Your senses are blurred as you arrive in Beijing, host city of the 2008 Summer Olympics and global focal point for all things China.
Instead of red lacquer gates and horizon of soot-spitting smoke stacks, the Norman Foster-designed terminal seems more like an intergalactic port with its infinite-woven roof and boomerang-like form built to evoke the essence of a dragon.
A single human is dwarfed while walking through the space, even with good luggage, eyeing the grand colonnades draped in Mao-red fabric with Chinese symbols that are nothing more than pretty to an unfamiliar foreign eye.
leaves the senses ill-prepared for the taxi-cab chaos that awaits just outside the terminal as you attempt to communicate with a sweaty driver in a plumb of cigarette smoke via hand gestures and hotel confirmations only to be rebutted with pointed fingers and grunts at a stained map.
Traffic is as confusing as the static-plagued sound of the local radio as intersections are approached at a snail's pace and a million-man foot brigade is unleashed and then retreated by a single six-foot traffic light.
The luxury hotel market has gone from 0 to 60 in about five years, with many of the city's best properties yet to come. Rumors swirled in recent years with whispered openings by
That added to the already-bloated luxury hotel landscape that includes outposts of the
, and two
properties located along Financial Street, as well as one in the more-central Chaoyang District. Many claim the local market is saturated with too many luxury rooms and not enough occupants.
While many hotels are entirely booked during the Olympic games, deep discounts can be readily found at the city's older hotels like the
, with prices starting at a mere $205 in early September -- just two weeks after the Closing Ceremony.
There is a Dubaian tendency in Beijing leading up to the Olympics to create the largest, the tallest and the best.
Given China's title as most-populous country on earth, many of these undertakings seem more natural amongst the dense urban sprawl of Beijing than less-populated Dubai. The result is architectural immersion at its finest, a city infrastructure that's signed by virtually every acclaimed architect and designer in the world.
Hot New Openings
Many of the city's newer hotels are in conjunction with large commercial developments, like the new luxury boutique
. It's the hottest hotel in town and the centerpiece of The Village, an architectural community based on a traditional hutong containing high-end fashion boutiques, restaurants and bars.
The exterior of the hotel, designed by Japanese Kengo Kumo, is sculpted of emerald-green glass evoking the spirit of Chinese latticework found on many nearby buildings. Rooms are a 6-star mix of hardwood floors, cement walls and glass-enclosed bathrooms with freestanding teak tubs.
Not Your Average Chain
The luxury brand of
makes a strong statement with its new Sofitel Wanda Beijing, located in the Chaooyang District close to the Silk Market.
The façade is part of the new Beijing architectural-guard, a glassy exterior of squared edges and drastic lines that wouldn't look out of place amongst flying cars. The interior is a meeting of Orient opulence and modern design with a two-story lobby lined in marble floors, gold paneling and lacquered antiques.
Aside from the glossy guest rooms, the best amenity is the in-house restaurant, Le Pre Lenotre, a spin-off of Paris' Le Pre Catelan and the first three-star Michelin chef to hit mainland China to date.
The Fight for CCTV
Along with the Olympic Stadium designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Herzog & de Meuron, Beijing's new CCTV headquarters designed by Rem Koolhaas is perhaps the city's most famous building. It's irregular fusion of horizontal and vertical sections create a structural loop that is Beijing's answer to Bilbao.
Located in the new Central Business District, the building is the first of 300 towers to be constructed, including luxury hotels by Mandarin Oriental and Park Hyatt.
While both hotels were slated for a 2008 opening, the Park Hyatt will open in time for the Olympics, and the Mandarin Oriental was recently pushed back to 2009. The Park Hyatt is located on the upper floors of the prestigious Beijing Yintai Centre, making it the highest hotel in China with views across the city.
For those looking for a property off the beaten track,
is located an hour-and-a-half drive from central Beijing and offers one of the most dramatic architectural properties in Asia.
Operated by Germany's Kempinski Group, the modernist hotel is located along an un-restored section of the Great Wall facing a landscape of endless forest and grassy horizon.
The hotel originally opened in 2006 and is operated by Design Hotels. A recent management change has resulted in an upgraded spa with plunge pools and fitness center as well as upgraded guest rooms.
The hotels keep coming. Banyan Tree recently announced its Beijing property will debut in 2009, the first-ever urban retreat from a chain more familiar with tropical islands and far-off locations.
And watch out for even more hotel developments over the next months, depending on the popularity of the games and travel reviews of Olympic visitors at a water cooler near you.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.