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matteo

1 week visit to Shanghai - Suzhou - Hangzhou

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matteo

Hi all, 

 

I'm planning to spend one week at Easter travelling to Shanghai; I will also be visiting Suzhou and Hangzhou as two good friends of mine live there.

I'd just like to get some general advice about what you reckon is really worth seeing in the area, and the best accomodation options. 

Are hotels the best option, or is there something more similar to B&B or Airbnb that can give you more of a local flavour?

Any suggestion or comment will be very welcome!

ps I will obviously ask my friend's opinion as well, but I kinda want another point of view as I'm sure they will not be very objective

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889

When you stay in a private place you and your host have to register with the PSB. This can be a real hassle for a short stay, so better look at hotels. Run through the major booking sites for something in your price range, then ask here for help selecting from a few places that look good to you.

 

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NinjaTurtle

Visit Longhua Temple in southwest Shanghai. Take subway line 12 to Longhua Station. (Be sure sure to sample the noodles in the restaurant in the back of the temple, and pet the cat that hangs out just outside the restaurant entrance.)

 

Youth Hostels are good. They are reasonably priced and you can get private rooms. I recommend the Phoenix Youth Hostel in Shanghai near People’s Square.

 

There are some gardens in Suzhou that people recommend, although I have not personally visited them.

 

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mungouk

Expect huge crowds at the weekend in Suzhou and Hangzhou, or even better visit places like the Suzhou gardens as soon as they open on a weekday (not 1 hour before closing time or they will still be full of coach parties).

 

the old canal area in Suzhou is nice for a stroll and there are plenty of places to eat and drink.

 

you can travel easily between the cities on the bullet trains 高铁 but you will need to buy tickets in advance before they sell out. I used http://www.china-diy-travel.com/ who also have useful videos on YouTube explaining how to collect your tickets and find your way around major stations. 

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NinjaTurtle

The private rooms at the Phoenix Youth Hostel in Shanghai are usually sold out on Fridays and Saturdays. It is possible to get reservations for these days, but they need to be made well in advance. (Bunk beds in a common room are also available in a pinch, in true youth hostel style.)

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matteo

Thanks everyone for your advice!

at the moment I booked an airBnb in Hangzhou very close to 西湖, and I'm looking for something in Shanghai, I think in the proximity of People's square/ 南京路, as I heard it is a convenient spot for tourism. I'll give a look to hostels as well!

As 889 mentioned, being hosted is a pain because of police registration so unfortunately not an option. 

 

Btw, I had a look at visa requirements and they ask for an "An invitation letter issued by a relevant entity or individual in China", do any of you know what that means?

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NinjaTurtle

Matteo,

 

Are you planning on going on a tourist visa? I know that China does NOT easily grant tourist visas to just anyone. An American can just show up at an airport in Japan and automatically get a 90-day visa. Not so in China.

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mungouk
10 hours ago, matteo said:

being hosted is a pain because of police registration

 

You'll still have to register with the police when staying in an Airbnb though... hopefully the owner will know how it works.

 

Please let us know how this works out for you, as there seems to be a lack of information out there on Airbnb in PRC.

 

Have a great trip!

 

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889

I strongly suspect "how it works" is that your host will insist, "Registration, what registration? No need to register!" Leaving you in a bad spot if there's a crackdown one day.

 

 

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mungouk
11 hours ago, matteo said:

"An invitation letter issued by a relevant entity or individual in China"

 

This doesn't apply to a tourist visa, unless you're going to be staying with private individuals. 

 

For an L visa you should just need copies of your hotel bookings, plane tickets and the details of your itinerary, as well as copy of passport and any previous China visas, and proof of residency entitlement if you're applying from outside your own country.

 

If the country you're applying from has an online service via visaforchina.org then you can fill in the application form online, and it will only prompt you for the relevant bits. Then you download a PDF and print it out, sign it, and take it to the visaforchina office.

 

For more info see https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/tourist.htm  

 

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matteo

Cheers all for pointing these issues out. 

 

Re registering with police when staying in Airbnb: I'll double check with my host, but it looks like Airbnb as of lately has an agreement with the government, so that registration is done "automatically" as in hotels. See this conversation if you are interested (read comments  to current

dates) https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/Registering-with-local-police-in-China/td-p/548823

I'll let you know how it actually goes :D I'm not too worried about it though cause I see that many hosts on Airbnb are geared towards foreigners and have lots of positive reviews.

