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RC Chengdu, BT Lijiang and SR Shenzhen - QR J, TG F, LH F, Swiss FCL

RC Chengdu, BT Lijiang and SR Shenzhen - QR J, TG F, LH F, Swiss FCL

Old May 26, 17, 12:03 pm
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Join Date: Sep 2013
Location: BSB
Posts: 217
RC Chengdu, BT Lijiang and SR Shenzhen - QR J, TG F, LH F, Swiss FCL

The planning for this trip started on September of 2016, with the fact that I had miles on Latam (Oneworld) and Avianca Brasil (Star Alliance). My initial try was Maldives and Seychelles. For my intended period, I could find seats on business class on both programs, either way, but it was impossible to match availability going to either island, transferring between them and returning back home. After about a month of frustrating searches and changes of itineraries, I gave up and decided to try something new.
I donīt know exactly how, but I came across SPG page of St. Regis Lijiang, which is due to open only in 2018. I had never heard of this city, but when I googled images from it, I liked what I saw and made it my head start. To get there, the easiest way was to fly to Chengdu and it wasnīt too difficult to find seats on either Qatar or British (which ended discontinuing this flight a few weeks later).
I tried to add a trip to Guilin for a cruise on Li River or to Zhangye Danxia National Park for the gorgeous rainbow mountains, but my total travel time of 7 days made these options unpractical. I was planning to head home from Bangkok to CDG on Thai A380 first class and then to Brazil on Swiss business class. Searching for flights form Lijiang to BKK came with great fares on business class with an almost 24 hours stop on Shenzhen, which I thought was an excellent addition to close my itinerary.
Booking flights wasnīt difficult, but required a trick: there werenīt seats available on Qatar business class flight from São Paulo to Doha, only from Doha to Chengdu. But if I was leaving from Buenos Aires, it was possible, the irony being that flight made a stop in São Paulo. It seems like this stop doesnīt make the EZE-DOH section count as an EZE-GRU-DOH section, so I could add to the ticket a flight from São Paulo to Buenos Aires (on the same plane that was going to do the turn around). This added 6 hours to my ticket, 2.5 hours on each leg of GRU-EZE-GRU plus one hour stop in Buenos Aires, but it wasnīt bad after all. This one way ticket GRU-EZE-GRU-DOH-CTU on Qatar business class costed 110k miles on Latam plus U$40 in taxes.
From Chengdu to Lijiang, I bought an economy class ticket on Air China for U$150 and from Lijiang to Shenzhen to Bangkok, I bought a business class ticket on China Southern for U$226. The flight from Bangkok to Paris on Thai first class costed 100k miles on Avianca Brasil plus U$20 and CDG-ZRH-GRU on Swiss business class costed 80k miles plus U$250, also on Avianca.
I was going to spend a night on 3 cities, and on all I used Amex FHR program to book the hotels, which ended up being Ritz Carlton Chengdu (U$230), Banyan Tree Lijiang (U$320) and St. Regis Shenzen (U$360).
I did have some miles (17k) expiring on Lufthansa by the end of year and didnīt have a good use to them, so I made a gamble. I booked an economy class ticket from Paris to Frankfurt, hoping Lufthansa would open space on first class 14 days before departure. The beauty of this ticket was that it wasnīt a straight CDG-FRA flight, but a CDG-ZRH-FRA flight, with enough time on the Zurich connection to let me experience the new Swiss First Class Lounge. For 17k miles plus U$58 in taxes, I tried my luck.
In the end, I hit the jackpot. Not only did Lufthansa open space on first class from Frankfurt to Rio, allowing me to go to the great Swiss Lounge, but I had, for the first time, a private first class cabin to myself, being the only passenger on the front of the lower deck of the Boeing 747-8. This costed 100k miles plus U$350 on Avianca, plus U$200 for cancelling my CDG-ZRH-GRU ticket, but it was totally worth it.
Here are my final flight paths and some pictures highlights of this trip, which Iīll share more details in the coming days.

