An introduction to Xian, China and the Terracotta warriors

After Bejing, ChicVoyage will be visiting a city in China, famous for the Teracotta warriors . Xian is a 13 hour drive, 1100km south west from Beijing, in the Shaanxi Province. An economy flight from Beijing to Xian is 2 hours long and you can expect to pay $200 US in December. I must admit that I did not know much about Xian until two months ago prior to planning this trip. The primary reason for our visit to Xian is to see the Terracotta warriors known for their rich cultural history. After writing this article I’ve learned that there is more to this city of more than 8 million people.

information about the Terracotta warriors
Travel wiki claims the Terracotta Warriors  are the most popular tourist attraction in Shaanxi and one of the most on the whole in China. According to Wikipedia, the collection of warriors and horse sculptures were made in 210-209 BC to represent the armies of Qin Shi huang, the first Emperor of China. The purpose of the sculptures was to protect the emperor in the afterlife, who was buried with 8000 lifelife warriors, 30000 weapons, and approximately 100 chariots with horses.  The site was only discovered in 1974 , is known as  an eighth “wonder of the world”, and was recognized as a world cultural heritage site by Unesco in 1987. Further  information and pictures available on the unesco website.

thanks to naturalscience1 for this video

If you have an appreciation for culture and history and are interested in how the Terracotta warriors were made and the secrets that science has revealed I recommend this video from National Geographic.

History
Xian is more than 3000 years old and in ancient times was known as Chang’an. For 1000 years the city was the captial for 13 dynasties and a total of 73 emperors.According to  Travel wiki , Xian is the undisputed root of Chinese civilization.

Interesting facts about Xian

  • It is known for its rock music, with underground music centres in China. It is home to contemporary Chinese sats Xu Wei, Zhang Chu, Zheng, Jun.
  • Xian is the home town  of the Golden Bear (Berlin Film Festival) and is the only place in China to claim double, Golden Bear, award-winning Chinese directors.
  • Xian is China’s leading training centre for engineers. Many domestic and international telecommunication venros have set up R and D centre and factories in Xian.
  • Xian has one of the largest internet bars in the world with 3000 computers! Online gaming is very popular and has hosted worldwide game competitions such as ACON5, CEG2006, and WWCG2006.
  • Xian has the worlds largest city wall: 12m high 18m wide. Biking around this wall is recommended as a must do. It takes 2 hours. Bikes can be rented on the east and south gates.

Night life

Based on my internet research here are the variety of nightlife options.

1) Bell Tower – the tower is located at the center of the city and at night it is illuminated to provide a colorful backdrop for Chinese malls and restaurants. Here is an informative short video on the Bell Tower on a short travel show clip by Samantha Brown from the travel channel.

2) Movies – You can catch a move in Chinese at the Pang Gog Cinema close close to the Drum Tower at No. 61 Zhubashi Jie. There is another cinema at No.323 Dong Dajie northwest film city. Please check travel china guide for more details. In my opinion one of the benefits of watching a movie here are to catch the latest titles and treat it as an entertaining way of picking up some Chinese

3) KTV – I’m hearing about KTV as popular entertainment in Taiwan and according to travelchinaguide KTV is popular with students and working people in Xian and large cities in China.

4) Tang Dynasty diner and dancing show – Out of the 13 dynasty periods, Travelchinaguide claims that the Tang dynasty was the most popular and glorious one.  This artistic show offers a modern interpretation of ancient china through the use of dancing, singing, musical instruments, and poetry. Check out this high quality video clip courtesy of dmjcosnard.

ChicVoyage visiting Beijing soon

Beijing is our first stop on a month and a half long visit to Asia in early December. Here is a little bit of research I wanted to share before the trip.

