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Dream Vacation in Myrtle Beach SC

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

 myrtle beach sc

Myrtle Beach is a coastal resort city in Horry County, South Carolina. It is the heart of the Grand Strand, a 60-mile crescent of beach on South Carolina’s northern coast. So when people talk about “Myrtle Beach”, most likely, they are referring to Grand Strand or even the 60-mile sandy beach which extends to Goegretown.  This hotest tourism spot of SC arised from a getaway for lumber workers from Conway and has been developed into a hot tourism destination in the latter 20th century and 2000s. It is reported that there over 10 million (14.6million) visiting Mrytle Beach every year during Spring break, Summer vacations and Fall according to Wikipedia.  With an average temperature at 16 °C (60 °F) in December, it is a warm home for some “snowbirds” in the east coast in Winter. And that’s one of the special reason that I pick it as the place for my dream vacation when Shanghai is as cold as 5 °C now.

With its long, wide sandy beach, Myrtle Beach is the perfect place to meet Atlantic Ocean, as Big Sur to the Pacific Ocean on the West Coast. It is one of the 2008 Top 10 Places for Families to Visit in the US by Yahoo! Travel. It is also good for a romantic getaway. Here is my plan for the next trip to Myrle Beach.

First of all, I will book a hotel room in an Oceanfront Myrtle Beach Resort in advanced. There are plenty of choices.  For example, one night in one the best ocreanfont Myrtle Beach hotels on cherry grove beach Towers on the Grove is from $70 on Tripadvisor. Pretty affordable! Staying in an oceanfront Myrtle Beach hotel provides the convinient access to the beach for a lazy afternoon or a beautiful sunset.

I will  visit Huntington Beach State Park in the first day to see what ‘s the big difference between Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean.  Then check out loggerhead turtles and other endangered plants at its Environmental Education Center. I will add  Brookgreen Gardens to my list, it is said to be a “aviary and wildlife park showcases a myriad of over 500 19th and 20th century sculptures by such artists as Remington, Daniel Chester French, Henry Clews and Charles Manship”. Charming, right?

I am a seafood lover, vacationing in Myrtle Beach provides a variaty choices: sherry-laced she crab soup, fried lobstery, or even just traditional Southern favorite – shrimp and grits. I don’t need the restaurant environment to be fancy, as long as the seafood is juicy and fresh.

Another fun thing to do: get on one of the legitimated gambling boat for casinos to try out the luck. These Gambling Boats take the passengers on the infamous “cruise to nowhere” a few miles off the coast, into international waters, outside the USA jurisdiction, where it’s legal to gamble.  Many reviews said it is a fun excursion on their trips to Myrtle Beach.  I am sure to try as well.

Shanghai 2010 Expo Boulevard – “Sun Valley” is Completed

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

The horn-shaped structure is called “Sun Valley” . It is the main structure of Shanghai 2010 World Expo Boulevard which  will be the entrance to the Expo. It will be link four streets, connect five blocks and link three Metro stations. It will also have cafes and restaurants.

It is reported to be completed a few days ago and I found it extremely spectacular looking. This architecture will be a permanent one and kept after the show. There are 6 “sun valleys” all together. In between them are 69 pieces of huge white covers so that raining won’t be a problem during the Expo next year.

Here are more images took on Sept 13, 2009:


The red building behind is China Pavilion.

shanghai world expo

A closer look of “Sun Valley” where workers are cleaning the walls.

shanghai world expo

The “valley” collects sunshine as well as rains.

I am totally exciting about the event and have signup to be a volunteer.  Welcome you to Shanghai and wish to see you there in 2010.

Find Cheap Flight Tickets for International Travel

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

I am planning to a take a vacation, hopeful out of China, sometime in this September. I’ve been hunger for a trip for a long time since we have a lovely baby. Finding cheap international air-ticket is always the most time consuming step in travel planning and it is the major part of the cost structure for a vacation. You can stay at a hostel or motel or even go camping to save money, but you can’t skip the flight by taking alternative transportation, e.g . train or car when you need to cross Pacific Ocean.