Link to my previous reports:

RTW to Cairo and Petra (DL J, NH F, QR J, EK F, CM J, James Chicago, Conrad Cairo)

RTW in OW F - A USDM Farewell - Regent Taipei, Conrad Seoul, PH Shanghai

From below to down under the great long way (LH, EY, SQ F)

Conrad Istanbul and Koh Samui, Sofitel So Bangkok, St. Regis Doha (SQ F, QR F and J)

Weekend on NYC and Disney with family (Conrad NY, Homewood Universal and Brickell)
Carq is offline  
Old May 26, 17, 3:53 pm
Join Date: Jun 2012
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Looking forward to this one, especially your thought on CTU, LJG, and SZX hotels. I'm flying the same route in the future. Why didn't you stay at the St Regis CTU? It's closer to the pedestrian street with all the food and shops and all. The RC isn't far, but StR is closer.
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Old May 27, 17, 12:35 am
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Looking forward to this! I totally recognized the pagoda of the Banyan Tree Lijiang. I booked a villa there once, it was massive! One of the best hotels I've stayed at.
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Old May 27, 17, 12:48 pm
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Originally Posted by TOMFORD View Post
Looking forward to this one, especially your thought on CTU, LJG, and SZX hotels. I'm flying the same route in the future. Why didn't you stay at the St Regis CTU? It's closer to the pedestrian street with all the food and shops and all. The RC isn't far, but StR is closer.
I really like the St. Regis chain and I hadnīt have a stay at a Ritz Carlton before, so I wanted to split between them. The location of them in Chengdu seemed the same to me and the St. Regis Shenzhen looked more iconic, so based on pictures and reviews, thatīs how I choose them.
After my stays, I thought the Ritz was excellent, due to the breakfast and an upgrade to a suite and the St. Regis was good but unmemorable.

Originally Posted by 18hours View Post
Looking forward to this! I totally recognized the pagoda of the Banyan Tree Lijiang. I booked a villa there once, it was massive! One of the best hotels I've stayed at.
Thanks, itīs almost as iconic as the old city.
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Old May 28, 17, 1:55 pm
Join Date: Dec 2001
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This is exactly a part of China I want to go to. Is there a risk of feeling bad from the altitude at first as I think it's very high?
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Old May 29, 17, 5:40 am
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Originally Posted by Bretteee View Post
This is exactly a part of China I want to go to. Is there a risk of feeling bad from the altitude at first as I think it's very high?
I didnīt feel any difference. Lijiang is 2.400 meters high; Iīve been to Cusco, which is 3.399 meters high and also didnīt feel anything, so, may be, Iīm not the best one to answer that.
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Old May 29, 17, 5:58 am
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I took an Uber from home to Brasilia Airport in the morning. As I was travelling with just a carry on, I OLCIed my GOL flight to São Paulo and waited at VIPs Club Lounge, which is a great domestic lounge (I have mentioned it before here). It got even better because they have added two express lounges on each pier of the airport, apart from the main one, which are closer to the gates. They arenīt as big or have the same food offerings as the main lounge, but are great to wait for your flight call without having to rush through the airport.

GOL flight landed on time at Guarulhos Airport and I had a 6-hour layover until my flight to Buenos Aires. Qatar check-in counters werenīt opened yet, but with no luggage to check, I OLCIed again and cleared security and immigration control.
The new terminal 3 in Guarulhos has five lounges (Star Alliance, Executive Lounge, LATAM, American Airlines and MasterCard). I had access to the first two with Priority Pass, the next two because I was flying an Oneworld business class and the last one with a MasterCard Black credit card. With 6 hours to kill, I went for a lounge hopping.
First, I went to the Executive Lounge, which I think has the better food offerings and a reasonable space.

