By REBECCA FLASS
For Adam Schorr, tacking a few hours onto the 11-hour trek from Los Angeles to Beijing is a small price to pay for a cushier ride.
Air China, the government-owned carrier, operates the only nonstop flight out of Los Angeles International Airport, leaving four times a week. But Schorr, an associate at L.A. law firm Coudert Brothers LLP, would trade the direct flight for a little better service.
So he takes the red-eye from Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines to Hong Kong and then connects via Dragonair to Beijing. It's a trip that, with the International Dateline and 15-hour time difference, deposits him in Beijing early in the morning, two days after departing.
"You generally get a better plane with better equipment, more space and better goodies," said Schorr, adding that Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines offer better service and food and more recent movies than Chinese carriers.
It's a common tradeoff for Western travelers.
Katherine Whitman, associate professor of international business and economics at Mount St. Mary's College who has traveled to China 41 times, prefers taking a United Airlines flight departing from LAX in the early afternoon. She connects in San Francisco with the flight to Beijing; by flying United she can easily fly out of Shanghai or Hong Kong on her return.
Travel to China is least expensive in the winter, excluding Christmas and the Chinese New Year, said Michelle Lin, program director for East Travel Consulting Services Inc. in Green Brook, N.J
Paul Lin, another Coudert associate, also recommended avoiding flights around Oct. 1, which marks the founding of the People's Republic of China and is the country's largest holiday. Flights are extremely crowded that time of year, he said.
When it comes to Beijing hotels, those who like Western environments generally stay close to the Imperial Palace Museum in Tiananmen Square. Lodgings in those areas include the Peninsula Palace Beijing, which recently underwent a $27 million upgrade, the Grand Hyatt Beijing or China World Hotel.
For a more local flavor, there's the five-star Grand Hotel, which uses Chinese-style d & #233;cor, has rooms overlooking the Imperial Palace Museum, offers good service and has a meeting and convention facility, Lin said.
But it is the 530-room Peninsula that Paul Lin prefers. Though designed to resemble a Chinese palace, the interior is reminiscent of Beverly Hills. The hotel contains 50 boutique stores, including Giorgio Armani, Prada, Hermes and Hugo Boss, a piano lounge in the lobby, plasma screen TVs in the rooms and bathrooms, two restaurants, a gym and indoor pool.
"It's pretty cool. You can take a bath and watch TV on a plasma screen," he said.
Foreign travelers can't drive in Beijing without obtaining a special license, but noting a preponderance of bicycles on the road, Lin said it's best to avoid driving. Instead, he'll either use a car service or be picked up by a business associate. He avoids public transportation and notes that while there are cabs, they are extremely small. "If you're over 5 foot 3, you'll have a hard time sitting in the back," he said.
Mass transit is an option as well, depending on one's desire to get in touch with the locals. "You want to stay away from the buses, because generally they can be pretty scary," said Schorr. "The subway is decent, but the only problem is that the subway is not likely to take you where you want to go."
He also travels by train, which he said is a fun option. "It can be loud, with kids yelling, and maybe even some fighting," said Schorr. "You're probably the only foreigner there and will probably attract a lot of attention, but in my case, when they realize I speak Chinese, they're very curious and extremely friendly. What immediately looks like it is going to be a terrifying experience can be pleasantly surprising."
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