If wine isn't your first thought on a China vacation then we don't blame you. China travel is justly renowned for great experiences but until recently Chinese wine wasn't one of them. However, if your China trip brings you into contact with some of the wines detailed below you may be pleasantly surprised. China is investing serious money to ensure that its citizens can trip the light fantastic with delicate wines that rival those found in other countries.
Avoid – Great Wall
If your preference is for wines that taste like cough syrup then Great Wall's for you. It is also the perfect drink if you'd like a stinking hangover for the next day of your China tour. This is the wine that brought China a reputation for the worst wines in the world. In blind taste tests it routinely comes below any wine from anywhere else. However, it is the most common wine you'll encounter during your vacation; so remember that it's best avoided.
Approach with Care – "Imported" Wines
The Chinese are growing into a nation of oenophiles and thus imported wine is in high demand. You'll be OK with foreign wines in 5 star hotels and the most upmarket restaurants – they know what they're doing when it comes to storing wine and corked bottles are unlikely to spoil your travel experience. In the rest of China the wine may be fake or it may have been stored upright in sunlight and in the heat of the day for about 10 years. You are unlikely to get a refund on an open bottle however undrinkable so be cautious during your China tour when it comes to splashing out on imported wine.
Sup Up – Ningxia Wines and Jia Bei Lan – Shaanxi and Grace
If you know what to look for on your China travel there are Chinese wines that are very much worth your trouble. Jia Bei Lan is a tiny vineyard in Ningxia and they're part of a small but serious revolution in Chinese wine production. They've been working hard to cultivate grapes in the right soil and then treat them properly to make decent wine. They were the first Chinese vineyard to win an International Gold Medal for their Grand Reserve (which is a Bordeaux-alike).
You might also want to keep an eye out for Grace Vineyards. They're owned by a Hong Kong Chinese with a German husband. She's won several awards for their output already and there are all sorts of choices from Reislings to Merlot. You may be hard pushed to find any though – the lots sell out nearly 4 years in advance.
The good news is that these wines are so specialist and as yet unknown to foreigners that you're not likely to encounter any fakes during your China vacation. That means you're much more likely to be drinking the real thing and to be safe from a horrible head the morning after the drink the night before.
We've found that some people worry about taking a China vacation because they think everything they see on a China trip will be alien to them. There's no need to worry you'll find plenty of home comforts on your China tour and you should even be able to see a few home grown brands as you travel round China.
Wal-Mart but Not as We Know It
In the United States Wal-Mart is the best known domestic brand of them all. Its stores are built on a stack it high and sell it cheap concept. They're big and airy spaces where shoppers can get together in hordes. You may well see a Wal-Mart on your China vacation but don't get too excited. Chinese shoppers don't relate particularly well to the original Wal-Mart concept and the interiors are very local. Products in Wal-Mart China are expensive compared to most places you can shop during your trip and the aisles are narrow and tightly crammed in order to make use of all the available space.
KFC with a Slight Twist
KFC is the most popular American brand in China bar none. At one point the company was opening nearly 10 stores a day across the country. In the main a trip to KFC in China is exactly like going to one back home; though you should watch out as the default coating for chicken is spicy (though only mildly so despite the big chili in the advertising). You will find that rice is more popular than fries with the food and that you can buy a Macau style custard tart (which is surprisingly tasty) too.
Starbucks for Social Climbers
The Chinese don't really do coffee. If you'd have taken a China vacation a few years back the only coffee you'd have found would have been a warm cup of Nescafe with half a pint of condensed milk poured in it. Today Starbucks is nearly everywhere to save us from that fate. The locals consider a trip to Starbucks to be a big deal. The coffee costs the same as it does in the US and that makes it extremely expensive for a Chinese worker. It's such a big deal that if you take a quick tour of any neighborhood with a Starbucks in China late at night – you'll see many, many locals take their dates to Starbucks!
Burger King goes Bananas!
Burger King is infinitely more popular than McDonald's from our observation. The Chinese don't really travel to the Golden Arches with any enthusiasm but China's going bananas for BK and there may be long queues outside. Inside the setup is near identical to the United States and while there are Chinese menu options the burger still takes a starring role. However, the Chinese appetite for burgers is a small one and there are no Doubles, Triples, etc. on the menu at all. Unless you speak enough Mandarin to order extras – you may need to order a couple of singles instead. We recommend that you eat local during your China vacation but we know that sometimes everyone wants a little taste of home and BK is one of the more reliable options.
