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CHRISTINA OH’S TRAVEL BLACK BOOK

Rich past for history buffs

Admire imperial architecture and experience a melange of cultures and heritage in Shenyang

Who: Make-up artist Christina Oh, 51, founder of make-up training firm Colour Face International and senior member of the Makeup Artists Association (Singapore). She has a 31-year-old son.

Favourite destination: Shenyang in China's Liaoning province

Why: North-east China's largest city - bordered by Russia to the north, North Korea in the south and Mongolia to the west - has a rich history. The important commercial city and trade centre was established during the Warring States era, around 300BC, and became the imperial capital of the Qing dynasty in the 17th century.

Besides imperial architecture and unique landscapes, visitors get to experience the region's distinctive melange of cultures and heritage, left behind by successive ruling powers including the Mongols, Manchus, Russians and Japanese.

The locals are friendly and helpful, whether it's helping you to read a map or find a new place to eat at. They will check if you are well-rested or have had enough to eat. It's endearing.

Favourite hotel

I usually stay at Somerset Heping Shenyang, which has serviced apartments (No. 80 Taiyuan North Street, Heping District; tel: +86-24-2397-5555; www.somerset.com/en/china/shenyang/somerset_heping_shenyang.html).

It is convenient and has impeccable service. It's nice to have home comforts such as a kitchen so I can make a cup of coffee and have a snack before heading out.

Heping is the city's entertainment and shopping hub, the equivalent of Orchard Road. I love being in the midst of the action and within walking distance of the metro, which makes it easy to get around the city.

Rooms start at about S$90 a night.

Favourite restaurant

Zhan Shifu Crab Restaurant (178 11th Latitude Road, Shenhe, Shenyang), which is part of a restaurant group that can be found throughout north-east China. The restaurant specialises in Sichuan-style cooking and I love the fragrant flavours of the mini lobsters and spicy crab, which are stir-fried in an iron wok.

The spiciness of the dishes will warm you up in cold weather and is a change from the typical north-eastern Chinese cuisine of dumplings, buns and rice. A meal here costs about S$40 a person.

Favourite museum

If you love art, Liaoning Provincial Museum (No.157, Zhihui San Street, Hunnan district; tel: +86- 24-2274-1193; www.lnmuseum.com.cn/shengbowenenglishi) is a must-visit. Its huge collection provides a comprehensive overview of China's art history and production from the Paleolithic era to the Qing dynasty. Admission is free.

Favourite tourist site

Shenyang is ideal for history lovers and the Shenyang Imperial Palace (171 Shenyang Road; tel: +86-24-2484-4192; en.sypm.org.cn), also known as Mukden Palace, is one of the city's highlights. It is hard not to be blown away by the striking Manchu architecture of the Unesco World Heritage site.

Built in 1625 to resemble the Forbidden City in Beijing, it was the home of the first three emperors of the Qing dynasty.

With more than 300 rooms, 20 gardens and hundreds of artefacts from Shenyang's imperial past, it is a symbol of the city's power. Admission is 60 yuan (S$12.50).

Recommended day trips

There are quite a few destinations less than 21/2 hours from Shen- yang by high-speed train, such as port city Dalian in the south and Harbin, the famous "Ice City", in the north.

For a fun day trip, visit Guaipo, also known as "Strange Slope", a scenic area about a 11/2-hour drive from the city.

The site is known for its odd geographical phenomenon - a slope which appears to defy gravity. Although cars and bicycles seem to be driving uphill, they are actually rolling downhill. It is thought to be an optical illusion.

Favourite chill-out spot

Shenyang Botanical Garden in the eastern part of the city is a slice of heaven. When things get too hectic, I enjoy a quiet retreat here.

It is a huge garden, which makes it difficult to cover in a day. The flowers and greenery have a calming effect and I enjoy seeing what is in season or watching families getting together and playing.

Favourite shopping spot

Zhong Jie is the oldest commercial centre in the city as well as the longest pedestrian zone in China.

A short walk from the Imperial Palace, the area is lined with every kind of shop imaginable, selling everything from phones to knickknacks, or an outfit for a night out. It is a fabulous place to shop.

Checking out the stores, you can easily get a sense of what is cool here, and all the shops play the latest Chinese music.

Best breakfast

Fried bread such as youtiao, scallion pancakes or savoury sesame-seed cakes with soya milk make a filling breakfast enjoyed by locals. These snacks can be found at any street stall for about 3 yuan for the pastries and 5 yuan for the soya milk.

Must-try dish

One of the dishes I most identify north-eastern cuisine with is suan cai fen tiao, which is preserved cabbage stewed with fatty pork, garlic, ginger and noodles.

It is a hearty and nourishing dish I love for its balance of flavours and textures - the pork is soft, with a hint of sourness from the preserved cabbage, and the noodles are springy.

You will find this dish everywhere. The best thing is trying it at different restaurants to compare the variations.

Getting around

Shenyang is the largest city in northeast China and at the crossroads of trade with Japan, Russia and South Korea, so it's easy to get around the region by train.

I enjoy travelling around China this way. You get to people-watch and see the landscape. It is such a leisurely way to pass the time and an eye-opening experience.

Ideal length of stay

Two days are enough to see the main sights.

Advice for travellers

Always bring a jumper. You never know when the weather will change and strong, icy winds are common in summer and winter alike.

Foodie souvenir

Hazelnuts are a speciality of Liaoning. They are large and crunchy and I will buy them wherever I stop for a shopping break, as they are easy to find.

They are charged by the "jin" (500g). If you buy from street vendors, they will cost about 20 to 30 yuan per 500g. If you buy from the shops, they usually cost 20 per cent more. I usually buy a few packs for family and friends.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 03, 2016, with the headline 'Rich past for history buffs'. Print Edition | Subscribe