Welcome to my second – and final – piece reflecting on our recent holiday in China, (the first was posted HERE yesterday). Our 19-day adventure included shiny modern cities, smaller towns, rural locations, large retail malls, small local shops – and pretty-much everything in between! We saw the uber-rich, the rich, the poor and the very poor. We people-watched a lot of time whilst travelling by train, mini-bus as well as by foot, and this offered us a great understanding of modern China. Unsurprisingly, my figures DON’T reflect Hong Kong (it felt very different!).
China – By the Numbers!
Best read with your tongue occasionally in your cheek! 😁
0 motorists giving way on the roads (from ANY direction!) 0 locals understanding ‘cold milk in a jug please’ 0 awareness of a Westerner’s need for ‘personal space’ 0 locals prepared to queue 0 rickshaws seen in action 0 lbs weight-gain (Ann). Only 2 for Steve! – see the last item on this list! 0.25 metres of toilet roll in the whole of mainland China 0.33 bars of soap in total when out-and-about 1 person in a wheelchair 1 canal trip 1 phone/laptop portable charger confiscated (ironically on our final internal flight) 1 beggar 1 Audi e-tron 1 McDonald’s visit 1 lake 1 location where my VPNs didn’t work all day 1 Irish Bar 1 sound-and-light show 2 languages on most major road signs (English & Chinese) in/near the big cities 2 pieces of cheese (they don’t appear to ‘do’ cheese in China!) 2 river trips 2 international flights 2 motorists signalling (surely a mistake!) 2 locals using the toilet cubicle with the door OPEN 3 paper hand-towels (but not in the same place!) 3 Stellas 3 scooter riders of 300 million (official ownership stats!) with their lights on when it was dark 4 different scooter riders (only!) wearing skid-lids 4 glasses of Guinness (£12 a pint!) 4 mozzy bites 4 Brits trying to make sense of it all 5 domestic flights 7 Temples 7 tour guides (Michael, Mona, Nina, Jeremy, John, Stephen and Mark) 8 is THE lucky number of you’re Chinese 8 cities 11 Chinese lunches 11 Teslas 14 teas tasted, ranging from ‘English Breakfast’, ‘Earl Grey’ to ‘Habiscus and Rose’ 16 local beers 18 blog-posts 19 pagodas 23 coffees (they were found with the ‘hen’s teeth’) 125 quid for a new electric scooter – and you don’t need a licence to put it on the road 350 km/h – top speed of China’s ‘bullet’ trains (that’s a mighty 217 mph!) 430 km/h – top speed of the Shanghai’s ‘Maglev’ train (270 mph!) – Kettering to St Pancras in 15 minutes! 580 people in the cast of the sound-and-light show 800 metres of silk thread from a single silkworm’s cuckoon 806 Photos 23,247 Chinese flags (OK, we didn’t really count them all, but the Chinese are very patriotic!) 225,616 steps (including 28,102 in Hong Kong) – we DID count these using our phones!
After almost three weeks immersing ourselves in ‘the Chinese way’, here’s the first (of my two-part) light-hearted look at our experiences. Part 2 is tomorrow.
With a population of around 1.4 billion, in the big cities it certainly felt like it. In the more rural locations, however, you’d never know!
Families used to be limited to one child, now it’s two. Heavy (multiple annual salary) fines if you over-do it!
A law that stated that stated when you’ve owned your property for 70 years, it had to be returned to the government was recently repealed
Many Chinese don’t respect the West’s need for ‘personal space’ – expect close encounters!
Queuing is not a concept the Chinese understand nor respect
Some Chinese like to touch you when communicating
Angry Chinese tend to shout (very loudly) first – and reason with you later!
Like the West, the youngsters are glued to their phones
Chinese travelling around on push-bike has been mostly replaced by Chinese on electric scooters
Most big cities are dual signed (Chinese/English)
Hardly any police were seen on the streets (despite what you might read)
Passports are needed when visiting some tourist-type places
Plenty of CCTV cameras about!