It may not be possible to accommodate a trip to Xitang during your China tour. However, if you should get the chance for day's break while in Shanghai then your China vacation could be even more memorable if you jump on a train and head out into Zhejiang province. Train travel in China is perfectly pleasant and a day trip to one of China's best kept secrets from tourists can bring a lot of pleasure.
Tell me about Xitang...
You've almost certainly seen Xitang before, it had a starring role in the movie Mission Impossible 3. The film's director J J Abrams is said to have chosen the location because he felt that there was nowhere else that looked as much like real China in the country. Tom Cruise was lucky enough to spend a week there during the filming.
It's a quaint old Chinese village where much of its 1,000 year history is still intact and hasn't yet been subject to the erosion of modernity so rife in other locations across the nation. It's a great place to take endless China vacation photographs and to take a tour of China as it would once have been everywhere.
Travel round the village is best done on foot and unlike most Chinese villages this is easy whatever the weather. That's because all the pathways are covered and you're always protected from the elements.
Space is at a premium in the village and you'll want to spend a lot of time looking up during your trip to appreciate the architecture. Watch out because some of the streets are among the narrowest in China and one is less than a meter across.
The bridges and canals are superb and you'll want to keep your camera handy at all times to capture the beauty of this place during your travel. Stop and grab some tea at a traditional Chinese tea house once in a while and soak up the atmosphere of the place.
There are plenty of boats drifting lazily round the canals and if you'd like to take a tour of the water then go right ahead but be warned – there's scant regard for safety on the water and you should be certain that you can swim if things go run. China's not yet ready for public lifeguards on every bridge in the village so you'll need to take care of yourself.
Once you've finished your trip round the village you'll want to grab something to eat and as with everywhere in China – there are some local delicacies that you'll want to keep an eye out for:
- Steamed Pork Wrapped in Lotus Leaf – a truly flavorful dish which melts in the mouth
- Duck Wonton Hot Pot – you can't go wrong with this traditional favourite
- Spiced and Salty Pumpkin – it takes a little getting used to but this is quite the taste sensation
- Stinky tofu – this is definitely an acquired taste, you'll know by the smell if it's available on the menu or not
In the heat of a China vacation sometimes all you really need is a cold beer. There are plenty of local brews to choose from on your China tour but which of them will make your trip to the fridge worthwhile and which of them would be better to travel past and move onto something better? We've put together a quick guide to the 5 most popular beers in China. Some beers in China are very much worth the effort and some, not so much.
You won't miss the brew on your China vacation, it's nearly ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants, bars and even supermarkets. Many Westerners will pronounce the name “sing-tao” but it should be pronounced “Ching-Dao” which is the same as the pronunciation of Qingdao the place where it's brewed. Qingdao was twinned with a German town during colonial times and Tsing-Tao is brewed according to the German purity laws (at least theoretically). It comes in two versions, one for the domestic market which comes in a green bottle and is the variant you're most likely to see during your China tour and one for the export market which comes in an orange color bottle. Some folks swear that they can taste the difference but we think there's not that much to choose from. It's a dry German pilsner with a pleasant taste and it's perhaps the only Chinese beer to have made much on an impact on the international stage.
Harbin beer is produced by the Anheuser-Busch conglomerate and that means it's brought to you by the same people who make Budweiser. It's not as commonly found in restaurants and bars so you might need to do a little searching during your China travel to find it or you can buy a can in any corner store.
Unfortunately, it's a bland concoction which won't leave a lasting memory beyond the bottom of the can. You don't need to avoid this on your China trip but it's not an essential drink either.
Be warned that not all Chinese beers are created equal and this one is much, stronger than other lagers. If you're not careful about the amount you take in you'll trip over yourself on the way out the door. This brew comes from Southern China and while it has almost no aroma, it has a surprisingly pleasant malt taste. It may be easier to track down in Hong Kong than in the North of China.
This is the only beer on the list which is truly Chinese. All the others are owned in whole or in part by foreign conglomerates. However, it's not hard to see why there's been no rush to buy it out. The lager is mild and forgettable though it does have a slightly higher than average alcohol content. Don't travel out of your way to track down Yanjing but if it's around you might want to give it a try.
If there's one beer to avoid on a China vacation, it's Snow Beer. SAB Miller are the brains behind this awful lager. It smells good when you pop the ring pull but the taste is pure chemical. It's a triumph of marketing over substance.