 

8 hours ago, mungouk said:

This doesn't apply to a tourist visa, unless you're going to be staying with private individuals. 

Thanks mate, just came to this same conclusion but your confirmation makes me feel better!:)

 

 

 

 

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mungouk

That's a useful link @matteo but following the thread does seem to suggest that it's not automatic after all ... the "automatic" bit seems to be that Airbnb have to hand over guest and host information to the govt on demand (presumably like in everything else in PRC).

 

The final post suggests contacting the host ahead of booking, which is good practice on Airbnb anyway.  If I got a response saying something like "yes I've done it before, I have all the docs and will meet you at PSB to register" then that would inspire confidence I think.

 

 

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889

Agree. Nothing in that link suggests you can forget about registration when using Airbnb in China.

 

 

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Dawei3

Following Ninjaturtle's comment, the subways in Shanghai are an excellent way to get around.  They are inexpensive & very well organized.  The trains have electronic maps so you always know where you are.       

 

At the ticket machines, you just tap on English and you can buy your ticket with English commands.  On the subway, everything is announced in English and Chinese (and their English is more clear than the English on subways in New York or Washington😁)  

 

The bullet trains are a great way to go between the cities.  However, if you buy the tickets at the station, you'll need cash (unless you can pay via wechat).  I was surprised at Beijing's main rail station, they wouldn't take credit cards.  Some on-line services do accept credit cards, but I didn't use one, so I can't give you a recommendation.  Some hotels will buy tickets for you, but they charge a significant mark up.  You'll need your passport when buying a ticket.  

 

If you take a cab, be careful.  Last October, the 2 times I took a cab in Shanghai, both drivers tried to take me to the wrong place.  One kept asking "do you want to go to the airport?" despite he knew which hotel i was going to (and my Chinese is good enough to handle this).  Even when we arrived at the hotel, he asked me again and then the hotel attendant asked me about going to the airport.  I never said airport to him or any word even like airport to the driver, other than to say I wasn't going there.  I think he was just wishing that I needed a long cab ride (I was far from the airport).  

 

The 2nd driver was the worst:  Because of the experience above, I had the hotel attendant make sure he knew where to go and I told him in Chinese as well.  The route to the office was very clear.  However, leaving the hotel's lot, he went the opposite direction and kept going, despite my protestations.  Fortunately, we hit traffic and for the 1st time in my life, I had to get out of a cab.  Luckily, I had no luggage in the trunk, so I could escape.  I think the cab drivers are really feeling the impact of Didi (like uber) and are desperate to make money.  Also, most cab drivers don't speak even a word of English.  

 

 

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matteo

Hey all, 

 

just back from my holiday in Shanghai, I'd like to post a mini-report as a way to thank you for your useful suggestions and also to share some of the experiences!

It’s really hard to summarize everything in a few lines as this was just my second (and waaaay too short) experience in China, and there are just too many things that I found awesome and strange and interesting.

 

But starting from the beginning, here’s some of the issues that came up before I left and could be useful for someone else to read about:

 

Visa: *note that I’m not a US citizen, I am Italian and live in NZ so this might work out differently depending on where you are and where you are from* - for us (me and girlfriend), the tourist visa was incredibly easy and fast to get, we just had to download the form, fill it in and bring it to the Chinese consulate along with flights confirmation, bookings of all accommodations and travel insurance. Three working days later we got the visa. As mentioned by @mungouk above, no invitation letter was required.

 

Accommodation:

Because I saved up some money for the trip and only had enough leave for a short trip, I was not particularly careful in looking for the best deal or saving up on accommodation. Prices always looked quite reasonable anyways (note however that this is from the point of view of someone coming from NZ, which is a bloody expensive country).

In Suzhou, we stayed in a medium-level (definitely not luxury) business hotel in the new part of town, suggested by my friend on the basis that it was close to his place and therefore convenient for us. Nothing really special about it, really new and clean and aseptic, cost 100 NZD per night for a double room.

