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The Luxury Hotels of China

The Luxury Hotels of China

Old Nov 11, 11, 6:09 pm
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The Luxury Hotels of China

Part One - Beijing

Some notes about my site inspections in Beijing (and elsewhere in China).

(1) Beijing is a very large city (13 million) with terrible traffic, especially at rush hour. Unless you want to cope with the crowded subway system, LOCATION is the number one criterion in choosing a hotel in Beijing. If you're traveling on business, the best hotel will be one that is very close to where you're business meetings will be.

(2) I'm on a FAM trip with Imperial Tours, and with the exception of the Peninsula Beijing, Ritz-Carlton Pudong, and PuLi, the rest of these hotel site inspections were planned for by Imperial Tours.

(3) As with my other postings, these are my personal, subjective opinions. Others may and should come to different conclusions!

Downtown hotels (walkable to the major tourist sites)

The Peninsula Beijing

I spent my first night in Beijing at The Peninsula before moving to Raffles the next day where our FAM trip began.

The Peninsula is the former Palace Hotel. It was completely renovated 20 years ago with a very elegant contemporary design. We stayed in a Duplex Suite on the top floor of the hotel. Our suite looked out over the city of Beijing through large windows on both levels. While the suite is spacious, it does not make the best use of the available space. A large living room is on the lower level and provides a large wall-mounted flat screen television, minibar, and a powder room - but we were hardly ever in this space.

A staircase in front of the window-wall leads up to the bedroom on the second floor where space was a bit cramped. The King bed is in the middle of the wall, with a large glass desk to its left and built-in closets to its right. There is only enough space between desk and bed for the desk chair, so when it is not pushed under the desk (i.e., someone is working at the desk), there is not enough space for someone to get into (or out of) the bed without getting out of the chair. It would be a great improvement if the desk and internet connections were moved downstairs to the living room area. Internet access is complementary, by the way, with both ethernet and wireless connections available, and both 110 and 220 power sockets.

The bathroom features dark granite floors and vanities with white marble walls dual vanities, large soaking tub with TV, step-in shower (a tiny bit cramped), and a WC. With just a few more inches of shower space, the bathroom would be perfect.

There is a Virtuoso upgrade-at-booking at the Peninsula. Thus, Virtuoso guests should never have to stay in a lead-in Deluxe room (which lacks a step-in shower). We were shown a Grand Deluxe room. At about 35 sqm, this room feels like a Superior room. There is just a single vanity in the bathroom, but there is a separate soaking tub, shower, and WC.

The room of choice at the Peninsula is the Beijing Suite (which is an automatic upgrade from a Duplex Suite). This is a very nice suite with a warmer color scheme. Brown granite and tan marble in the bathrooms, silk wall paper in the MBR, and a larger shower. The living area has a large living room, separate dining area, and desk/work area.

Raffles Beijing

A traditional Colonial-era hotel located on the 16-lane east-west highway running through the middle of Beijing, Raffles offers a central location convenient to the Forbidden City. Guest rooms are very large and reasonably priced, but they do have significant problems. Our Landmark Room was a bit on the dark side and felt dowdy - furnishings were drab and really could use significant updating. The single window didn't provide enough natural light, and street noise could be heard in our sixth floor room. Mattresses and pillows were overly hard. Along with other members of our group, we experienced some temperature control issues - rooms were either too cold or too hot. On the positive side, the marble and limestone bathrooms provided everything you would expect - dual vanities, step in shower, soaking tub.

Suite categories were significantly more satisfactory, The lead-in Landmark Suite is a 700 sq. ft. junior suite with attractive, traditional interior styling, and the Personality Suite we were shown (at 850 sq. ft) is even nicer.

Central business district hotels

China World Summit Wing

China World Summit Wing is operated by Shangri-La. This contemporary hotel opened in August, 2010 atop Beijing's tallest building, 81 stories and 330 meters high. It is built on top of a 400 store shopping mall, and a major subway station.

