I’ve spent the last five days in Shanghai and loved it, although I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. In a later post, I’ll tell you what I did and what I saw, but in the interim, let me take a moment to self-reflect on both holidays in general and being an American tourist in Asia.
1. Even if you tell yourself you’ll go to the gym everyday during your holiday, you won’t.
2. Even if you think you’ll walk a lot every day of your holiday — more than you do at home — you won’t.
3. The more massages you get, the less relaxed you will become. (“This massage isn’t as relaxing as I thought it would be!”) There’s some sort of inverse relationship between number of massages and one’s ability to relax.
4. Anywhere in Asia, when you tell them you are American, they will say “And you’re a tourist?? You’re not here on business? We don’t get many American tourists!”
5. Every child in Vietnam and China can say “I am fine, thank you.”
6. iPhones are everywhere.
7. KFC is everywhere.
8. 4G is not everywhere.
9. They serve food on planes in Asia! Even when the flight is shorter than two hours!!
10. If you think global warming does not exist, tell me where the smog goes. And if you think pollution is not going to affect our bodies, spend a day walking around Shanghai and tell me what your lungs feel like at the end of the day.
11. Being on holiday makes me funny, like hah hah funny.
12. I’m so glad I went to business school 12 years ago and made friends with so many international people. It’s been great to meet up with old friends in Singapore and Shanghai and get the local scoop and talk about the good old days.
13. I miss international travel. London spoiled me for that. Sigh.
14. Foot massages are awesome. Inverse relationship between massage and ability to relax does not apply here.
15. The internet is everywhere! Even when you are behind the Great Firewall of China.
I just finished a three-night stay at the Sofitel Legend Metropole. The video will give you an overview of what my room looked like. (But note I am uploading this from behind the Great Firewall of China so I am not sure if the video will come through. It should, but I can’t see it myself from Shanghai.) Here are my pros and cons of this luxury Hanoi hotel otherwise:
- Lovely and plentiful staff for the most part. When I checked in, there were about 10 people waiting on me. It was kinda crazy. Also, I had my own BUTLER. So that was totally awesome.
- Great food. The afternoon tea in the lounge! The chocolates! The petit fours! And I don’t even like chocolate!! Amazing, really. Tears, actually. There was this one chocolate thing with cream inside and it was….it was…it was dreamy.
- Spa on site. I had a very nice 90 minute massage for about 90 bucks USD. I’m okay with a dollar a minute, although of course, I would prefer it to be cheaper.
- For a hotel of this caliber, the laundry service was CHEAP. $2.50 USD for underwear. That’s a good value, even though it still kills me to say so. Along with my Pringles Index (TM), I am also announcing the creation of the Drawers Index (TM). (This is where you report the price of your minibar Pringles and your hotel laundry underwear cleaning from various locations around the globe.)
- My personal butler organized a wake-up call for me for Friday at 6:30 am. Only problem? It came on THURSDAY at 6:30 am. “So sorry, so sorry.” Not a problem really because I was pretty much awake then anyhow — Asian jetlag is a killer — although then I got all worried that the hotel thought I was leaving on Thursday and not Friday so then I had to sort that out. Multiple phone calls, etc etc.
- When I was reviewing my departure with one of the lounge concierges, I was checking on how long it would take to the get to the airport and what time I should leave. She kept saying “You should leave 2.5 hours before your flight” and I kept saying “So I should leave at 7:50 am?” To which she would reply “No, 8:30″ and I was getting really confused. (My flight was at 10:20 am.) I must have said 7:50 am one too many times because she got more than a bit of an attitude with me to the point where I had to say, “Don’t get mad at me. I’m just trying to understand what you mean and it’s not adding up.” I finally got out a piece of paper and wrote it down to clarify, at which point she realized her mistake and was very “So sorry, so sorry.” But at a hotel of this caliber, she should not have an attitude. Also, once she agreed that I should leave at 7:50, she said “7:30, it’s safer.” BIZARRE.
- The lounge, for me, had too much European food and not enough Vietnamese food. I missed the mix at the Intercontinental in Saigon. (Review forthcoming.)
- Location: Although it’s a nice area to walk around, I think I would have preferred to be in the old quarter. I took a lot of taxis in Hanoi.
- Cons: Hermes bath products. I hate this stuff. Makes me smell too much like a dude. It’s all musky and shit.
