Marco Polo described it as one of the most beautiful city's that he has visited, but in reality, these days Hangzhou is anything but the most beautiful city in the world (let along China). I was very surprised that a recent article in Oryx, the in-flight magazine for Qatar Airways, described Hangzhou as a premier honeymoon destination and compared it to Paris and Mauritius. It may be a honeymoon destination for many Chinese people, but they are giving the wrong information to the world, and to foreigners, that Hangzhou is a honeymoon destination- it is not. Hangzhou is no where close enough to the Maldives, Mauritius or Paris. The city is heavily polluted and the only decent tourist attraction is West Lake. Apart from that it is like any other city in China.
Having lived and worked in Hangzhou for a year, I can say that I only saw the sun for about a month in the whole year and only got to see a blue sky for a few days in the whole year. Other than that the sky is usually cloudy, heavily polluted (especially around Binjiang District where the Headquarters of Alibaba.com are located) and it rains a lot here too. If you are thinking of coming to live and work in Hangzhou from Europe or North America, then think very carefully before you invest in the time, money and effort because the pollution is a major factor.
Even in these photos you can see that the sun is struggling to shine through the polluted sky. Apart from Lake West, Hangzhou is more of an industrial city these days. Yes, there are the Longji Tea plantations and the Xixi Wetlkand (which is rather boring, unless you just want to take a look at birds all day), however, in my opinion, even Jinji Lake in Suzhou is a much better because it is less crowded and quieter.
Whirlwind visit to the HQ of China'a CCTV station for a meeting provided the opportunity to experience the capital city for a few hours. A few welcoming changes to the city's infrastructure...though the haze still looms...
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 rather novel Grand Hyatt, Seoul, with 601 well-appointed luxury rooms and suites, each offering priceless views over the historic and spectacular Mount Namsan and the Han River, is a masterpiece blend of excellent architecture and perfect Feng Shui. The hotel is located in tranquil settings on a hill in the prime setting of the Itaewon shopping district, close to the city’s most happening place. There are numerous high-quality bars and restaurants within a short 10-minute taxi ride. The hotel is under 60 minutes away from Incheon International Airport, 35 minutes from Gimpo Domestic Airport, and 20 minutes from the Samsung-dong business hub, with most all of the city’s key districts within close proximity of the hotel.
If you are visiting Seoul for the first time- especially on a business trip- then most likely you may have been whisked straight from the airport to the hotel, and then straight to your meeting room or office (and vice-versa). So when you are in an international bubble like this, it is difficult to enjoy the true colors and flavor of the real Seoul city. The hotel is a favorite for business travelers, families, foreign dignitaries and also for military personnel because the Yongsan Base, the famous US Military base, is located quite close. There are numerous foreign embassies dotted around the hotel’s area. It is perhaps the safest place to be at, too.
The first thing that strikes out about the rooms is that they are rather unusual compared to most other Grand Hyatt hotels around the world- perhaps only comparable to the old styled rooms because this was one of the first 5-star properties in Seoul. The bathrooms don’t have any rainforest showers, but the old fashioned bath tubs.
Every inch of the building is made to full use-this includes the bridge that connects the two towers’. The suspended bridge houses the “Guanxi Lounge” which is another innovation from the designers of the hotel building. Here you can just while away the evening while sipping a glass of, say for example, fine “2 Up Shiraz” or the in house, “G Wine”.
The gastronomical highlight of the Grand Hyatt Guangzhou has to be the exciting Paris Grill for European cuisine, and J.J. Mahoney’s Centre with 9 separate entertainment spaces. From the glamour of the culinary delights and the rooms décor comes the fine art of relaxing. They don;t call it grand for no reason, you know?
After a long tiring day nothing beats the feeling of going to the Spa for a wind down massage. The Spa offers a variety of exquisite treatment including pedicure, manicure and professional body massage services to cool down your heels after a long day. Having a relaxing foot or back massage after a long tiring day forms part of the culture in Seoul. Evidence of this can be seen with the numerous Spa houses scattered around every city and village. The Spa and Club Olympus recreation centre offer a sanctuary of calm, with specialized and personalized spa treatments, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis and squash courts and an ice skating rink. The hotel is proud that the tennis courts are one of the best facilities offered by any hotel in the city, and are regularly used for practice by major sports stars.
OK, so if you want to become whiter than white (literally) or if you want to become the next Michael Jackson, complete with a new hair do to cover your bald head, then Seoul is the place to come to (not that I was here for that reason...!)...never seen so many tourists walking around the city with post-plastic surgery faces covered! This is London's Harley Street multiplied by at least a hundred...
You realise that South Korea is technically at war when you see the large numbers of American soldiers at almost every street corner in Seoul (around 35,000 are based here) - spoke to a few at the local Starbucks (they proudly had their military uniforms on) and they told me they are ready for an attack anytime. Most buildings are built with a helipad and notices for emergency shelters (as shown below) can be seen everywhere around the city.