The essentials

China Visa

To begin, the first thing to do before booking your trip is to get a Chinese Visa. Here is a good site about the requirements for Canadians. From my experience, you can save yourself one additional trip to the visa office by printing out the forms prior to your first visit and get your passport photos completed. The visa office will only take a limited number of people a day so be there before opening time with your completed application. The  contact number for  the Visa office  is (604) 734 – 0704. The office address is 288-1338 West Broadway, Vancouver. You can also try avoiding all the hassle by hiring a travel agent to do this on your behalf.  Here are two contacts who can help you with this:

Sundeck Vacations
John Wong
604.728.0569
Richmond, BC

Travel Gallery
Betty Tan
604.879.6883
Vancouver, BC

Currency

The currency in China is called Yuan or Renminbi. One Canadian dollar as of today is equivalent to 6.09 CNY. I’ve been told by the local store where I got my China sim card that foreigners are limited to withdraw a certain denomination a day so it was suggested to buy at least $1000 CDN worth of Renminbi locally before I leave.

You will also want to visit your doctor to make sure that your immunization is up to date, and make sure you have travel insurance.

TIP: If you have an iphone I recommend downloading “Exchange LE” to convert worldwide currencies on the fly. If you don’t have an iPhone try the Fairmont’s currency convertor.

TIP: Check that you have the appropriate electric plug adapters for China. I was told by a London Drugs employee that most modern electronics such as Iphones do not require a convertor so save yourself some money.

Overview

Beijing is located west of North Korea between the Yellow Sea. Beijing is known as the capital of China, is the country with the world’s largest population and was host of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Beijing’s has the second largest population after Shanghai with a population of 17.55 million people in 18 districts. It is the political, education, and cultural center of the country that offers many historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.

Beijing’s time is known as the China Standard Time (CST) and runs 16 hours ahead of people in the Pacific Time (PST) time zone, which includes Vancouverites. So currently looking at the iPhone world clock its currently 12:10pm. One way that I do time zone math is to add 12 hours to the current time, which would be the same time but you exchange the pm for am and then add the additional hours.

12:10pm + 12 hours = 12:10am plus 4 hours which equals 4:10am

Beijing is known for its flatness with only 3 hills found within the city limits. The configuration of Beijing is that of concentric rectangular shaped ring roads. Most of the tourist sights are located in what is called the old walled city and enclosed by ring road two.

Beijing districts
Beijing districts

picture courtesy of wikitravel.org

XiCheng District – this covers the northwestern part of the central city and includes the Beijing Zoo and National Concert Hall.

Dongcheng – this covers the north eastern part of the central city. This includes the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and Beijing Central Station

XuanWu District – Southwestern pat of the central city

Chongwen District – Covers the south eastern part of the central city and includes the Temple of Heaven

For more information about the inner suburbs please check out Beijing wiki travel.

Highlights of the tourist attractions Beijing:

  • Tiananmen Square – This is located in the Dongcheng district. Wikipedia calls it the third largest public square and is also home to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. It has cultural significance as it was the location of several important events in Chinese history with the most recent being the protests of 1989.
  • Forbidden City – Wikitravel claims this is the most important palace that was home to the Imperial court during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. This site was protected during the Cultural Revolution from the Red Guards. Detailed information is available in the China Travel Guide
  • National Stadium – Better known as the Birds Nest this is located in Chaoyand district and is the symbol of the 2008 Olympic games.
  • Da Dong Roast Duck – Located in Dongcheng district Da Dong was recommended from a local who used to live in Beijing. Currently ranked as the # 3 place to eat in Beijing on Trip Advisor. Summarizing the variety of latest reviews from Trip Advisor I expect high prices, excellent Peking Roast Duck that is carved at the table, drinking, laughing, good food, upscale location, and free drinks waiting at the bar. Can’t wait!
  • Hutongs – These are narrow street alleys that are on the outskirts of the Forbidden City and I’m told visiting Hutong’s are a way to experience how the local Beijing Chinese culture and how they live.
  • Temple of Heaven – Located in Chongwen district my readings confirm that this is a worthwhile place to visit, a symbol of Beijing, and is a larger palace than Forbidden city. The reason is that Chinese emperors considered themselves sons of heaven and did not want to live a palace large than what was built for heaven.
  • Summer Palace – Located in the Haidan district it is known as the largest and most well-preserved Royal Park in China
  • The Great Wall of China – Our trip to China is not complete without scheduling dedicated time to view the largest man-made monument ever built. In 2007 the great wall was listed as one of the world’s wonders of the world, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means it has special cultural and physical significance to the heritage of humanity.  In 220 BC during the Qin dynasty the wall was built as a fortification defense against the invading Mongol’s. It is 8,851.8 km and can be see seen from Space. According to TravelChinaGuide, the most information rich internet resource I’ve come across, the Badaling section of the great-wall is the most well preserved, and is located in Yanqing County 70 km north of Beijing.

