On a recent whirlwind 72-hour trip to Beijing, Travel Agent learned some valuable shopping tips from an in-the-know flight attendant. Cabin crews on such long-haul routes are often a wealth of knowledge about where to browse and buy; they know who has the best prices and quality and are quick to deny favor if they or a colleague are deceived. There are cottage businesses in Beijing that are seemingly dependent upon flight crews that fly in daily. Think of it as a private shopping club, where these experts are only too happy to share tips with curious passengers.
Note: Most recommendations that follow are a short cab ride from recently renovated The Peninsula Beijing, where we stayed. Always have the taxi run the meter for the best price (about $6).
Tianya New Pearl Market
We found good deals on eyewear, jewelry, apparel, electronics and more at these four establishment at the Tianya New Pearl Market:
- Annie Optical Eyeglasses (Ground floor, outside entrance): Bring your eyeglass prescription, or Annie can administer an eye exam. Prescription glasses with frames start from $30. Reading glasses are from $25, both are ready in two days. Sunglasses cost between $5-$25.
- Cindy & Ella Jewelry Company (4th floor, 4a-21): Chunky statement pieces and scarves and jewelry classes. Best of all, Cindy is a personal shopper who guides visitors to wholesale markets and negotiates the best prices for custom suits, dresses, bridal gowns, silks, fur coats, jeans, shoes, home décor, diamonds and more.
- Lily Jewelry (3rd floor, 3C-02A): Tiny, no-frills boutique has generations of pearl farmer knowledge at your disposal for custom freshwater, Tahitian, Baroque and South Sea pearls at outstanding prices.
- Steven Electronics (3C-01A, next door to LILY): “Hello, Friend!” is the genuine greeting when entering Steven’s shop for a mind-blowing selection of phone, electronics and travel accessories.
At the HongQiao Pearl Market, Sandy Pearls (4th Floor, #4116) is an upscale boutique favored by diplomats, celebrities and the former First Lady of Canada. Here you’ll find freshwater, saltwater, South Sea and Japanese sea pearls in silver, 14k and 18k gold.
When it’s time to take a lunch (or dinner) break, head for Haidilao Hot Pot, a local favorite just one block from The Peninsula Beijing. Reservations are a must (ask the concierge) or you can expect a wait due to its popularity. The friendly staff presents tea and snacks and you can even get a mani / pedi at the attached studio.
The Peninsula Beijing
The Peninsula Beijing itself has a three-story lobby that is home to a 34-store designer shopping arcade, which includes flagship stores for Louis Vuitton and Chanel and Beijing’s only Harry Winston and Graff Diamonds boutiques. The lobby also houses a collection of art works in collaboration with Beijing’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Highlights include 16-foot abstract ink paintings (artist Qin Feng), bronze sculptures of tea drinkers (Zhang Du) and a hand-carved jade “Spirit Wall” (Belinda Chow) just beyond the royal entrance archway. It also added a rotating art gallery and launched an Art Residency program. In conjunction with MoCA Beijing, artists live and work for three months in a specially designed 14th-floor studio that guests can visit.
Beijing’s Hongqiao Pearl Market is frequented by celebrities and diplomats.
As far as culinary art goes, our favorite restaurant at The Peninsula was Jing, a farm-to-table concept that works with 22 local farms to introduce the relatively new idea of organic dining to Beijing residents. Chef de Cuisine Alberto Becerril sources herbs and vegetables from the farms (and his own onsite greenhouse) to present a Mediterranean-style menu inspired by his Spanish homeland and training in Michelin-star restaurants.
For more private dining, choose the 800-bottle wine room or the Chef’s Table overlooking the kitchen, both with 12 seats. A second restaurant, Huang Ting, provides Cantonese cuisine and re-creates a traditional Beijing nobleman’s courtyard home.
Of the hotel’s 230 new guestrooms, 61 are suites. Carved out of the hotel’s original 525 rooms, every guestroom was reimagined “suite style.” They begin at 645 square feet with separate bedrooms and living rooms and enormous walk-in closets. Check-ins are done entirely in-room, with a whirl of luggage-toting valets and a traditional tea service with sweets from Executive Pastry Chef Frederic Moreau. Bedside and desk tablets control all room functions and access room service menus and hotel services. The desk and bedside drawers reveal multi-brand chargers. A portable VoIP phone enables free international calls.
Culinary Browsing in Asia
Of interest to your foodie clients, several upcoming cruises to Asian ports include excursions to local markets with an emphasis on food items. These sites are also worth noting for independent-minded travelers to visit on land-based vacations. Here is a sampling.
On February 3, Windstar Cruises’ 14-day “Icons of Southeast Asia” Bangkok to Hong Kong itinerary offers a shore excursion to the market at Hoi An prior to a hands-on cooking class. At Ho Chi Minh City, cruisers might head to a local market to barter for a form-fitting ao dai.
Viking Ocean Cruises’ 15-day “Southeast Asia & Hong Kong” itinerary departs September 23 and November 4, 2018, and April 7, 2019. During a port call in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a complimentary tour takes cruisers to Wat Krom for colorful murals; Sihanoukville’s market; and a village where fishermen prepare the day’s catch for market.
Clients will find mostly women fishmongers at the Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan, Korea.
The “Best of Okinawa” excursion available on Ponant’s nine-night March 31 “Islands of Southern Japan” cruise includes Shuri Castle, the Shikina-en Garden and Okinawa’s Kitchen. The latter is a colorful market displaying vegetables, large cuts of pork and tropical fish.
Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth operates a 22-day “Sydney to Osaka” itinerary on February 28, 2018. During a port call in Busan, Korea, the line’s “Beomeosa Temple & Markets”
shore excursion visits the city’s largest fish market with mostly female fishmongers. Cruisers will also stroll through the Gukje Marketplace’s maze-like alleyways with fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, clothing and electronic goods.
Crystal Cruises’ 18-night “Across the Bay of Bengal” cruise, sailing March 28, from Singapore to Mumbai, India, includes an overnight in Singapore so cruisers can head out to dine independently in the city’s famed food courts, neighborhoods such as Little India or Chinatown, or Michelin-star eateries.
On Silversea Cruises’ 16-day “Tokyo to Hong Kong” cruise, departing September 28, 2018, culinary buffs can take the “Sushi Making Experience.” After visiting the bustling Tsukiji Fish Market in central Tokyo, one of the world’s largest wholesale fish, vegetable and fruit markets, they’ll move on to the nearby Tsukiji Tama-sushi restaurant and the chef’s workshop studio. Cruisers can join in the interactive sushi demonstration and sample their own creations.