Another late posting for this trip journal but continuing my day in Nanjing, I woke up refreshed and got about to have some snacks and tried to brew a cup of coffee from their 3-in-1 coffee packets. For a 5-star hotel, InterContinental fails in their coffee. Absolutely disgusting coffee by Douwe Egberts, or whatever that brand is. The best hotel rooms in my opinion, should have either illy’s or Nespresso machines or brewed coffee ala Grand Hyatt / St Regis, served by the room service. With disgusting coffee rejected, I turned to the small platter of cookies that the hotel provided Ambassador Guests. Now that is one nice platter of welcome amenity that makes for a nice light breakfast. I awoke my brother up at around 10am as we were planning on a dim sum brunch at the Yue Cui Xuan Chinese Restaurant atop the InterContinental. Dim sum at Yue Cui Xuan 粵翠軒 was absolutely wonderful, and besides the classic selections of 叉燒飽 (BBQ Pork Buns), 燒賣 (Shrimp and Pork Dumplings) and 帶子餃 (Scallop Dumplings), I particularly enjoyed the 叉燒酥 (BBQ Pork Pastry). I remember fondly of my love for this particular dim sum dish from a long time ago at the Tsui Heng Restaurant at Park Mall, and after some bad BBQ Pork Pastries, it is rare do I order this dish during a dim sum. This one however, left me salivating for more! The other selections of dim sum was wonderful as well and definitely on par with the best in Hong Kong and Singapore! On the other hand, the 灌湯餃 (Dumpling Soup) was so-so and something I would probably give a pass here.
After the delicious brunch, we headed down to the lobby to take a walk to the adjacent Drum Tower or 鼓樓. Like most large cities in ancient China, there is a drum tower in Nanjing to warn the city of invasions and natural disasters like fires or earthquakes. There is a small park around the drum tower, but unfortunately not much was to be of attraction in the area. Somehow I thought the Drum Tower should be in the middle of a major roundabout and that would have made for a much more photographic landmark especially when illuminated at night just like one of those city gates which has come to represent Seoul as one of its landmark. Since it wasn’t easy to get a taxi here (Nanjing should really make recognizable taxi stands around major points of interest), we took a walk back to the hotel, passing by the new Bentley showroom – yet another sign of how wealthy the rich in China has become. We skipped checking out as I had late check out of up till 4pm as a courtesy of Ambassador privileges, and instead chose to use the time wisely to explore the Presidential Palace or 總統府. The palace compound was situated right opposite the modern Nanjing Public Library and had a fee to enter. Perhaps it is convenient enough to reach here via subway since the Drum Tower has a dedicated subway station
Like the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Mauseoleum, the Presidential Palace is another interesting must-see sight while in Nanjing. It allows visitors to take a peek into the offices of the then-President of the Republic of China. One could explore the state reception hall, conference hall, and the offices of Chiang Kai-shek and Li Zongren, who at that time was the President and Vice-President respectively when occupying the offices in this compound. Perhaps the only place where the photo of Chiang Kai-shek is displayed in public. Needless to say, there was a lot of reference made to Dr. Sun Yat-sen in this compound, including another calligraphy sign of 天下為公 written by Dr. Sun as well as his photos being the focal point of the state reception and conference hall. It was a definite eye-opener to explore the areas where the President of China used to work at. The place was in the progress of maintenance works and more areas of the compound could be opened in the future, which would definitely be great for visitors who wishes to know more of the forgotten era when the Republic of China ruled both China and Taiwan.
With our next destination due to be at Kunshan this afternoon, we returned to the hotel by 2pm, reaching the hotel for a break and prepare our luggage for check-out. Just as luck would have it, the rain arrived in Nanjing and similar to our situation a few nights before at Shanghai, whenever it rained, getting a taxi would be more difficult than normal. Even though check-out was fast and efficiently conducted, we waited for sometime for the concierge to call for us a taxi. After a 10 minute or so wait, the concierge suggested we take the subway which had a station (Gulou Station) right beside the hotel. Given that we had not stepped into a subway train during our stay in Nanjing, we were pleasantly surprised at the well-lit and clean subway station with modern and fast train connections to the Nanjing Railway Station which was a few stops away from the Gulou Station. We reached the station with more than enough time to find our waiting area. Unlike the new and large Shanghai Hongqiao Station, Nanjing Station was old and cramped, with pretty bad air circulation. The train we would be taking to Kunshan, though was new and fast, even if it wasn’t the G-series trains that brought us to Nanjing. I opted for the slightly slower D-series trains which was more economical. The train fare from Nanjing to Kunshan costs us 93 Yuan (US$14), less than half of what we paid for the train journey from Shanghai Hongqiao to Nanjing which costs us 233 Yuan (US$35). Kunshan South is just a stop or around 20 minutes away to Shanghai by high speed train. There is thus a premium to be paid when seated in the faster and newer G-series train which could reach speeds of up to 350 km/h while the D-series trains which will bring us to Kunshan travels at a high speed of up to 249km/h. Seat-wise, the G-Series train offers much better seat comfort, and seems wider and more stable at higher speeds. In terms of cleanliness and comfort, due to the low passenger count on the G trains, it was definitely better. But for the price premium, unless I am pressed for time, I might not choose the G trains over the D trains since overall experience was more or less similar. Seat wise, it is worth paying the extra money for the first class seats (or soft seats 軟席) which come in a 2-2 abreast configuration as opposed to 2-3 abreast in economy class (or hard seats 硬席).
