The staff at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong, which by the way is my favorite of all the Ritz-Carlton hotels I have reviewed so far around the world, really know how to make an engagement special. All I said was that I will be arriving with my Laopo (老婆, wife/fiancée), and they had the whole suite decorated as I have never seen before. A big thank you to the team there. The whole room was heavily decorated with a sea of fresh roses.
In September 2015, the company introduced a fresh new brand-voice to keep up with the times. It was a refreshing feeling to experience this new brand tone and voice in the Shanghai property- everything just seemed to be rejuvenated- except that the first-class luxurious trademark service was still the same. The views, the glamour, the food, the smell, the experience- this flagship property in Shanghai has it all. I feel like coming back here again and again.
The hotel has also introduced a couple of special packages, including guests to embrace its rich heritage with a new immersive experience, “This is Shanghai.” It basically balances modern luxury with the glamorous, art deco design inspired by the roaring 1930’s, and the hotel is the perfect place for guests to learn about Shanghai’s legendary history and gain insight into its bright future. Included in the three-day packaged tour, is a half-day architectural tour by local historian Dr. Spencer Dodington. The packaged tour allows travelers the opportunity to deepen their understanding of life in the world’s largest city and celebrates the best of Shanghai’s seductive and storied past, present, and future. It also includes Tai Chi classes by grand masters and a visit to a famed tailor. Offering guests a luxurious way to explore the city’s rich past and vibrant present, the “This is Shanghai” package starts at approximately 5,880 USD per package based on double occupancy. (This price is subject to 15% service charge).
This time around, I had the pleasure of being accompanied on this press trip with my fiancée, and so it was good to get her viewpoint and prospective on things as well. The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong is a whole lot more opulent than most of its neighbours. Despite the rapid growth of the area around the property, it remains a firm favorite with the good and the great- everyone from foreign dignitaries and stars prefer to stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong. Despite another Ritz-Carlton property to be introduced to Shanghai, this flagship property will always remain a firm favorite with both of us.
The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong
Being a chocolate fan, Vicky, my fiancée, opted to try the chocolate spa treatment at The Ritz-Carlton Spa.
Who can resist the allure of chocolate? According to the staff at the Spa, the scent of chocolate stimulates “happy feeling” endorphins, which create feelings of well-being and can actually reduce stress. Vicky certainly agreed to that!
After having a cup of rich hot chocolate drink, Vicky enjoyed immersing her senses with the aroma of a full-body chocolate scrub, a personalized chocolate massage and a soothing chocolate wrap with a chocolate facial. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The spa features a private shower room and is equipped with luxurious amenities.
RMB1,800 (approx. £180/US$230) per person for 120 minutes
This treatment includes a chocolate scrub, chocolate body massage, body wrap with a chocolate facial, and home-made chocolate as a dessert after treatment.
Jin Xuan Dining Experience
I last dined here in 2012. It was a great pleasure to be back at Jin Xuan again, and this time it was a different and special experience all together as both Vicky and I indulged in scrumptious Cantonese Dim Sum in the company of spectacular views and the sound of the beautiful Zheng being played in the background. Chef Daniel Wong's whimsical culinary creations are to die for. It is not just food but sheer art, and one cannot argue with the fact that he is a most certainly a culinary artists wearing a neat chef's hat. There must be something special about the cookery of a chef who's food makes grown men giggle with glee. Indeed, food has always been a form of art, and both need an immense amount of creativity- the only difference being that Chef Wong has to do it many times over, with speed and accuracy. That in itself is just amazing. The end result? Priceless tasting food.
Indeed, the iconic London 'Hackney' black cab is now built in China. It is not uncommon to come across the London style black cabs in some Chinese cities, including in Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai (pictured). My wife and I were on our way to Shanghai Hongqiao Airport: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Located in the heart of Shanghai's French Concession on the fine Hengshan Road (known during the early concession period as the “Champs Elysees of Shanghai”), the Gallery Suites is boutique hotel housed in a 1933 heritage building. Once the home to a Russian princess (Olga Gregorievna Ogneff), the sophisticated accommodation was opened to the public in 2009 and offers 39 spectacular and generously spacious suites, which are all over 50sqm.
