Inside China...Hangzhou and Suzhou

31 Dec 2012 by ReggieHo
HANGZHOU For centuries, Hangzhou’s idyllic lakeside tableau has captivated eager pilgrims, from artists to men of letters and high officials, from loved-up couples to those seeking escape from life’s bruising crush. In the second decade of this new millennium, the gateway to China’s eastern Zhejiang province is sparing no effort in welcoming a wave of visitors, attracted not only by its enduring postcard-pretty scenery but also by the rapid expansion – since the local economy opened up in 1992 – of industries such as e-commerce, IT services, pharmaceuticals, electronics and food processing, among others. With the boundaries of special areas such as the Hangzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone, the Hangzhou Export Processing Zone and the High-Tech Zone constantly being stretched, the city has fast-tracked a comprehensive modernisation scheme that is causing a buzz so palpable it’s felt even before entering the CBD. Among the enhancements are the high-speed, 45-minute rail service to Shanghai, an upgrading of Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport, the November launch of the Hangzhou MTR system (designed by Hong Kong MTR group and serving the Hangzhou city and suburbs), and the recent rollout of the first phase of a wifi initiative, providing free internet access in some parts of the city from an access point dubbed i-hangzhou. On arrival Visitors arrive either through Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport, which is 27km from downtown, or any of the three stations: Hangzhou Railway Station downtown, South Railway Station near the airport and the East Station, which caters only to buses. Orientation Everyone almost at once gravitates to the West Lake area, which continues to be the city’s biggest tourist draw – although Hangzhou tourism promoters are succeeding in luring travellers to other scenic attractions in the surrounding hillsides such as the Longjing village where the famous tea originates, as well as Xixi National Wetland Park, where it is said the first dragon boat races took place. East of West Lake is the downtown area where government offices, financial institutions, railway terminuses and commercial and retail establishments are located. Towards the east, a new CBD has grown – Qianjiang New City, along the Qiantang River, boasting features such as the Civic Center, Hangzhou Grand Theatre and International Conference Centre. Where to stay JW Marriott It can’t get much more downtown than being on Hushu South Road, which bustles with city centre action. All the business bells and whistles are offered, such as wifi or wired internet access in all 310 rooms, public spaces and meeting areas, and extensive F&B outlets including Marriott’s trademark CRU steakhouse and Man Ho Chinese restaurant. The Courtyard Hangzhou Wulin shares the grounds, the first time for the chain that the two brands have been co-located. www.marriott.com Hyatt Regency Offering stunning views over West Lake, this 390-room property enjoys a premier location within the Hubin International Boutique Compound, steps away from Hangzhou’s most famous attraction. Hyatt’s signature Residence meeting product is part of the range of facilities, along with an indoor pool and a good selection of restaurants. www.hyatt.com InterContinental Located in the economic zone of Qianjiang New Town, the 395-room hotel is part of a complex consisting also of the Hangzhou International Conference Centre, Shopping Centre and Grand Theatre. Its ballroom is huge at 2,034 sqm and the smaller venues enjoy natural light. Five restaurants and bars, a spa and swimming pool are found onsite. www.ihg.com Oakwood Residence Hangzhou Its address at the EAC complex in the centrally located Yellow Dragon commercial area is ideal for visitors on a long stay. On offer are furnished and unfurnished one- to three-bedroom units, all equipped with a range of kitchen appliances and a separate dining space. Shared amenities include a swimming pool and fitness centre. www.oakwood.com Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale Hangzhou A CBD address provides guests with proximity to important provincial government offices as well as dining and shopping activities. Its Sawasdee Thai restaurant is popular among Thai cuisine aficionados. Facilities include 283 guestrooms and suites, the pillar-less Royale Ballroom with views of West Lake or the surrounding hills, and an outdoor garden terrace for refreshing breaks. www.wyndham.com Where to eat and shop Traditional Zhejiang cuisine is considered one of China’s eight major culinary gems. It is characterised by light flavours, colourful presentation, crispy textures and a fresh taste. Renowned must-try delicacies include West Lake fish in sweet and sour sauce, shelled shrimp in Dragon Well (Longjing) tea, Dongpo pork and Beggar’s Chicken. The establishments to go to for these include Louwailou Restaurant (30 Gushan Road, tel +86 571 8796 9023), established in the 1800s by a Qing dynasty nobleman; Zhiweiguan Restaurant (83 Renhe Road, tel +86 571 8781 8702), featuring four floors of dining space, and Tianwaitian Restaurant (2 Tianzhu Road, tel +86 571 8796 5450), another vintage outlet first opened in 1920 and located next to the much-photographed Lingyin Temple. For those who may not be confident in putonghua and don’t want to risk any miscommunication in local restaurants, Hyatt Regency’s 28 HuBin Road Chinese restaurant is an excellent showcase for local specialities. Don’t forget to wash down your meals with fragrant Longjing tea, grown in the hills southwest of West Lake. With a long history of producing silk and tea, Hangzhou has always boasted lively areas of commerce. The traditional shopping magnets remain Wulin Square and Yan’an Road, where large department stores dominate, interlaced by side thoroughfares such as Silk Street, Women’s Fashion Strip on Wulin Street and Xinyifang Commercial Walking Street, all carrying a wealth of useful products and unique souvenirs. Also notable are the Nanshan Road Art & Leisure Strip for bars and art galleries, and the Tea Culture Village at Meijiawu to sip and shop for Hangzhou’s most renowned brew. Where to unwind Clear the