Guests enter a large reception area on the ground floor and are escorted directly to their rooms for in-room check-in (as long as the hotel knows your ETA). The Residence Foyer is located on the 64th Floor. It is essentially a Club lounge available to all hotel guests, providing complimentary coffee, tea, and juices 24 hours a day as well as food presentations of fruit, sandwiches, and scones but no free alcohol. The hotel has 278 rooms, and free internet is provided throughout the property.

Virtuoso guests receive an upgrade-at-booking, and the Virtuoso rates are loaded into the GDS to ensure that the upgrade is reflected in pricing. Lead-in Executive rooms (55 sqm) have a single vanity - but upgrade at booking to a Premier room (65 sqm).

We were shown a Grand Premier (75 sqm), a spacious accommodation with great views of Beijing from the bedroom, sitting area, and also from the bathtub! Bathrooms have rain showers, separate WC, and dual vanities with TV in the mirror.

The Premier Suite is huge, 110 sqm, located at the corners of the hotel for great views.

The hotel's gym is the largest in Beijing with outstanding 78th floor views from each exercise machine, and the infinity pool likewise looks out over the city.

Park Hyatt

Located across the main road from China World, and you can walk between the two through the subway station that both hotels are atop. The Park Hyatt is three years old having opened for the 2008 Olympics. The lobby is atop the hotel on the 63rd floor. The 246 rooms and 25 suites are typical Park Hyatt accommodations with clean contemporary styling and a lot of emphasis on the bathrooms. Rooms are quite striking in the evening, with the light interiors contrasting with the city views outside your windows. The clean, elegant design is by the same designer who created the Landmark MO in Hong Kong.

Lead-in Park King rooms are 400 sq. ft. Floors are wood and marble, and furnishings are blond wood. Bathrooms feature limestone tubs, rain showers, and a single vanity. The glass-walled bathrooms are right inside the entrance and open to the room. Although a sliding panel can close them off, they will not be to everyone's liking.

Park Deluxe rooms are 500 sq ft. These rooms are the same width as Park Rooms, but the room is longer with the additional space being devoted to a sitting area between the bathroom and sleeping areas. Located at each of the four corners of the building, these rooms have incredible views, especially at night when the city is lit up.

The Park Suite, 850 sq ft, is quite spacious with a HUGE bathroom and perhaps the largest soaking tub I've ever seen.

The Park Hyatt offers a gym with a view, and the swimming pool and hot tub also have great city views.

Summer Palace area

Aman at Summer Palace

This is a WOW resort. Located about an hour outside the center of the city (the distance is not that far, but see my notes above about traffic in Beijing). The facilities are nothing short of amazing. One of the best equipped gyms I have ever seen, a spa, an indoor infinity edge pool, and three restaurants. Nightly films are shown in the private cinema with extremely comfortable reclining leather seats, and popcorn is provided!

The best feature of the hotel is its private entrance into the Summer Palace. Aman guest can bypass queues and the need to purchase tickets, but even more significant is the opportunity to wander through the Palace grounds before and after the crowds have come and gone.

Lead-in Guestrooms are quite small, but these are the least expensive Aman rooms in the world!

We were not able to see a Courtyard Guestroom (as all were occupied at the time of our site inspection), but one member of our group had previously stayed in one and had very positive reviews of the room; this would be the recommended room category to book.

We were also shown a spacious Suite.

My recommendation for leisure guests to Beijing would be to spend your first two nights at the Peninsula and visit the Temple of Heaven, Tianamen Square, and the Forbidden City while staying downtown. Then, move to Aman at Summer Palace and while there visit the Summer Palace, the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China, and a day at leisure before moving on.

Last edited by DavidO; Nov 13, 11 at 5:27 pm
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Old Nov 11, 11, 6:12 pm
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Part Two — Shanghai

Shanghai is an attractive city (if you can overlook the smog) with two major sections. Most leisure travelers will be visiting the parts of Shanghai on the west side of the river — the Bund and the French Concession. The "New Shanghai" is a new development of high rise towers on the east side of the River. Pudong is primarily a business destination, although there is great shopping here as well. Where you stay in Shanghai will depend largely on whether you are visiting for business or leisure - and what your interests are.