Night Life

Based on the top Google searches for “Beijing Nightlife”, the Sanilitun bar street is most popular with ex pats and tourists as well as locals. Located West of Gongti North Gate in the Chaoyang district the MIX Bar seems worth visiting. What I expect is a mix of Western people and locals,  attractive women, and high quality sound and lighting. There are two floors with the first offering comfortable seating and the second offering French and Italian cuisine with music.

mix bar beijing
mix bar beijing

photo courtesy of clubzone.cn

The other up and coming area for nightlife is in the Hou Hai Bar Street. The Beijing impression calls No Name Bar  “hands-down one of Beijing’s best”. It is is located in Qianhaidongyan, Shichahai, XiCheng district by a lake.  It is known for scenic views, a welcoming atmosphere popular with locals, and a hidden gem due to no name on the door.  I’m expecting friendly staff, good modern music, a long drink list, and to make a reservation.

That should cover the Beijing plan for now. Hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post and will tune in for the post visit blog post with the pictures and HD video footage of must see attractions, restaurants, and nightlife for Beijing.

Highlights of a Chic Summer in Montreal 2011

This summer I decided I had to plan a trip to Montreal and experience all that I had heard about the Chic women, the well-known night life, and amount of options of things to do.

The original highlights of my trip

– Just for Laughs festival – Russell Peters
– Jean-Paul Gaultier Exhibit
– Montreal Cycle Tours now known fitza and follwell company
– Fireworks
– Cavalli on Thursdays
– Smoke a Cigar at the Whiskey Cafe
– Jet Boat Water Ride

Thursday

I arrived in Montreal and checked at the St. Paul Hotel, which was a 4 star boutique hotel. Before I arrived I received exceptional service from the manager Eric Pouliot. He volunteered to help pick up my Russell Peter’s tickets before I arrived. The hotel was a Chic boutique hotel, but Eric’s service left a stronger impression on me than the hotel to be honest.

I went over to the Just for Laugh’s festival. I purchased a group of tickets and had to sell a pair with 2 hours to go. I decided to go straight to the source of the highest demand, which was the box office and sold them.

Just for Laughs festival 2011
Just for Laughs festival 2011

I decided to celebrate this small victory with a drink at Cavalli’s as it was a Thursday and the Montreal’s insider blog recommended it. I found the restaurant initially pretentious, but once I sat at the bar it was just a temporary passing. Cavalli’s wasn’t as busy as I thought. There were some people enjoying dinner, but the majority of the crowd were loitering around the bar. My chat with the bartender revealed that there was a music festival called Osheaga that featured Eminem and Lupe Fiasco. This was like a dream match up for me.

The Russell Peter’s show was very good. He introduced some new comedians and he held his own. Poking fun of the crowd and cultural stereotypes. He is entertaining, confident, and amazing what he can get away with saying and spark and still spark a positive reaction from the crowd. What a talent.

Friday

The next day I went to the Montreal Museum for the much anticipated Jean Paul Gaultier. The exhibit was very interesting with striking pictures and fashionable dressed mannequins with animated faces. I felt that my fashion education increased at the end of the visit and vowed to get a sweater with horizontal stripes soon. Photos of the pictures and video footage was not permitted, but I’ve decided to take a risk for you to share this talent with the world. So please enjoy this while you can. More pictures on facebook. I also had the pleasure of meeting a beautiful women and her friend Zina. She provided an exclusive insider interview on Montreal’s hot spots and restaurants in the first release from ChicVoyage productions

After I went to visit Au Pied de Cochon, A French restaurant that had the highest reviews on Yelp so I had high expectations. I was helped by a cheerful naturally beautiful brown haired women named Sarah Jane. She was a good sport and helped introduced the dishes I had in the Montreal video. The food was amazing and felt my still developing palette had been treated to some of the best food that Montreal had to offer. See her in our video.

