Sunday, December 09, 2012

Domestic Travelling in China (Shanghai, Xi'an & Chengdu)

No trip to China is complete without a visit, at the very least, to the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an & the Chengdu Panda Base
Before leaving Cairns did some research and worked out that booking flights and hotels via the Ctrip website looked pretty straightforward, however decided to wait until we were there before making any firm bookings.
Once in Shanghai and after checking with Hong Kong based brother who also recommended Ctrip, decided to take the plunge and travel "freestyle". 
Shanghai Pudong Airport - Terminal 1
After allowing for an important business meeting in Aust. that MDR had to do via Skype we decided to head over to Xi'an on a Monday night (2h 40m flight), then head out early Tuesday morning to tour the Terracotta Warriors site allowing a whole day in Xi'an, overnighting for a further night there, then flying to Chengdu (1h 30m flight) early the next morning, spending half a day at the Panda Base and returning to Shanghai that evening.  This would mean avoiding crowds on weekends and allow us to visit the important sites early in the mornings when it would be less busy.  Lucky also that our trip to China was in November, which is low season, no local holidays and also cooler weather - just perfect!
Ctrip listed many domestic airline options with very cheap to very pricey fares.  Our China Eastern flight from Cairns had been good so ended up booking all of our flights with them.  China Southern had been recommended to us as well by Allen's Tours in Xi'an but China Eastern worked out to have more flights and cheaper fares.
Domestic Flight on China Eastern
Booking via Ctrip online with the iPad was fine until the payment page, tried three times but it kept crashing. Getting a bit dispirited by then as I didn't fancy calling Ctrip and struggling with language difficulties, however it was either calling or not going!  Pleasantly surprised when I called the English booking line, the sales agent at the other end had great English, was very fast and our three flights were booked in a jiffy.  Also helped a lot that I'd entered in our details and passport numbers and taken note of the flight details.  Just had to read out my credit card number and the flights were confirmed via e-ticket with emails arriving shortly thereafter.
Our of our flights were ex Shanghai Pudong (East) as that was the airport we were familiar with, however in retrospect it may have been better to return to Shanghai via Shanghai Hongqiao airport which is on the Puxi (West) side of Shanghai where we were staying on our return from Chengdu.  But we did have to leave our big suitcases somewhere and it turned out to be very quick and easy to leave them at the baggage storage facility which was about 30m from the China Eastern (MU) check-in area at the excellent Shanghai Pudong airport.
The domestic flight on MU was seamless, quick check-in using just our passports (no annoying e-ticket printouts needed), new aircraft, on-time, and polite co-passengers on board.
We were surprised by the level of security, just like travelling international.  Passports are checked then there is a very rigourous security check which included being "frisked" with the metal detector wand.  This turns out to be the case on all domestic flights so it's smart to allow plenty of time to get through security checkpoints.
China Eastern In-Flight Meal - W Class MU5410  CTU - PVG
The airports at Xi'an and Chengdu were very similar to Shanghai Pudong, very large, quite new and very efficient.
Aviation Radish - Too scared to try this!
All of our flights were seamless and where we used taxi's, very short queues.
In-flight meals were pretty good, quite substantial compared to Australia.  Forget the in-flight coffee though, it's served lukewarm in a plastic tumbler with that awful "Coffee Creamer" powder.

We managed to find nice coffee shops at all the airports so have your coffee fix before you board!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

SmartShanghai Website

Found this website to be invaluable for getting around by taxi in Shanghai, one just has to bring up the destination and it lists the address in Mandarin as well as English.  With the iPad I just had to show the driver the webpage on the iPad screen, who would read the address in Mandarin script and we'd be away. 
Twice though we encountered taxi drivers who couldn't read so were forced to find another taxi.

Foodie Heaven in Shanghai

Every meal in our 10 days in China was wonderful!   MDR was able to indulge in lots of Chinese roast duck and even French confit duck.
All cuisines are on offer in Shanghai and it's hard to go wrong with food, prices range from a few yuan to completely over our budget and into the stratosphere.

