Cheap Hotels in China

China for the Value-Minded Traveler

          The Year of the Dragon might just be the year to travel to China and take advantage of the hotel deals that abound there.  With many hotel chains opening up new venues throughout the country, there are many more rooms than guests to fill them, at least for the time being.  As an example, the hotel boom in Shanghai on the run up to the World Expo in 2010 gave visitors a wide array of luxury hotel rooms to choose from and the occupancy rate was 64.4 percent that year.  Just a year later that rate was down to 54.4 percent according to consulting and research group STR Global.  With hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt expanding their operations, four in ten hotel rooms in China are now empty.

Pudong Skyline, Shanghai, China

Pudong Skyline, Shanghai, China

Popular Tourist Destination

          As the third most visited travel destination, behind the United States and France, China is expected to see a steady increase in the number of hotels during the next several years and many will be ultra-luxury facilities like the new Waldorf Astoria that opened in April 2011 in Shanghai.  While much of the demand for hotel accommodations in China comes from the increasingly affluent citizens of that country, visitors will still have an opportunity to take advantage of the glut of hotel rooms in the short term.  If you’ve been thinking of that trip to China, now may be the time to take the plunge.  See our series on China for more information about what to see and check our Awesome Accommodations pages above for some of our favorite hotels in China.

The Great Wall of China Near Beijing

The Great Wall of China Near Beijing

The Bund and Pudong

The Bund and Pudong

          A spectacular view of the Pudong skyline across the Huangpu River awaits you as you reach the east end of East Nanjing Road and emerge onto the Bund in Shanghai, China.  The Bund is actually an elevated promenade that runs north-south along the western side of the river following East Zhongshan No 1 Road for nearly a mile.  According to the Lonely Planet travel guide of China, The Bund is ‘an Anglo-Indian term for the embankment of a muddy waterfront’.  This boulevard was the financial center of Old Shanghai and is now lined with historic buildings representing various periods of Chinese history.  All day and late into the evening crowds of locals and tourists stroll together along this famous walkway, taking in the stately buildings on one side and a view of the modern skyscrapers across the river on the other.  I found myself going back many times to bask in this sensory overload and almost enjoyed watching others take in the ethereal atmosphere as much as I enjoyed experiencing it myself.  At night colorfully lighted boats ply the waters between the two crowded banks of the river, adding to the spectacle.

View of Pudong from the Bund

The View of Pudong from the Bund Across the Huangpu River

The Bund and Pudong Skyline

China Pavilion, Expo 2010

          On my second day in Shanghai I found the ferry boat going across the river to Pudong, albeit with some difficulty.  Pudong is home to the Shanghai Exposition, the airport and some of the world’s tallest and most famous buildings.  The most notable among them are the Oriental Pearl Tower with its stacked globes, the Jinmao Tower with its observation deck on the 88th floor and the Shanghai World Financial Center, reputed to be the world’s third tallest building.  Just standing at the feet of these behemoths is awe inspiring.  A short bus ride will take you to the site of the Shanghai Expo 2010, which officially closed on October 31.  This huge exposition, which drew thousands of people from all over the world, covers many blocks and the trademark China Pavilion is destined to become a lasting symbol of Shanghai.

China Pavilion, Expo 2010

the China Pavilion, Expo 2010

Ferry Across the Huangpu River

          On the ferry ride back across the river to the Bund I realized that my three weeks in China was rapidly drawing to a close and it was finally time to start thinking about getting to the airport the next day for the long flight home.  I was actually looking forward to the flight on Korean Air, which in my opinion is one of the best airlines in the world.  Not only is the service superb, but it is difficult to take your eyes off the gorgeous ladies who serve as flight attendants.  Looking back on my trip, I covered a tremendous amount of territory in those three weeks, visiting some of the most famous sights in China and meeting a good cross section of its friendly people.  And all this without spending a lot of money!  China is a big country, though, and I still have lots more to see on my next trip!