To top off the day I decided to check out the Eminem. I had to cab to a park island I think it was called La Ronde that resembled Vancouver’s Stanley Park. I somehow managed to get the SLR in without any problems, which you can’t usually do at music concerts. I then tried to make my way to the front, but the crowd was dense, young, and the price for claustrophobia and getting crushed was not worth it. I decided to take the highest point and struck it lucky at the Bacardi bar where I got amazing views of the entire concert and the immense 32,000 plus crowd with a landscape of downtown Montreal.

A scene from Eminem Osheaga Festival Summer Montreal 2011
A scene from Eminem Osheaga Festival Summer Montreal 2011

Saturday

I decided to soak in some culture and exercise at Montreal Cycle tours, the highest rated activity on Montreal according to Tripadvisor. I ended up being the only single in a group of thirty something aged couples from the US. The ride was good some of the highlights of our ride were Mcgill, Montreal Public market, La Canal Lachine waterfront, and the Latin Quarter. Our tour guide was knowledge and an interesting character. The lunch served pizza with a beer. The ride went a hour or two longer than we wanted, but overall I felt it was good value. I highly recommend the tour for exercise, to meet people, cultural education, and to see a lot of Montreal which you are at it. Thanks to Shea, the owner for his generosity. I’m sorry my pictures and videos from the cycle tour must have been damaged on my SD card.

I took the train over to watch Lupe Fiasco. This concert was in the hot summer day with a fraction of the energy and the crowds of the previous night. I expected more from the witty introspective lyrics of Lupe Fiasco. The beginning of his performance began with putting down the United States, and he went through some new material and some of his original hits.

It was the night of the fireworks and I decided to try watch it from a restaurant with a cool rooftop terrace called Suite 701. My view wasn’t the best because some buildings were blocking it, but it sure beats fighting crowds at the park to watch it.

Suite 701
View from Suite 701 Montreal Summer 2011 with the Fireworks

I went for a walk down St. Laurent and stopped at a spots bar to watch an MMA fight with Dan Henderson and Fedor. I had a great time here. They played great music, it was a great fight, and I met a friendly group of guys from New Jersey that were there for a stag. I was recommended by the sports bar owner to go to Stogies to smoke a cigar at Crescent St. Stogies was a great time. I was greeted by the owner and explained that I had come from the sports bar. He introduced me to the bar where there was comfortable seating, a well stocked great looking bar, and a energetic bar tender. They had outdoor patio seating that overlooked the buzzing crescent st , but I remained inside and drank real stiff scotch and smoke my Cohíba Siglo. This was the life. I stopped by a restaurant across the street for a delicious chicken schwarma before heading back to the hotel. By this time it was 3am in the morning and I had to wake at 5am to catch my 7am flight back to Vancouver. Great experience. It was too short, but I plan to have a Chic tour in Montreal in the future. Catch the highlights in our video.

TaiwanFest in Vancouver Sep 5th 2011

ChicVoyage decided to provide a little flavor of the Taiwanfest. I decided to provide footage and spotted local celebrity and NBA point guard for the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash, in Jugo Juice in Yaletown.

Steve Nash and Greg Hung Jugo Juice

There were plenty of tents set up on Granville St. The prominent tents were sponsored by TELUS giving away the sunglasses with green rims that have been seen around town. In my opinion it is the food that is one of the main reasons to check out this event. In our upcoming video you’ll see squid on the BBQ, a local bubble tea stand, and an interview from Oscar providing a reason to check out Chef Hung’s famous Taiwanese Beef Noodles. There is no family relation, so there is no bias for my love of Taiwanese beef noodles. There are no Taiwanese Beef noodle restaurants in downtown Vancouver so this is a great opportunity to try some. I personally didn’t try them at the time of writing, but my friend texted my that this batch was extra special so I’m personally making a second trip to try them out tonight. Chef Hung does have a restaurant in the Aberdeen mall located in Richmond, which is accessible from the Canada line.