The very fat mushroom dumplings in Huaihai Road were divine and MDR was able to go back to his Gallic roots with a Marseille pizza  at a Cote next door to La Petit Franck in the French Concession.  The petit pan au chocolat at nearby Farine (Franck's too) were to die for, and half the price of what we pay at home.

We really enjoyed the streetside kebabs in Xi'an at the Muslim Bazaar and also the home delivery to our hotel in Shanghai by Sherpas from Cafe Montmartre.  Sherpas were awesome, all of the local restaurants were listed on their website, pick your cuisine and place an order from the online menu and it's delivered to you for 15yuan plus the restaurant cost.

Shanghai Shoe Woes

Anticipating lots of tramping around China, MDR invested in a sturdy pair of new 100% Australian made Redback boots. He has had a pair now for a couple of years that he wears to work and swears by them.
After 4 days in Shanghai we went to a standup comedy show by the Punchline Comedy Club at the ritzy 5 star Shangri La Kerry Hotel when MDR was nobbled by the Redbacks.  The damn soles started disintegrating and MDR was forced to slide around so the shoe soles wouldn't flap - not happy Jan!
The standup comedy was hilarious, Arj Barker was the drawcard but the two Brit comedians were actually just as good if not better.  The event was spiced up even more with a loud mouth Kiwi lass in the front row having to be ejected, she wouldn't stop talking and even claimed to the room that she would be more entertaining....
Kind of ironic that these very expensive Aussie made boots fell apart in China.  This forced us to go to the one of the knockoff markets near the Science & Technology Museum metro station the next day, where MDR bought a pair of "Clarks" and I bought a handbag. 
We made a narrow escape from the touts there, the worst we've ever experienced.
Visited the Science & Technology Museum which is housed in a fantastic glass building, the displays were fairly underwhelming though.

Shanghai Public Transport

Probably the best Metro in the world in Shanghai.  Extensive, very cheap, clean, safe and very frequent trains - every 2 or 3 minutes.
Have to admit feeling a bit daunted but after a few days of wild taxi rides and sitting in traffic jams, bit the bullet and googled the Shanghai Metro, found a webpage that explained in English the 1 day and 3 day passes but for longer trips the Shanghai Public Transportation Card is recommended as it works on all public transport and taxis. 
Found an information desk at LongYang station (Line 2), showed the girl there the iPad with the webpage photos of the SPTC and she barked LINE 7!  
Found another information desk at Line 7 and again showed the iPad with webpage open.  Too easy, paid 20Y each and charged up the cards with a couple of 100Y and we were good to go.  
Also downloaded a Shanghai Metro app to the iPad which was invaluable.  The printed metro maps at stations are very small and hard to read.  The app was clear and easy to use and tremendous with trip planning.
The Metro stations all have place names in English and once inside the trains station names are displayed and announced in Mandarin & English.
Awesome that one can use these cards in Taxis as well - Seamless!

Shanghai, Nanjing Rd

Day 3 in Shanghai - Heading up Nanjing Road from the Bund.  Guessing the Apple store is legit...
Part of Nanjing Road is closed to traffic, lots of interesting shops along here and not overly crowded. 
Walked up to Peoples Square and visited the Shanghai Musueum (free entry), well worth a visit. We saw some fascinating Chinese artefacts on display and also stumbled on a visiting exhibition from the Moscow Kremlin Museum, works of Carl Faberge no less.  This was a stunning display which included four intricate eggs, amongst other treasures, one egg celebrated the opening of the Trans-Siberian Express with a solid gold miniature wind up train inside the egg.
Got into trouble taking photos of the Faberge collection!  Photo here shows a gold spectacle case with tiny portraits of the Tsar's children.  Unfortunately the photo doesn't do it justice.

The Bund

Wow, first day in Shanghai dawned cool and clear, perfect for a promenade on the iconic Bund.  Not ready to tackle the Metro so caught a taxi from Citidines.  Had an idea to get a ferry from the Pudong side across to the Bund on the Puxi side so asked the concierge at Citidines to write down the name and address of the Pudong ferry terminal.
Must have lost something in translation as the taxi took us across the water on the bridge with a huge corkscrew exit and straight the Bund.

