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Arts, craft and decorative items sold at Ancient Culture Street
Street vendor making my egg pancake on the spot

The port city’s European-style hotel Hotel Indigo Tianjin Haihe and the attractions nearby enthral Loong Wai Ting and makes her plan a return visit

THERE’S not much written on Tianjin, a port city just a 30-minute ride on high speed train from Beijing, China’s capital.But I just have to see the city for myself.

From the Beijing South train station, my sister and I hop on the southeast-bound high speed train to Tianjin. In no time, we are comfortably settled in our seats. The seats are super comfortable. You can recline your chair far back and the passenger behind you will still have plenty of legroom. Service is prompt, on time and clean, too!

Taihe Lake inTianjin

As soon as the train starts to pull out of the station, I take out my laptop with the hope of editing some pictures that I’ve taken earlier in Beijing. As I wait for my laptop to fire up, an announcement comes on, telling the passengers to get ready for disembarkation.

We will be reaching Tianjin in less than 10 minutes!

BACK TO SCHOOL

It’s almost eight in the evening when we finally pulls into the driveway of our hotel, Hotel Indigo Tianjin

Haihe at Jiefang South Road in the Hexi district, about 45 minutes slow drive from the train station.

Lit by yellow spotlights from the corners of the hotel, its facade takes my breath away. The main building looks like a former home of someone prominent. It’s of a German-style architecture with European features and distinctive artdeco.

Since I’ve made prior booking, it doesn’t take long for the receptionist to find my details on her computer. In less than a minute, she hands over my keycard and shows me how to get to my room, which is located in another building, in another part of the hotel complex.

Hotel Indigo Tianjin Haihe looks like itis lifted off a scene from a Harry Potter movie

I follow her direction, push open the door and walk into a sprawling garden, lit up with more lights. My room is housed on the second floor of another building of the same style.

Interestingly, these buildings are not old, historic buildings. They are purposely fashioned in such a way as the hotel wants to honour Tianjin’s past as an important Western port.

The city has long thrived as a global port, when it was first opened as a treaty port during theQing dynasty. In the 1800s, British traders were earning a profitable sum from importing opium into China.

Although there are strict laws governing the import of opium into China, British traders were adamant to open China to the world. This later inspired the two Opium Wars that resulted in Hong Kong, the tiny island on the south, being leased to the British.

By the end of the second Opium Wars, with British, French and other Western powers knocking on the Chinese door, the then Chinese emperor Xiangfeng had no choice but to sign the Treaty of Tientsin (Tianjin), which allowed more ports to be opened in China.

The so-called treaty allowed foreign powers the right to trade on Chinese soil and the rights to form foreign legations or concession in the city. The presence of these foreign nations have left many architectural monuments around the city, such as the Church of Our Lady’s Victories (the site of the Tianjin Church Incident), the Tung Lai Bank on Heping Road, the historically-rich Astor Hotel, just to name a few.

I feel like a student checking into a boarding school in some English countryside. Even my sister feels the same. As it’s around dinner time, we do not see fellow “students” roaming near our block, except for a few who is out for a stroll.

Feeling hungry, we quickly drop off our bags in our spacious room and head over to Albert’s (named after Albert Kissling, who opened the first foreign restaurant in Tianjin back in the days), one of the two restaurants at the hotel. The other one is Blauer Enger, a beer and eatery specialises in locally-brewed beer. Dinner is asumptuous affair of European cuisine with locally infused flavours.

SEEING TIANJIN

The next day, we wake up early to have breakfast at Albert’s before heading out for some sightseeing. From the hotel, my sister and I walk southward to the nearest subway station, Xiawafang Station which is just 210m away.

Our first destination is Porcelain House, which is 12-minute walk from Yingkou Road Station, just another station from Xiawafang.

ThePorcelain House is covered with pieces of colourful porcelain

Located at Chifeng Road, it is very hard to miss. The French-style building is covered with pieces of colourful porcelain - big and small — cemented on its walls, roofs and even the floor. If you think the facade alone is amazing, wait until you take a walk inside the house.