The most nervous border in the world, followed closely by India Pakistan. From my hotel window at The Ritz-Carlton Seoul, everyday could see helicopters and fighter jets doing sorties...just speechless...they fly quite low too. Never seen that over a major city before. When you meet a US Military personnel on the streets, you can't help but go up to them and shake their hand. Very proud of the US Military and for how they are keeping the world a safer place.
If you are in Korea, then you must try authentic 100% Korean Ginseng tea- hot or cold is OK.
4 or 5 days is enough time to explore the city of Seoul.
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Situated in the heart of Seoul’s fashionable Gangnam district, The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul is the only Ritz-Carlton pretty in South Korea. The luxury hotel, with 375 well-appointed guest rooms, including 47 luxury hotel suites and 75 Club level rooms, is where South Korea’s innovative present and traditional past intermingles in an elegant, architectural wonder.
The only thing that one may find confusing is that from the outside it just looks like a normal tall building with very little exterior design or architectural element added to it. In a nutshell, from the outside it looks exceedingly boring and not quite the posh hotel one may be looking for. It’s a shame that such a lovely well-known high quality brand has not capitalized on using the finest of designs or architectural elements to make this building stick out like a sore thumb. However, once one steps inside then it’s another story altogether. Inside you’ll truly feel that this is the authentic Ritz-Carlton experience.
This was one of the first Ritz-Carlton properties in Asia Pacific and one can see that when you compare the slightly old-fashioned Versailles-inspired interior, such as the bathroom without the rain forest shower or the automatic air-conditioning, with most of the modern Ritz-Carlton properties in China for example.
The service, nevertheless, is nothing but exclusively of a Ritz-Carlton standard and authentically South Korean. As one of the most distinctive luxury Seoul hotels, The Ritz-Carlton invites you to relax and experience the unmistakable sights, sounds and flavors of South Korea. All the rooms are equipped with the latest technology, including a fully integrated TV and internet system, with video on demand, satellite television and high speed internet. For the most luxurious experience, why not pamper yourself in one of the suites where all the rooms offer a balcony that offers stunning views across the city with the N Seoul Tower visible in the distant on one side and Gangnam on the other.
After a day spent exploring, there is nothing better than to retreat to the impeccable hotel featuring an award-winning Presidential suite, an array of gourmet restaurants serving a repertoire of international cuisines, an 8-hole indoor golf course and driving range, and Asia’s first Pevonia Spa. There is also a cosmetic surgery located next to the Pevonia Spa, where guests can come and get their cosmetic surgery and then relax at the hotel until they make a full recovery.
The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul function space hosts gatherings from intimate executive board meetings to large-scale conventions. Among the hotel’s flexible meeting and event venues are the fabulous Grand Ballroom and generous pre-function areas. A team of talented chefs is on hand to present catered affairs both onsite and outside the hotel. Specialties include Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and other international cuisines, and individual menu requests are easily accommodated.
Discerning guests staying at any one of the rooms at the Club Level can enjoy the access to the Club Lounge which offers complimentary food and drinks five times a day, plus complimentary access to meetings rooms, but above else offers the peace of mind that you can while away your time in quiet surroundings away from the hustle & bustle.
How to get here:
If you are arriving at Seoul Incheon International Airport, then take the clean, air-conditioned and efficient Limousine bus operated by Korean Airlines. It costs about $ US 16 one-way to go from the airport straight to The Ritz-Carlton hotel, and takes around 40-minutes. As with courtesy in South Korean culture, before I bordered, the driver bowed to me out of respect.
You may also use the very clean, efficient, and inexpensive metro. It is a one-minute walk from Exit 4 at Sinnonhyeon Station, subway Line 9. Gangnam subway station, on Line 2, is only a three-minute car trip or an easy eight-minute walk. Incheon International Airport is approximately a 60-to-90 minute drive from our downtown hotel, and Gimpo Airport is approximately a 30-minute trip on Line 9, making staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul an obvious choice for international guests.
Lovely gifts from great friends in Hangzhou. To respect their privacy wishes, I won't name them here...but you know who you are :-) A massive thanks to all.
Situated in a quiet affluent neighbourhood in Hangzhou's Binjiang District, Angelo's Bar is a nice cosy bar where you can just chill out on a Friday or Weekend evening with family, friends or colleagues. A popular haunt for Hangzhou's immigrants (sorry I meant expats!) who want to stay away from the noisy/touristy eateries and bars in downtown Hangzhou. The food is VERY good (in my opinion), the ambiance is great and they have a nice selection of drinks. Average meal with a drink can cost around 100-150 RMB per person (about US $18-25).
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