The oversized bathroom has a deep bath tub and two-person shower-oh and, in case you need them, there are authentic period oil paintings on the walls.
After The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong, the Gallery Suites is my favourite hotel in this beautiful city. You can buy the art and other room amenities, including the bone china cutlery and rich dove feather duvets.
How do you end up missing three flights on one evening? Can it really happen? The simple answer to that is, yes it can, and it happened to me. So, if you suffer a similar unfortunate issue, you have my upmost support and sympathy.
In May this year, I was supposed to fly on Air India’s brand new Dreamliner Boeing 787 aircraft to promote their Business Class (and the aircraft itself). The flight was booked to go from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to New Delhi IGI Airport. From Delhi, I had a connecting flight to London with Oman Air (via a short stopover in Muscat). This was my first time to try out Air India, and the airline had specifically invited me. Since I have a British passport (Sadly, I am not Indian), so therefore I was to the understanding that I had to get a visa if I was to even transit through New Delhi, even if I had a connecting flight with a different airline. Not only I double checked, but in fact I triple checked with the senior management and even went to the board level at the airline to make sure whether I did or did not require a visa. The senior management, namely Air India’s China Managing Director at that time (whom I am not going to name in this article), told me that as a British citizen, I did not require visa if I was just transiting via New Delhi - even if my onwards journey was with a different airline.
Being the fact that she was the country Managing Director, I respected and trusted her words. In any case, I showed her the proof from the Indian Consulate General’s website, which at that time, clearly stated that British Citizens required a visa for India if they were transiting to catch another flight, even with a different airline. Effectively, I would have had to collect my luggage upon arrival at Delhi, leave the building and then check-in again for Oman Air. However, despite I showing her the request from the Indian Consulate General in Shanghai, the Air India Manager was adamant that I did not require a visa at all. Before the actual day of the flight, the Air India MD told me that the airline’s station manager would be at the check-in desk to personally greet me and take me through to the aircraft before boarding (this is normal security procedure for media every time I carry out an airline review).
Come the day of the flight, as you can imagine that I was super excited. It was a Friday evening, and my scheduled flight was at 10pm. I got to the dedicated Air India check-in counter at Shanghai Pudong Airport around two hours before departure. The first thing I noticed was that all the check-in staff were local Chinese and were wearing Chinese Eastern Airlines uniforms. Where were the Air India staff? Well, to my surprise, Air India have no native Indian check-in staff at the airport because of financial cuts, they have outsourced their check-in and ground handling to China Eastern Airlines. The airline’s duty manager (who was Indian), was nowhere to be seen either. Apparently, he was on the ground next to the aircraft and his mobile was switched off, when he should have been at the check-in counter as that’s the job of the duty-manager.
When I checked-in, I showed them my media documents, passport, flight ticket, and the necessary permission letters that I had got from the Air India management. The gentleman at the check-in counter initially gave me my boarding pass, but then he noticed that I had no transit visa for India, and therefore I was denied boarding. Both the check-in staff and I tried to get hold of the senior management at Air India, and the duty manager; however to my surprise and disappointment, nobody picked up the phone. After waiting for around a further 20 minutes, the check-in staff came back to me and told me something I did not want to hear: “The duty manager does not know who you are, and nobody briefed him that you will be on this flight. You need a transit visa for India, otherwise we cannot allow you on this flight” he said.
“Where is the duty manager? I want to talk to him” I said in my response.
