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Spring Break Trip Plan : Hangzhou

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

(I am going to Hangzhou this weekend to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Here is what I have done in planning our trip:

1. Where to go: Nanjing and Hangzhou were our two preferred options: a nearby city with enough attractions for a 3-day vacation. Both of us haven’t been to Nanjing, and I have been to Hangzhou once 8 years’ ago (I’ve been to Hangzhou in 2006 for Chinese Blogger Conference but I didn’t go anywhere, so it didn’t count.). I know Hangzhou will be extremely beautiful with plum and peach blossom in early April, but I don’ t know about Nanjing. So we decided to take a less risky option to avoid ruining our vacation. Later, I found out there is also cheer blossom and an exhibition of tulip in a park called “Prince Bay Park” (太子湾公园).

2. Where to Stay: I spent a weekend night reading hotel reviews on two major hotel booking sites in China: elong and ctrip. Ctrip has much more user reviews and even has a page of the ranking. For one moment, I was every exciting that I found a great hotel in Ctrip with a very high user rating. But then I cross-checked it on elong and there were only less than 10 (maybe 3) reviews on this hotel. What’s worst: they are all very negative. I was then very frustrated in whether or not to trust the reviews. It is easy to trust when all you hear are good news, but things become complicated even when you read one line of negative words. At the end, I picked a hotel under “holiday inn” brand rather than a highly recommended “best western” one. In my knowledge of hotel, “holiday inn” is a better brand than “best western”. This experience really made me wonder “how hotel reviews will be useful to users” ? I wish I can ask an emotional search engine to filter the reviews for me!

3. What to Do: “West Lake” (xihu, 西湖) is the natural landmark of Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province. So this is a must-go spot. And I am highly interested in Chinese green tea, and Hangzhou is the home to the best green tea – longjin tea (龙井茶) in China. I want to hike into the village to buy some fresh green tea of 2008, and watch people “stir fry” the tea leaf. And also check out a few museums.

4. How to organize the trip: We love map! so we start looking at the maps to plan our itinerary. The most interesting map I found is a 3D virtual map (see below screen). It is specially helpful to optimize the route by grouping the attactions by area with map like this.

(click to see  larger image)

Hangzhou visual map now becomes

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008, a travel search and discovery service announced a name change to on Mar. 26, 2008.




UpTake’ refers to a quick understanding of key facts. We believe the new name, UpTake, describes our core offering — the aggregation and analysis of collective wisdom such as reviews, blogs and articles from across the Web to help consumers plan their trips,” said Yen Lee, UpTake president and founder.

Elliott Ng wrote on Kango blog saying: “We want our new brand UpTake to convey our ability to gather, organize and deliver the web’s collective travel wisdom to help you make trip planning faster.” He aslo mentioned that Uptake will launch it public beta later this spring.

“Uptake” means “quick understanding and comprehension” in English language.

Family friendly hotels: 4 hotel reviews

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Patricia Jenkins from Kango blog wrote an interesting post about “how to define a family friendly hotel“. Her list of “benchmarks” includes: free breakfast, swimming pool , two rooms, clean, central to many activities, babysitting services, television with kids’ movies on demand, room services and good value.

I don’t have a kid yet and I haven’t paid attention to most of the above criteria, except of “free breakfast, good value and clean” before. In my recent trip from Shanghai to Palo Alto California, I have a chance to stayed in 4 different hotel/lodge/inn/motel (in each kind of accommodations, REALLY!) and even at friend’s house. Here is the full list of them:

  • Extended StayAmerica Hotel in Santa Clara CA: great location to access hwy 237 and less than 5 miles away from the best Chinese food of SF Bay Area in Milpitas; and less than 8 miles away from the a shopping outlet Great Mall which will please moms. This is a studio hotel and mostly for long term stays. So no pools or kids’ movie on demand, but big room with kitchen with high speed internet at $4.99 per stay. Remember to ask to stay at double digit number rooms which are away from the rails and trains. So I am not surprised that I don’t find it in the list of San Jose family hotels.
  • Pacific Inn in Mountain View CA: Free breakfast everyday and light dinner on Monday-Friday. Located on El Camino Real and easy to get around MV downtown. The room is a bit old but clean. On demand movies are available, again, no pools. I will rate it as a “very good value budget family hotel”.
  • Monterey Bay Lodge in Monterey CA : I knew this is a kid friendly hotel even before I checked in as I saw kids were playing in the outdoor pools so happily when the temperature was only about 15 degree celcus. The single room I stayed was very tidy and neat but small, especially the restroom. I think they have rooms for families (read more details about the amenities and reviews here) Its location is a highlight, 3 minutes walk to a beach, 10 mins to Monterey Marina and probably less than 20 minutes to Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the best ten in the country. As I expected, this lodge is on the list of Monterey family hotels.
  • Oak Motel in Palo Alto CA: This is an old motel. Everything looks fine, but I felt like I was in 1990s. I only stayed for one night and nothing bothered me. I won’t suggest you eat the free breakfast if you are not in rush. Kids would love a tall Oak tree that goes through the 2-floor building.

