For years now I’ve dreamt to visit China, but since it’s soooo big, with so many things to see, I never knew where to start, so I’ve pushed the plan year after year. Again work came and saved the day, so in September 2015 I ended up visiting Dalian for a week with my colleagues. It’s a start, I would say :). Going forward we will visit Dalian at least once per year, so finally the Chinese border opened for me and I’ll be able to stop and see different areas of the country.
I will not pretend I know China after this visit, it was too short, with limited time for visiting, and I am pretty sure one city is not representative for the entire country. But I am happy I got to get at least a glimpse at the Chinese culture and way of living.
Let’s get the boring things out of the way first: I flew to Dalian, via Shanghai, from San Francisco, with China Eastern Airlines, so I won’t be able to give you guys advice about cheap flights there, but I can definitely say: avoid China Airlines, I haven’t seen any smaller seats in a 15 hour flight, the food was bad, the attendees were the opposite of nice, and the entire experienced seemed cheap ; even the online experience with their website is really bad. Definitely not flying with them again, even if it means to spend more hours for my trip. The hotel we stayed at was Hilton Dalian, pretty standard Hilton hotel, with nice room, amenities and view, and of course amazing breakfast buffet. But the best part of the hotel was the area it is in, even if it was on the opposite side of the city from the office, it is located in the Harbor area, with great view of the sea, and a huge walking area around the shore, where I could have spent each evening walking around, and each morning running.
The downside of business travels, even if you get the “comfort” paid by the company, is that you don’t have that much time to be a tourist, so most of the recommendations are feedback from my colleagues, but I definitely want to try them next times.
What can you visit? You definitely need to start with the huge Xinghai Square and surroundings, a place where you can easily spend few hours walking around, and not just because it’s huge, but because of all the attractions: nice architecture ( mostly replicas of European style) , nice restaurants and bars, and a great park at the south end of it. Another interesting square to visit is the Zhongshan Square, where, if you ignore the traffic around it, during the evenings you can see locals hanging around, and sometimes live music.
Another great place to spend a couple of hours is the area in front of Hilton Dalian and Dalian International Convention center: a huge walking area near the shore, and a … I don’t even know how to name it, or what it’s actual name is : an area with replica European houses. Even if it sound kitschy, I actually enjoyed that area, with a Venice channel and gondolas, a few restaurants, and empty house replicas from all over Europe. I am not sure what the purpose of that area is, but I will make sure to find out when I am there next time.
A nice way to spend an entire day around Dalian is to go to the beach. We went to Golden Peble Beach in Jinshitan Scenic area, walked around, played some games, and had a nice barbeque on the beach. Definitely worth the almost 1.5h drive there, due to traffic. An observation: our Chinese colleagues really love playing games, and sometimes it gets so serious that you end up with ripped t-shirts and bruises after one haha. Also, it seems the Chinese version of American Idol is much liked, we even have a colleague who participated, and delighted us with his songs right on the beach.
Now, my favorite subject, food :). You honestly can’t go wrong with Chinese food, everywhere we ate (even catering at work) the food was great and tasty, with huge portions. I liked most 2 of the restaurants we visited: Ocean Township Japanese Teppanyaki , I know, Japanese, but still with a Chinese influence ( no idea if the name is correct, as it’s translated from Chinese, but the address is : Shahekou District Xinghai E Zone 48 -near Xinghai Square) ; and Shu Xiang Qing restaurant . Quick tip: go to such restaurants starving, because there will be a lot of food, all different and interesting, that you need to taste them all.
I think that’s about all I can say about my first visit to Dalian. I hope to see the rest of the city and the surroundings during the next visits. Definitely something I want to do next time: drive up to Dandong, a 4h drive, which is right next to North Korea, the closest you can get without actually getting into that country. You can see there the old bridge that connected the 2 countries, that got blown up, but you can still walk on it half way. Also the new bridge, which has limited access (just for aid transport and who knows what else). Also I’ve heard you can actually hire guides with boats that can take you on a river-trip, sometimes even going into North Korea, seeing their locals working the fields and even sometimes getting in contact with them. This would probably be the most adventurous thing done over there, and I definitely want to try it next time :).
In terms of the Chinese culture, I didn’t form an opinion yet, so I would rather not comment until my next visits. But I can definitely say roaming works like crap, you definitely don’t have access to Facebook and google, unless you use a VPN, internet is slow and painful, and google maps is basically useless, with limited information and almost all of it in Chinese. Young people are over-using WeChat, a mixture between WhatsApp and Facebook, love games and singing, but I didn’t get to see any night-life action yet. This is why you feel like in another galaxy over there, living in a bubble.
That’s about it…. Looking forward to see you again China!
More pictures can be found on Facebook here.