It’s been almost 2 weeks since we came back from our 2 week long holiday in China. We didn’t travel far around the country but it was a well packed trip with some time to relax. We flew to Hong Kong and stayed there for 5 nights before heading to Guilin by train for 2 nights, then a bamboo raft tour towards Yangshuo for 3 nights, and back to Hong Kong for another 5 nights.
Having been to China before I was fairly prepared with what to expect, the cultural differences between the east and the west, and certain behavioural attitudes amongst the Chinese. However for Mike who has never ventured to Asia before, this trip was definitely an eye opener for him.
Language is not my strong point. I speak English most of the time at home but I’ll use Cantonese with my family. Generally almost everyone in Hong Kong speaks Cantonese so I was rather pleased that I did most of the communication in Chinese. For mainland China it’s mostly Mandarin speaking (which is very different from Cantonese) so that’s when I’ll revert to using English but most of the time we just used the universal language of pointing at things.
I don’t want to bore you with a day to day itinerary so instead here are some of our highlights broken down by the city/town we visited.
Firstly a few words to describe HK – dense, lots of buildings old and new, crazy amount of shopping centres (brilliant if you need the toilet – just walk into a shopping centre and voila!), lots of people driving Tesla cars, cheap Chinese food, pricey non-Chinese food, good nature trails, good beaches, lots of yummy bakeries to try, easy to get around, good atmosphere day and night, bustling city and one last thing – if you’re from the UK and love your builder’s milk tea – don’t try their HK style tea, even if you’re desperate for one! We did not like it at all.
1. THE PEAK
We took the old tram up Victoria peak for a viewpoint looking back onto the city. The tram didn’t take long but once you’re up there you get a sense of open air and space so different from being amongst the city below. Down there you are congested with people, cars, and tall (very tall) buildings. I’ve been to other big cities like London for example but HK is on a different level of crazy high rises everywhere old and new juxtaposed in any space you can find. Being up at the peak also emphasised that scale for us. However, it was an amazing view to experience. Go on a clear day to make the most of the view. If you go at night you’ll find a pretty good view when all the buildings are lit up as well (we went during the day).
There’s some nice walks around the peak. We went on one of the nature trails which was nice just to get away from the city. We walked for quite a distance and ended up at the Hong Kong reservoir so we got a bus back into town after. Comfy shoes recommended!
2. HONG KONG PARK AND ZOOLOGICAL & BOTANICAL GARDENS
A nice relaxing and free activity in HK to get away from the busy city life. Although it was raining the day we went we still had a good time looking at the Koi fish and terrapins in the pond. A short walk from the park is the Zoological and Botanical Gardens where they house various monkeys, birds, and other animals.
3. LockCha TEA HOUSE
We went to this tea house within the HK park for a spot of lunch and also to avoid the rain outside. They had a lovely selection of tea and they served each one slightly differently depending on the type you choose (i.e green, yellow, black, or red tea). The waitress showed us the process to serve the tea to avoid burning the tea leaves and to get the most out of the flavours. For lunch we had dim sum type dishes which was pretty good – dumplings, soup, turnip cake.
4. HONG KONG HERITAGE MUSEUM
Again a good day out for a rainy day and it’s free entry. They have a permanent collection of historical objects as well as temporary exhibitions throughout the year. We spent most of our time at the Bruce Lee exhibition which is only on until next year (go if you have the chance, we highly recommend it). In this exhibition you learn about who he was as a person, his impressive martial art skills as well as his career in the film industry. There were props and costumes on display from the films, short video documentaries and some really lovely hand written letters from Bruce Lee to his friends and wife. It was quite a poignant exhibition because of the short life he had and the way he had impacted people’s lives. But we were also in constant awe because of his impressive kung fu skills which we don’t think anyone else can compare ever since.
The markets were a good place for us to practice some haggling. We didn’t buy much for ourselves but it was a fun experience nonetheless and we also picked up a few tacky souvenirs for family and friends. Tai Yuen Street Toy market was particularly good to get toys for kids. Here’s a good link to learn more about the individual markets.