So…would I stay at the Sofitel Metropole again? Honestly, probably not. I would want to try other places first. But if I found that those other places weren’t to my liking, I might come back here. The Club Lounge and the Spa were pretty great.
Here are my Instagram snaps of Hanoi…it’s a lovely city with small, easy to navigate touristy bits. There’s also a photograph on every corner. Wait til I upload some of my other snaps. So what I’m saying is…you should go to Hanoi! And bring your camera.
When I travel, I believe in logistics and operations days. These are days where I really don’t do much but travel and check e-mail. Some people might say — like they said to me so often in Vietnam — “Oh, you so lazy.” But seriously, I am not lazy. I AM BEAT. Traveling is hard. You need downtime. You need to get organized. You need to do laundry. I try to explain this to some people and they just roll their eyes and tell me that surely, I can do better than whatever it is that I am doing. But these people maybe haven’t lived out of a carry-on for two weeks and they probably weren’t up at 5:45 am this morning, either!
When I’m busy, I’m very very busy. When I’m not, I’m NOT.
So let me tell you about my today so far and then you tell me…
5:45 am: Alarm clock rings at Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi. Hop in shower.
6 am: Get dressed, dry hair, etc etc.
6:20 am: Order room service service breakfast, which was included in my room rate. Technically, I should have done this when I hopped into the shower, but my brain wasn’t really functioning at 5:45 am. Sue me.
6:40 am: Room service arrives. Stir-fried noodles with seafood. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE VIETNAM. Seriously…this place is awesome.
6:50 am: Finish breakfast and leave room to check out of hotel, get money from bank machine next to hotel, and pick up a bottle of water from the Club Lounge. (I like to splurge on club floors. A vice of mine. But it saves on breakfast and snacks and etc. so for me, it’s worth it. Especially when traveling alone.) By the time I get back to my room, it’s 7:15 am.
7:20 am: Grab taxi to airport. I have a feeling I will get ripped off. Note to everyone: don’t ever rely on people who never travel to tell you how long it will take to get to the airport. It takes exactly an hour, but they made it seem like it would take 30 minutes. This stresses me out. Also, taxi driver communicates via giggles. Keep reading.
8:20 am: Arrive at airport. Get ripped off by taxi driver, who claims he can’t make change and has seemingly no understanding of my suggestion he get change, and my attempt to get him change. (I swear, all the drivers are in on this “we have no change” thing together.) I make him promise me that he will use the extra money to educate his daughter. More giggles. I get into HUGE CHECK-IN QUEUE. The hugest of hugest check-in queues. Check in around 9:15 am. By the time I’ve gone through immigration and security, it’s 9:35 am.
10:20 am: Flight boards. I’ve been doing laps around the airport for ages. On the plane, I watch an old No Reservations episode about Shanghai and then I start “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. It’s funny…sometimes.
2:15 pm: Plane lands in Shanghai.
2:15 pm to 2:55 pm: Wander around Shanghai airport, trying to change Vietnamese Dong into Chinese Yuan. NO LUCK. No one wants my Vietnamese money!!! Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I am worried this is going to be like all the Tunisian Dinars I’ve had at the bottom of my drawer since like 2008. If you’re ever going to Tunisia, let me know. And do go, their white wine is lovely.
2:55 pm: Get into taxi at Pudong Airport and head into downtown. I feel confident that I will not be ripped off. Taxi driver speaks English! BONUS.
4 pm: Arrive at hotel. Taxi driver does not rip me off. Check in and go upstairs. Room key doesn’t work. Go back downstairs. Rather than getting new room keys, they give me a new room. (???) Go to new room. Unpack the important stuff, put the other important stuff in the safe, and get laundry bag ready. (Seriously, $6.50 USD to wash my drawers. I should have done more laundry in Vietnam, where they were only $2.50 a pair.) Set up all my devices for charging.
4:45 pm: Check out hotel public areas. There’s a nice food and wine shop, which is a surprise. I also pick up the spa menu and talk to the concierge. He walks me through the map and I pick up tons of brochures. He also tells me where to get a FOOT MASSAGE. I want to live in China just so I can get foot massages forever.
5:15 pm: Install myself at hotel bar with laptop for official “logistics and operations” time. I confirm my tour for tomorrow morning, (Thank you again, Viator!) I book another tour for Tuesday, and I write down all the details of where I need to be when for tomorrow and Sunday. I also make dinner plans with a friend from business school who lives here and then I try to gchat with a London friend but the connection in the bar is wonky, which is drastically cutting into logisitcs and operations time.