Continuing our fine dining theme for your China vacation our next stop is Shanghai. Shanghai's one of the most popular destinations on a China tour and as you'd expect from China's richest city there are some serious options for eating out. If you decide on one of these restaurants you'll want to call ahead before your China trip – some of them have a 2 month waiting list for a table. However, if you do make that reservation before you travel to China you can be assured of a fantastic culinary experience.
This is a seriously strange way to eat. The head chef Paul Pairet was responsible for Mr. and Mrs. Bund (named in the San Pellegrino Top 50 restaurants in the world this year). However, this isn't a typical fine dining experience. The idea is that the food should elicit more than a "very nice" and drive an emotional response from the diner instead. The location is a secret and you'll need to make a reservation to go. This makes it one of the most unusual places to go on your China vacation.
They'll send a driver to pick you up and then you're in for a 20-course (yes, 20-course) meal. Each course has its own musical accompaniment and scents have been designed to complement the cookery too. There's also a different drink to go with each dish and your China trip won't be complete until you've had their cigarette of foie gras complete with ash for dunking it in. It's not cheap though and it may be the most expensive place you can eat during your China tour with a night there costing over $400 per head. The restaurant alleges that this figure is a loss maker and that they'd need to charge over $800 to break even. So grab a bargain and experience a taste sensation.
M on the Bund
If you'd like a little less adventure during your China travel then M on the Bund is the first restaurant to have opened in the Shanghai district and today it serves a heady mix of European and Arabic food. The salted pork belly as a starter is a real winner and many diners rave about the suckling pig as a main. It's a lot cheaper than Ultra-Violet too and you can expect change from $100 per person.
Mercato (Three on the Bund)
Italian food at its finest waits behind the doors of Mercato. It's also one of the most reasonably priced fine dining experiences in the city and if you're on a budget during your China vacation this could be a real opportunity to eat in a fantastic location without paying an arm and a leg. Look out for the lobster ravioli, it's scrumptious.
Kota's Kitchen (Shanghai Stadium)
There are several branches of this restaurant dotted around the city but the first (and in our opinion best) can be found a short trip out into the French Concession district. The Japanese food here is first class and not too pricey ($30-$35 per person is ample). The sashimi beef is first class. To make things slightly weird – the restaurant is themed around the British 60s sensation The Beatles.
Table Number One (Waterhouse Hotel)
The head chef here is Jason Atherton who once studied under Gordon Ramsay and as you'd expect the food is fabulous. Take a breather on your China tour in this stunning location and enjoy a creative and innovative menu. The clams and chorizo are a particular highlight.
If you fancy indulging in a few creepy thrills during your China vacation there are plenty of supposedly haunted places in Beijing. You're guaranteed to see some of them on your China tour and you can always take a side trip and travel out to some of the others. China is officially a country without religion but in reality superstition plays a very strong role in China's culture. It's up to you to decide if these places are what they claim to be...
The Imperial Palace – The Forbidden City
Murder was an art form back in Imperial China. Those who made the trip to the palace had no guarantee of returning. Execution was mandated for anyone betraying or disobeying the Emperor and any word against Imperial rule could also result in the loss of a head or worse. Then there was the risk of being murdered for no reason at all – Concubines in fits of jealousy and Guards in angry rages. The Palace floors would have been a river of blood at times. Today they say that a crying woman stalks the grounds at night.
Prince Gong's Mansion – Xicheng District
In the times of the Qing Dynasty travel to the Xicheng District would bring you to the home of one of the richest and most corrupt officials in China; Prince Gong. He lived with a harem of 80 concubines but strangely he has a reputation for absolute devotion to his wife. Sadly, his wealth and power could not mend her broken heart when their son died during a military tour of China. Today her cries are said to be audible throughout the building and there are rumors that the security guards have seen a woman (or possible women) in white in the grounds.
Ghost Street – Dongzhimen
This street has been rumored to be haunted for centuries. Today, if you have a command of Mandarin it's a must visit spot during a China vacation. You'll find Beijing's old-timers meet here at night to swap ghost stories and despite the reputation it's actually a lovely road with plenty of restaurants to enjoy once you've finished your tour of China's ghostly past.
Songpo Library – Xicheng District
It's quite a distance to travel but if you're looking for genuinely creepy in China the Songpo Library is a good destination. Once the home of Wu Sangui; who was a powerful general who walked away from the Ming Emperor because of his love Chen Yuanyuan – a skilled courtesan. Sadly for her, he wasn't a terribly consistent man and he soon fell in love with power again and joined the Qing Court and left her behind. In her grief she hung herself in the library and has been haunting it ever since.
