While I thought that perhaps the weather would start getting warm as spring is nearly here, however to my dissappointment Suzhou is still lurking in cold winter style conditions. I paid a short visit to Hangzhou (around 1.5 hours train journey from Suzhou) last week, and the coastal city happened to be much warmer despite being at the same longitude as Suzhou. Perhaps something to do with its close proximity to the sea. For the time being I can only hope that it starts to get warmer soon. This would enable me to ride my E-bike again, which has been locked away during the vast majority of the winter days. I am also busy putting the finishing touches to the 2nd edition of my first travel guide to China, the 'Newcomers Handbook to China'. It's been a while since the first edition was published (before the Beijing 2008 Olympics), and so much has changed in China since the Olympics that the book requires updating. The 2nd edition should be completed and published sometime towards the autumn or winter of 2012. Watch this space!
Located within the beautiful grounds of the Banyan Tree Hangzhou resort in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou is the superb Bai Yun restaurant. Compact yet exceedingly romantic, this refined and sophisticated restaurant offers a combination of dishes from Guangzhou (Cantonese), and Hangzhou. High chair and rich mahogany make up the interior décor with an ambiance that projects elegance and romance throughout.
The kitchen is headed by the veteran and prolific Master Chef Simon Chen who brings along many years of experience in providing innovative Chinese dishes to his guests. He did not fail to surprise and impress us with his culinary magic during our dining experience. Perhaps one of the most inspiring dish I tried was the ‘five cold platters’, a combination of seafood (prawns), chicken, vegetables and pork all decorated in the shapes of either plants or animals. It was the first time I had come across a prawn being served in two where the head was sticking upwards while the edible body was sitting next to it (perhaps not a good sight for vegetarians but still good nevertheless). Then there were other luxurious offerings such as the ‘braised chicken and abalone with perilla’ and the ‘boiled mandarin fish with celery’. Beautifully cooked abalone with chicken breast provides for a fabulous addition to any romantic meal; while mandarin fish is a local delicacy taken from the waters of the West Lake or from the lakes around the Xixi Wetland Park. Both of these luxurious dishes are not easy to get in any other restaurant around Hangzhou, or if they are then the style in which they are cooked is for sure not easy to define as it has been by Chef Chen. He puts his whole mind and heart into every single creation, and invests a lot of time working along with the kitchen chefs to make sure that the quality of the final product is of utmost excellence.
In terms of drinks, most diners are recommended to try the local Hangzhou rice wine in small quantities. The rice wine is sweeter than say, most Chinese rice wines, hence why it should be taken in small quantities. The sugar is added to the somewhat damp tasteless original wine, but the strong sweet flavour of the wine makes it a sheer delight to have with mandarin fish, and abalone. Another dish worth awing at is ‘wok-fried leek and bamboo shoots with egg’ which looks rather like a Spanish omelette but tastes completely Chinese with its salts and local spices.
A different kind of smoothness occupies the dish all throughout with a touch of the leek lingering behind your tongue. Candle lit dinners can also be arranged for those wishing to surprise their loved one with the perfect moment for romance. It’s easy to say it or write about it but when that special moment in your life comes to mind then its perhaps the most beautiful that can happen to anyone, and dining at the Banyan Tree Hangzhou will just make things magical during that special moment in your life.
Come the summer, Bai Yun would be the perfect setting for romantic or family gatherings in the gardens within the immediate exterior of the restaurant. With room for 20 diners in the outdoor seating area, there is a chance to enjoy first class food in the tranquil and beautiful surroundings of the resort with the occasional sound of birds tweeting in the background. Just lovely.
Banyan Tree Hangzhou - a review
Have you ever wanted to know what it feels like to live in a Chinese Imperial palace? Then why not try the fabulous Banyan Tree Hangzhou. Situated in the tranquil surroundings of Hangzhou’s beautiful Xixi National Wetlands Park, the luxury resort, which was designed by Architecture Design and Planning, features 36 water terraces and 36 villas that are one of the most spacious in the whole of Hangzhou. Easily accessible within a 50-minute drive from Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan International Airport, and only around a 15-minute drive from downtown Hangzhou and the famed West Lake, the resort can be treated like your very own imperial palace for the duration of your stay. When you hear the echoes of your own footsteps bounce of the stone walls of the courtyard then you may be easily forgiven for thinking for a moment that you are inside an imperial courtyard rather than being inside this Jiang Nan style resort in the 21st century. Though I ended up going on a day when it was raining, I still felt warmly welcomed by the tentative staff at the resort. While it may be difficult to locate (so it should be as it’s a luxury resort, not your standard hotel), you can be rest assured that a Banyan Tree staff member will whisk you in a stylish buggy to the check in desk. The first impressions give you the feeling of ‘Wow!’, and it actually looks more beautiful in the rain. It gives that feeling of being in the old China.
There are five types of villas and suites available: Water Terrace, Premier Water Terrace, Water View Villa, Spa Jetpool Villa, and the two-bedroom Jetpool Villa. All of the villas and suites themselves are something to marvel at. You would be reassured that nothing else would touch your skin and feet except dark polish wood floors, antique carvings, and silk brocades. The rain shower and the bathtub adds that extra bit of luxury that you would deserve after a long day of sightseeing around this historically beautiful city. Then there are the high chairs made out of mahogany that add the extra ethos of being in a royal palace. The depiction of oriental chic and contemporary comforts is shown in style at any one of the Premier Water Terraces. The bedroom is complete with an indoor bath tub- perfect for those romantic getaways. After a long blissful soak, retreat into your own private spa treatment room for a relaxing massage which can be booked from the report’s spa.