In Hangzhou, for roughly the same amount of money we stayed in a really cool Airbnb apartment, in the best possible position, 5 minutes walking from the lake and 10 m from a metro station. Really cozy, well furnished and with all comforts. The only problem is that, as discussed above, Airbnb is really unclear on the all police registration issue. When booking, you are asked by Airbnb to provide your passport details “to comply with Chinese regulations” or something of the sort, but apparently this doesn’t really lift you from the obligation of going to a police station and register. When I asked my host about it, he just told me that for such a short stay as ours you basically just don’t do it. I checked with my Chinese friends, and they all told me that it is not so strictly enforced and I shouldn’t be worried, that they knew plenty of foreign people that didn’t do it, and that even if I’d get caught they would be really surprised if I got a fine for it. So what the hell I didn’t do it.

Bottom line: it’s really a grey area. Although it’s a pity because as far as I could see the Airbnb options are much better that the hotels for the same money, probably next time I go to China for a short stay I’ll choose a boring hotel full of foreigners to be on the safe side. Getting yourself in a Chinese police station and attempting to casually register for a couple of days stay… doesn’t sound practical in the least.

In Shanghai we stayed in the Phoenix Youth Hostel suggested by @NinjaTurtle (cheers for that btw :D), really nice place in a good position. It looks like they organize lots of activities and it’s probably a very good choice for solo travelers.

 

Food:

Food was AMAZING!!(and this from an Italian :P) It was a very long time since I eat so much, so well! We tried all the typical dishes like 东坡肉,小笼包,松鼠鱼,水晶虾仁...and many many others I can’t really remember… they were all delicious!! after a couple of days we were literally begging our friends to order less food because we thought we’d explode.

When we were by ourselves however the sheer number and variety of restaurants and stalls could make the choice a bit daunting, especially if you don’t already know what your options are. I strongly suggest if you are moving on your own to use an app like 点评 (http://www.dianping.com/ ) to help you selecting the places where to eat and avoid falling in tourist traps.

For breakfast or snacks, there is plenty of nice little places anywhere where you can get a bowl of noodles (or actually anything you can imagine) for very cheap; knowing even just a few characters helps, as in many places (especially the ones that seem more authentic for some reason) the menu has no pictures and looks something like this

 

 2000526329_wontonmenu.thumb.jpeg.a3fce789be5f29e6656a500fd8c52907.jpeg

 

True you can look it up on pleco or something, however I think most people don’t particularly enjoy the feeling of trying to work out a list of incomprehensible dish names while standing in the middle of a shop and being intensely stared at by every single person in the room. When the menus were too complicated and I was not comfortably sitting at a table, I usually tried to snatch a picture of it, decipher it and then go back!

 

Transportation:

Taking the metro was super easy in any of the big cities, there is English mostly everywhere and little lights telling you were you are…kind of dummy-proof!

Same with the train, everything was quite straightforward and we never got into any massive line to get tickets, I think the worst has been like half an hour or so. We always bought tickets for the same day and there was always seats (or standing places) available, however in two cases out of three the earliest trains were sold out so we had to wait several hours. This is a bit of a pain if you have a tight plan, next time I’ll definitely try to buy train tickets in advance.

For getting around on foot and in general I used Gaode map (https://www.amap.com/), which worked well even with the shitty internet provided by the roaming service of my NZ provider .

We tried a couple of times to get a taxi in Hangzhou but it was impossible, they just wouldn’t stop so had to get an unofficial one (which is generally advised against, and it was much more expensive). I thought it could be because drivers don’t feel like going through the troubles of dealing with foreigners and in cash, my friends swear that it’s got nothing to do with that and it is because most cabs you see on the streets are booked using an app…not sure I can trust them on this, do you guys have similar experiences?

 

This is getting very long and I haven’t even mentioned places, and people, language and many other things…I’ll post it as it is and hopefully I’ll have time to add a second part next week!!

Thanks to everyone who's interested in reading :D

 

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NinjaTurtle

Hey, @Matteo, how much did the Phoenix Youth Hostel charge you? (The price seems to keep going up.)

 

If you take a "black taxi", just make sure you negotiate the price BEFORE you get in the car.

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matteo
Quote

Hey, @Matteo, how much did the Phoenix Youth Hostel charge you? (The price seems to keep going up.)

 

It was 146 NZD for two nights, two people in a room with double bed and private bathroom, through booking. 

 

Quote

If you take a "black taxi", just make sure you negotiate the price BEFORE you get in the car.

 

 

ahah good point, I did check on the price but I think we looked quite desperate and I reckon it still cost us at least twice as much as a normal taxi

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