In September 2002, businessman Huang Rongliang, who is also an avid porcelain collector, bought the house for 30million Yuan (about RM18million). He worked extensively to transform the house into what it is today.

In total, he has invested more than two billion yuan in decorating the house with over 700 million pieces of porcelain. There are also 4,000 ancient Chinese vases and some 400 white marble sculptures, plates, bowls, marble lions from Tang and Song dynasties.

But the museum was only open to the public five years later with a charge of 35 Yuan per entry. In just three years since its opening, US’ Huffington Post named the Porcelain House as one of the most unique museums in the world, after Louvre Museum in Paris, France and Denver Art Museum in Colorado, US.

Porcelain cats on the pillars of Porcelain House

For history buff, you’ll get to see many pieces belonging to China’s earlier dynaties like Jin and Yuan.Oh, don’t worry about accidentally breaking the pieces, as they are already broken and been cemented on the walls to become part of the building.

Feeling a little adventurous, from the Porcelain House my sister and I decided to walk to the Ancient Culture Street, which is on the other side of the town.

With Google Map as our navigator, we zip through residential areas and tight alleys before arriving at the main entrance of the Ancient Cultural Street, some 40 minutes later.

Feeling a sense of accomplishment, we treat ourselves to a sumptuous lunch at the Chinese restaurant that specialises in Tianjin’s favourite —goubulibaozi which literally translates as “even-the-dogs-ignore-thebuns”.

A popular Tianjin snack are Goubuli steamed buns

Stuffed with marinated meat and vegetables,the buns,the size of an adult’s fist, are quite filling. One bite into the steaming hot bun releases a burst of flavours, its oily juice dripping down our chins.

After filling our hungry stomach, we embark on a mission to explore the street.

Located in between Gong Nan and Gong Bei streets, the Qing-inspired market square has over 100 small shops and food stalls — all of them selling Tianjin specialities.

Not only it is famous for its street food but the Ancient Cultural Street is also known as a hunting ground for antique lovers. There are many antiques items that are associated with the Qing dynasty, which you can find here. Besides that there are also many shops selling Buddhist praying paraphernelias.

WINDING DOWN

Thankfully, at the end of the Ancient Cultural Street, there is a subway station that can take us back to Xiawafang station. Tired from the day’s exploration, we can’t wait to relax in our spacious room again.

After freshening up, we wind down by looking at pictures that we’ve taken earlier. Tianjin may be a small city but it has so much to offer, if you’re opened for a bit of adventure.

Morning wintry sun

Like the rest of Tianjin, the hotel is an experience itself. Where else can you find a European-style hotel that looks like a scene from a Harry Potter movie, located right here in the middle of a Chinese city.

That’s right, Hotel Indigo Tianjin Haihe has left a good impression for its beauty in details. Service is commendable, too.

There are helpful staff in every corner of the hotel who make sure that every guest will have a pleasant stay experience at the property. Well, it looks like I may be coming back soon.

FAST FACTS

HOTEL INDIGO TIANJIN HAIHE

No 314, Jiefang South Road,

Hexi District, Tianjin, 300202

Mainland China

TEL +86 2288327688

EMAIL [email protected]

WEBSITE www.ihg.com/hotelindigo/hotels/us/en/tianjin/tsnin/hoteldetail

STAY The property has 96 rooms, including suites. There is free WiFi throughout the property but bear in mind that it may provide limited access to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

EAT Get a taste of Tianjin in the comfort of the hotel. Must-try dishes include goubuli steamed buns, Tianjin-style soup made from starchy grains and nuts like almond and roasted sesame paste. For lunch and dinner, try its Western fare at Albert’s. At night, chill at its bar and lounges in the main building.

DO There is an indoor pool located on the basement level and an adjacent gym for guests who’d like a quick workout. Swim at the heated indoor pool or work out at its gym. Or walk around the property and learn about its history.

GO Visit Ancient Culture Street, Porcelain House and the Five Great Avenue are located close to the hotel. Take the subway if you want to save time.

HIGHS The location

LOWS As my room faces the main street, it can get quite noisy in the morning as locals leave for work.

Pictures by Loong Wai Ting

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