When visiting China for the first time, it is common for most Americans and Europeans to go with a group tour or on a business trip. And where would you stay generally? Depending on what you paid for, it's mostly one of those American chains like Holiday Inn, Marriott, Sheraton, Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton. If you made special requests for something more Oriental, perhaps you'd be lucky to get the Shangri-La or Raffles which are both Singapore based chains. It is very unlikely for you to find something very local and yet unique.
My first time to Beijing in 1993, I stayed at the Palace Hotel (managed by Hong Kong based Peninsula group). It was THE best hotel in Beijing in that era. Most expensive but still affordable at that time. Now, the prices at this hotel had skyrocketed through the roof because Beijing is no longer a novelty like back then in the 90s. Many foreigners visited this city and more are coming! Such has time changed.
With the 2008 Olympics, thousands of hotels are now available for your pick. It's up to you to name the price you're willing to pay and then select from a large pool of brands and concepts. One thing that is of utmost importance though is where you intend to do your business or to sightsee. You see, Beijing is huge and traffic is horrendous! Despite the fact that taxis are very affordable, you don't want to waste your time in traffic, would you? So, where you locate yourself is very important.
I came across the Emperor Beijing last year. It was first opened in 2008. It is one that is located within walking distances from the Forbidden City. The best place to station yourself if you're in Beijing for the first time and for fun. Most people have not heard of this hotel because it is not one that is big or belongs to a chain.
The Emperor Beijing is locally managed though. So, there are things that as a foreigner you might have to be a little more tolerant. For the price it is charging and its location, I do highly recommend it. I paid for less than $100 a night (RMB$600) through Ctrip.com. For that price, it is a bargain in that location in Beijing. Within the same area, Raffles is charging at least triple that!
Another thing I like about The Emperor Beijing is the fact that it is a small hotel. It only has 55 rooms! Each room is named after a specific emperor rather than room number. In the rooms, you'll be given the seal of the name of the emperor as a souvenir to take away. That I thought is a nice touch!
The staff are friendly and helpful. This is one hotel in Beijing where I felt like I had actually visited a resort when I first arrived. Many of Beijing hotels are huge and elegant without that homely feeling. This one is truly nice among the many low-rise homes in central Beijing. You can even venture off to the Hutong to check out the old lifestyle of Beijing residents! The pubs and restaurants in Houhai areas are also within walking distance. If you like, you may even rent a bicycle from the hotel and bike around Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City (or commonly known as the Palace Museum now). That's the greatest thing about living here.
If you want something unique, convenient & totally affordable, this is the hotel for you. If you're looking for luxury, Raffles Beijing would be a better choice though. I'll write a review on that soon. Do look out for it if you've expensive taste! ;-)
(A Lunch Featured Review)
(This review is being nominated for Lunch Award! A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who nominated & voted!!!)