The check-in staff member went on to say: “The duty manager is busy near the aircraft and he has checked all his emails, and documents, and he does not have any information about you or any other journalist to be on this flight. I’m sorry, sir, but I have no choice but to deny you boarding on this flight. Your baggage will be back with you shortly”
The sad part of all of this episode was that there was nobody who could help me - not from Air India or from China Eastern Airlines. The check-in staff were helpless. The blame goes directly on serious incompetence and lack of effective communication from the airline’s senior management and board members. I have never experienced anything like it with any other airline - ever, and trust me, I have reviewed many airlines, and all the experiences have been positive. This was not a good first for sure.
I have friends who are working as pilots and cabin crew for Air India, and they all do a great job. But the root cause of all the ills of any company come from the top to the bottom. The fact that the senior management of a national flag carrier of one of the largest democracies in the world can easily get away with this is a complete shambles. Surely an embarrassment as well. The fact that no one from the airline apologised is also a serious disappointed. It is just diabolical. I understand that such incidents can and do happen with other airlines. But when you are trying your best to help to improve and sell the brand image of an airline that is already suffering from financial problems and countless number of embarrassing incidents that have let the company down in the public limelight, it does no justice whatsoever for them to make mistakes like these. They simply cannot afford to do this. Does it let the image of the airline down? Yes, it does. Air India used to be one of the best airlines in the world when the Tata group owned in back in the 1960s/70s, and it was one of the first in the world to operate a jet aircraft. Those glory days are long gone. The airline’s brand mascot is a Maharajah, and their brand motto is “Your Palace in the Sky”. Well, I’m not sure whether it is still a palace in the sky or not because I’ve never tried their service, but they have definitely let the maharajah down. Either that or he’s cursed.
At this point it must have been around an 8.50pm, about an hour after I initially arrived to check in. Exceedingly frustrated, hot, humid, dejected and somewhat panicked, I collected my baggage and thought of plan B. The only thoughts I had in mind were that I had to make it to London no matter what. The sad thing was that not only did I miss the Air India flight, but in the process, I also missed the connecting Oman Air flight from Delhi to London.
It was nearly 9pm by now. My only hope was to purchase another flight. But, to make matters worse, most of the airline ticketing desks were closed, my laptop was operating on only around 2% battery (and the charger was in the baggage somewhere, which I didn’t have time to find), my mobile phone’s battery was low, too, and there was VPN available (Google, YouTube, Gmail, Hotmail are all blocked in China and so you need a VPN).
My only hope left was to run to the Business Centre (which closed at 9.30pm) and pray that I could catch one of the last remaining flights of the night to London - Aeroflot, Air France, Lufthansa, Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Turkish all had flights going to London via their respective hubs. The Air India desks were at aisle G, and the Business Centre was at A, and being the large airport it is, Pudong Airport’s Terminal 2 departures all is HUGE to say the least…you can imagine a helpless chap with three pieces of baggage, laptop and cameras, running –sweat pouring all over – at breakneck speed from one part of the terminal to the other!
While making full use of the exceeding slow internet at the Business Centre, I used my Barclaycard Visa to purchase a one-way economy class ticket with an Etihad Airways flight the same evening for US$750. By the time I bought the ticket, it was 9.20pm and the Etihad flight check-in closed an hour before the flight at 10.30pm. Great! I would get home on time and enjoy a nice bubbly on the plane after all what I went through! What a relief…so I had thought!
When I checked-in to the Etihad Airways flight, to my shock the staff there could not find my ticket reference number. I was gobsmacked. Even with my passport and date of birth they could not locate any information on their computers. Even worse was that I couldn’t access the Gmail address which I gave when I booked the ticket (as pointed earlier that Gmail is blocked in China and I had no VPN either). In the heat of the moment, I forgot to take a note of the reference number. Therefore, I was denied boarding on the Etihad Airways flight, too. Utterly dejected, angry, dazed and just exhausted, I literally begged the Etihad Airways staff to look for the flight ticket reference, but at no avail.
