Travelling to Shanghai ? Consider the Astor House Hotel

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I am advising my Toronto client on a trip to China at the end of the month. He will be arriving and departing from Shanghai and so he was asking me where he should stay while in Shanghai as this is his first visit there. He said a friend told him he should stay on the Bund, a piece of advice I have no problem with since the Bund offers a very interesting architectural panorama of old Shanghai, once known as the “Paris of the East.” I suggested he consider the Peace Hotel, the most famous hotel on the Bund but he said that was a little beyond his budget for this trip. I then suggested what I described for him as the “budget Peace Hotel,” the Astor House Hotel, or as it has been known since 1959, the Pujiang Fandian.

The Astor House Hotel was at one time the most famous hotel in Asia, state of the art in its time. In 1882 a light bulb went on in China for the first time – outside the Astor House. In 1913 sound film made its debut in China, at the Astor House. Charlie Chaplin stayed at the Astor House as did Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, and Ulysses Grant to name a few people of note. Zhou En Lai was in hiding at the hotel when he was fleeing the Nationalists in the 1930s. Only in 1929 when the Peace Hotel opened did the Astor House Hotel cease to be a rendezvous for the rich and fashionable.

I stayed at the Astor House once for a few days and enjoyed it. Absent is the din and perpetual front lobby commotion that you find at the more popular Peace Hotel around the corner. The halls of Astor House are ghostly quite and the slight mildewy odor reinforces the sense that you are in something very old. As you descend the creaking mahogany staircase in the back of the hotel, it is very easy to engage your imagination and think that long ago Christy Mathewson (another guest of the hotel) descended the same staircase. Granted the bar, the business center and food leave much to be desired, the rooms are Spartan and the staff cannot speak English without a dictionary in hand, but for a couple of nights the inconvenience is well worth the experience. On the other hand, if you are not a history buff, you would probably do a lot better staying at the Ramada Plaza or one of the other antiseptic international hotel chains of which in Shanghai these days there are plenty.

But for me if I am travelling to Shanghai and want to stay near the Bund there are only two hotels: the Peace Hotel or The Astor House Hotel.



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