6:15 pm: Give up on wifi in bar. Attempt to take a walk around the block to get some air. Walk outside in my summer dress, bare legs and sandals. HOLY SHIT IT’S COLD. Go back to my room. There’s a message waiting for me from my tour guide about tomorrow. Also, I need a corkscrew to drink the 2008 Chinese Chardonnay I’ve picked up from the gift shop on my way back to the room.
6:25 pm: I’ve ended up purchasing an in-room broadband connection because the wifi is so wonky. I finally get back online, Also, corkscrew arrives. The Chinese Chardonnay is OPEN.
So see…it’s 6:30 pm until I’m really settled in a place and I’ve been up for 12+ hours already. I know there’s a lot to see and do in Shanghai, but I’m beat. Room service and Internet it is. Sorry darlings.
7:15 pm: Publish blog post.
I have so much to share about Saigon but I am low on time and I want to keep up with my commitment to myself. See, when I began this journey, I promised myself that I would try to get back into the rhythm of blogging and blog every day about what I had done and what I had seen. I’m already falling behind. I need some more “logistics and operations” days to get me sorted. (“Logistics and operations” days are the days where I travel and don’t press myself to do anything more than fly on a plane, get money from an ATM, check myself into a hotel, get connected to the Internet, confirm my travel plans, book a spa appointment, and hang out at the hotel bar. See, when I write that all out…that’s a lot, isn’t it?
With thanks today to Viator, I booked a private tour of Hanoi this morning It included stops at all the major tourist attractions (Ho Chi Minh entombed!), a ride in an electric golf cart through the old town, and a pho noodle lunch. A decent value at $90, including hotel pick-up and drop off. So thank you Viator, for making travel easy. I appreciate it.
Here’s some of what I saw from the back of that electric golf cart in Hanoi. Enjoy.
I took a speedboat ride down the Mekong Delta in Vietnam the other day. It was crazy to watch the city give way to lush green forests and to see tugboats and barges give way to old ladies on skips full of pineapples. I traveled down the Mekong with the tour company Les Rives, a company I had heard great things about. And while it was a nice day out, I think we got the short end of the stick with our guide who told us practically nothing about Vietnam or the Mekong during the trip and actually FELL ASLEEP for most of the ride back. Thanks for that. (Take away quote from the tour “They are not poor,” which the guide would say whenever she pointed at a house or a boat.)
There was a another boat from Les Rives that left at the same time we did. We would bump into them at different stops and I would sneak over to listen to the other guide talk about this beautiful part of Vietnam. (He had had a roommate from Louisiana at one point so his accent was hysterical…in a good way.) There are other ways to get to the Mekong, including by bus, but who wants to be stuck on a bus for hours? So I’d recommend the boat. Just make sure you get an informative guide.
Some of my snaps from Singapore. Find me on Instagram at @kristainchicago.
I stayed five nights (four-and-a-half, really, if you consider I arrived at 2 a.m.) at The Pan Pacific Hotel, Singapore and I really enjoyed my stay. It’s a huge conference hotel so it’s a bit soulless at times, but the never-ending wifi connectivity, the awesome pool and gym and the lovely lounge on the top floor with 360 views of Singapore made it a great place to stay for a few days. Here are my pros and cons:
- Attached to multiple shopping malls. At one point, I needed some passport photos. I was a little worried about where I was going to do this, but no worries, one of the malls had a photo booth.
- Multiple dining options: One afternoon, I had lunch at the Indian restaurant in the Pan Pacific — Rang Mahal — and loved it, even though it was a buffet. (As a rule, I hate buffets. They make me feel both a. gluttonous and b. like I haven’t had enough to eat.) I also ate at the bar one early evening. Really, I only scratched the surface of what they have on offer.
- Excellent gym, open 24 hours. Only three of the four treadmills were working while I was there though, which was a bit of a bummer during peak hours.
- The wifi was always connected. None of this signing in every 30 minutes or anything. No username, no password = AWESOME.
- For each day I stayed, I was allowed to get two pieces of laundry cleaned! If you know what hotel laundry pricing is like, this was a huge deal. This was included in my executive club rate, so it may not be included in other rates.