Bund and French Concession options

Peninsula Shanghai

This new hotel — which opened in October, 2009 — is the new flagship of the Peninsula hotel chain. In short, the Peninsula is an amazing luxury property. Situated at the northern end of the Bund, it is built in an art deco style, and walking through public areas, hallways, and guest rooms, one is impressed with the attention to detail as well as the beautifully selected materials — dark marble, carpeting, doors, wooden moulding, even the elevator doors. It is elegant without being flashy, and the interior design is aesthetic perfection.

Every room except one corner suite was occupied at the time of our site inspection, but that suite completely wowed me. The interior design was stunning, with a definite feminine touch, and the bathrooms offered two sinks, each with its own vanity, a soaking tub, separate WC, and step-in rain shower. As an example of the attention to detail, even a nail polish dryer is provided in the bathroom. We were told that all the bathrooms in the property were similar to the bathroom in the suite.

If you are a leisure traveler in Shanghai looking for the very finest luxury hotel in town, and you prefer traditional to contemporary styling, there is no second choice. You will be happy with the Peninsula.


A new luxury option for leisure travelers is the PuLi. Located in the French Concession, I was immediately struck by the simple serenity of the lobby and its very elegant, Zen-like design. This is a smaller hotel with just 229 rooms. PuLi advertises itself as an "urban retreat," and this is a good description of what to expect here. The hotel is adjacent to an open green space, and I found its setting next to a park very appealing.

We were shown three rooms. The lead-in Grand Room is 48 sqm with an open design. In the room we were shown, the bedroom area was to the left side of the room, and the bathroom area was on the right side. Sliding screens could be used to provide a visual screen between the two areas. Bathrooms had two sinks with a small ledge above each sink (but no vanity). There is a step-in shower, as well as a soaking tub with a view out the windows. Definitely request a room overlooking the park side of the hotel.

The Junior Suite is quite large but not worth the upgrade. While the room is a large 82 sqm, located on the four corners of the building, it comes with a very cramped Bathroom with only 1 sink. I would advise against accepting an upgrade unless you are a single traveler; a couple would not be happy in this room.

The One BR Suite is huge and impressive 85 square meters with 1.5 baths.

Waldorf Astoria

The Waldorf Astoria hosted a cocktail reception for us and provided a site inspection. This hotel is not a member of Virtuoso, although they have applied. While some of the members of our group were wowed by the hotel, I was not so impressed.

With a prime location at the south end of the Bund, you will be well-situated for a stay in Shanghai. Lead-in rooms are long and narrow (only about 12 feet wide). Very nice bathrooms, but I felt the styling throughout the hotel's guest rooms and public areas was overdone - trying to hard to impress with lavish features (for instance, each room has a crystal chandelier, and there are extensive chandeliers in the public areas).

We also saw a suite in the older heritage section of the hotel - lavishly decorated, but the rooms felt crowded to me.

Pudong options

Ritz-Carlton Pudong

My clear choice in Pudong is the new Ritz-Carlton Pudong. My site inspection of the hotel took place immediately after checking into my room at the Park Hyatt but before getting much of a chance to explore my room (see that review immediately below). The comparison was striking. The RC has significantly larger rooms, more natural light in the room, and was designed with a brighter color palette of tans, golds, and reds.

RC Pudong has the same owner and designer as the RC Hong Kong. The bathrooms feature the deepest bathtubs I have ever seen; the hotel features its own exclusively designed soaking tubs in which guests can sit with full back support, submerged, looking out at the view. Bathrooms have dual vanities and rain showers.

For a real WOW, book a Premier Bund Suite. These rooms are at the corner of the building that looks directly out towards the bend of the Bund, and you have a commanding view from your King bed.

Although not as tall as the Park Hyatt, the views were superior. There are no buildings blocking the view from the Ritz-Carlton to the Bund, and there is a better perspective on the view from the hotel's guest rooms (which occupy floors 39-52).

The Club Lounge is open 24 hours per day with its uninterrupted panoramic view. The hotel is located adjacent to the IFC shopping mall with every major luxury brand represented.