For the next ten minutes, I just sat on the floor on the airport terminal, and pondered over plan C and tried to keep positive. The only option left now was to book into a hotel and book another flight early the following morning, as well as apply for the refunds from Oman Air and Etihad Airways. I had no choice but to spend more money and stay the night at the Shanghai Airport Hotel (located between Terminals 1 and 2…that cost me around US$70 for one night). When I got to the hotel, I finally manage to charge the batteries of all my devices, and was able to access the VPN to book another flight. When I accessed the Gmail account, I saw that I had indeed received an email from Etihad Airways confirming my flight ticket – it may have been too close to the flight for the system to send the data to the check-in counter.
I managed to purchase a one-way Virgin Atlantic flight for US$650. Altogether, I managed to lose over US$2,000 that night (two flight purchases, hotel for one night and the cost of my connecting missed flights with Oman Air). Imagine if I had a family with two kids, for example…no doubt it would have been a VERY expensive and exhausting evening (thanks to the blunders from Air India and Etihad Airways).
After this traumatic experience, I was even prepared to fly cargo if I had to. The following morning, I arrived at the airport with plenty of time in hand, grabbed a hot Starbucks cappuccino and was prepared for the worst. Thankfully, I managed to check-in without any issues and enjoy a lovely flight from seat 44 at the back of an ageing Airbus A340 belonging to Virgin Atlantic. Interestingly, our Virgin Atlantic flight arrived an hour before the Oman Air flight that I was due to arrive on originally. I hope I never get to experience anything like this again. As for flying with Air India? Well…this was supposed to be my first time and I hope that the next time I try to fly with them, I really feel as if I am in a palace in the sky! I can understand the mistake made by Etihad Airways as that is more than likely to be a technical error, but there is no excuse for Air India, where human errors from the senior management have resulted in a complete failure of communication.
Back to a very different world in Shanghai-- only a 90 minute flight from Seoul. To say that Hongqiao Railway Station (pictured) is huge would be an understatement. Not only do you need to book your tickets at least 2 hours in advance but to get to the boarding gate from the ticket office can take at least 30 minutes at busy periods...and if you need a coffee, the shops are located on the 2nd floor ( that may require another 30 minutes)...who designed this horrible station?! Not user friendly at all...
The Gallery Suites is a wonderful boutique hotel neatly hidden away on Hengshan Road in the fabulous Xuhui District of Shanghai. If you want to experience what life must have been like in 1930s Shanghai then have a go at staying at the Gallery Suites.
All the generously spacious rooms come with antique mahogany furniture, ultra-comfortable beds, complimentary Chinese or Western breakfast, free wi-fi, a mini-bar and tons of space...you'll feel like royalty. There are tons of cafes, restaurants and the main shopping area of Xuhui is within a 5-minute walk. Each bedroom contains an expensive antique artwork, which is available for purchase. Worth a stay.
On the 14th of September at the M on the Bund in Shanghai, prolific Chinese author and photojournalist Hong Mei, accompanied with her husband, photojournalist Tom Carter, gave an exciting talk about her debut travelogue, The Farther I Walk, the Closer I Get to Me (title translated from Chinese), to an audience of around 100 people. The talk was followed by a lively question and answer session.
Hong Mei became the first Chinese woman to backpack across the entire Indian subcontinent. Along with Tom, the couple deliberately selected off-the-beaten path regions and survived on a limited budget as they travelled for over a year across the length and breadth of India - a country that still comes across as a mysterious land for many Chinese people.
As a British man of Indian heritage who has never lived or worked in India, I found the talk to be very insightful and highly inspiring. I have not been to India since 1999, and I suppose because I've had a very English upbringing, so, sadly, I would be somewhat of a misfit in Indian society/culture if I ever go. Of course, it goes without saying that India is a beautiful country with a rich and vibrant history.
Having listened to the India that Hong Mei and Tom described, as well as seeing the photos they shared, it didn't seem much different from what I had experienced in 1999 (!). Things, such as for example, the lack of proper infrastructure and the lack of hygiene in public places in India, makes China look like a developed country. This type of external observation is exactly what the Indian government needs, because if they don't know what and how foreign guests feel about their country, then how can they make improvements?