So, one option of our vacation destinations is  San Franciscoo. United Airlines and NorthWest both have direct nonstop flight from Shanghai (PVG) to SFO. Domestic arilines include Air China and EastChina are also the choices. In the past, I am mostly using an online agent platform in which I submit my RFQ online and dozens of agents will email me with quotations. The agents serve mainly for trips between China and US. I got pretty good deal from them “offered“ a round trip ticket at the price less than 800 USD while at the same time, you get over 1000 USD quotation from United Airline official site.

A friend at a Los Angeles based company recommended me their services after knowing I am searching for cheap flights. It is a travel search aggregator. Basically, it helps you search the big travel sites (like expedia, kayak)  for tickets, hotels,  car rentals and even vacation package deals. So I give it a try.

After I input the depart and return dates, it asks me to pick 3 ticket engines I want to search. I decided to pick the one that I hardly know thinking the less unknown guy might have something special to offer. Indeed! They return with a one-stop ticket for USD 700.  Isn’t it a nice surprise? It is definitely the best option for students who often look for discount airfair or who don’t mind the extra few hours in transit.  I am happy that I give it a try and would love to check it for future booking.

Travel Search company Uptake raised $10 million

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Travel search company CEO Yen Lee announced on Uptake Blog that the company has raised $10 million from Trinity Ventures  in its Series B. Uptake (formerly known as Kango) now offered more accommodation and activity options for users to plan their vacations. Yen said:

“How do we plan to grow? First, we will expand our search offering beyond UpTake Hotels into new categories including: UpTake Lodging, UpTake Things to Do, UpTake Restaurants and UpTake Beaches. Second, we will improve our ability to deliver travel recommendations based on our analysis and filtering of collective intelligence and on consumers specific travel preferences. Lastly, when it makes sense, we will accelerate our growth through acquisitions.”

Since launched about one year’s ago, Uptake. com has seen traffic growth from Mar. 2008. Besides of providing collective intelligence to help users decide “where to stay” and “what to do”, Uptake has partnered with TravelMuse to offer a ”trip folder“ for users to save their selected hotels and things to do. Thus the travel planning process extends from ”search and discover” to ” save” which seems pretty cool.

Uptake also provide the search by travel preference, i.e. family friendly, pet friendly or romantic. The most recent theme is “feeling broke” which is all about “budget/cheap” hotels and things to do.  If you have never consider a search start from “cheap”, try it out. “An open mind and a little creativity will stretch those dollars and extend those vacation days.”

Going to Taiwan is no longer a dream for Chinese

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

It is coming true in year 2008!

I have been longing to go to Taiwan for a long time, especially when it was not possible for a common Mainland China citizen in the purpose of tourism. Now it is possible, after the talk between two parties across the Taiwan Strait on Jun 12-13 2008. Chinese government approved 1,000 daily visitors to Taiwan as an initial quota as the result of the talk which has been disrupted for 10 years.

Reason 1: It is said that Taiwan is the place that preserves the traditional Chinese culture the best, maybe on the planet. I grow up in a reformed Chinese environment in Mainland where we no longer use traditional characters or study Confucius at school or home. Taiwan is different from Hong Kong where Britain has influenced  for 100 years or China Town in New York where it is in an isolated region: Chinese culture can preserve but can’t develop. I want to see what is this society like that preserved Chinese traditional culture and have moved on for around 60 years.

Reason 2: Taiwanese food! Taiwanese food is a kind of more dedicated (as Japanese food), fusion and creative Chinese food. So I don’t really care about the sightseeing if I can have great Taiwanese food!

Reason 3: The treasures in the National Palace Museum. It is said the exhibits in the Forbidden City in Beijing are left-over by KMT in 1949. The best of the best are in Taipei.

According to analyst, the new tourism policy will bring at lease 2 billion USD revenue to Taiwan when the quota is tripled from 1,000 people per day (365,000 a year) to 3,000 people per day (1.1 million a year), which is estimated to come true in 2010. This number was 86,000 last year.

In general, Taiwan is not a hot tourism spot. In 2007, there were only 3.7 million foreign visitors to Taiwan, half of whom were for business or relative-visit. But the number for Hong Kong was 28 million with 15.4 million from Mainland. Average hotel room price in Hong Kong was 156 USD/night in 2007, but it was only 105 USD in Taiwan, which is believed to be the lowest in the Asian Hospitality Industry.

I am dreaming some day soon I can flight directly from Mainland to Taipei without a stop at the third country or region.