Chaonei Church – Chaoyang District
There's nowhere you'll see during your China vacation that looks more like it ought to be haunted than Chaonei Church. It's an eerie looking old British church where the first priest is said to have vanished whilst conducting a tour of the church. A British investigation then found a secret tunnel that led to another district but no trace of the priest. During the revolution the wife of a National Party member committed suicide in the church because she was distraught that he no longer paid her attention. Many folk who pass by the church have heard her screams.
Food is one of the most exciting parts of a China vacation. You can enjoy a culinary tour de force and try dishes from every region of China. If your budget stretches to it there are Michelin star options to be found too and if your travel is going to include Hong Kong – you won't even need a dramatic budget as the world's cheapest Michelin starred restaurant can be found there. Over the last couple of weeks we've looked at Michelin star food in China's two special administrative regions – Hong Kong and Macau. This we week we'd like to introduce you to the first two chefs to gain their Michelin stars in China. You can visit their restaurants during your trip if you like too.
Chan Yan-Tak's story is incredible. He was born in Hong Kong and when he was 13 (or perhaps 14) he lost his mother to illness. His family were desperate for money due to her loss and when he made his first trip to a kitchen it was to beg for a job in order to provide for his family, rather than a calling to cookery. China can be a hard place but the chefs he trained with were kind to the young man and because of his age – they wouldn't even let him handle a knife for the first few years of his apprenticeship. He would travel to the local markets and help load up the fruits and vegetables for the day and pluck chickens instead.
His apprenticeship continued apace and eventually he became a cook and worked in several restaurants in Hong Kong. He even worked in China tour one of China's most famous restaurants – the Fook Lam Moon (The Cafeteria for the Rich) many of China's most powerful media and business people make a special trip to visit the place during a tour of Hong Kong. Finally, he came to work for the Regent Hotel and would remain there for 15 years going from sous chef to executive chef. Then in 1999 he announced he was taking a vacation from his career. His wife had passed away and he felt that his daughter needed his presence in her life.
He was coaxed back into cookery by the Four Seasons hotel to become the executive chef in their Lung King Heen restaurant. It was here that he would become the first Chinese person to win three Michelin stars in 2009. The only other person to win three Michelin stars in China was our other chef; Joel Robuchon in Macau.
Joel's success in China is perhaps unsurprising. He is one of the most celebrated chefs of all time. He won “Chef of the century” from the Gault Millau guide back in the late 80s. He was voted the best chef in France in 1976. He owns restaurants around the world and between them they have 28 Michelin stars making him the chef with the most stars anywhere in the world.
You can sample Joel's food during your China vacation if you take a trip to Macau from Hong Kong. His restaurant Robuchon a Galera is the only 3 Michelin star restaurant in Macau. It has retained those stars for the last 4 years. He also has a 3 star restaurant in Hong Kong; the L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the Salon de The. He is perhaps the finest chef in China and the world at large.
Some folks take a tour of China just to see the major attractions. Others want their China vacation to capture the strange and unusual differences between their culture and Chinese culture. If you’re one of those folks we’ve got some places for to see during your China trip to Beijing. There may be a little travel involved but these are some of China’s quirkiest places.
Wonders of the World
Chinese weddings are strangely unromantic affairs. The couple take a trip to a registry office on their own. There they are subjected to a lot of form filling and paperwork. There’s no invitation to kiss the bride when the marriage papers are complete. This means that most couples wait for a vacation break to celebrate their wedding – this can sometimes be up to a year after the ceremony. When vacation time turns up in China the couple dress up in costumes and have their photos taken.
China's number one spot for wedding photography is Wonders of the World. The idea of the place is that if you can’t leave China to travel the world; you can bring the world to China. If you’ve ever wondered what the Eiffel Tower would look like in New York or how the Golden Gate bridge could span the Grand Canyon – this is the place to do it. Try not to laugh too hard at the placement of the Trojan Horse...
Watermelons, Watermelons and Watermelons
You might not think there’s much to say about watermelons but in Beijing you can take a tour through the history of the watermelon. In the Daxing district China celebrates the watermelon with a museum dedicated to the fruit. You’ll find seeds galore, poems about the watermelon, photos and even watermelon flavored toothpaste. It’s actually more fun than it sounds but you may find yourself laughing at the wax watermelon exhibition which has clearly been gently melting ever since it was made.