It was a beautiful day so did lots of walking and exploring this beautiful area.  Stumbled on an area that was teeming with brides & grooms being photographed. Had our first roast duck meal at a Chinese restaurant on the Bund, the first of many excellent meals.

Discovered the amazing Fairmont Peace Hotel later, a truly lovely art deco gem built by a Sassoon in the 1930's.   Coffee at Victor's Deli in the Peace Hotel went very well with the great ambience.

Biyun, Shanghai

After a relatively easy flight, nice exit row seats on a newish aircraft and a quick transit through immigration at the massive Shanghai Pudong airport the first port of call in Shanghai was the Citidines in Biyun.  MB had visions of Shanghai being crowded and awful like Mongkok in Hong Kong (was quite wrong in this regard).  Tripadvisor reviews for the Citidines were good, and the rates were pretty good.  It appeared to be close to LongYang Metro Station where the airport Maglev train terminated, however it was a lot further than it looked on the map.
The Maglev from Shanghai Pudong airport is amazing, turns a 40min taxi trip into a superfast 8 minutes, very smooth and quiet with no real sensation of speed, especially at night.
The Maglev was very easy to access from the China Eastern airlines terminal, just a short walk to reach it.  Maximum speed of the Maglev is displayed in the carriages, ours reached 301klm.
Had to get a taxi from LongYang Metro station to Citidines, showed the driver the printout from the hotel with the address and map in mandarin. The driver got to the right street but the Citidines was nowhere in sight, he was jabbering away in mandarin of course....  Had to call the Citidines with the China Mobile SIM just purchased at the airport and get the receptionist to give directions to the driver, turns out the taxi was only about 200m from the Citidines.
After an 8 hour flight it was good to go for a walk and get a bite to eat and some supplies at Carrefour, a massive supermarket - could barely see from one end to the other it was so huge.
The room there was quite good, more of a serviced apartment with a little kitchen.  Great wifi in the room, enough even for MDR to have a Skype teleconference back to OZ one morning.
The neighbourhood seems to be pretty cosmopolitan, spotted some international schools and lots of foreign restaurants, Costa Coffee, Bollywood Indian restaurant, Japanese sushi places, steakhouses etc. and a Carrefour and Decathlon nearby.
Also a nice park and canal area across the road from the Citidines.


Winning a trip to Shanghai from a promotion by Cairns Airport on direct flight on China Eastern from CNS to Shanghai Pudong (PVG) in October was quite mind blowing!
MDR & MB scrambled to set travel dates in the small window of travel dates supplied by Cairns Airport.  Once dates were settled visas were obtained by sending passports to China Consulate in Brisbane.  Then it was research, research, research.
Neither MDR nor MB speak mandarin however the internet came to the rescue. 
Tripadvisor in particular is fantastic for finding accommodation and also for checking out restaurants and tourist attractions.
Many reviews noted that wifi wasn't always available in hotel rooms (as opposed to their lobbys) and many recommended one take a travellers wifi router that could be plugged into an ethernet port in the hotel room.
Luckily Jaycar in Cairns had just got some of these in so was able to get this locally for under $30.  This unit does need power via USB which can be limiting so made sure to take a USB extension cable to plug it into the iPad USB charger in a powerpoint.
The decision to take an iPad also turned out to be a lifesaver, bought a local SIM card, China Unicom 3G with 500mb of data, from a China Mobile shop in downtown Shanghai for around 130RMB.  The guy cut the SIM card to size and installed it in the iPad, with nice fast internet working in seconds.
MDR took his iPhone but the local China Mobile SIM didn't work in it.  A search on Google revealed that iPhones with IOS 5 or later won't work with China Mobile SIM.  We had a spare Nokia so used that instead.  China Mobile prepaid SIMs are very cheap and easy to buy at the airport on arrival, no ID needed.