Taipei 101, the icon of Taiwan

Thank Coolmitch for the splendid image of the landmark/icon of Taiwan: Taipei 101.

Are you ready for Chinese tourists, US travel agents?

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Last December, China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) added the United State into the official tourism destination list reported by XinhuaNet. Early this month, CNTA head Qiwei Shao (邵琪伟) and U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez announced that Chinese citizens will be able to travel to US in tours from June. 17 2008. Travel agents from Beijing (北京), Tianjin (天津), Shanghai (上海), Jiangsu(江苏), Zhejiang(浙江), Hunan(湖南), Hubei(湖北), Heibei(河北) and Guangdong(广东) are in the first list that eligible to send tours to the States. These tours will be the “legitimated” tourists for the first time. Before U.S. become a travel destination, most of the tourists applied for business visa (B1 or B2) to get into the States.

According to data of US commerce department, there were more than 320,000 leisure visitors to US in 2006. These visitors were said to “have spent trememdous amount of money in US”. Let’s do an easy math problem: suppose the number of visitor to US increases by 25% compared to 2006, it will be 400,000 in 2008. According to travel agent, the average cost for a typical tour package per person is 25,000 RMB (apprx. $3, 570 USD). If eachvisitor spends 1,000 USD in the States besides the “all-inclusive” tour cost in shopping or casino, the Chinese visitor will spend total 1.8 billion in the States this year.

But I have to say the estimation of “1,000 USD for shopping” is very very conservative. Last year, Chinese spent $8 billion on luxury goods last year, accounting for 18% of the world’s total, the World Luxury Association says. Russell Flannery from Forbes didn’t say how much this 8 billion USD was spend outside of China where brand luxury goods are relative cheaper oversea.

Although 2 billion USD seems not like a big pie in the 90+ billion online travel industry, when you see the number by travel destinations by city, it is something. According to GNS Travel & Tour, a travel agent that is running tours for Chinese visitor in US, most of the visitors are going to visit East Coast: New York, Washington D.C. , Philidelpihia, West Coast: San Francisco, Los Angeles (things to do), Las Vegas (things to do), and islands of Hawaii (Honolulu Things to Do). It is estimated that by 2011, over 580,000 Chinese tourists will visit US annually.

But in 2006, there are already 1.9 million Chinese visited Europ. The most popular country is England in Chinese visitor. The most popular travel information website Go2EU in Chinese provides practical travel tips and guides such as how to get a visa, how to book hotels in London, what are the attractions for independent travelers. The most popular tags are “Rome” and “Paris” for cities and “Italy”, “England”, “Gemany”, “France” for countries. US is less popular than “Span”. The everage cost for a Europe tour is 1,500-2,000 USD per person. The bottleneck of China outbound travel to US is visa application which involves a long lead time interview appointment and high reject rate. But there are good enough of number of Chinese want to see US regardless of the complicated procedure.

So US travel agents, are you ready for Chinese visitors?

Data from the post are from this report in Chinese


An image of Jiuzhaigou I took last Oct. Hope this “heaven on earth” can be accessed again soon!


Vacation Search Engine Launched

Thursday, May 15th, 2008 launched its public beta version on May 14. Users can search “hotel” and “things to do” with a theme-based filter, such as family friendly, pet friendly and even girls getaway. It is a travel planning service. Budget Travel called it “a clever twist on travel planning”. Read Write Web has a very detailed description on how this Semantic Travel Search Engine works from algorithm level. The exmaple Ontology can give you an idea about how the a “kid friendly hotel” is determined from 400,000 hotels in the largest database Uptake has.

I just tried the new launched “girls getaway things to do ” in Las Vegas. Four of the top five results it recommended are Museums. Hmm… it is interesting. If I take a vacation in Las Vegas with my husband, I don’t think we will go to more than one museum. But with my girl friends, It is very likely that we will go from museum to museum. I want to check out Guggenheim Hermitage Museum next time.

Uptake is formerly named Kango. Due to a name dispute with a classifield site called Kaango, it has to change from Kango to Uptake. It launched a private beta in Dec 2007. Now, user can try the product out without a password required.

Most Searched Hotel Brands in China

Monday, May 12th, 2008

China’s No. 1 search engine has a datacenter providing searching related data for a dozen of major industries, such as real estate, travel, auto, online games, finance, etc. In a report released in April 2008 about travel industry, there are some very interesting data.