The Eunuch Museum
It pretty much goes without saying that this is one of the weirdest places you can see during a trip to China. You should be warned that some of the information in this museum is extremely graphic and if you’d prefer not to see sexual content or violent content – you shouldn’t go. However if you do decide to take the plunge the key highlight is the Tomb of Tian Yi and there are plenty of photo exhibits etc. relating to eunuchs and the process that made them that way.
Dinosaurs on a Budget
The Natural History museum in Beijing is actually very good but it’s not received the funding that it perhaps should have. This gives the exhibits an accidental charm of their own – this includes the dinosaurs where you spy stuffing material leaking out of them or in memorable case where the tail is clearly dropping off. The human body exhibit is very, very disturbing and advised only for travelers with a very strong stomach. If you want top value for money from a trip to the museum – call and book tickets two days in advance and they’re free.
A China tour that passes through Hong Kong also offers the opportunity for a short-trip to Macau. If you're a foodie and were taken in by last week's list of Michelin-Starred restaurants in Hong Kong – the good news is that you won't have to miss out on great food during a vacation in China's other little island special administrative region. Travel to Macau from Hong Kong is quick and enjoyable and the Portuguese influence on the island makes it a truly unique place in many respects.
What do Michelin Stars mean?
If you're making your China vacation plans and want to know what all the fuss is about. It's quite simple; Michelin offer 1, 2 or 3 stars to exception restaurants. It can be tough finding Michelin starred restaurants in the Mainland China due to the size of the cities so if you're wondering where to get to the best food easily – that will be during a trip to Hong Kong or Macau.
1 Star denotes that the restaurant is exceptional in the category of food that it presents. 2 stars are for truly excellent cookery that's worth a change in your plans to accommodate a visit 3 stars is for the most exceptional food and the guide specifies that these restaurants are worth arranging your travel plans to ensure that you reach them.
So Where do I go In Macau?
Macau has only one three star restaurant. "Robuchon a Galera" in the Grand Lisboa which retained the three stars it picked up in 2012 this year. This is French food at its finest and you'll find that the quality of ingredients is incredible. However, it's worth noting that the chef is very, very adventurous and you may not recognize many of the dishes on the menu (a big favourite is caviar jelly with a cauliflower cream).
There are also two Michelin two star restaurants. The first "Wing Lei" at the Wynn; this offers fantastic Chinese food and some of the best service you'll encounter during a China vacation. The wine list is considered to be extremely good for the region too. We recommend the Peking Duck which is simply sublime and a classic China food tour experience too.
The other is "The Golden Flower" which for convenience can also be found at the Wynn. This gained its second star this year and is a Chinese restaurant with a twist. All the food on the menu is based on dishes created by Tan Zongun who was a Qing Dynasty official pulled out of Southern China and sent to Beijing where he created his own extraordinary set of recipes based on ingredients found in Northern China. The wine list here is pretty good too but we'd recommend taking some time on a trip here to focus on the tea. The tea ceremony is really good and they have their own "tea sommelier"!
Macau also has four other restaurants with a single Michelin star; "The Eight", "Zi Ya Heen", "Tim's Kitchen" and "Lei Garden".
One of the best things about travel in China is how odd the country can appear to an outside observer. The truth is that a tour of China is occasionally strange but most of the time it's just exciting. However, in a country of 1.3 billion folks there's always something peculiar going on. This week we'd like to take a light hearted look at some of the things you might have been lucky enough to have seen on a China vacation in the last 7 days. We can't guarantee any such madness during a China trip of course but it's nice to think it's possible...
Helicopters Come the Bride
The most exciting trip undertaken in China last week must be the lucky bride from Mianyang (which is in Sichuan province). Her groom decided that he wanted her wedding day to be something to remember so he picked her up for the big day by landing a helicopter in front of her house. The travel experience set him back a cool $32,000 USD or 200,000 RMB. We hope she was the happiest girl in China for that money.
Shaanxi Cleans up Its' Act
China's new to tourism. Much of the current market comes from local tour groups from other provinces. Unfortunately, these groups can make a bit of a mess as there's a tendency to litter as they go (the “Keep China Tidy campaign has yet to get underway). However, those who took their vacation in the Huaqing Hot Springs this week were offered a bribe to be tidy. Every visitor who collected a bag full of trash got a free drink. We'd like to see this kind of initiative taken elsewhere in the country too.