6. CHOP ALLEY
Another great place to pick up a souvenir is Chop Alley in Sheung Wan. Chops are a type of carved stamp usually of someone’s name in Chinese. We picked up a couple costing between £15-£20 each. The stall we went to had a book of names in English with its Chinese translation but the guy can also carve English words or names if it fits on the stamp or animals from the Chinese zodiac. It’s a beautiful thing to have so it’s perfect for a souvenir.
South of Hong Kong Island is Stanley – expensive place to eat and drink but nice for a relaxing wander along the waterfront and there’s also a market again for some souvenir shopping. We went to a nice beach in Stanley for a stroll and we looked at some rock pools to spot some interesting sea creatures.
7. REPULSE BAY
This is another beach we went to just before approaching Stanley. When we went it wasn’t crowded at all so it was a good place to relax in the final days of our holiday.
We took a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhuo then another train from there to take us to our destination – Guilin. The trains were very clean, spacious, and efficient. When approaching Guilin you get an amazing spectacle of the mountainous landscapes.
1. LONGJI RICE FIELDS TOUR
We stayed in the Central Hostel in Guilin – good cheap accommodation and the staff were friendly and very helpful. From the hostel we were able to book the rice fields and bamboo raft tour which took us towards Yangshuo, our next destination in our journey.
The rice fields were a couple of hours drive from Guilin. When we got there we couldn’t believe how majestic the area looked with the many levels of sculpted landscape. We had about 6 hours to walk around the area before the driver took us back to Guilin. It might seem a long time but the walk was broken up with many many stopping points for photographs and restaurants for something to eat and drink. We shared the car ride with another couple so we ended up walking around the rice fields with them which was a nice way to meet new people. And although there were other tourists as well it didn’t seem over crowded. We were able to absorb the beautiful landscape in our own space and pace.
2. WALK ALONG RIVER
We went for a gentle stroll beside the river in Guilin one evening – good atmosphere and pretty lights to look at. This was close to our hostel so I’d highly recommend this place for somewhere to stay if you visit.
Near the hostel is this market with shops and stalls selling the regions famous red chilli sauce, sweet sesame treats, tea, and souvenirs. We ended up having dinner in street food type stalls and it was amazingly cheap. The spicy fish dish shown below was about £6 and the plate was massive. Other dinners costed only £2-£3 each. Although I wouldn’t say their hygiene was the best but the food however was superb. Good cheap food.
1. BAMBOO RAFT TOUR
The organised bamboo raft tour took us from Guilin down the Li River and then a short drive towards Yangshuo where we would stay for 3 nights. The river tour lasted for about 1 hour and we shared the raft with another couple where we exchanged in some friendly conversations and talk of our holiday experiences.
2. TANDEM CYCLE
We arrived in Yangshuo during a busy holiday weekend so the town was crowded with Chinese tourists as well as ourselves. We decided to get away from the busy streets one day so we hired a tandem for a grand total of £2. We initially had to tackle our fear of cycling on the busy mad roads. It was already bad trying to cross the roads let alone cycling amongst other vehicles. However, we made our first step and very quickly overcame that fear. After a while we learned that although their driving method seem a bit unorthodox they were pretty safe drivers and were never aggressive.
Cycling on a tandem was a whole new experience for us. It was great fun – so much that we’re considering buying one back at home! In Yangshuo we cycled mostly on flat roads so it wasn’t too difficult. The path made it easy for us to follow with signs now and again to keep us on track. It was easy to get around on bike and you can take your time to stop for photo opportunities or go somewhere for lunch. I think it was one of the best experiences I’ve had and one that will stay with me forever.
So that was our highlights from the holiday. We did a lot during the 2 weeks but as you can see I could potentially write more and more.
The experiences of the smells and taste of the orient was insightful. We took a lot of inspiration from the food we ate and have started incorporating red chilli oil into our dishes – sometimes perhaps a bit too much! But mostly the exposure of a different culture was refreshing for us and now we have a craving to see more of the world.
If you want some travel tips please contact me – I’m happy to help a fellow traveller!
Oh and one more thing. Here’s a small selection of the numerous breads, buns, cakes and tarts we had… It’s my blog – of course I had to include these!