Columbia Gorge Hotel, Hood River Oregon

Mini Vacation time!    Heading to the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon.    We’ve never been there but it’s supposed to be really neat – perched next to a huge waterfall with great food and historic ambiance:

Built in 1921 by timber tycoon Simon Benson, the Columbia Gorge Hotel was known as  the “Waldorf of the West.” A magnificent villa perched on a scenic cliff, the Hotel offering sweeping views of the majestic Columbia River as well as the very finest accommodations and dining in the northwest.

The Hotel was a favored retreat for movie stars like Clara Bow and Shirley Temple, presidents like Roosevelt and Coolidge, and other social and political dignitaries. These were the days of steamers and speakeasies, of Valentino and the Model T; a time when people were dancing the Charleston and listening to jazz at The Cotton Club.

Hmmm – I hope I don’t have to dance the Charleston….

Foreign Experts Building Hotel Buffet

Foreign Experts Building Hotel Buffet 607

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

The morning breakfast buffet at the Foreign Experts Building Hotel in Beijing was free and exceptional. Rice, vegetables, wonton, Bao, eggs cooked to order, bacon, sausages, and much more made the morning meal a huge feast. FEB was an exceptional hotel at the price we paid – about $80 per night US due to some special deal from our Beijing Friend Kevin Wu, the best dentist in Medford Oregon. We had a huge 1BR suite. Even pricing was more than double this and rack rates were about $500 US per night for our large room .

World’s largest cities

Largest city is hard to define, but I think metro area population is the best measure and according to Wikipedia these are the top ten:

1 Tokyo Japan 32,450,000 8,014 4,049
2 Seoul South Korea 20,550,000 5,076 4,048
3 Mexico City[2] Mexico 20,450,000 7,346 2,784
4 New York City[3] United States 19,750,000 17,884 1,104
5 Mumbai India 19,200,000 2,350 8,170
6 Jakarta Indonesia 18,900,000 5,100 3,706
7 Sao Paulo Brazil 18,850,000 8,479 2,223
8 Delhi India 18,600,000 3,182 5,845
9 Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto Japan 17,375,000 6,930 2,507
10 Shanghai China 16,650,000 5,177 3,216

Surprising to me was that Shanghai and Hong Kong are both larger than Beijing which was in 16th place, and all three are smaller than New York City. (Where do all our billion+ Chinese friends live, anyway?)

Hey, I’ll be in two of the top ten over the next week! Hong Kong and Shanghai. Cool.

Island Pacific Hotel, Hong Kong

We are booked for three nights at the Island Pacific Hotel in Hong Kong and I’m looking forward to enjoying what looks like a great hotel very near the waterfront along Hong Kong’s spectacular Victoria Harbor. 

We appear to be about two miles to the west of downtown Hong Kong, though only about a mile from the metro which can take us all over the city, and I think we are easy walking distance from the Macau Ferry Terminal where we can catch ferries to other parts of the Hong Kong island empire.   There are several huge ferry terminal complexes along the harbor and I’m not sure how this works yet.   The site of all those ships in the harbor must be amazing.

Hong Kong to Shanghai by Train

With less than a week to go on the China trip I’m trying to pin down some trip details.   We have our China Visas Passport attachments, which my friend picked up for us at the Chinese Embassy in San Francisco.   We’ve got our Medford to Hong Kong Plane Tickets, and we are booked at the Island Pacific Hotel on the harbor in the western part of Hong Kong.    The hotel appears to be excellent quality and appeared to be a very good deal at’s $87 per night.

From Hong Kong International I understand we take a metro or bus that will deliver us to the Metro station at the Macau ferry terminal .   Update:  There is an express train to downtown hong kong from the Airport leaving every 12 minutes that costs about $15 US, but we’ll take the Island Pacific hotel shuttle for about $19 that departs from A02 every 30 minutes and will deliver us to the Island Pacific Hotel = cool!.   which is within a mile of the hotel.   I think the hotels have pickups but not at the airport which is some 60 miles away by road on Lantau Island.  Hong Kong is the major city on the Island of Hong Kong, but there are many other big cities and activity on many other islands in the area, all connected by a massive ferry system that centers on docks along the Hong Kong  Waterfront or Victoria Harbor, one of the world’s busiest ports and most spectacular waterfront skylines.    We’ll be able to see this from our hotel.

