Suzy Gershman’s Postcard from Beijing: New Hotels, Shopping and Starbucks

Locations in this article:  Beijing, China Berlin, Germany Buenos Aires, Argentina Las Vegas, NV Paris, France Santa Barbara, CA Seoul, South Korea

Closeup Suzy Gershman BeijingNi Hao Peter!

As you know, I normally go to China once a year. Because of the Olympics last year, I didn’t go and so it’s been about 18 months since my last visit.

How time flies when the Chinese government rebuilds a town.

As all saw on TV last summer, Beijing is a whole new place with some amazing architecture and a new way of doing business.

When I first started coming here, there were more bicycles than cars. Now there’s so many new ring roads encircling the city that your taxi driver can high-tail it across several of them and loop back again just to run up the meter and cheat you in a proper fashion. And just what are you going to say to him?


Modern Art BeijingThe biggest story in town, post-O, is the number of new hotels, especially luxury hotels. There’s a large number of hotels in what I call “downtown”—the Wangfunjing area, which I consider the heart of Beijing and the best location for a tourist.

In the old days, The Peninsula was the only deluxe hotel here—now they’ve been joined by a handful of others. To compete, The Pen has redone all the rooms, added in a lush Espa Spa and beefed up their services. The concierge actually spent one hour with me plotting all my destinations on a map and writing everything out in Chinese.

Half a block away is the Hilton Wangfujing (at right). The hotel is open and to-flip-for stunning; the mall attached to it (Macau Centre) will open in the fall. If there was a prize for creative marketing, this hotel would win—they’ve taken Hilton standards and spun them into the stuff of dreams.

Beijing GoldfishWhile Hilton prides itself on their beds, this Hilton goes one step further to send you a goldfish to help you go to sleep. (Obviously they don’t count sheep in China.)

In keeping with the contemporary art theme in Beijing, the hotel has menu, dishes and installations in hot colors  or curvy steel spun with bold swagger.

As if drop-dead architecture and attention to detail were Olympic sports, the Park Hyatt is in the Central Business District, atop a gleaming tower with views to the Forbidden City from one side and the Rem Koolhaus TV Tower (the square-shaped building) just to the east. We had an astonishing lunch there and were able to then hop a cab to the Dirt Market which is now open (partially) on weekdays.

Perhaps the most dramatic view is from the InterContinental Beichen in north central Beijing, where a room with a view means direct line of vision to the Water Cube, the Bird’s Nest and assorted other Olympic buildings, all of which are lit up at night; many of which zip and zoom with neon colors.

For more China travel info, don’t miss our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to Beijing, China. And for a roundup of our Beijing travel stories, don’t miss our Comprehensive Guide to Olympics-era Beijing.


Outdoor market BeijingThe main shopping opportunities Beijing are still in markets. An obscene new “main street” was built in front of Tiananmen Square, but the store fronts have no merchandise in them. At least you can’t complain about ugly TTs (tourist traps). There is a brand new, spiffily built mall next door to the Ya Show market—this mall is named Sanlitun Village— and has many big brands names and a village-y atmosphere that’s very Western.

Should you prefer the copy version, Ya Show is probably the place to go, although quality is actually better these days at Silk Alley. The Pearl Market, which has always sold a lot more than pearls, has been cleaned up to the point of euro-clean, one can hardly believe this is China.

The fish market in the basement is gone and, get this, a twin market has opened up next door. This one more clean, more shiny and more touristy than the first. Both markets are filled with the essential souvenirs, Mao lighters, fake handbags, pieces of luggage and questionable cashmere sweaters.


Suzy Beijing StarbucksI used to call the station of the Great Wall at Badaling  “The Great Mall,” but it too has changed. The shopping there was once good, but is now a handful of pitiful stalls along the parking lots.

There are some slightly better stores on the hillside that leads to the turnstiles of The Wall, but the best place to visit is actually Starbucks.

Starbucks was forced to move from inside the Forbidden City to the Great Wall and sells some of the best souvenirs in town—city mugs from all the major Chinese cities, $15 each.

Great walls of kisses,

By Suzy Gershman for For 25 years, Suzy Gershman has written the popular “Born to Shop” series, now published by Frommer’s. Her most recent book, Where to Buy the Best of Everything, is available now. Check out her blog at