- I liked that the hotel doorman remembered me each day.
- Very slow lifts. You would hit the button and sit down because you knew it was going to take forever.
- I lost my Canon plastic fantastic lens here. (I knew I was going to lose something!) I know I had it in my room and I know it never left the room. I realized it wasn’t in my bag when I got to Vietnam and contacted the hotel immediately. This was roughly eight hours after I left the hotel. They were very sweet and responsive, but no lens. I’m still hopeful it’s somewhere in my suitcase, but it’s not looking good.
- I thought the Executive Club food in the evenings was only so-so. Not enough variety for me. But I suppose it’s meant for snacks and not for dinner, so there’s that.
- The bath tub seemed a bit beat up.
- The window blinds were on remote control. Sometimes I think we over-engineer things. It was hard to get the blinds to come down sometimes. Slightly annoying.
If you’re looking for a boutique design hotel, the Pan Pacific ain’t it. But if you’re looking for a hotel that you can easily live in for days on end without ever leaving, this is an excellent choice. When I was comparison shopping, the rate I got at the Pan Pacific got me much more than the rate at surrounding properties, so I was happy with my selection and I would gladly stay here again.
PS Cafe in Ann Saing Hill: My friend Josh took me up to the rooftop of this quaint colonial bar where they played classical music in the ladies’ loo and the office buildings of Singapore twinkled above us. I liked the vibe at this place. It felt intimate and romantic and old school and the rooftop deck was ace.
1 Altitude, Raffles Place, Boat Quay: I think Josh has a thing for heights because he also took me here — the highest rooftop bar in Singapore — where we had very expensive drinks on the 63rd floor rooftop deck. (I took the photo that opens this post from the the bar.) This place also had one of the best signs I saw during my time in Singapore. (Above.) Better not **accidentally** do anything, people!!! 1 Altitude is worth it for the view but the vibe is not my scene really. (A little too clubby for me.) And the wind! Yikes.
Manicurious, Beach Road: Total first world problem but I arrived in Singapore with the mankiest nails. Jordi recommended Manicurious to me and I was glad she did. I liked the vibe (cafe in front, nail salon in back) and the free wifi, although it did feel maybe a bit cluttered and surprisingly for Singapore, their English wasn’t the best. They did a great job on my hands and toes though.
Bath Culture Foot Therapy, Chinatown: While walking through Chinatown, I decided I needed a foot massage. A few Googles later and I realized I was standing 20 feet from a great one. A 20 minute rose footbath followed by a 40 minute foot massage, plus free wifi and a hot tea. I felt great afterwards. 50 Singapore Dollars for my 60 minutes. This place is maybe smaller than I expected, given the copious number of online reviews.
Chinese Heritage Center, Chinatown: This is a small museum that tells the story of Chinese immigrants in Singapore, particularly during the 1800s. Opium, sexually transmitted disease, love, loss and gambling. Sad but riveting. Worth dropping in because it is a super quick visit and you can get a foot massage after!
Gardens by The Bay: I’m not a huge nature person — you seen one tree, you’ve seen em all — but I couldn’t help but gasp when the doors to the Cloud Dome opened. A man-made waterfall! Beautiful. I skipped most of the Flower Dome but if you’re into flowers and nature and stuff, you should make a visit. People told me I’d need three hours here. I did it in like 15 minutes.
Singapore Walks: I under-estimated my jetlag and bought a three-tour package and then only went on one of them, a tour of Little India. This was a really enjoyable way to learn more about a little slice of Singapore. (I’ll post some pics soon, but those are some flower gardens being sold on the street above.) I wish I had done more of the Singapore Walks but I was more in “slow travel” mode.
So…those are some of my Singapore suggestions for now. I may update this post as I think of more things so stay tuned.
I want to say this all carefully, because this doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough that I think about it and thus want to mention it.
I am a woman. I fly on planes, and I probably fly more than many people (but less than some people). So the thing that annoys me is sometimes (and we’re talking 15 to 20% of the time) is that when I go to get in the priority boarding line, airline (or airport) employees will assume I am traveling with the man in front of me or the man behind me, particularly on international flights. I never see them ask men “Are you traveling together?” in regards to the woman in front of or behind them. And trust me, I watch and listen for this. Rather, they get to me and ask me if I’m with the guy that just passed through the boarding gate or the guy behind me. What does this mean? (And if I answered “Yes” what would happen?”)