After grabbing some food, I went to the Star Alliance Lounge, which I think is the nicest of the airport. It has the best décor, good food options and the best drinks, with a barman. Usually I donīt care for alcohol, but this lounge have great caipirinhas (made with vodka or cachaįa, which is my preference). There were ginger caipirinhas before, but this time was made of grapes, excellent as well. A few more bites and two caipirinhas later, I was in excellent mood.

Next, it was LATAM lounge time. It has good space, décor and food. There are shower rooms (also on Executive and AA Lounges) and four sleeping couches in a separate room, without any linens, pillows or privacy from each other (and usually are all occupied). I took some newspapers to read and, after a while, left.

Next in line was MasterCard Lounge. It is the smallest one and tends to get crowded with the night departure flights. The buffet options were very reasonable for snacks.

The last one on T3 was AA Admirals Club. For an outer station lounge, it has lots of seating options and a decent buffet, with hot food options. Food offerings on all lounges are quite decent, considering they are all business class lounges.

Overall, I would rank:
1- Star Alliance
3- Executive Lounge
4- Admirals Club
5- MasterCard

Closer to boarding time, I headed to the gate, where Qatar 777-300ER was already parked, along with a Lufthansa 747-8 that I would take coming back home. There was also an Emirates A380 that has started flying to Guarulhos this March, which Iīm eager to fly again with my family to the Maldives or Japan. I just need TAP to run a 100% credit card transfer bonus again for that.

Anyway, as I checked-in online, I was called over the PA system for a document check. I got a paper-boarding pass only to Buenos Aires and was told Iīd get the others there. They were confused why I was flying to Buenos Aires and back, and not straight to Doha. I just told that I like flying, so the more, the better. 
Boarding started 30 minutes late and the business class was quite empty, with less than 1/3 occupied seats. Service started 40 minutes after takeoff and the menu was very reasonable for a 2,5 hours flight. I took advantage of these added flights to catch up on some movies Iīd like to watch and fill my stomach so I could sleep right after taking off from São Paulo to Doha.

The breadbasket served was very good, but the gnocchi was awful, completely tasteless. Dessert was ok.

After landing, I told Qatar representatives, waiting on the jet bridge, that I was doing a turn around on the same flight and asked how I should proceed. I was kindly escorted through security, directed to LATAM lounge in EZE, and told that boarding would start in one hour. As in GRU, Iīd also start a lounge hopping in EZE.
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Old May 29, 17, 3:20 pm
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First lounge was LATAM lounge. The buffet was ok, but space was small for an airport who receives lots of LATAM flights.

Next one, right in front of LATAM was AA Admirals Club. Food offerings was better and the lounge receives higher marks for having ice cream available. It was less crowded than LATAM, with a few sets of empty couches towards the end. I grabbed a pistachio ice cream and spent a couple of minutes in the lounge.

Next to AA, down a corridor there was a Star Alliance lounge. There was a line in front of it, as the lounge reached its maximum capacity and you would have to wait for some people to leave to get in, even though Star Alliance had only a Turkish flight to departure at that time. I added some pictures I took in the lounge a couple of years ago. I thought space was reasonable back then, but things probably have changed. The food offerings were weak, but they had alfajores available, which also count as a plus item.

The other set of lounges in EZE was from Aerolineas Argentina (this one I couldnīt access) and American Express. The Amex lounge had the best décor, was crowded as LATAM lounge and had a weak buffet.

I went to the gate earlier so I could take my other boarding passes, after they checked my passport and Chinese visa. Boarding started 20 minutes late and business class was again about 1/3 occupied.
Pajamas, sleepers and an amenity kit were distributed to those continuing to Doha. The kit was very good for a business class and the case was better than the one Iīd later get in Lufthansa first class (contents were on par, but this says more about the lousy amenity kit from LH F).

