Everyone’s talking about China these days—we find ourselves scrutinising the way it’s growing, and the way it’s reaching out and reshaping the world. What’s less discussed, however, is how the rest of the world is exploring this rising behemoth.
For decades, China was a mystery, enmeshed in seismic internal upheavals, closed off to almost all outsiders. Then, it opened up. Today, it’s a place of business for Singapore-based entrepreneurs such as TWG Tea’s Taha Bouqdib and Fort Sanctuary’s Daphne Lau; a former place of study for Lydia Lim and Lam Tze Tze, who attended university in Shanghai and Beijing, respectively; and a place tied to personal memories for June Rin and Rebecca Eu, whose families have commercial and personal links to the country.
In the second part on travelling in China, our Singapore Tatler insiders share their tips on how to navigate Beijing and Hangzhou.
This imposing Chinese capital city tends to conjure up images of vastness, from the yawning breadth of Tiananmen Square to the sprawling grounds of the Forbidden City. But insiders know that the charms of Beijing are better gleaned from its smaller-scale spaces and precious pockets of serenity.
For a bird’s eye view of the Forbidden City, which is usually swarming with tourists, make your way to the imperial garden turned public park Jingshan for a more tranquil way to experience this Beijing landmark, Tze Tze suggests.
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The neighbourhoods around the Forbidden City are known for their hutongs, traditional alleyways lined with old-school courtyard residences. Many of these have become intensely gentrified, and now house cafes, indie boutiques and designer hotels; others retain many hallmarks of old Beijing street life, including neighbours shooting the breeze along the alleys. The hutongs are perfect for an afternoon of exploration; the trendiest hutong changes all the time, so best to ask your hotel concierge or a local hipster in the know.
June is also a big fan of Aman Summer Palace, which lies just outside the East Gate of the Summer Palace, an erstwhile royal resort now used as a public park. Aman’s suites echo the architectural style of the palace, and guests are able to access after‑hours tours of the grounds. “It’s really something to see the Summer Palace when it’s quieter,” she says. “I love the whole look of the resort, and Aman offers unique experiences such as calligraphy classes and tea sessions in the courtyard.”
Tze Tze, who once attended an executive course at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, also recommends checking out its beautiful grounds. “There’s a bit of an American feel to it,” she says. Besides classical-style buildings and manicured gardens, the surrounding neighbourhoods are also full of good eats at reasonable prices, as is typical of university towns. And who knows, you might just rub shoulders with the future movers and shakers of China.
Tze Tze is a traveller who’s particular about bedding, which explains why she tends to stick to established luxury hotels. Luckily, there’s no lack of these in Hangzhou. The Four Seasons Hangzhou at West Lake can arrange for boats to pick up guests straight from the hotel, and row them to the quieter parts of the famous West Lake.
Its Jin Sha restaurant is considered to be one of the best in China, and famed for signature dishes like Beggar’s Chicken, which is stuffed with pork belly, cured ham, ginseng and shitake mushrooms.
The Hyatt Regency Hangzhou’s 28 HuBin Road restaurant is renowned for its extensive wine cellar and refined take on Hangzhou cuisine, and the newly opened Park Hyatt Hangzhou’s Dining Room restaurant is also swiftly garnering acclaim, she says.
If you’ve had your fill of the serene West Lake, there are other natural splendours to explore nearby. The lush Bamboo-Lined Path at Yunqi is under an hour’s drive from Hangzhou. “It kind of looks like the nature areas in Kyoto, and makes for a nice day trip,” says Tze Tze.