With our visa in hand, it was easy to travel from Hong Kong across the mainland Chinese border to Shenzhen, a city right next to Hong Kong. When we got to the immigration desk, the officer looked at us and gave someone a phone call… our hearts started beating. Luckily there was no problem and we were able to catch our train to Guilin.
If you travel in China, know that the train system is awesome! The network is massive and has state of the art bullet trains that go over 300km/hr. You can use an app called C-Trips, where you can buy all the train and plane tickets that you need. It is in English and is easy to use.
We arrived to Guilin, and were surprised to find out that the city has over 4.7 million people! The maps and books made it look like a small city… I guess for China it is! It was fun wandering around and checking out the different neighbourhoods. There aren’t very many foreigners here, so we definitely got some stares. With a wave those stares soon turned into smiles!
From Guilin we took a boat ride down the Li River to the stunning town of Yangshuo. This area is surrounded by steep/narrow mountains, and provides some great views. A local told us about a hiking trail up to a communications tower. After a good hour of climbing steps and steep trails, we had an ample reward. Check out the photos!
The next day we decided to go freestyle hiking throughout the countryside. We came across several little villages and farms. At one point we had our tablets open trying to figure out where we were, and a local farmer came up to us and asked us where we wanted to go. Note this was all done through charades. We pointed on the map that we wanted to follow the river, and he showed us a good path through his farm to reach the river.
After following the river for an hour or so, we came to the end of the trail. Unfortunately we wanted to keep going, but the steps were washed out. We back-tracked and bartered with a fisherman/merchant for a ride to our destination.
It was a good adventure, but we were really hungry! We stopped by a little restaurant and found a menu with good pictures! Our Mandarin is nil, and ditto for our hosts’ English. We ordered a ridiculous amount of food – a massive fish, chicken, duck, pork, and rice. Our hosts watched in amazement as we gobbled down everything. It was so good!
The fish was really fresh. In fact, it was swimming in a tank just outside of the restaurant. A guy on a moto drives by each day and delivers the fish right to the tank! After we sat down at the restaurant, our host grabbed a fish and showed it to us. Needless to say it passed inspection!
Another quirky thing about many restaurants here is the cutlery and dishes. They come pre-wrapped in plastic and are set out on the tables. I think that the dirty dishes/cutlery are collected by a company at the end of the day, and they clean, re-package, and deliver them the next day. Pretty efficient!
A few general tips about travelling in mainland China:
- Google is blocked. No Google search, no Gmail, no Google Maps, no Playstore. Be sure to have some other email account, map app, and any other apps that you need BEFORE entering mainland China. All of this was accessible in Hong Kong when we were there, but once crossing the mainland Chinese border, it is blocked. I’ve never seen such an effective firewall… best to be prepared
- There is very little or no English in many places. Try to find a hostel/hotel where there are English speakers. Check out the property description and reviews – it will usually say. This is very helpful as you can get good local travel tips, and have someone write down your hostel or destination in Mandarin, and you can show this to a bus driver or cab driver. This is more valuable than you can imagine!
- Prior to going to China, buy a good travel book. This can provide useful information for sights and destinations. Make sure that the book includes the Chinese names of things in case you need to ask someone for directions.
- Most tour agencies are for local Chinese, not foreigners. Agents often don’t speak English, and you will be on a big bus with Chinese tourists. I recommend asking for info at your hotel/hostel if there’s an English speaker there
- Obviously, be respectful of the local traditions and customs. Also, as government control is quite tight, don’t say anything negative about the government or its policies.
- Other than that, enjoy this beautiful country!
There’s a lot more to check out in China, so stay tuned!
Photos by Jon Lang
Asia Trip – Early 2016