I thought it was courageous and brave of the remarkable Hong Mei to have travelled to some of the remotest parts of India by herself—I'm sure that even some native Indians would not be tempted to do that!
A young European lady in the audience asked Hong Mei how she was received by the Indians, not only as a Chinese but also as a foreign woman. Her response did surprise a few in the audience. "Despite what we have seen and heard about India recently in the news, I actually felt very welcomed and relatively safe." said Hong Mei.
She went on: "At first contact and glance, most Indians thought that I was a Japanese or Korean, but when I told them that I was a Chinese, they were very friendly and welcoming. India is a country with stunning scenes." She revealed that in some parts of India, local people had never met a Chinese person before, so the people in those parts were very nice and welcoming.
The talk did touch on a key point: even though China’s new middle class are travelling abroad more than ever before, yet it is still uncommon for Chinese people to travel independently – either as backpackers or on a luxury tour. Chinese people usually travel in groups and try to see as many countries as possible and in as little time as possible. For someone to backpack around one country on their own for a long time is seldom heard of; though, it is not to say that this trend may pick up in the future.
Hong Mei's book, written in Chinese, is available here.
Having travelled extensively across ALL of China's 33 provinces...successfully succeeding in circumnavigating over 35,000 miles (56,000 kilometers) during a 2-year period, the first foreigner on record ever to do so, Tom Carter, a superlative photojournalist and an old China hand, is just the man to have beside you when you need a story to be covered.
Carter, originally from San Francisco, has remarkably not only captured the whole of China through his lens, but has travelled extensively throughout India for a year too - a country that is still very much a hardship environment for foreigners (almost medieval in places). Try surviving in India for a day without making frequent visits to the toilet - that's if you can find one (nearly 50% - I say again - nearly 50% of the country's population has NO access to a toilet). Hats off to Tom for doing what he did for over a year because India is hard work. I couldn't survive the 3 weeks that I was there for in 1998, the last time I visited the country, despite staying at one of the BEST hotels in New Delhi at that time.
We chatted about many things for a couple hours with topics ranging from big media exasperations to publishing to travel war stories. Tom's wife, who is also a photojournalist, is a native from Jiangsu Province. She has recently published a diary about her travels around the whole of India (i.e. every major State in the country) - a first for a Chinese woman.
In the meantime, you can check out Tom's book, CHINA: Portrait of a People by clicking the picture below!
...shopping in Sainsbury's supermarket in Croydon...and he's emptied the shelves of ALL the cereal bars, crunchy nut corn flakes, and PG Tips teabags (oh, and Nutella jars as well...which costs at least RMB75/GBP£8 a jar in China...in the UK it costs around £2.30 a jar (about RMB20))! Shopping for groceries never felt so good (!)
Yes, in Hong Kong, Suzhou, Shanghai, and other Chinese cities with an expat population we can get such goods, but they are mostly imported (i.e. they've most probably have been on a container ship for at least 3 months), and cost at least 3 or 4 times the price we pay in the U.K. (Tesco in China is nothing like the Tesco in the U.K. - it's localized to the Chinese consumer).
When you are living for 90% of the year in a country where not many local retailers understand why foreigners drink black tea with milk at 4pm with cakes and biscuits (I can't live without it!), and why we eat cereal with milk every morning, your homesick body craves for such stuff when living 6,000 miles away (my Chinese/Australian/American and other expat friends who live in the U.K. do the same when they go back home for THEIR holidays to their countries).
Flying from China and onto the Arabian Sea (we came over from Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuhan, Chongqing, Kunming, Nepal, Karachi, and into the Arabian Sea), the Airbus A330 comes close to the end of it's journey into it's final destination Abu Dhabi. Sunrises are always spectacular. Oblivious of the significance for earthlings, the sun rises on just another day above the skies at 39,000 feet.