At the touch of a button guests can enjoy a myriad of DVD movies or a selection of songs available from the resort’s library. Other useful amenities include complimentary wireless internet in all the rooms, complimentary drinking water bottles (tap water is safe, but be cautious), in-room massage service, complimentary buggy service, and a late checkout time should you wish to require it. Then there is the spacious mini-bar that provides generous offerings of various alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. But the part of every villa to really aspire at is the emphasis paid to providing a highly spacious yet luxurious room with a high ceiling, and a bed that is almost as distinguishable as a four-poster bed complete with a luxurious 6-thread cotton duvet and pillows to match. With the addition of rose petals generously scattered all around the bed and the room, it would be safe to point out that the Banyan Tree Hangzhou would be perfect for honeymooners or those who want to treat their loved one to a romantic getaway.
Loyal guests have been known to stay for over a period of a few months at the resort. Considering the impeccable facilities that make it is an oasis of tranquillity are a clear signal of why this has been the case. There are four options in terms of dining venues starting with the signature Chinese restaurant Bai Yun offering the finest of local cuisine from Hangzhou (don’t forget to try the fish fresh from the lake!). The other options include: the Waterlight Court, where one can enjoy a rich breakfast, or treat themselves to Western and Asian delights, or dine at any other time of the day until 10.30pm; the magnificent yet compact Jiu Xian (lobby lounge) which is of a similar quality to what you may call a ‘Club Lounge’ at other 5-star hotels; and finally you have the choice of dining in the privacy of your own villa at any time of the day.
With the challenges of trying to distinguish itself from the other hotels within its vicinity, the Banyan Tree Hangzhou also offers guests the option of a new concept of ‘Destination Dining’’. This is where guests can dine in their own privacy under a draped tent and surround themselves by fresh flowers and candles complete with a private chef who can cook whatever you want and in whichever style. Though there is a 24 hour notice required for this, it is worthwhile to dine in style provided the horrible Hangzhou rain does not ruin your stay!
Most people when they reside at hotels don’t have enough time to enjoy all the excellent facilities that are on offer, however, should you have time then it is highly recommended that you take a dip in the beautiful swimming pool, or have a go at one of the many spa treatments to wind down the stress of the day. The treatments are uniquely to the Banyan Tree brand and make it extra special to have a treatment under the stars in the evening (especially in the summer), or even in the privacy of your villa. It is for sure a delight for all the senses where you have the chance to calm the body and quiet the mind for a period of short time. Highly recommended is to try the Qi stimulating Gui Shi Hot Stone massage which features an invigorating rubdown with heated river stones (smooth!), and aromatic essential oils. Nothing beats the feeling of having a spa massage in quiet surroundings while the sun is setting in the backdrop- at Banyan Tree Hangzhou you can enjoy this experience during the summer months. It’s magical!
On the whole the key that makes the Banyan Tree Hangzhou different from the others is that it offers the best quality of service, best quality of comfort and in the most romantic and peaceful surroundings in the magical city of Hangzhou. So next time you are here, why not mix business with pleasure and enjoy the fruits of your labour by spoiling yourself at the Banyan Tree Hangzhou?
I am sure that it’s not the last time I would end up being confused with Navjot Singh Sidhu, a former cricketer from India turned commentator. In recent weeks, traffic to this website has spiked at an alarming rate, and a quick glance at the search terms in my portal suggests that I’m not the person many of you are looking for. You’re looking for “the other Navjot Singh,” who is a television personality and a Indian cricketing legend. I have met Navjot Singh Sidhu a few times. The last time we met was briefly in the summer of 2002 during a England Vs India Test Match at the Oval Cricket ground in London. I was a junior intern assisting the media, and it was there that Navjot was commentating for ESPN Sports, and the UK's Channel 4 with Dermot Reeve, the former England cricketer.
In my experience, the majority of the time I have crossed paths with native Indians anywhere in the world, they always tend to go into hysterical laughter along with the questions: 'Oh, wow, your name is Navjot...so you know Navjot Singh Sidhu is a cricketer right?, 'Do you personally know Navjot Singh Sidhu?' 'Do you play cricket also?'. I am not sure if this is a natural reaction that is given to anyone named 'Navjot', but it is rather annoying (no offense to my famous namesake)- and I suppose there is nothing I can do about this either. I wonder if anyone by chance called 'Mike Jagger', Michael Atherton', 'Bruce Willis', 'Yao Ming', and so on, would get a similar comical approach by their countrymen?
A quick search on Google also proved to me that there are over 300,000 results when someone types the word 'Navjot Singh', and likewise there are over 500 people named Navjot Singh on Facebook (I thought I was the only one...seriously!).
There are many differences between Navjot and I, but here are some: I am a British man (NOT an Indian...yes, my heritage may be Indian but I am a complete misfit for Indian culture), I live in China and the U.K., and I have not been to India for over 15 years; Navjot lives in India, is a practising turbaned Sikh, and is somewhat of a cult television personality there (I am not…). I also love diving, travelling, and aviation (I am not aware if Navjot does). Finally, (and sorry to disappoint hard core cricket fans), I am not into cricket. Though I used to love playing the game as a kid but not anymore. So, therefore I urge you to search for “Navjot Singh Sidhu” instead of just 'Navjot Singh'. Happy searching. –Navjot Singh
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