Park Hyatt Shanghai

We spent three nights in a Park King room at the Park Hyatt Shanghai in an 82nd floor room with partial Bund view. The interior styling will appeal to fans of Park Hyatt - dark woods and greys create an atmosphere of cool elegance. The bedroom has the feel of a generous Superior room with very high ceilings that add to the sense of spaciousness. We were not able to see a Park Deluxe at the property. There is a small couch and table at the front right corner of the room and a nice desk and working area at the front left corner of the room. The bed faces the windows, and there is plenty of built-in closet space. Free internet is provided throughout the property.

Park Hyatt traditionally gives a lot of attention to its bathrooms, and this is certainly the case with their Shanghai property. The very large bathroom has white marble counter and makes extensive use of grey limestone on the floors and walls. There are dual sinks set in a large vanity with plenty of space for the toiletries for two guests. There is a large rain shower and soaking tub. The WC has a separate entrance at the end of the hallway.

I feel there are some design flaws with this property. Entering the hotel is like going into a cave. The hotel entrance is small and dark with no natural lighting. You make several turns until you find yourself in a small, windowless room with a bank of four elevators. These elevators go up to both the 87th floor lobby and the 91st floor restaurant level. Once reaching the lobby, you move to a second set of elevator banks that take you back down to the guest rooms. To get from your guest room to the restaurant, you first take the room elevators to the lobby, then go to the other elevator bank to ascend to the restaurant. (Once there, the breakfast buffet is sumptuous and the views are stunning).

The cool, dark design of the hotel extends to the room corridors as well as to the guest rooms. There is no natural light whatsoever in the bathrooms - which I missed - and I had to put on my reading glasses and use a flashlight to adjust the room lighting … or turn the thermostat up or down. As a big plus, service was wonderful and attentive during our stay.

Last edited by DavidO; Nov 13, 11 at 5:49 pm
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Old Nov 11, 11, 6:15 pm
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Part 3 — Xi'an, Guilin, and Hangzhou

Sofitel Xi'an on Renmin Square, Xi'an

Xi'an is a fascinating walled city in the heartland of China. The ancient capital of many Chinese dynasties, Xi'an is a popular destination for tourists coming to see the Terracotta Warriors (but don't miss the Hanyangling underground museum - less well known but no less spectacular). The Sofitel is a contemporary hotel, now 6 years old, with 414 rooms and 208 suites - a bit too large to provide consistent five star service.

Rooms are quite attractive with elegant contemporary styling and sophisticated color schemes. We stayed in a Junior Suite. Sofitel provided one of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in (Sofitel's MYBED) and a perfect pillow; I slept very comfortably. On the other hand, the bathroom's design was flawed. There was but one small vanity with no shelf on which to keep toiletries. The glass enclosure around the WC served no purpose than to make a small bathroom even smaller; I walked into the glass on two occasions. The bathroom also had a small glass-enclosed walk-in rain shower and a soaking tub. The frosted glass door that closed the bathroom from the bedroom but did not block light, a problem if one guest used the WC in the middle of the night or showered early.

There are just a few lead-in Superior Rooms, and we were not shown one. The second room category, Luxury Room, was attractive but on the small side, a typical "Superior" room. We stayed in the third room category, Jr. Suite, and also saw a Luxury Suite, a proper 1 BR Suite. I would recommend a Jr. Suite for most clients.

Amazing breakfast buffet (and dinner buffet with sashimi and sushi, among other choices). Though not Virtuoso, we were told that the sales managers would extend the equivalent of Virtuoso amenities.

We did not see the Shangri-La Xian (the Virtuoso property in the city) - but Imperial Tours does not use this hotel as it is located outside of town.

Hotel of Modern Art, Guilin

A member of Relais & Chateaux, the Hotel of Modern Art is a unique and quixotic contemporary hotel set within a large sculpture garden of 150 acres. Creating the sculpture park was the original purpose of the owners; the hotel was added as an afterthought.