Costing around US$222.5 million (€215 million) each, the Airbus A330-300 is one hell of a sexy machine. Etihad Airways has six of these beauties in their fleet, mainly operating on long haul routes out of their base Abu Dhabi. I had the pleasure of reviewing this flight from Shanghai Pudong to Abu Dhabi on board aircraft registered A6-AFB. A big thank you to the Captain and the Etihad Airways team for making this photo shoot happen!
Etihad Airways is a relatively brand new airline (established in 2003), and has one of the best cabin crew in the world from over 120 nationalities...and they have a kick-ass in-flight experience product too with all luxury comfortable seats, 5-star meals...give them a try next time!
Shanghai's Maglev train is a fascinating bit of technology (you wonder why Europeans cannot build something like this- and they will never be able to- except maybe the Germans). Balanced about 15mm above the tracks, it feels more like sitting in a plane rather than a train as it breezes the whole of the 30 kms between Longyang Road Station and Pudong International Airport in a remarkable 7 minutes 20 seconds (even the Japanese passengers on board today were impressed). It costs RMB 50 (approx.US$8) for a one-way journey. Now, compared with a taxi which may cost around RMB 250, and take around 40 minutes for the same trip- i'd say it's worth every single cent spent.
To get to the maximum commercial speed of 431 kph takes about three minutes (it’s done 501 kph in testing). Amazingly there are NO seat-belts - though I suppose that at this speed it’s not worth worrying about the consequences irrespective of whatever may happen.
From the Flair bar atop the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pudong, under July’s leaden skies; the futuristic skyline of Pudong contrasts with the elegant colonial style of The Bund on the Shanghai side. Shanghai is a city that has that magic romantic attraction blended in well with elegance, glamour, and sheer sense of global economic standing. The city used to be known as 'The Paris of the East'. While some old fashioned people may still refer the city with its nostalgic title, I however believe that this city has surpassed even the delights of New York and London (these two cities are not even close to where Shanghai is...in terms of everything...economically, culturally, and for beauty too). You realize this when you visit places such as the well renowned MINT club (you never know who you may bump into there). When you are in Shanghai, it feels like the center of the world (it really does).
The changes to the city in the last three years have been enormous. I used to live in Shanghai and nearby Suzhou for a number of years, and miss it so much. Make a point of coming here for a holiday, have lunch at the Yi Cafe at the Shangri-La Pudong (read this); afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel (read this), dinner at Le Sheng (read this!), have a drink at Hyatt on the Bund (read this); and then bop it off all night if you wish at the MINT nightclub or at Bar Rouge with some good company. Then bask in the history of the city which is spearheading China’s incredible growth.
Hop-on, Hop-off tourist buses have made good dollar from tourists around the world in every major city you can think of. Shanghai is no exception either, and the 24 hour tickets are cheaper here than most other places in the world. Notice that the top deck has covering to protect the passengers from the excruciating sun in the summers, the heavy monsoon rain, and the bone deepening humidity that throngs Shanghai.
Breakfast in Guangzhou (Shiqiao)
No tea or coffee today...sometimes I can be VERY Chinese in my approach to lifestyle. A glassfull of fresh cold milk (taken from well fed local Chinese cows in Guangzhou!), and a couple of delicious Cantonese Egg Tarts did the trick.
Lunch in the air (somewhere over Shaoguan, Guangdong)
Afternoon Tea at the Shangri-La, Pudong (Shanghai)
Shanghai is romantic, hectic, elegant, and nothing short of standing by it motto of being 'The Paris of the East'. From the Jade 36 bar atop the Shangri-La Pudong hotel, under July’s leaden skies; the futuristic skyline of Pudong contrasts with the elegant old-world style of The Bund on the Shanghai side. Go and see it as soon as you can...and enjoy the Afternoon-Tea at the Shangri-La, Pudong.
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