We’ve heard some criticism from folks who have travelled in China about the plan to take a 20 hour overnight train to Shanghai, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be just fine and will see more of the countryside this way.  The train system is huge and there are many classes of travel.   We’ll probably try to get the “soft sleeper” which looks great from pictures on non-official websites.   Some have said that travelling in the seats will hurt backs, but I have a hunch many of the bad rumors are from China’s pre-capitalist days when travel was a lot more spartan. 

From the excellent (and I hope very accurate) train travel website www.Seat61.comHK to Shanghai runs on odd dates in Jan, March, June, July 2008, & even dates in Feb, April, May 2008

We need to remember this:

 The station in Hong Kong is in Kowloon and called ‘Hung Hom’ …. the Chinese refer to Hong Kong/Kowloon as ‘Jiulong’

So it looks like we’ll shoot for the April 4th train to Shanghai!    Cost should be about $120 per person for a really nice sleeper.

 I’m a little concerned about trying to buy tickets there just a few days before but that gives us some flexibility and also I’m hearing it can be more expensive and complicated to reserve them here or online.

Xianglu Grand, Xiamen China

I’m hoping that SES China in Xiamen is going to be at the same venue as last year, the Xianglu Grand Hotel.  This hotel looks fantastic and elegant with beautiful rooms and several restaurants.    Food is one of the things I’m really looking forward to in China and I’m sure the Xianglu Grand Hotel won’t disappoint in this area.    I am a little concerned that it’s bad form not to try everything offered by a guest, so if I’m eating with folks who offer me fried canaries or something like that I better be sure to have the pepto bismol tablets handy.    The Xianglu Grand website still suffers from almost bizarre optimizing problems, but the hotel is splendid and I’m really looking forward to the stay.  Current special rates appear to be very low so I’m tempted to book very soon because the rack rates are more than double.   About $80 vs $200 per night with the nice garden suites at an especially large discount.

I missed that conference but this year I will be in Xiamen for SES China April 18-19.     The current plan is to fly in and out of Hong Kong, which is somewhat south of Xiamen, and then make our way up from Hong Kong to Xiamen to Beijing and possibly also Shanghai.

Hong Kong is on the sea in the South, Shanghai on the sea hundreds of miles north, and Beijing inland and somewhat north of Shanghai.    Another very popular destination we’ll probably miss this trip is X’ian, home to the amazing ancient Terra Cotta army – hundreds  of life sized clay soldier statues.

Tennis at the Burj-al-Arab?


This is one of those real things that at first seems too amazing to believe until you do a little research to confirm that it is in fact a real Tennis Court – the highest in the world.  The Burj-al-Arab is one of the world’s most luxurious and spectacular hotels.   Rooms are $2000 per night unless you opt for a top suite where you can expect to pay some $28,000 per night.

The helipad at the top of the hotel was turned into a tennis court for Andre Agassi and Roger Federer when they were visiting for the Dubai Open.    Amazing.

Hotel Pictures

Burj-al-Arab website

Las Vegas Top Ten Suites

The Travel Channel is profiling the top ten suites in Las Vegas: 

10. Penthouse Suite, Las Vegas MGM Grand.  At about $3000 per night offers 19 phones, an elevator to the second floor, and a spectacular view. 

9. Palms Hotel, Las Vegas.   Adrienne Suite, the “Coolest Suite” in town according to the Travel Channel.  For $1500 per night you get a view of the mountains and city and a hotel address at one of the newest and coolest of the Las Vegas hotspots.

8. Sahara Hotel Casino.  Ambassador Suite.  This “Best Retro Suite offers a 1950’s style look and lots of old vegas glamor and history.

7. Turnberry Place.   This “best alternative” to hotel suites is a rich and famous living hotspot.  They showcase the 5.25 million dollar Suite, home to a wealthy client and will soon be home to many more Las Vegas luminaries and rich folks.  

6. Elvis and Priscilla Suite at the Viva Las Vegas Hotel.   This place does not look like my idea of a honeymoon place, but at $175 you even get neon lights and a Pink Cadillac bed.