Shangri-La Not So Super
In slightly more disturbing news, the Chinese citizen who took a tour of Shangri-La (well one of them – there are several Chinese cities claiming the title) in Yunnan found themselves under more pressure than normal to buy vacation gifts. The vendors are apparently holding them at knife point until a purchase is made. We suspect it won't take China very long to remedy this.
Soccer in the Spotlight
Who would have thought 12 seconds of news coverage could set speculation alight across the Chinese blogosphere? That's what happened when China's Central Television offered a quick feature on a football match. The whole country is now convinced it's about to become the most important game for investment in the nation.
Wuhan gets Graffiti and Nobody Minds
The tourism bureau in Wuhan have come up with a novel way of dealing with vandalism. Encourage it! Instead of allowing people to spray paint the national heritage willy-nilly, they've put up electronic boards that allow visitors to graffiti to their heart's content and then have it wiped in the morning for the next group through.
Don't Sell Your Train Tickets
One noteof caution; if you should take a train journey in China – don't resell your used ticket afterwards. Thanks to the Chinese railway's insistence of printing your ID and other information on them – they can be used for phishing now.
Continuing our tour of China's Imperial past we’re going to take a little side trip today. Why? Well that’s because China’s imperial history took one. During the Han Dynasty period the rule of law and Chinese unity became greatly strained and between the years of 220 A.D. and 280 A.D. the Imperial seat effectively took a vacation as China was divided into three kingdoms. This is known as the “period of disunity” though it’s worth noting that you’ll hear a lot about the period as you travel round China because it’s also considered to be one of the most romantic times in Chinese history too.
The first thing you should know about the time of the three kingdoms is that there weren’t three kingdoms. China became three states (Wei or sometimes Cao Wei, Shu or sometimes Shu Han, and Wu) that’s true enough but none of these states actually had a king. Instead they all had emperors. However, the period’s name may have been a mistranslation originally but it stuck and everyone (the Chinese included) calls it the time of the Three Kingdoms.
If you’d like to read up on the time then you might pick up the book “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” by Luo Guanzhong before your China tour. It’s a great novel and bears some relation to actual events and it’s one that the locals will be keen to discuss during your China vacation (it’s always nice to have a talking point).
Why is the period romanticized?
It’s partly because three states offered plenty of opportunity for political skullduggery and infighting (more of that in a moment) but also because some fo the most important inventions in China came out of the period. The wheelbarrow, the repeating crossbow, a mechanical puppet theatre, chain pumps, differential gearing, etc. and it paved the way for the stability of rule that would follow.
A Brief History of the Three Kingdoms
The Wu state was formed in 220 A.D. after a breakaway from the Han Empire and China as a whole. It took another 9 years of fighting before an emperor took the throne in the State. The breakaway movement had begun when the eunuchs of the Han court took up against their emperors. Successive military tours had made the empire weak and the freedom of travel granted to eunuchs combined with their education meant that they were in prime position to breed sedition throughout China. Central power was lost in 192 A.D. and the other two states had come into being at that point though they still paid lip service to the Emperor.
The formation of the Wu gave 3 states and the weakened Han retained control of the Shu state but conceded rule of the other two. It wasn’t the most successful of arrangements and barely had a Wu emperor been appointed but tensions between the states came to a head. The Shu state collapsed in 263 A.D. after being conquered by a Wei army. The Wei emperor was then quickly deposed by the Jin Dynasty in 264 A.D. The Wu held on the longest but were eventually crushed after losing a decisive naval battle on the rivers between Jiangling and Nanjing in 280 A.D.
You'll discover during your China vacation that the fall of the Three Kingdoms did not usher in an era of prosperity for China. In fact it brought about a period known as "the three hundred years of chaos". We’ll begin to cover that on our next trip through China’s ancient history.
If your China trip's going to include a tour of Hong Kong then you'll be pleased to know that there are fine dining options galore. China's special administrative region is home to no less than 61 Michelin starred restaurants in 2013. If your China vacation budget is tight – don't worry; the world's cheapest Michelin starred restaurant is in Hong Kong and you can get a great meal during a day's travel for less than $10! Hong Kong is China's shining star when it comes to global food recognition and you should be prepared to loosen your belts a little to make the most of it.
Three Michelin Stars
All of these restaurants have price tags to go alongside the star rating. So if you're looking to keep spending to a minimum during your China trip this probably isn't the way to do it. If on the other hand you want to eat in the best restaurants in Asia – this is exactly the way to go.
