accommodations

Nov 26, 2012

Chongqing: Yangtze River International Youth Hostel

Back on the road

The Chongqing Yangtze River International Youth Hostel
Omelettes for breakfastOmelettes for breakfastRoom oneRoom two

For the last weekend of National Day, we decided to get out of town. Our 12-hour fly-by of Chongqing this summer left us wanting more, so we hopped on a bus for the 2 and a half journey east.

This time we went rogue, accommodation-wise, and opted for a hostel that was not in our guidebook: Yangtze River International Youth Hostel. It was located just at the tip of the center-city peninsula in a quaint, traditionally styled building.

It was also right underneath a brand new bridge that was being constructed. I guess we’re just drawn to that sort of thing. But each room came stocked with ear plugs to block out the noise.

The restaurant-bar area was cozy and funky, with a full menu of Chinese and western foods — as reasonably priced as anywhere else. They had a small outdoor area, which would have been lovelier minus the giant construction cranes, but it was a perfectly nice place to enjoy a drink or a meal. Our particular favorites were the homemade mint tea and the breakfast omelets, the latter of which attempted a Mexican flavor (with a vegetarian option!) via a Sichuan spice rack. Oh, and the french fries were pretty wonderful, too.

Our room the first night was small but cute. It was two levels, with a small sitting area and TV downstairs and the bed upstairs. We loved it … until suspicious scrabbling noises started up in the walls and ceiling, and continued until dawn. This was not ideal. Rat fear makes it pretty hard to sleep.

In the morning, we asked for a change of rooms. They moved us, no problem — and, to be honest, they didn’t seem all that surprised by our complaint. Our second room was just off a balcony that overlooked the river. Minus the giant mold patch on the ceiling, this room was pretty nice.

There’s a really charming hostel here, gone slightly to seed. Like, someone had really cared for this place many years ago, but didn’t have the money or the desire to do the upkeep. The staff is genuinely helpful and friendly — they gave us thorough and accurate directions to pretty much everywhere in the city. As it is, however, mice and mold are just too much for us to return (although, to be fair, they weren’t enough to make us leave).

Sep 14, 2012

Summer vacation: One night by the river

Chongqing: Perfect Time Youth Hostel

Our room overlooked this scene on the river.
The view from our hostel window.
Perfect Time's perfect entrance

Chongqing is supposed to be a really fun city, and we actually do have designs to spend significant tourist time there, but in August, it’s even hotter than Luzhou. So our time there was little more than a drive-by.

Our crashpad for the night was the Perfect Time Youth Hostel. Which is both adorable and really far from the center of the city. It’s located in the Ciqikou district, a fake old-timey neighborhood similar to Chengdu’s Kuanzhai Xiangzi. Our room was pretty big, and it overlooked a riverfront bustling with tourists and seafood restaurants.

There was a cute little bar downstairs that had a good looking food menu, though our waitress informed us, when we tried to get an afternoon snack, that the cook was not there. It wasn’t clear if she meant for the day or ever.

When we visit Chongqing in earnest, I don’t think we’ll stay here again. But only because the location is inconvenient for real tourism in the city. The hostel itself was charming and comfortable, and it did us well for our brief layover.

The bedsWhat a cute sink!Play pool in the common area

Tomorrow, find out what happens when we actually leave the hostel …

Feb 8, 2012

Luzhou: The Jiucheng Hotel

Luxury at home

A liquor store near the hotel
Take a tour of the Jiucheng Hotel in our photo album.

We live down the road from one of Luzhou’s swankiest 5-star hotels, and during our vacation, we decided to pretend we were fancy-pants and spend a night there.

And, as you can see from the pictures, it was totally luxe! (The first photo is me buying a real bottle of wine — it’s not always readily available and it is expensive, but it was a special occasion.) The lobby was huge and decked out in marble, and our room was maybe bigger than our apartment in Brooklyn. We stayed on the Executive Floor, so our room even came with a full office kitted out with a computer and a fax machine.

For dinner, we dressed up in our finest and went down to the hotel’s Korean restaurant. We didn’t have huge expectations; foreign food just isn’t that big here, so I’m pretty sure most of that stuff is pre-packaged and microwaved to order. Here, however, that wasn’t the case. The food was pretty good. It also was not Korean, which was a little disappointing, but we tried some new dishes and had a good meal.

It wasn’t a terribly wild night and we were just down the street from our apartment, but it really did feel like we were on a vacation.

Jan 19, 2012

Chengdu: The Loft

Hey, China gets funky

The view from the Loft
Check out our album of photos from the Loft.

Part of what we instantly loved right away about the city was our hostel: The Loft. It’s an old renovated printing factory and they have some connection with a local artist collective that maintains a giant studio space on the third floor. The place is just overall funky. It (and the surrounding neighborhood; more on that later) had a very Bushwick/Williamsburg-20-years-ago feel, and it was awesome to find such a vibe here in China.