Every one of the approximately 30 rooms is unique and a work of art. Rooms are of varying sizes and configurations, getting larger as one moves to the higher floors. Our third floor room had a King bed, built-in marble desk (with both wired Ethernet and WiFi), a minibar area, small sitting area with two small chairs and a round table, and a bathroom with single vanity, WC, and shower in the tub. Rooms are available with step-in showers and dual vanities, so it's important to make these requests upon booking.

Why stay here? The hotel is in a beautiful rural setting and is a good setting off place for touring the Guilin with its unique limestone formations. For a really special WOW event, the Hotel of Modern Art can arrange either a private dinner in a spectacular limestone cave all lit up at night … or a lakeside dinner concluding with your own private fireworks display. Either would be an over-the-top romantic setting for an unique marriage proposal or special wedding anniversary.

Four Seasons Hangzhou at West Lake

This is a new Four Seasons that opened less than a year ago. The resort is absolutely beautiful, set on the shores of West Lake. With just 78 rooms, this is small and intimate by Four Seasons standards, although property does have extensive space for meetings and conferences. There are two restaurants on property - a Chinese restaurant as well as a western option. The extensive grounds have Chinese gardens, and there is a gorgeous outdoor infinity edge swimming pool framed with weeping willows.

Guest rooms are large and beautiful and provide everything FS guests will expect. Lead-in Deluxe rooms are 678 square feet - with a bathroom providing dual vanities, separate soaking tub and step-in shower, and WC. Premier and Grand Premier Rooms add an open-air terrace and/or glass terrace conservatory at the far end of the room for even more living space. Outdoor terraces have very nice landscaping, and I can imagine having in-room dining around the table and chairs on the terrace.

FS Hangzhou is currently the best luxury choice for leisure visitors to Hangzhou. A second Four Seasons is being planned for downtown Hangzhou.


We spent two nights at Amanfayun, a very unique Aman resort just outside the city of Hangzhou. It was developed from an old, deserted Chinese village. Existing buildings, some over a century old, were completely renovated to create the 47 guest dwellings, four restaurants, boutique, spa, and other resort facilities. There is a very authentic feeling to Amanfayun which is adjacent to a large Buddhist temple. A rough, stone pathway leads through the forested property.

Guest suites are large but simple, having been reconstructed using traditional methods and materials: clay roofs, brick and earthen walls, stone tile floors. Amanfayun does not try to offer "polished luxury" with marble bathrooms and modern building materials. It does offer large and comfortable space and a degree of authenticity you will never encounter elsewhere.

Aman junkies will not want to miss Amanfayun, but guests who desire world-class luxury will prefer Four Seasons Hangzhou.

Last edited by DavidO; Nov 18, 11 at 4:31 pm
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Old Nov 11, 11, 7:13 pm
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David why would the raffles Beijing be described as a colonial era style building
? Dont think china had a colonial era except for various treaty ports and concessions in Qingdao and shanghai .

Of course hong kong was leased after " drug barons " of the day got their way
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Old Nov 11, 11, 7:29 pm
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The Aman spa at the aman summer palace is probably one of the most comprehensive and best in the world . The complete Pilates machines is awe inspiring and a little forbidding .@:-)

In Beijing now... in a room at the horrendous Hilton wangfujing with a kaleidoscopic side view of the Peninsula....after reading your report ...with sense surround construction noise thumping away... at my "lifestyle" room I can only salivate with envy at the Pen.

But I don't think I would ever betray the park hyatt again !!

But I must say the service here at the Hilton is very Very good.
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Old Nov 18, 11, 4:32 pm
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The site inspection report (in three parts) has now been completed
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Old Nov 18, 11, 11:10 pm
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Enjoyed your review. I'll be staying at the Peninsula Shanghai next week.
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Old Nov 20, 11, 12:14 am
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Thank you for sharing. This is a very comprehensive Review.
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Old Nov 20, 11, 1:24 am
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Thanks for the reviews. After several stays in Beijing, I tend to favor the St. Regis. Since they've done over the suites, I've had only fantastic stays there
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Old Nov 21, 11, 5:39 pm
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Stayed a few nights at Puli in Shanghai and it was a very nice hotel.

As mentioned, there is a very Zen feel to the place.
Nicest hotel i have stayed in so far in Shanghai.
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