mind with a cuppa, again of Hangzhou’s famous Longjing tea, in one of numerous teahouses with the panorama of West Lake serenely spread before you. Much frequented are Lake View Tea House, Chenghuangge Tea House, Men’er Tea House, JinYong Tea House and Ivy Tea House. Chinese snacks are also available for the choosing. Going for an after-dinner performance has always been a popular activity, especially since the options were enhanced by award-winning director Zhang Yimou’s sumptuous Impression West Lake, actually staged on that famous body of water and watched out in the open – even during winter. The location of the show is 82 Beishan Road, opposite the Yuefei Temple and Shangri-La Hotel. The one-hour show starts daily at 7.45pm, and a second show is added at 9.15pm if weather conditions allow. Tickets start from US$35 and can be purchased through Hangzhou Letour International Travel Company (tel +86 571 8578 1937, www.gotohangzhou.com). SUZHOU Suzhou, famed for its classical gardens, ageless pagodas and serene waterways, will always be regarded as an idyllic getaway. The world keeps forgetting it has been home for more than 20 years to two major industrial zones – Suzhou Industrial Park and Suzhou New District. Nevertheless, city officials are determined to carve a modern face for this historic hub on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, approving a slew of construction projects that are quickly changing the urban landscape. One certain to become an icon is the Suzhou Center, which already stands out because of its distinctive twin towers. On arrival Despite not having its own airport, Suzhou is well linked to other parts of China as well as the vital air hubs of Pudong International Airport and Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport by a plethora of daily train services, many of them high-speed. There are four terminals: the oldest and primary gateway is Suzhou Railway Station, which was refurbished in 2011; then there are the spanking new North Railway Station and the older Suzhou New District Railway Station and Suzhou Industrial Park Railway Station. The hotel concierge is the best person to secure train tickets for you, as buying them online yourself is a complicated process and requires a local bank account. Orientation The Suzhou Railway Station is right downtown and 10-15 minutes away from hotels in the CBD, depending on the traffic. The Suzhou Industrial Park Railway terminal is in the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), and thus more convenient for those staying at properties in the vicinity like Kempinski or Renaissance. The city centre is fringed by a large rectangular canal that branches out to smaller waterways interlacing neighbourhoods, which has given Suzhou its enduring label of “the Venice of the East”. Outside the ring road, Jinji Lake marks the SIP where all the streets start with “Xing” (from “Xingjiapo”, the Chinese name for Singapore, which developed the industrial zone in the 1990s). Where to stay InterContinental Suzhou Exquisite oriental details dotting the public areas infuse a great sense of place in this 432-room hotel along the northeast side of Jinji Lake. Being near the Suzhou International Expo Center makes it the logical accommodation choice when attending an event there. www.ichotelsgroup.com Kempinski Hotel Suzhou A lakeside location and sprawling grounds create the ideal atmosphere for lively corporate events and team-building activities. Most of the 458 guestrooms and suites enjoy a commanding view of one of the city’s most stunning natural focal points, an asset to which not many local hotels can lay claim. www.kempinski.com Marco Polo Suzhou Located near the Guan Qian shopping street, this hotel is also within easy walking distance of several of the famous garden attractions and the Xuan Miao Temple. It provides 314 guestrooms, 10 meeting rooms, Western and Chinese cuisine, a library and an outdoor swimming pool. www.marcopolohotels.com Pan Pacific Suzhou Balancing Chinese classical and contemporary elements, this iconic hotel is perfect for the traveller who eschews cookie-cutter sameness. Views of the landscaped gardens and carp ponds are highlighted to good effect through the myriad windows that frame the public areas, restaurants and, of course, the 481 guestrooms. www.panpacific.com Renaissance Suzhou Hotel Located within the Suzhou Industrial Park and overlooking a lush green park, the Renaissance offers a convenient and comfortable work address. International and Cantonese dishes are the highlights of the F&B outlets. www.marriott.com Where to eat and shop Highly recommended by Suzhou residents are Wu Men Ren Jia (Wu’s Family/31 Panru Xiang, Pingjiang District, tel +86 512 6728 8041), and 200-year-old establishments De Yue Lou (43 Taijian Lane, Guang Qian Jie, tel +86 512 6523 8940) and Song He Lou, (72 Taijian Lane, tel +86 512 6770 0688). These all serve authentic Suzhounese specialities led by an imperial favourite, mandarin fish, either stewed or fried. Guang Qian Street is the main shopping precinct, where silk goods and embroidered items of varying quality can be bought. Connoisseurs should visit the interesting Silk Museum (2001 Remin Road, Pingjiang District, www.szsilkmuseum.com) for perspective on this fascinating fabric. If you happen to take a pedicab – cabs are hard to catch during rush hour – chances are the driver will persuade you to let him take you to a silk factory. Hopefully, it will be the No 1 Silk Factory (www.1st-silk.com), which is quite touristy but allows you to witness some steps in the silk-making process and has an excellent product range. Where to unwind Once the day’s work is done, the place to head for is Li Gong Ti to knock back a few beers or feast on some decent Japanese fare. This picturesque enclave is located in the Suzhou Industrial Park, along the banks of Jinji Lake. The New Area, west of the city, has its own set of dining and drinking spots and attracts a more Japanese and Korean clientele. Pingjiang Road in the heart of Suzhou’s historic quarter is very popular with locals and tourists alike, who enjoy meandering through cobblestone streets by the little canals and bridges.
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