Our room was huge and fantastic - and there was a framed copy of a Sade album on our wall! We had a king-sized bed with an electric blanket, which was fabulous when we came in from the cold; as modern as this place was, they still weren’t super into indoor heating.

The downstairs café was incredibly cool as well. The walls were covered with original artwork, presumably done by the artists upstairs. I particularly liked a series of portraits that reminded me of Lucian Freud. Peter’s favorite was a wall-sized mural in black and brown that was done in a comic book/graffiti style. (Unfortunately, we can’t show you because they had signs posted everywhere asking you not to take photos.)

We spent a lot of time in that café, either enjoying a leisurely breakfast or an after-dinner drink. They service an international crowd, so they serve a pretty decent Western menu: eggs, burgers, sandwiches, real beers. Interestingly, we noticed that a lot of the patrons of the café were Chinese, enjoying some foreign cuisine.

Dec 22, 2011

Shenzhen: On our way home

Walking over the Chinese border

Emily, on the Shenzhen border
Here’s an album of photos from Shenzhen.

As I may have mentioned, it’s cheaper to fly back to Luzhou from Shenzhen - the city over the Chinese border - rather than going direct from Hong Kong. And the Shenzhen-Luzhou flight runs every other day at 7 am. So Monday evening, after picking up Peter’s passport, we crossed the border back into China so that we’d be ready to catch our Tuesday morning flight.

We took light rail from the center of Hong Kong right to the Lo Wu border checkpoint. A few stops before the checkpoint, a bunch of people swarmed on with huge boxes and burlap sacks. They started handing out items from the boxes and sacks that other swarmers grabbed and secured in their small luggage, making sure that nothing looked lumpy. By the time we reached the checkpoint stop, the boxes and sacks were broken down and out of sight, and everyone left one-by-one. It was extraordinary to see - out of the side of my eye, of course. This didn’t seem like an operation you wanted to get caught staring at.

The crossing itself was easy enough. We filled out departure cards on the Hong Kong side and arrival cards on the Shenzhen side. This particular border crossing is supposed to be the busiest, though we zoomed right through. It went much faster than our crossing the opposite way at Shenzhen Bay. As we were going through customs, we saw a school group doing the same thing - with 50 or so 10-year-old kids! I would not want to be a chaperone on that field trip.

Back in China, you’re immediately confronted with the grayness of Shenzhen. Customs empties out into a big paved expanse with the main rail and metro stations right there. It’s convenient, but ugly. Our hotel was in walking distance, so we walked. The scenery got a little better.

For dinner, we found another Mexican place: Amigos! They had an album of photos outside, next to their menu, showing people enjoying their food. While we were browsing, the host came out, dressed in a serape, to convince us that this was the place for us. We could hear some Australians inside having a good time. One of my travel rules is that you usually find Australians in fun places, so that sealed the deal.

The food was good enough - it was our last real cheese for the foreseeable future. And they had delicious sangria. It was a fun time when we weren’t expecting one, so that’s always nice.

We woke up the next morning at an excruciatingly early 4:30 am to get to the airport by 6. The less said of this, the better.

Oct 24, 2011

Staying in Hong Kong and Shenzhen

Alisan Guest House and some seedy hotel

So the cheap way for us to get to HK is to fly to Shenzhen, the Chinese city that borders Hong Kong, and cross the border over land. On the way there, we took a bus from the Shenzhen airport to the center of the city. For those of you who don’t know (and two weeks ago, we didn’t), Hong Kong is a series of islands, one of them being Hong Kong Island. This is where we stayed, which along with Kowloon - the neighborhood north across the harbor - is what’s considered the city center.

We stayed in the Alisan Guest House, an establishment about which I cannot say enough good things. It was on the order of hostel living, so no frills, but super cheap and the staff was incredibly helpful. (And free wi-fi.) Would stay again!

Alisan Guest House

This was our room, bathroom and view. As you can see, quite small. But, here’s where service, service, service counts: They couldn’t accommodate us for the whole weekend, so they put us up in their monthly rentals at the same (quite cheap) rates.

Alisan 2

The room was much bigger, and the bathroom, specifically the shower, was the most western (and therefore most comfortable) experience we’ve had - including our own Luzhou bathroom situation. We just had to not be loud jerks, which we managed.

Our last night, we had to go back to Shenzhen because our flight left early the next morning. We actually took light rail from the Alisan to the China border in a neighborhood called Luoho, where we went through customs. From there, we walked to our hotel. We were two of very few non-Chinese making that boarder crossing, which worked in our favor, line-wise. The major travel groups cross at a different point, so my guess is that only savvy travelers try it on their own at Luoho. But it’s really so easy to figure out, and way cheaper than paying for the bus or ferry which walk you through the process.

Our hotel in Shenzhen was a little on the seedy side - it didn’t even occur to me to ask for a non-smoking room, but now I know that’s important

Seedy shenzhen hotel

Is that a round bed? Yes it is! Both the booking agent and the check-in person were sure to emphasize, “It’s a room with a round bed!” Sure! Whatever!