Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Flowery Bay Magnetic Spa - Or Trying to Find a Hotel Online Without Expedia

One of the biggest challenges for John and Nathan and I was trying to figure out where to stay in China. After quite a few experiences with domestic online hotel reservations, I have learned to find out about the hotel online and then call the hotel directly for reservations.

Although you may pay a bit more, if you need to change or cancel your reservations, you aren't charged (assuming you make the changes within the acceptable timeframe), and you are able to arrange for conveniences like down pillows, or a non-smoking room, and feel somewhat confident that your requests have been noted by a human. Making reservations for China was a unique experience. We worked through an online service, sinohotels. Since there is no expedia equivalent and no guarantee that even if you called directly, you would find someone who could speak English, we had to rely on this online communication system.

The information about the hotel was scant. We couldn't find the address on any map and neither could the sino travel agent. I doubt he was even located in Beijing and from what I've read, many of these travel services are NOT even located in the country for which they're arranging travel. They simply make calls and can speak the language.

One thing we believed, and this turned out to be true, was that our hotel was very close to the rowing venue. We were about a 15-20 minute cab ride away. Cabs drove about 35 miles an hour on the road that connected us to the Shunyi Rowing Venue, otherwise, we might have been 10 minutes away.

I had read that hotels in China typically never go through maintenance. So, if the hotel was built in 1995, as ours was, no major upkeep had been performed. I was a bit wary about that. 
I also found, by surfing diligently, that the normal room rate for our hotel was about 45 dollars a night. During the Olympic weeks, the rate went to $310 which included the roll away cot for me (Nate and John had single beds which turned out to be slightly wider than our US single beds.)
I was a bit mystified when the site listed "fruit picking" as one of the amenities.
But mostly, I was thrilled that we finally made the decision to get the room, spent the $3000 in advance, and knew that we had a place to stay after we arrived. This was a GOOD thing.
I anticipated the absolute worst. I had already heard and read horror stories of rooms within the city of Beijing costing two to four times more than ours, of rooms that were uninhabitable because of size or sanitation. I was worried about bugs, room size (if I could just take the time to learn the metric system I would have been confident about 40 square meters).
Of course, we were also worried about the food and what the hotel, so far outside Beijing, would have to offer. It also seemed that we would not be close enough to anything to buy our own supplies. 
We were blessed that Judy's mom, Pearl, kindly called the hotel several times on our behalf. Pearl was born in Taiwan and aside from her knowledge of the language and customs, she is also a terrifically gracious and helpful and intelligent woman! Because of her efforts, we felt pretty secure about being able to find bottled water at the hotel and someone who could speak enough English to help us out and make sure we didn't totally stomp on the local customs.

The photo at the top shows the layout of the Flowery Bay Resort. Overall, we were lucky to have found this place. More details in the next post. I'm having a problem uploading pix today.

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