Many of us consider China to be the big bad wolf, poised to surpass the U.S. economy and become the world’s ruling nation in the years to come. But a visit to the country will leave you surprised at the fact that the Chinese still consider themselves a poor nation.
“I couldn’t believe that there is a country that is more poor than China,” said the 17-year-old girl I sat next to on the plane ride home. She was talking about her recent trip to Vietnam.
Mind you at 17 she was on her way to live with her aunt in Manhattan for a year and was actually a published author – much to my chagrin.
Enough of my insecurities. China is slowly but surely trying to integrate the word luxury into their language. And nowhere is that more evident than in the city of Shanghai. From the trendy Xin Tian Di district to the 400-year-old Yuyuan Garden, it’s the perfect place to get a taste of the new and the old, yesterday and tomorrow. I checked out a few of the best hotels the city has to offer, to date.
Millenium Hongqiao Hotel Shanghai
The rooms are extremely comfortable with amenities du jour. The staff is extremely attentive and the aromatherapy massage at the spa is to die for. Literally. After your treatment, do some reading or take a nap in the cushioned cabanas by the pool. Finish yourself off in one of the jacuzzis in the locker room.
The best part of this hotel is the concierge desk, who goes out of their way to make sure you get the most out of your stay. They hooked me up with a great walking tour of the city for only 700 RMB (that’s approximately $93) – where I had a personal tour guide (beware this is not always the case as my guide Tony told me. Request him if you can.)
We started out in an older section of town, where we took a walk through the beautiful and tranquil Yuyuan Garden and then moved on to a Confucious temple. My guide at the temple told me that to bring some sort of stone into your home was good luck. So I bought a small dog made out of jade, because I am born in the year of the dog.
From there we went to the People’s Square to take some pictures of the city’s art museum and visited a silk museum.
Unfortunately, I was unable to go, but Tony suggested I see an acrobat show while in town. “While Beijing is known for their operas, Shanghai is known for their acrobat displays,” he said.
I was also taken to “the Bund,” where I went through a traditional Chinese tea ceremony – sampling every herb under the sun. As you can see a lazy white cat decided to join me.
On the heels of renowned interior designer Philippe Starck’s JIA Hong Kong, comes the JIA Shanghai. Founder and owner Yenn Wong decided to expand on the JIA concept. A “bird” theme takes cues from Starck’s whimsical design behaviors that are sometimes straight out of a children’s fairytale (a kind of creepy one that is). Avian influences can be found throughout the property. The converted apartment building also has many traditional touches (think London gentleman’s smoking room) and an interesting, out-of-the-box use of materials. There are also board games in each room and a free laundry center downstairs, next to the gym.
One word for this one. Ok, maybe two: absolutely adorable. The Lapis Casa looks more like an old Spanish villa, rather than a tiny boutique in the center of bustling Shanghai . At 18 rooms – each with its own unique style – the hotel was created by owner Judy Wei and her artist friends (who advised her on furniture selection and mismatched antique touches.) Guests can actually purchase the furniture in their room if they are looking to recreate their hotel experience at home.