The menu was on par with the one from GRU, but I ended up napping the entire flight and during the one-hour stopover in GRU (disembarking wasnīt necessary this time).
The business class for the GRU-DOH segment was 3/4 full. I donīt like the seats Qatar uses on the 777-300ER and always choose the middle row seats, so I donīt need to climb over no one to go to the lavatories (or vice-versa). Also, you donīt have much privacy from your neighbor. The seats are comfortable, though, and itīs nice to have air nozzles over the seat. I also lucked out to have an empty seat next to me.
After the fasten seatbelt sign was off, I went to the lavatory (which are spacious) to change to the very comfortable PJs. There is a duvet to be used over the seat and the pillow and blanket provided are very nice. I ended up sleeping for solid 7 hours.
As I woke up, it was somewhat around breakfast time in Brazil, so I asked for the fruit plate and the potato cake and omelette. Both were good.

After watching some movies, it was lunchtime in Brazil and I ordered some pastries and a sea bass fillet. Both were good, again, and I had some ice cream for dessert.
Service was efficient throughout the flight, which was pleasant even though it doesnīt feature QRīs best seats. Not having someone next to me helped that a lot.
We landed on time and I went to the Al Mourjan lounge for a four hours layover. It was quite empty by that time (11pm). I had a very good salmon sandwich at the deli and later went to the restaurant for some dessert. The ice cream, cake and mousse were all delicious.

I caught up on internet the next couple of hours and later went to the gate for my final flight to China.
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Old May 30, 17, 4:34 am
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Looking forward to this.
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Old May 30, 17, 5:22 am
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Great report so far Carq, looking forward to the rest...
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Old May 30, 17, 5:16 pm
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Originally Posted by stevie View Post
Looking forward to this.
Originally Posted by JohnRain View Post
Great report so far Carq, looking forward to the rest...
Thank you both for reading.
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Old May 30, 17, 5:26 pm
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The flight to Chengdu was operated by an A330. It was completely packed with Chinese, both on economy and business class. As I waited the end of lines to board, I was among the last into the aircraft and felt uncomfortable to take pictures of the cabin and seats of the completely taken business class, but is the same as in here.
Pajamas and an amenity kit were distributed, but no sleepers this time, which I found odd, as, IMO, they seem to be more traditional to Orientals than to westerns. The flight takes around 7,5 hours to reach Chengdu.
The menu consists of some a la carte food and breakfast. As I had eaten in the lounge, I tried to catch some sleep and asked to be waken for breakfast. The seat is a bit narrow and probably the worst available on Qatar wide bodies business class, but itīs not that bad.

I slept for about 5 hours and woke up to have some fresh fruits, an omelet, a caramel tart and a cappuccino. All of them were very good.

We landed almost one hour ahead of schedule. Immigration lines were very short for China standards and I had to wait a bit until my transfer drive showed up on arrivals. As communication with taxi drivers is a bit difficult in China, I booked the transfer with Travel China Guide for U$34.
It took around 30-40 minutes from airport to the Ritz Carlton with good traffic, but I always wonder how Chinese get their driver’s license. They all canīt seem to hold a line and are always zigzagging through traffic, not using the indicator but honking a lot, with lots of cut offs and near misses.
Anyway, check-in on Ritz is on a high floor, around the 25th, if I recall correctly. It was fast and I received a letter with the benefits of Amex FHR. I had booked a Premier room but was upgrade to an Executive Suite. In my experience upgrades with Amex FHR are a given, but itīs not always you get a suite.
The suite featured a large living room, with a half bath, a closet, spacious bedroom and bathroom with a bathtub and a shower with windows, which makes showering nicer. The best part was the high tech Japanese toilet. The bedroom has a telescope but I didnīt saw much usage to it. Also waiting for me was a nice welcome amenity with fruits and some chocolates.

After a much-needed shower and a new set of clothes, I went for a walk in Chengdu. First stop, after 10 minutes, was Tianfu Square. The main attraction of the square is its fountains, but they were under repair.

Next, I went to People’s Park, which was quite busy but was nice to see all locals dancing, playing sports (badminton and jianzi), strolling or having some food. I didnīt expect to hardly any see any western on the streets, less than five.