My interpretation after many instances with this (the latest the other day when boarding my flight to Singapore in Hong Kong) is that the industry don’t see women business travelers that often. (Which also annoys me to no end, but that’s a subject for another post.) Two years ago, when boarding a flight from Tel Aviv to Newark, I was in the priority boarding line and when I got up to the gate, the gate agent actually tried to send me to the back of the queue. “This line is for priority passengers only,” she said, before even looking at my boarding pass. I said nothing and stared at her while I passed her my boarding card. “Oh, you’re a gold member. Please, this way…” (I’ve ruled out dress as an issue. I’m dressed no differently than my fellow passengers, and I will generally even dress better if I’m flying at the front of the plane. That being said, I do look like I’m younger than I am which you think would be great but!!!)
What’s supremely awkward is what happens when you get on the plane. Particularly if I’m sitting in business class, more than once, a flight attendant has asked me if I’m “together” with the man seated next to me. (Calculate the ratio of women to men in business on your next flight and you’ll get it.) Sometimes, these men are old enough to be my father!!! What does that say about the world? And again, if I say “Yes,” what happens?? Is there some special dinner option for two? Special chair functions I don’t know about? Permission to use the bathroom together? WHAT??
Not complaining, really. Just observing. And I’m sure at the end of the day, airline staff are just trying to be nice. But be conscious of it next time and share your stories with me because I am trying to determine if it’s all in my head or if I’m being singled out for some reason.
2. I expected everything to be spotlessly clean. It’s not. Maybe there’s not a lot of garbage around but things are dirty.
3. There are no homeless people. Or if there are, they are hidden very, very well.
4. It’s super-diverse. It reminds me of Dubai in that way. All colors, all languages, all religions. Taxi drivers routinely speak English, Chinese — all of Cantonese, Mandarin and Hokkien — and Malay.
5. The little kids speak English like Americans/Canadians. (I’ve seen a ton of school groups out and about, all in super-cute uniforms, chattering away.)
6. It’s EXPENSIVE. Taxis are cheap, and the tap water is drinkable. Hawker markets are cheap. But booze and everything else you need is PRICEY.
7. It’s HOT. Yesterday, the thermometer at the pool read 36 celsius. That’s really hot. Really. Although it’s also been cloudy, so there’s some mercy. (But there’s also been a huge drought, which is bad news.)
8. There are A LOT of container ships around in the water. Singapore has to import practically everything it needs, so this makes sense, I suppose.
9. The kids are carrying around really huge cell phones, many with book- cover like cases. Also, on the train, I see more people with iPads out than I do in Chicago.
10. Did I mention they like crab?
(Added after original posting…)
11. There are many hookers.
12. It is nigh impossible to get a taxi between 4 pm and 6 pm because many taxi drivers change shifts. You will see people standing on street corners everywhere, valiantly struggling to hail a cab. This seems like a gap in the market just waiting to be filled!
13. Every taxi driver (and I had many) knew that The Economist had just crowned Singapore the most expensive city in the world.
I am suffering from heavy jetlag. I hate it. I slept from 10:30 pm to 2:30 am last night and, thanks to a little boost from my friend Advil PM, I made it from 10:30 pm to 3:45 am this past night. (I can’t call this last night because it is indeed still THIS night. It’s 5 am as I write this. I’ve given up on sleep and have turned on my laptop.)
If you have a jetlag cure or tip, I am all ears!
I called yesterday “logistics and operations day.” After having a big day in Singapore on Monday, Tuesday was the day to get organized, to exercise, to acclimate and to get things done. Ah, and to say hi to my work colleagues in Singapore and also attempt a food tour. (“Attempt” being the operative word.)
This means I didn’t leave the hotel until 5:30 pm. Don’t judge! Plus, I got my taxes done! Also, I’m on vacation and trying to relax, read books, exercise and not over-schedule myself. It helps that my hotel is one of those cities within itself. I really don’t have to leave unless I want to be a tourist.
After having a quick drink with my local colleagues at a Belgian beer bar — of all places — in Far East Square, I headed over for my food tour, where I proceeded to fall asleep more than once at the table. You can’t take me anywhere. Indeed, I’m about to fall asleep on you now…sorry, back to bed I go. Wish me luck.
Up above is a statue I saw outside a temple we passed during my food tour last night. It was very beautiful.