Vancouver is home to some good Taiwanese noodle options. Some important qualities are a good and tasty broth. The beef should be tender and lean with minimal fat. Thirdly, the noodles should be firm, but tender and your choice between thin or thick noodles. I like the thick noodles.

More information about Chef Hung’s restaurant.

Another great family owned restaurant to try for beef noodles. It is recommended to pick up if you prefer to sit in a restaurant with a nice atmosphere.
Haung’s Beef Noodle House

Cigar Lounges, Scotch, steaks, in Montreal. Where is the best cigar lounge?

So I discovered on the weekend that Montreal has been grandfathered by the city’s changing law, luckily Cigar lounges in Montreal have been spared. I first discovered the cigar during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  On my way through Yaletown, I stopped at a cigar store called Reveluction. I wondered in there and a guy named Neo helped me pick out a cigar and allowed me to light it in the store. Very cool.

I didn’t know what I was doing at the beginning— all I can say was I  had a good experience and I would try this again when I was at home. On my patio one day, I light a cigar up and I decide to go for a stronger draw; the result was I got a good burn happening.  I could actually taste the flavours of the cigar and I didn’t feel like I was inhaling smoke. I knew I was doing something right. I didn’t finish the cigar that night, but I was hooked.

Now that you have the background on how I discovered cigars Iets look at our options for chic cigars lounges in Montreal. I followed up some suggestions from google  by checking out good old Yelp. I got the list and filtered out for the highest rated lounge. The lounge was a restaurant called “Queue De Cheval”. It had 35 reviews and averaged about 3.5 stars.  I decided to check the website out myself to get an idea of how established they were.

Queue De Cheval
Cohiba Robusto Starbucks
Cohiba Robusto Starbucks

 

 

  • Well reviewed on Yelp. 35 reviews averaging 3.5 stars. Could be higher, but not other options with 35 reviews
  • Meat lovers paradise. Prime selection of dry-aged steak cuts and home made sausage.
  • Great experience on the website makes it. With a level of detail down to their own customized Jazz track in the background, they have thought about the details to increase the chances of a great customer experience. Other things going for it include great presentation an educational, yet enjoyable experience learning about their cigar selection.

Cons

  • Numerous reviews on Yelp stating that that the good and wines were overpriced
  • Review describing the food as not very good.

http://www.queuedecheval.com

http://www.dailyxy.com/daily-xy/city-survival/top-cigar-lounges-montreal/

For now   based on the information available on the internet Queue De Cheval appears to be the best option to try. We ask any insiders what their thoughts are?

Another cigar lounge Stogies

Another Montreal Lounge i was interested in was called “Stogies” on 2015 rue Crescent. Out of the restaurants on the link below, Stogies seemed to meet the profile for my first cigar lounge in Montreal. Stogies only had three reviews on Yelp, but I decided to check the website nonetheless. The website seemed quite simple— I clicked on cigars to see what they had and got a message basically telling me I wouldn’t be able to see their vast cigar collection because I was accessing the website from outside of Quebec. There was a number to contact. With three reviews a lack of transparency (that Queue De Cheval was able to provide) I decided to move on.

Pros

  • Diverse selection of Cuban and Dominican cigars and cigarillos
  • Great drinks. 101 different martinis and more than 20 brands of single-malt scotch
  • Forefront of the cigar scene in Montreal
  • No cutting fee

Cons

  • Claims of poor service
  • Lack of information

Whiskey Cafe  

I checked the Whiskey Cafe on Yelp, which had four reviews . I visited the website curious to see the cigar selection; I click on their cigar lounge. Very disappointing. Only photos of the cigars, no educational explanations or accompanying pictures to get me excited.

More information
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g155032-d710637-r15204010-Whisky_Cafe-Montreal_Quebec.html#REVIEWS