The D train we took to Kunshan made several stopover including one at Wuxi and one at Suzhou. During the journey, snacks and beverage service was conducted by the staff onboard. Though checks on the tickets seemed lax and there are cases when one might find another passenger occupying your seat onboard the train. It seems that most people taking these high speed trains don’t bother looking up the tickets for their seat numbers. Or perhaps it is because of the fact that service staff at the counters fail to ask customers on their preferred seating arrangement. Anyway, with the mainly packed first-class cabin, it was still a nice way to travel via these modern high speed trains and one has to admit China has come a long way in terms of moving the masses across the country. The stops made at Wuxi and Suzhou also gave me the opportunity to take a look at the new train stations in these 2 cities and I have to say I do find the Suzhou train station’s design to be attractive and fitting for the city. Upon reaching Kunshan South (there is another old train station for slow trains at Kunshan Train Station), I was greeted by an uber-modern UFO-like architecture for its station. While Kunshan Station is close to Kunshan city centre, Kunshan South is located on the outskirts of town, though it fits us perfectly fine since it was closer to our lodging for the night at Fairmont Yangcheng Lake Resort.
There was a taxi stand outside the Kunshan South Station and it was an orderly queue for a taxi, which meant we got ours in around 15 minutes. It took around 30 minutes to reach the hotel due to peak hour traffic and it was interesting to note that even smaller cities like Kunshan does have traffic jams, when they do have nicely paved 4-lane roads on major arteries. Anyway we reached the hotel at around 7pm, and the sun has set by then. Upon arrival, though, we were met by enthusiastic staff members of the Fairmont Hotel, and we were whisked up to the topmost floor (9th floor) which is also the Fairmont Gold Room. It was then that I knew I had been automatically upgraded to a Gold Room which meant breakfast was inclusive! We would also have access to the Gold Lounge for evening cocktails and afternoon snacks. After checking in, the Gold Concierge team was nice enough to extend the dining section of the restaurant till 7.30pm for us to enjoy some hot snacks. The food was really nice compared to the Fairmont Gold lounge in Calgary Palliser and the Kempinski Hotel Indonesia. The lounge was also large enough and had a range of DVDs which guests staying in the Gold floor could borrow. Books, magazines and international newspapers were also available including a Frommer’s Travel Guide on China and The Lost Horizon by James Hilton which I took the liberty of loaning. The room provided was also amazing, with a balcony that faces the lake and providing views of the high speed railway track where one can observe trains pass by! I was also endeared to the classic white decor of the hotel as well as the wonderful bathrooms which was as good as the one at InterContinental Nanjing. Definitely one of the best hotel stays I had so far!
Drinks at the minibar in the Gold Lounge was also complimentary and there was Coke Light and this herbal tea called ‘Wang Lao Ji‘ or 王老吉Naturally we helped a couple of cans to bring into the room to go along with our DVDs which we rented! While dining in the Gold Lounge, the Gold Concierge staff was also kind enough to attend to my enquiries for renting the hotel car with a chauffeur for a day to tour Suzhou and the water villages of Tongli and Zhouzhuang. The latter was one of the main reasons for me to head down to Kunshan. The staff came back with a quote of 800 Yuan for 8 hours of usage excluding taxes and we agreed to the charges. Since the snacks did not fill our stomachs, we headed down to Essence, their international cuisine restaurant for dinner, while making reservations for hairy crabs for the day we would leave the hotel. My brother ordered steak for his main course, while I stuck with an appetizer of crab cakes, and ordered a chocolate fondant for dessert. My brother’s steak turned out to take some time to arrive, and when it did, wasn’t cooked to the way he desired it to be (medium with a pink centre). One of the precise reasons why I rarely order steaks from some restaurants even those hotel ones. My crab cakes was delicious though the dessert was just average. I was also able to utilize my US$ 25 dining voucher which was a compliment from Fairmont on my Premier status with their President’s Club. The staff was new and didn’t seem to know what to do with the voucher, which I totally expected, but they sorted it amongst themselves and allowed me to charge the meal to my room. We returned to our room for a shower and I was able to watch Ip Man while having a warm bath in the tub! There were remote-controlled blinds and speakers in the bathroom which was great to use for this purpose! A penultimate way to end a day of exploring and travelling!