For example, what are the most searched hotel brands in by Chinese netizens? Here are the original data in Chinese. Top 3 are: Shanghai Jinjiang Hotels, Beijing Tourism Group (BTG) Hotels and Shangri-La Hotels. Interesting enough, ony the the first and second are China local brands. The rest are international brands.

1 上海锦江酒店
2 首都旅游国际酒店
3 香格里拉酒店
4 喜达屋酒店
5 雅高酒店
6 万豪国际酒店
7 洲际酒店
8 凯悦酒店
9 凯宾斯基
10 希尔顿酒店

Shanghai Jinjiang Hotel is a HongKong stock exchange listed company (ticket “2006“). It is the largest hotel group in China with 270 hotel properties and 54,000 hotel rooms, including luxury 5 star hotels (Jinjiang Hotel) and budget hotels (Jinjiang Star). Beijing Toruism Group is listed in Shanghai stock exchange (ticket ”600258)and owns more than 200 hotel properties across China.

No. 5 is the top hotel operator Accor (brands: Ibis and Novotel) from Australia. According to Lang LaSalle Hotels’ annual Top Operator Survey, In 2007, Australia’s largest hotel operators, Accor Asia Pacific Corporation (AAPC) and Stella Hospitality Group both increased rooms under management by concentrating on the serviced apartment sector – both primarily in the 4-star arena.” While according to, an Autstralia hotel booking site, Quest Apartment is Australasia’s largest operator in the serviced apartment sector, with over 110 complexes for unique Australia, New Zealand and Fiji accommodation.

No. 6 to 10 are JW Marriot (万豪), InterContinental (洲际), Hyatt (凯悦), Kempinski (凯宾斯基) and Hilton (希尔顿).

Brands like Radisson and Regal didn’t make to the top 10 list in China.

Radisson Plaza (xing guo hotel) in Shanghai: 兴国宾馆

A sign in Ridisson Plaza (and Garden) in Shanghai closed to my place. It s a very nice garden with villas.

Radisson Plaza (xing guo hotel) in Shanghai: 兴国宾馆 1号楼

Building No.1 in Radisson Plaza Garden , a historical building constructed in 1930s.

More data about this travel industry report in English language can be found here.

A Day Trip to Suzhou- “East Venice”

Friday, May 9th, 2008

As planed, we went to Suzhou, Jiangsu province last Sat. We took a 8:58 am bullet train, China Highspeed Railway (CHR) at Shanghai Railway Station and arrived at Suzhou in 40 minutes. It stopped at Kushan (昆山) for 2 minutes. The bullet train is the best option to travel between Shanghai and Suzhou: 26RMB/person, safe, fast and reliable schedule (no traffic jam).

I’ve been to Suzhou once 8 years’ before. In my memory, it is a lovely small city. I had a great time walking around from one garden to the other.

But this time when we walked out of the Suzhou train station, it took us around 30 mintues to figur out where to take a taxi or a bus. Taxi drivers refused to take us to nearby place, and finally we were in a bus but the route on the map is not correct and we got off the wrong station and had to take a 3-wheel bike. At around 11am, we arrived at The Humble Administrator Garden (拙政园) historial street. Suzhou Museum, Lion Forest Garden (狮子园) and Humble Administrator Garden are in this neighbouhood.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆We started from the new wing of Suzhou Museum, which is designed by Guangzhou born American Chinese architect Ieoh Ming Pei. Mr. I. M. Pei spent a few years of his childhood in his family’s estate, the Lion Forest Garden in Suzhou, now a World Heritage Site. Suzhou Museum is the second architecture designed by I.M. Pei in Mainland China besides of Fragrant Hill Hotel (香山饭店),a four star hotel in Fragrant Hill in Beijing. I was attracted by the big name of Pei and visited (took a look) Fragrant Hill Hotel (香山饭店) in 2000 when I was a student. I didn’t have the “wow” feeling at the design but I bet it to be a nice place to stay for leisure and relaxing. The other mater piece by I. M. Pei I desire to visit is the Pyramids of the Louvre, in Paris.