Later I went to Zhaixiangzi and Kuanxiangzi alleys, which were crowded. There were some nice local stores there but, unfortunately, I forgot to change money and hardly any store accepted credit cards.

Back to the hotel, I had a U$100 food credit to spend and went to Lixuan restaurant. I wasnīt hungry at all and the menu was quite extensive and reasonably priced, so I ended up ordering a watermelon juice, duck eggs with caviar, crispy prawns and crčme brulee. The waitress warned me that the prawns dish was big and asked if I wanted a half portion, but I declined.

Food arrived and I had a hard time eating. Not only was a lot of food, but the prawns were massive and kind of caramelized, which is traditional in Chinese food but not something that I like much. So, food was just ok to me, and even the crčme brulee was just average.

Back to my room, I was glad that Iīd finally sleep in a bed, 48 hours later since I woke up in one. But the 11 hours difference in time zone, dinner and a comfortable bed but four equals and not very good pillows didnīt help much. I slept for about 5 hours, but I woke several times and, in the end, had to wait until breakfast would open.
Breakfast options were massive and of high quality. The highlight were the eggs benedict, which were the best I have ever had.

As I had some time left until I needed to go to the airport, I went back to Zhaixiangzi and Kuanxiangzi alleys, yuan bills now in my wallet, to try to buy some souvenirs that I couldnīt the previous day. Unfortunately, at 8am no store was opened. I took advantage to take some pictures of the empty alleys and stood around until 9am. The stores remained closed and I went back to the hotel to check out.
I asked for a taxi at the hotel and the fare to the airport was about 1/3 of what I paid when I arrived.

Last edited by Carq; May 30, 17 at 5:52 pm
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Old May 31, 17, 2:10 pm
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Great review so far!
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Old May 31, 17, 8:46 pm
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Originally Posted by 18hours View Post
Looking forward to this! I totally recognized the pagoda of the Banyan Tree Lijiang. I booked a villa there once, it was massive! One of the best hotels I've stayed at.
Have to agree with this. The hotel was beautiful..the villa was a small house. We also stayed at the Banyan Tree Ringha which is a replica of Tibetan farmhouse as only BT can do in a spectacular natural setting in valley off the beaten path. It was a wonderful trip to Yunnan province.
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Old Jun 1, 17, 8:17 am
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I had made my check-in online and with my boarding pass on my cell phone, I went straight to security lines, which were a bit long but were moving quickly. Unfortunately, it is required a paper boarding pass, as there is an officer just to check and stamp the BP. I went to a self-serve kiosk and printed my BP, but had to get back to the end of line.
There are several lounges on CTU accessible with Priority Pass. They are all called “First Class Lounge”, which is ironic or cynical, depending if they really meant that or were just having some fun. They are somewhat sad lounges, with questionable furniture and weak food offerings.

I waited for about one hour until boarding. My Air China economy flight was initially scheduled to departure at 06:55, but was a few months later changed to 11:55 departure. This meant Iīd have less time in Lijiang, but, at least, it allowed me to have breakfast at the hotel. The flight was full, I guess I was the only western in the plane (I didnīt see any other western even on airport) and I slept the whole time.
The flight landed on time and LJG airport is quite interesting, as you usually walk through corridors (with or without windows) until reaching the baggage area. In this case, it is a semi-opened, external corridor, with brick walls on one side and glass on the other, which is not fully enclosed, protected from weather by an eave. I thought it would get really cold in the winter and found the design a bit odd, but checking the average temperatures, Lijiang actually has mild temperatures throughout the year, so itīs actually appropriate.
The benefit of booking Banyan Tree through Amex FHR was a one-way transfer from/to airport to hotel, so I used it on arriving. I found it a bit stingy, as they charge U$50 for the service and FHR usually has U$100 credit for food or spa services. It was a 40 minutes ride to the hotel.
The architecture of the main patio, where reception is located, is stunning, with a tall pagoda, surrounded by a small lake and willow and pine (?) trees and Jade Snow Dragon Mountain on the background. On check-in, I was told I was upgraded to a mountain view room and got a buggy ride to my room. The rooms are like independent apartments along a brick street.