5. Paris Las Vegas, Napoleon Suite.    Over 4300 Square feet of opulence, primarily used by high rollers who often come in via private jet.   Normally celebrities don’t stay here.

4. Mandalay Bay Four Seasons’ 180 Degree Suite is the ‘Best Escape” Suite.  $2500 per night.   A $10,000 hand carved bed is uniquie to the suite as is styling that is not typical Las Vegas.  The Four Seasons goal is to remove you from  Enjoy iced grapes at the pool where even the towels are chilled.

3.  Las Vegas Hilton.  Verona Suite.   15,000 Square feet of neo-renaissance opulence abounds in the Verona Suite that is generally for high rollers but unlike many of the other suites the Verona is on the market at $17,500  per night.    25 TV’s and big showers make this Las Vegas’ most expensive suite in terms of building costs according to the Las Vegas Hilton.

2. Venetian Hotel.    The Presidential Suite at the Venetian.  Sheldon Adelson is the Owner of the Venetian and says he likes to offer the Presidential to very high rollers – those who are gambling for 6-8 million per night and $150,000 per … .hand.  Usually playing baccarat.   Enjoy a Guggenheim Art Museum right in the hotel.

1. Bellagio Hotel.   Villa One Suite.  With entry through a private secret tunnel the Bellagio Villa One is a two bedroom, $6,000 per night masterpiece (unless you are a high roller in which case you’ll be paying nothing for the suite, but a lot more over time for the privileges).    Staff pampers guests in a private dining room, private gym, and more.  There are several villas at the Bellagio and each  has a secret garden.  The villas have 130 staff to help make the Bellagio’s Villa One the top suite in the Travel Channel’s roundup and the “most stylish suite” in Las Vegas.

The Bellagio, a 1.6 billion dollar hotel  is only one of 58 five diamond hotels in the world.

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Hotel Booking Tip – day and date matter!

Today’s travel tip is about booking hotel rooms, especially in big cities, especially Las Vegas Nevada. DAY and DATE MATTERS! The chart below is for rooms at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino. This moderately priced, off the Las Vegas strip Hotel gained notoriety today as the location of O.J. Simpson’s armed nabbery of some OJ Memoribilia getting sold by some guy at a room at the Palace Station.

But the key travel point is that if you have *any* flexibility in your travel plans you can save a bundle on the *very same* hotel room. In this example staying weekends at the Palace Station can cost you two or ever *three times* as much as staying mid-week at the very modest $39. New Year’s Eve in the same room is going to run you $189! I stayed at the Las Vegas Hilton two years ago at about $55 per night but then moved to a Fremont Street place for my final night, saving over $100 dollars over the Hilton’s weekend rate and getting to see the nittier and grittier side of Downtown Las Vegas.

Differences like this are greater in Las Vegas than in most places, but the midweek and flexibility rules often apply even in rural America. How to make sure you get the best rate? There’s no golden rule, but generally the best approach is to surf early and surf often and ask a lot of questions of the property itself. In the case of places like the Palace Station this could save you hundreds of dollars.

1 $99

Xianglu Grand Hotel

The Xianglu Grand Hotel will be the venue for SES China, to be held in Xiamen China in May of 2007.   The English website for the Xianglu Grand is here.

Major website SEO problems notwithstanding, the Xianglu Grand looks like an amazing hotel.   One of china’s largest and finest this huge hotel in Xiamen is a five-star hotel project by Xianglu China, a business consortium for petrochemical, synthetic fiber, and real estate.   This appears to be the first Xianglu group’s venture into the hospitality industry.

The Xianglu Grand is located in the Huli District and overlooks Hubin, a scenic part of Xiamen.   The hotel is minutes from the Xiamen Gaoqi Airport and very close to Xiamen shopping and attractions.

There are several restaurants including a steakhouse and buffet and a 24 hour lounge.

I’m tentatively planning to go this year having missed last year’s Nanjing event which was the first of it’s kind in China.   There’s a great search marketing tour that surrounds this event and it looks like a lot of fun and perhaps good structure to bring to a first trip over.