The number of visitors to Beijing surges as corporate travelers
clamor to tap into the world's fastest growing economy. The number of leisure
travelers multiplies also as the availability of luxury accommodations and services
in China's capital increases.
Beijing is both surprising and stark in the clash of modern monolithic towers–hastily
constructed housing, recently erected lodgings, office buildings symbolizing a new
economy–and ancient alleyways filled with stall markets and cramped dwellings.
Although many sections of the city are unattractive, the appeal of the major tourist
sites is so great that they more than make up for the mostly disappointing aura of
the metropolis. Five sites stand out and they are on the must-see list. Two of them
are in central Beijing and all are easily visited on one's own.
Before you leave home, watch a video of "The Last Emperor" if you have
not already seen it. It is an apt introduction to the Forbidden City, residence
of 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties where the movie was filmed. In addition,
if you rent a tape player on site, Roger Moore will guide you through the main attractions.
With over 9,000 rooms and halls it is the biggest architectural complex in the world.
Forbidden City, Beijing
In Tiananmen Square, next to the Forbidden City, for a modest sum you can
climb on the rostrum where Chairman Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People's
Republic and view the world's largest (122 acres) urban square. From that vantage
point you can see the monuments, museums, the Great Hall of the People and
Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. Chairman Mao's body is preserved in a crystal coffin
and long lines wait to view it (mornings only).
Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan) is the most famous temple in China and refers
to a group of ceremonial buildings, completed in the 15th century inside a walled
park. The temples are astounding for their detail and color. The park affords visitors
a chance to view the Chinese at play. You see families practicing Tai Chi, juggling,
exercising, dancing, picnicking and massaging each other.
The Great Wall or "the Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li" may be entered
from two places, both of them about a one and one-half hours taxi ride from Beijing.
The most popular entrance is at Badaling. Travel to Badaling or Mutianyu,
the other spot to begin the trek, by tourist bus, available at hotels, or hire a
car and driver.
|Great Wall, Beijing
Perhaps the most beautiful of all sites in the environs of Beijing
is the Summer Palace with
its gardens, bridges, pavilions, halls and towers. Dominated by
Kunming Lake and Longevity
Hill, it is traditional China as pictured in silk-screen
prints. Since the palace is on the northwestern outskirts of Beijing,
again go by tour bus or hire a car and driver at your hotel.
Most guidebooks tout the state-run Friendship Store and the Yuan Long
Embroidery Silk Co. as the places to shop. However, we found them wanting. The
merchandise at the Friendship Store is overpriced and the clothing at Yuan Long hasn't
been in fashion for many a decade. Beijing now has Hong Kong-style quality clothing
shops and they are to be found in the arcades of the better hotels.
The best shopping mecca for moderate-priced apparel is Silk Alley, near
the American Embassy. The numbered stalls run for blocks and are stocked with silk
shirts, blazers, pants, scarves and blouses with labels like Bill Blass and Clifford
& Wills. Bargaining is de rigueur and prices are a fraction of stateside.
|Summer Palace, Beijing
Xinjian Tianshan Cashmere House in the basement of the China World Tower
in the China World Trade Center sells cashmere that is marketed in the U.S. under
the label TSE. Although this is a one-price establishment, the cost of sweaters,
scarves and shawls in up-to-date designs is unbeatable given the quality.
To purchase antiques and art objects visit the centrally located Liu Li Chang
All hotels have cards with the names of major sites and shopping destinations
printed in English
and Chinese to give to taxi drivers.
Friendship Store, Chang An Jie. Tel. 593531. Open seven days, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Xinjian Tianshan Cashmere House, Basement, China World Tower
|Silk Alley, Beijing
A young man in a familiar-looking, brass-buttoned white outfit–cropped jacket
and pillbox-like hat –opens the front door. He wears the page's uniform of the
Hong Kong-based Peninsula Hotel chain of which the Palace in
Beijing is a member. Guests are welcomed into the dramatic lobby where four
levels of a sunlit atrium, soaring marble columns and a grand staircase are
Although it is only six years old, the hotel is now a landmark in China because
of the exterior architectural style, blending Chinese and Western design, and the
downtown location. For those who like to walk, the Palace is within striking distance
of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and major shopping.
The level of luxury and the attention to detail is extraordinary. For example,
a clinic staffed by doctors, some trained in the West, is open 24 hours a day.
Transportation available to guests includes the only fleet of radio-controlled
taxis in the city, as well as chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benzes and Rolls Royces.
Fitness buffs will find the health club up to American standards
with a heated swimming pool, a fully-equipped gym
and trainers on hand every day from 6a.m. until 10 p.m. Martial arts and aerobic
classes are offered. The individual cubicles at the hair salon feature television,
video and direct-dial phones.
Some other 20th-century touches are mist-free bathroom mirrors and in-room
computerized controls for lighting and air-conditioning. Stay in accommodations
on the club floors and you enjoy even more service– breakfast,
tea and cocktails in the lounge, personalized stationery and complimentary pressing.
The business center offers assistance to those who use the hotel as their office.
We even saw an employee artfully wrapping gifts for a guest's Chinese partners.
You can avoid the so-so Chinese food in Beijing by eating at the hotel's Fortune
Garden, Palace and Chiuchow Garden, which feature respectively
well prepared Cantonese, Sichuan and Chiuchow dishes. But if you have a hankering
for American food, you will also be pleased with the Palm Court, which offers
an à la carte menu and buffets all day long. The variety was staggering, the
food was fresh and tasty and the price just couldn't be beat.
Gustav Olafson, who heads up a food packaging company, travels to Beijing from
Copenhagen three times a year and stays for several weeks each time. He likes
the Radisson SAS for the familiar Scandinavian atmosphere and
because it has a five-star rating. Many American businesspeople who visit China
frequently are also regulars. In fact, only 20 percent of the hotel's guests
Jack Johnson from Cincinnati said he is a repeater on his business trips because
of the good value in comparison to nearby hotels. Although Radisson SAS is in an
outlying district in the northeastern part of the city, he does not find transportation
to be a problem. Taxis to the center of the city are plentiful and inexpensive and
the hotel maintains a regular free shuttle bus to and from the commercial district,
the airport and places of interest, such as the Silk Market.
The public spaces are modern looking, as are many of the rooms. A few are decorated
in Oriental and in Art Deco style. The guest rooms on the royal club
floor are very large and breakfast and tea are available in the club
lounge. Facilities include an indoor swimming pool, gym, squash and
tennis courts and saunas.
One of the nicest things about the hotel is the Royal Cafe where fresh
fish, which is flown in from Norway three times a week, appears on the menu. A seafood
buffet is served every Friday night. Many kinds of herring, salmon and other fish
are offered on the cold smorgasbord and the hot entrees, such as bouillabaisse and
shellfish paella, are cooked to order.
The Palace Hotel, 8 Goldfish Lane, Wangfujing, Beijing 100006, tel. 011-86-10-512-8899is
a member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, 800-323-7500, and the Leading
Hotels of the World, 800-223-6800. Rates start at $260. http://beijing.peninsula.com/index.shtml
Radisson SAS, 6A East Beisanhuan Road, Chaoyang District, 100028. Tel. 011-86-1-466-3388.
Reservations 800-333-3333. Rates start at $145. www.radisson.com