

Welcome amenity

My room was on the 16th floor, and the room was plenty large for just myself. There were some free bottles of water in the bathroom (as well as an $8 bottle of Evian in the mini bar) and some fruit as a welcome amenity. The air conditioning worked well, although the fan in the bathroom didn’t seem to work.

Although I didn’t partake as I wanted to go out in the city to eat, breakfast looked like it had a decent spread, but I can’t judge the quality of anything.

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Overall, I enjoyed my stay, as I think it was a pretty good deal at only 10k points for the night (~$60 as I bought the points through a Daily Getaway offer earlier this year). The biggest problem I had with the hotel was the internet, as even though they offered free wifi, it was incredibly slow, so I didn’t use it for much besides looking up directions. The location was decently convenient as it’s close to a metro station and there’s some interesting stuff within walking distance. I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay there again, but I’d be happy to return if the price were right.

Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


As part of my quest for Executive Platinum status on American Airlines, I booked a weekend trip to Shanghai. My ticket was about $950, and the routing through Chicago nets me about 17,500 miles, so it’s about 5.4 cents per mile for the mileage run.

I’ll have a little bit over 24 hours in Shanghai, so I need a place to crash for one night. I booked a number of different options, including an IHG PointBreaks hotel, a refundable stay at a non-chain hotel, and an IHG hotel when some of the hotels were 50% off on award stays a couple of weeks ago, and I ended up choosing to stay at the Crowne Plaza Shanghai, which seemed like a decent deal at 10,000 Priority Club points (acquired at a .6 cents per point during this year’s Daily Getaways offers, so this night cost me about $60) when it was being offered at 50% off. The PointBreaks hotel would have been cheaper at only 5,000 points per night, but it looked like the Crowne Plaza has a better location, and since I’ll only have a day in Shanghai, location matters more.

I’m looking forward to riding the Maglev at least once (a high-speed magnetic levitation train from the airport to Longyang Road station), wandering around the French Concession, and maybe getting a blind massage. And of course, I’m looking forward to eating: one of my friends who’s spent some time in Shanghai has recommended Sichuan Citizen, Jia Jia Tang Bao, and Xiao Yang Shengjian Bao, and I might check out Lost Heaven based on the recent NYTimes article that mentions the Beijing location.

Are there any things that I shouldn’t miss when I’m there? I got a 1-year multiple-entry tourist visa, so I can always go back.