Pudong, Shanghai, China

Pudong, Shanghai, China

 TRAVEL TIP:

          Going between the Pudong Airport and most parts of Shanghai is easy using the high speed Maglev (magnetic levitation) Train which has a station in Pudong connecting with the metro.  A one way ticket on the high speed train should cost about $7.00 and the connecting metro ticket is less than one US dollar.  This is quick, convenient and considerably cheaper than a taxi and gives you an opportunity to ride on one of the world’s fastest trains at 250 miles per hour.

The Bund in Shanghai, China

The Bund in Shanghai, China

 

Astor House Hotel, Shanghai, China

The Astor House Hotel, Shanghai

          The Astor House Hotel was a bit of a splurge for this budget traveler, but compared with some of the other hotels in Shanghai it was a good value. Since I knew that I would be in Shanghai on the last two nights of my trip, I booked it in advance through Hotels.com, which I found to be easy and reliable. I paid $99.00 per night including taxes and fees, but disappointingly, not including breakfast. The hotel is conveniently located just a short walk across the bridge over Suzhou Creek near the northern end of the Bund.

The Astor House Hotel, Shanghai, China

The Astor House Hotel, Shanghai, China

Old World Charm

          The place reeks of old world charm from the moment you spot its colonial architecture, to your greeting by doormen in kilts and on until you get to your room, which is big enough to quarter a small army. The bathrooms are correspondingly huge and completely modern. On the other hand, the floors and woodwork are all original and very old. Most rooms include an original fireplace. The front desk staff were friendly and helpful and the maid service was efficient and regular. Although they put out a sumptuous spread for the $11.00 buffet breakfast, it would have been worth it if only to sit in the spectacular domed dining room. I can highly recommend this elegant old hotel based on location, value and ambience and can easily understand why it was frequented by the celebrities of yore.

Doormen in Kilts at the Astor House Hotel

Doormen in Kilts at the Astor House Hotel

TRAVEL TIP:

          For independent travelers, booking hotels in advance can be risky, since your itinerary may change. If you are flying in and out of a gateway city, however, you know where you will be on the first few nights and the last few nights of your trip and booking in advance can ease some of the stress of traveling. Generally, at each end of your trip you will be in a big city that you will want to spend a few days exploring. At the beginning of your trip this enables you to refresh yourself after a long plane flight and at the end, it is a nice way to unlax after a busy trip.

Shanghai High

East Nanjing Road

          How does one even begin to describe a city like Shanghai, China!  With 14 million people it is one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world.  Its combination of traditional Chinese buildings, European colonial architecture and modern skyscrapers is sure to dazzle you.  I loved Shanghai and my two day visit was a spectacular way to bring my trip to China to a close.  There is so much to see in Shanghai, but for a busy tourist with a limited amount of time the main action is along East Nanjing Road and following it east to the point where it intersects the northernmost end of the Bund.  The Bund is a promenade running north-south along the Huangpu River and looking across the water one gets an unforgettable view of the fabulous skyline of Pudong, with its colorful new skyscrapers.

East Nanjing Road at Night

East Nanjing Road at Night

          Starting at People’s Square and Renmin Park on the west end of East Nanjing Road it is an easy walk along this mostly pedestrianized boulevard heading toward the Bund on the river.  Lined with fashionable shops it is crowded both day and night with businessmen, shoppers and hawkers, young families on an outing and lovers on a stroll.  You will get a real treat when the lights come on at night giving it an almost Disneyland-like feel.  There is much history along this road as well.  The Peace Hotel with its trademark green dome was a frequent meeting place for the Gang of Four, which included Mao’s last wife.  Here they plotted many of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, for which they were all put on trial for treasonous crimes a month after Mao’s death in 1976.

          My headquarters during my stay in Shanghai was the Astor House Hotel, which I will feature in a future posting.  I only had time for a fleeting glance at the French Concession, Old Town and many other attractions in Shanghai, leaving plenty of reason to return to this beautiful city.  Coming next, the Bund, Pudong and the World Exposition.