My room consisted of a big rectangular, with bathroom on the front and a living room with a couch and working desk on the back and the bed between the rooms, and a veranda in the end. It featured a classical Chinese design but seemed a bit tired to me, even though itīs only 10 years old. May be itīs the red tones, which I associate with the 70īs.

Internet was slow and I had a major problem which didnīt affected me in Chengdu: I had marked the places I wanted to go on Google Maps and used it to walk on the streets. However, the Great Firewall was in full effect and I couldnīt retrieve the information. The slow internet didnīt help and Bing Maps is a big piece of $Ļ&%Ļ&, so I had to use the old system of asking for a map at reception.
The map provided by Banyan Tree is pretty bad and weak. I asked both on reception and to the bellman the direction to the Old Town and both told me it was a 5 minutes walk from the hotel. I recalled reading on TripAdvisor that the hotel was a bit secluded, but followed the instructions.
The lack of Google Maps and the weak paper map didnīt help, but I got to my destination. It was nice, with some canals and new buildings using old Chinese design, but I found it a bit small and empty. Actually, I was disappointed.

Anyway, the other place I wanted to visit in Lijiang was Black Dragon Pool. I couldnīt find a taxi where I was, so I walked back to the hotel and asked for one. On the way to the Pool, I saw several signs indicating directions to the Old Town, which were completely different from the place I went, so I realized I hadnīt been to the Old Town yet!
To enter the Black Pool Dragon, I had to pay 80 yuan and kept the ticket in my pocket. I walked around a bit, took some nice pictures of the lake, pagodas and bridge, with the mountains in the background, but as I found out I still had to go to the Old Town, I didnīt spend much time there. I took a taxi on the streets for a quick 5 minutes ride.

Arriving there, it was quite crowded. A ticket was required to enter Old Town. As I went to buy one, I saw it was the same I used on Black Dragon Pool. Luckily, the ticket was still in my pocket and I hadnīt thrown it away as I would normally do. So, for those who don’t research much about your destination, as I didnīt, your ticket is probably valid for a lot more places.
I walked for a couple of hours through the maze Old Town is. To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed. Itīs not that I didnīt like it, itīs just that I was expecting something more spectacular, like some attractions in Kyoto. My fault for coming with wrong expectations and not researching properly. The urban layout is unique and there are some canals and ancient buildings, but, in general, it was a sequence of lots of stores, which I think are divided in 5 types: tea, stone crafts, juices/local food, musical/drums instruments and cheap souvenirs.

The problem to me was that this myriad of stores were all the same, it was very hard to see something more unique. And I am pretty sure that I didnīt got totally lost and walked back and forth on the same alleys several times. It also seems to me that the majority of buildings/stores are less 50 years old, but built using a classical timber design. So the Old Town as a site and its urban layout may be really old, but not the buildings. I may be wrong here, but thatīs the impression stuck with me. Iīd actually love to find out that Iīm wrong.
As in Chengdu and, also, later in Shenzhen, I hardly saw any western, which I thought was really cool. The food from vendors didn’t appeal to me and I was going to have something from the hotel. As I was just outside the Old Town, looking for a cab, I saw a very discreet McDonald’s wood sign on a disguised building and went for a burger a fries, leaving my guilt away for eating such a standardized cardboard food.
From the Old Town to the hotel was a 10 minutes cab ride. Later, in Bangkok, without the %Ļ$&$ Great Firewall, I found out that closer to the Banyan Tree, I went to the Old Town of Shuhe, which may also be an Old Town but not the one Lijiang is famous for. The hotel staff should know better that when a foreign guest is asking about the Old Town, it is referring to the main one, not a minor one.
After a good massage on the spa, it was time to call it a night.

Last edited by Carq; Jun 1, 17 at 4:59 pm
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