It is a very different aspect to look at a hotel from “family” stand point. I never know that “two rooms” is so important for a family, especially when the kids are under a certain ages that parents wants to check out how they are doing from time to time. And a good family hotel is very important for a family vacation!

What’s your tips in finding the family friendly hotels?


Kids are swimming in Montery Bay Lodge. (Mar. 2008)

Discovered (?) a Black Sand Beach in Monterey

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

I went to Point Lobos State Park in Monterey in California two weeks’ ago in a sunny morning. The stunning blue color of Pacific Ocean is as beautiful as last time I visited Big Sur. We entered the reserve from the main entrance from hyw 1 and hiked from Granite Point Trail and then Moss Cove Trail to see the MOSS COVE (click the trail map for detials). One interesting finding is that I noticed a beach around Moss Cove is BLACK. (see image below.)

black sand beach in Point Lobos State Reserve

From my previous Hawaii Dream Vacation visual tours, I know that Punaluʻu Beach is one of the most famous black sand beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. And the black sand on the beach is created by lava flowing into the ocean which explodes as it reaches the ocean and cools. But there is no volcano activities around Monterey area on Pacific coast and we even suspected that the “black” color is a simbol of “dirty”. but when i took a close look on the surrounding area, I can see this is not DIRTY.

black sand beach in Point Lobos State Reserve, California

You see, did I discover a black sand beach? Even though I don’t think black sand beach is more attractive than white sand beach. I’ve also been to the black sand beach in Macao in Asia a few years’ ago. It was not a nice looking one, but different. Isn’t it an exciting moment to find/see some thing different and special? If I am going to take a Hawaii dream vacation, I will visit Maui, because “Maui no ka oi” which means “Maui is best”. We will rent an ocean front Maui vacation rental and to check out Red Sand Beach for sure. And take some random “wondering” steps to try new things. I also want to take a boat tour near Kauai to the ocean to see sea turtle swimming freely without notice human being’s existance.

black sand beach in Point Lobos State Reserve

Renting v.s. Buying:: Shanghai v.s. Hawaii

Monday, March 10th, 2008

I am shopping for office space in Shanghai recently. My assitant helped me to search on classifieds online and call the real estate agents. The results I got were very much matched what I have learned about the market.

This is an very famous and popular map about Shanghai real estate buying price by Metro station. The office rental price is quite match to the price range of the residental real esate price.

(Thanks MadaboutShangai for the image, click for larger view)

For example, we are looking for a 25 sqr meter room for 4 people, the prices of buying in different districts are:

  • Huangpu (pink area in the center of the map): RMB 5,500/month
  • Luwan ( light blue area in the center of the map, next to Huangpu): > RMB 6,000/month
  • JingAn (yellow area in the center of the map): RMB 5,500/month
  • Pudong Center Park (the middle of Pudong alone Metro Line 2): RMB 2,000/month

So, what about the number in residentail rental? Take my apartment as an example: 60 sqr meter in Changning disctict which is to the west of JingAn disctrict; 15 mins walk to a Metro station.

  • Renting: 3000 RMB/month;
  • Buying: 20,000RMB/sqr meter (living area)

According to the government data, the average monthly salary in Shanghai in 2006 is RMB 2464.

So, can you figure out how much you need to make to buy a real estate in Shanghai? Or how about in Hawaii? Or San Francisco Bay area. Reading the news about Hawaii real estate, the sales volumn of the condos in Big Island has increased from 5.29% to 32.43% in 2007 compared to 2006. I did a search on Maui MSL to check out the price to buy there: the lowest rate it shows is USD 295,000 for 974 sqr feet living area. This could be translated to RMB as 22,000/sqr meter – approximately the same as my apartment. Though you won’t have a big yard in Shanghai.

Monterey California Revisit – Images

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Monterey Old fisherman‘s wharf

Monterey Marina in California

Monterey Marina in California