East Nanjing Road by Day and Night

Suzhou and Tongli

Side Trip to Suzhou and Tongli

          On my way from Nanjing back to Shanghai by train, I stopped in the small city of Suzhou.  I had read about the ancient gardens of Suzhou, as well as the nearby canal town of Tongli and was hoping to get a glimpse of each before getting back to Shanghai later that evening.  Well, this turned out to be the marathon day of my trip!  Adding to the challenge, I had to carry my entire pack with me all day, since I was between hotels.  I did manage to see much of what I set out to, but to be perfectly candid, it was a bit disappointing for all the effort I put into it.  Suzhou is billed as the ‘Venice of the East’, but having been to the ‘Venice of the West’, I didn’t quite see the comparison.  Nevertheless, it was a beautiful city and I’m glad I stopped for a look.

Pedicab in Tongli, China

Pedicab in Tongli, China

The Canal Town of Tongli, China

          At the Suzhou train station I passed up the many hawkers trying to sell tours of the city, opting instead to hop on a pedicab for a harrowing ride to the bus station nearby.  Within an hour I arrived at Tongli and got in another pedicab for the ride to the old town.  The pedicab driver was a very enterprising fellow and sold me on a package deal that included the entrance fees and a guided tour on his pedicab through the maze of streets that lined the canals.  Since time was of the essence, it turned out to be a good way to get an overview of the picturesque canals and all the major sights in a short time.  The entrance fee included entry to museums, gardens and several old residences.  There were some beautiful bridges crossing over the canals which actually were somewhat reminiscent of Venice and my guide seemed to know all the favorite photo spots and waited patiently for me while I explored a little on my own.  Just as he promised, he had me back in plenty of time to catch the bus back to Suzhou.

Giggling Ladies on Tongli Canal Boats

The Gardens of Suzhou, China      

          It was mid-afternoon by the time I arrived in Suzhou and there was just enough time to take a taxi to one of the many gardens for which it is known.  I visited the Garden of the Master of the Nets, which dates back to the 12th century and is a beautifully laid out garden that is famous for fitting a lot into a small space.  After a quick tour of the garden I returned to the main street to hail a taxi going back to the train station.  I stood for a long time trying to wave down a taxi and wondered why so many empty taxis were passing me by.  I was getting a little anxious, because my train was leaving in less than an hour.  Finally a nice man going by on a bicycle went out of his way to stop just long enough to tell me that the taxis weren’t permitted to pick up passengers at the spot where I was standing and pointed to another place nearby where I should stand.  The very next taxi picked me up and I was soon on the train to Shanghai.

Garden of the Master of the Nets

The Garden of the Master of the Nets

Sun Yatsen

Dr. Sun Yatsen

          I knew that Dr. Sun was an important historical figure in China, but was not prepared for the prodigious memorial built to honor him, indicative of the supreme reverence with which he is regarded by all the people of China, both on the mainland and in Taiwan.  He was a revolutionary who worked tirelessly to undermine the last ruling imperial dynasty in China around the turn of the twentieth century.  Sun was an interesting figure who converted to Christianity, become a medical doctor and greatly admired Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln.  In 1911, the Qing Dynasty abruptly ended and the Republic of China was born.  Sun Yatsen became the first president and established the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party.

Statue of Dr. Sun Yatsen

Statue of Dr. Sun Yatsen

The Kuomintang Party

          The Republic of China only lasted 40 years on the mainland and the history of China during the period that followed is complicated.  Chiang Kaishek assumed command of the Kuomintang Party in 1928 and spent his remaining years competing with a radical librarian from Peking University named Mao Zedong for control of China.  Mao eventually prevailed and Chiang Kaishek retreated with the remnants of the Republic of China to the island of Taiwan in 1949 to form Nationalist China.  Dr. Sun Yatsen died of liver cancer in 1925 at the age of 58, but because of his leading role in the efforts to topple the last ruling dynasty he is considered the father of modern China.  Despite the continued conflict between the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan), Dr. Sun is held in extremely high regard by the Chinese people of both nations.  Thus the lavish mausoleum where he is entombed.

The Sun Yatsen Mausoleum

The Sun Yatsen Mausoleum