Fragrant Hill Hotel (香山�店)

A quick image tour of Suzhou Museum:

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

from the outter garden, the building is the entrance main hall.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

The interior garden, the building is the back of the main hall.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

A modernlized “art of the window”. In Classical Gardens of Suzhou, there are always a scenery out of the each window. Typical scenery elements include: a Taihu stone, some bamboom, a small pond, a tree, a Chinese orchid, etc.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

In the hallway.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

A modernlized and abstracted version of “Fake Hills”(假山). The traditional “Fake Hills” are made of stones from TaiHu Lake. The natural shape of the stone insprite people’s imaginary. Lion Forest Garden is famous for the thousands of “lion-shape” like stones.

Similar to Fragrant Hill Hotel, the Suzhou Museum adopts the typical colors of the whitewashed plaster wall, and te dark gray clay tile as primary colors. These are the color you will see in Suzhou city. I like the modern design, but not really the whitewashed palster wall. Why? It is too difficult to maintain. The museum is less than 2 years’ old but I can see the rain washed stains on the wall. The air condition is just not good. But the facilities inside the museum are world class, except the descriptions on the exhibits are too short, only titles.

The other wing of the musuem is Prince Zhong’s Masion, originally a part of the Humble Administrator Garden. It is a fun exeperience to walk through a door and go back to several hundred years’ ago. Strongly recommend if you want to see something different in Suzhou.


We spent about 2 hours in the museum (20RMB) and went to a nearby restaurant called Wumen People (吴门人家, 苏州平江区潘儒巷31号), a top 3 reviewed restaurant in

Tiger Hill

In the afternoon, we visited Tiger Hill (虎丘). Tiger Hill is famous for a mystery of a tomb of King of Wu (AC 514-496). The park is in the northwest edge of old Suzhou city, but keep in mind that Suzhou is small and it only took us less than 20 RMB to get there from the museum in the east of Suzou. Visiting Tiger Hill in a national holiday was a disaster: too croweded. So my good impression on Tiger Hill was gone.

Tiger Hill Suzhou

I adore this! It was written by a calligraphy master named Yan Zhenqinq (颜真卿) (AC 709- 785) in Tang Dynasty. In fact, only “剑池“ are original, “虎丘” were rewritten by Zhang Zhongyu (章仲玉) in Ming Dynasty. It is said the the tomb of King Wu is under the cliff befine the sign. (60 RMB/person, free audio guide with 400 RMB deposit, 2-3 hours)

Canals of Old Suzhou

Good news.: one big change of Suzhou since my last visit is the improvement of water quality in the canals. Suzhou was described as Venice of The East (v.s. the west Venice in Italy) by Marco Polo in 1276. Today, the interconnected system of water of 2500 years’ history is back to work and green again.  48 points of interests are linked and accessible by water, including ancient city gates, bridges and gardens. A way to see the city but avoid the crowds and traffic. We visited a friend at his condo where a cannal/river is running next to his back yard.  As a proud Suzhou resident, he kept encouraging us to move to Suzhou!

 Dream Vacation?

I would love to visit Venice of Italy and Amsterdam of Netherlands to see the “water city” of West.

travel blogger wanted in New Media era

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Elliott Ng from Uptake Blog has a last minute call for a travel blogger. If the blogger can convince Via Hjortur Smarason at Marketing Safari, then the lucky he/she will be able to join an “all-expenses included cruise tour” with 15-25 other journalists in iceland. It is a 4-day sailing adventure trip.

Hjortur explains the how this work:

They are inviting journalists on their first tour on the 26th of May 2008. I have suggested they invite at least one blogger as well and now I am searching for that one blogger. If you are interested in a four day adventure cruise in Iceland on the 26th of May and are available from May 25th until June 1st, send me an email and convince me you’re the blogger we are looking for. I will need information about you, your network and the readers to your blog (who, how many, where from, age, status etc). My email address is hjortur.smarason (at) gmail (dot) com. Please send me your info no later than midnight Thursday night (May 8th).

More details check Breidafjordur Nature Cruise.

Iceland becomes a much well-known country to many Chinese recently in Feb. 2008 after proud singer Bjork’s Shanghai concert. I think Bjork could the people of year 2008. It seems to me that she was the first to raise the Tibetan ”wave“ around the world.

It is too late for me. Good luck to the lucky one! It must be a terrific tour if you are going to see these: