Dalian in the North East of China is a popular tourist destination for locals and some international visitors. There is also a small thriving ex-pat community.
The malls are friendly and engaging and some of them are very modern. Further encouragement to shop is given by the fact that for most folks the city is pedestrian-unfriendly. The mere fact that the traffic lights are red is no indication that the cars are going to stop. Having had several near-death experiences during the course of each excursion, we should add our voice of warning about the furious traffic in Dalian.
What else can you expect when going to Dalian?
The airport is small and fairly easy to navigate your way around. Not much English is spoken by ground staff and showing your ticket to airline staff if you need assistance is useful as they are usually very helpful and will direct you to where you need to go. The taxi drive from the airport is a good opportunity to not look out the windows. Or if you really feel a need to, try to focus on the scenery and not the scary traffic manoeuvres. From the airport to downtown Dalian takes about twenty minutes outside of peak hour. But peak hour is long.
We stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel Dalian which was a good experience. It is central and the staff speak reasonable English. There is a lot of other accommodation available in the area, some at very low rates. However, if you are limited to English then you will have to choose carefully as not all of the proprietors or staff are able to communicate in English. The district where the Shangri-La is situated is Zhongshan District.
In China it is customary to demand a key deposit. If you do not speak Mandarin and the hotel staff do not speak English then negotiating the deposit will be made that much more difficult.
Take a taxi ride out along the Binhai Road, which is on the southern side of Dalian, it is a scenic winding road along the coast. Beautiful and the air is really clear here and breathable compared to other parts of China. There are numerous opportunities for taking photos along the way.
Huge public squares
Visit one of the renowned squares in Dalian such as Zhongshan Square, Renmin Square or Xinghai Square. Xinghai Square in particular is a must see as it is reported to be the largest square in China. A pair of good walking shoes is recommended.
Dining at the Olive Garden and The East is Red
There are lots of street-side vendors selling a variety of food. We chose not to buy meat of any kind from these, but something that was a winner was peeled- and roasted- chestnuts which were very cheap and tasty.
Places that we went to included an Italian themed restaurant, the Olive Garden, which serves authentic Italian pizzas and pasta, the pizza was really good. This is of course if you don’t mind choosing non-Chinese food and thus missing out on the local experience.
For an authentic Chinese theatre/dining experience, The East Is Red restaurant in Dalian provides this. We were treated to a lively and colourful play performed about the Cultural Revolution, followed by an art auction showcasing local talent. This restaurant is frequented by locals and advance bookings, sometimes three months in advance, are required to get in. Or if you know someone local who is connected to the restaurant or has a friend working there, this will get you in too. It turned out that our Chinese friends know someone who knows somebody. It was a memorable experience.
Victory Plaza and other shopping
There are quite a number of shopping malls in Dalian where you can buy anything from high-fashion clothing brands to souvenirs and general household appliances. We visited Victory Plaza which is a warren of perilously narrow corridors crammed with small and big stores selling clothes, Chinese and Russian souvenirs (Dalian was under Russian control until after the Second World War) and gadgets of all kinds. Generally this is a mall where you must bargain, which made it far more appealing to us. Having a Chinese friend along will be useful as their bargaining skills are awesome, although the store owners will be a bit less happy as prices for Westerners are usually higher. The best price for a local is usually much better than the best price for a foreigner!
Victory Plaza is in Zhongshan Road in the Zhongshan district which is centrally located. It is a bit cramped and we would definitely recommend not using the public toilets. If you really must, make sure you have your own stash of toilet paper and waterless hand sanitiser. These can be bought before arriving in China.
Other shopping malls in Dalian include Friendship Shopping City, Parkland Shopping Centre, Russian Custom Street and the Tianjin Walking Street to name a few notable and worthwhile shopping places to visit. As you can gather, if you have an eye for quality then Dalian is a very good place to shop.
A unique experience in China
All in all Dalian, is a relatively clean, unpolluted, and scenic place to visit in China. It is off the beaten track to most international visitors with an interesting history, great for shopping with scenic routes nearby. Winters are a dry cold that goes through your bones where the mercury gets to below freezing, while summers peak at around 24 ° C, albeit with fairly high humidity.
As well as by air, it can also be accessed by train from Beijing and by ferry from South Korea.