For Chinese food there's a single entrant the Lung King Heen which specializes in the Cantonese food you'd expect in Hong Kong. Take a trip to the Four Seasons on Finance Street to engage with China's tastiest dinner.
If you'd prefer to go a little less local then the French restaurants at the Landmark and the Four Seasons are also 3 star rated, and 8 ½ Otte e Mezzo at Alexandra House in Central is perfect for some Italian food on your China vacation.
Two Michelin Stars
Marginally less pricey and offering wider ranges of choice are the Michelin 2 Star restaurants. Take a trip to any of the following:
Ye Shanghai at the Marco Polo which specializes in China's Shanghainese cuisine.
If you'd prefer your foodie tour to stick with Hong Kong's Cantonese food there's a good few choices; Ah Yat Harbour View (at the iSquare), Celebrity Cuisine (Lan Kwai Fong Hotel), Ming Court (Langham Palace Hotel), Shang Place (Shangri-La Kowloon), Summer Palace (Shangri-La Island), and Tim Lung Heen (Ritz-Carlton). All of these places offer authentic China experiences and beautiful environments to eat in. Once again there are alternatives to Chinese food though not at the Sun Tong Lok (Miramar Shopping Center) which draws on food from across China. The alternatives include; Bo Innovation (described as an "innovative” restaurant and found in the J Residence), French food at the Spoon (Intercontinental Hong Kong) and Amber (Landmark Mandarin Oriental), Japanese at the Ryu Gin (International Commerce Center) and straight Sushi at Sushi Yoshitake (The Mercer).
One Michelin Star
There are more one star restaurants in Hong Kong than we can practically list. However, the cheapest of them all is the Tim Ho Wan restaurant where you can enjoy Dim Sum for less than $10. That makes it officially the world's cheapest Michelin star restaurant and it's a great spot for some mid-day dining during your China vacation. Be warned, thanks to Tim Ho Wan's reputation, there's always a substantial queue for a table so get there earlier than you expect to eat.
As you’ll quickly come to understand during your China tour; Hong Kong is very different from mainland China. The island is managed as a Special Administrative Region and that makes for a very different economic situation. If your vacation plans include Hong Kong then you’ll want to know what the best bargains are during that part of your trip. Some things are much cheaper than in China and others much more expensive. To get the most more for your money during your China travel experience you’ll need to know the differences.
Hong Kong has far more designer outlets than the mainland. This is because of the propensity for shops full of copies to turn up next door in many of China’s cities. If you take a tour of the designer stores in Hong Kong you’ll also notice that they’re much cheaper than those in the mainland. That’s not a guarantee that they’ll be cheaper than the stores back home though and you should be prepared to carefully comparison shop if you want to come home with bargains from your China vacation.
Another area in which Hong Kong beats out the mainland is in consumer electronics. Goods are appreciably less expensive than in China. You need to be careful though; not every store in Hong Kong sells legitimate goods. The big chains are more reliable than mom and pop stores. If you’re going to buy electronics during your trip to the island make certain that you’ve fully tested them in store and look at the documentation carefully to be certain it’s real. The good news for you is that if they are real, they can travel anywhere – Hong Kong stores generally issue international warranties for electronics, this is not true of stores in China.
Imported goods are generally more expensive than they are in the United States in both Hong Kong and China. However, they are less costly in Hong Kong. Why? China imposes a “luxury tax” on most imported items. That can add 100% of more to the purchase price. You will find that there’s a wider selection of imported goods in Hong Kong than in China too. However, don’t go looking for a vacation bargain – they’re almost impossible to find.
Cigarettes and Alcohol
Hong Kong has moved on to a program like much of the world to discourage smokers by high taxes at the point of sale. Cigarettes are much more expensive in Hong Kong than on the mainland (in fact many Chinese smuggle cigarettes across the border from Shenzhen because of the price differences). We think it’s best not to smoke at all but if you must do it – you’ll want to buy your cigarettes on the mainland. Alcohol is a little different. In general Hong Kong is more expensive in restaurants, bars, etc. but roughly the same for most lower alcohol products (wines and beers) in supermarkets and it has a wider choice of products. In China, locally made alcoholic products are much cheaper than Hong Kong but the luxury tax takes a big bite out of your wallet for imports. To get the best from your vacation budget you’ll want to examine the alternatives carefully.