The roads are pretty much pothole-free
Many of their road bridges over rough terrain are spectacularly long
If you find a hand-towel in a toilet, keep it for next time – they’re a rarity. So is toilet paper in most womens’ WCs
Soap in toilets is also a collector’s item (and I think there’s obviously a lot of collectors in China!)
The currency in mainland China is called ‘RMV’ or ‘Yuan’ (about 8 to the £)
Getting a coffee is a challenge when out and about, especially away from big cities
On the road, there is no such thing as ‘give way’ (to the right, to the left – or any direction!)
Indicator bulbs will last forever out here as signalling is a rarity
They love their electric scooters, but they hate putting their lights on
Chinese food here is much like Chinese food back home – but it’s mostly warm (rather than hot)
Wealth is sometimes spectacularly obvious!
The big cities look very capitalist for a communist country
‘Hairy Crabs’ is a delicacy not a disease
Squirrel Fish has nothing to do with squirrels
Most modern hotels have English three-pin plugs
Free wi-fi is not as abundant as in the UK (only in hotels and SOME shops). Shops that DO have it, don’t always advertise the fact, so you have to ask for the SSID/password (which they happily provide)
You cannot access any Google services from anywhere in China. Facebook as well as most other western social media platforms are blocked/banned
VPN is a must if you need any of the above
VPNs’ efficiency sometimes tails-off in the evening (frequent connects/reconnects)
VPN is NOT a perfect solution. It mostly works, but then it doesn’t!
If you’re serious about communicating online out here, best to have TWO VPNs
…and set them up BEFORE you arrive in China, otherwise it’s almost ‘mission impossible’ once you’re there.
No-one from China uses WhatsApp, they use WeChat instead
Traffic lights in mainland China have a countdown clock so you can prepare for them changing (they don’t have the ‘orange light’)
Coming tomorrow… “China – By the Numbers” (Our holiday in figures!)
Our penultimate day in Hong Kong – and the holiday! Gosh, it feels like we’ve been out here forever!
After my recent episode – On the Buses – we’ve now scrutinised our Big Bus sightseeing tour from yesterday, and whilst we didn’t cover everything we planned, we did pretty well! 😁👍
Sailing on the Star Ferry – DONE
Experiencingall of the Green Route – DONE
Covering some of the Red Route – HALF DONE
Taking a trip on a sanpan – DONE
Travelling on the Peak Tram – DONE
Wowing at the views fromVictoria Peak – DONE
I therefore feel a sequel coming on (wasn’t there also a sequel to the movie – On the Buses?) How appropriate! 😂
Today, we’re going to try and…
…take inall of the Blue Route
…visit the Sky100 Observation Tower(Blue Route, Stop 14)
…take a guided-walk around the city
…enjoy the (one hour) night-tourby Bus
The Blue Route
There are only about six stops on this route and it only takes an hour to do the complete circuit (excluding the Sky100 walkabout) – it’s all very do-able.
You can see a more detailed map of all the routes showing ALL the stops HERE.
The Sky100 Observation Tower
Developed by Sun Hung Kai Properties, Sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck is located on the 100th floor of International Commerce Centre, the tallest building in Hong Kong. At 393 metres above sea level, it is the only indoor observation deck in Hong Kong offering 360-degree views of the territory and its famous Victoria Harbour.
Without doubt, the high-spot (see what I did there?!) of the Blue-Route was the stop at ‘Sky100’. We’d already been impressed by the views from Shanghai Tower earlier in the holiday, but this was even better! – helped by the fact that the place was almost deserted when we got there at around 11.20am. Fantastic! 😄
We really do recommend this! 👍👍👍👍
After enjoying a quick coffee on the observation floor, we headed for the exit and pickup-point. Getting to the top had been easy-peasy…
…but finding our way to where the Bus was to pick us up – not so much! After much mis-direction, we realised we should have just followed the signs for ‘Coach Pickup’ on the lower-ground floor (obviously!). 🙄
We were soon on-board… and what seemed like off again as the Tour concluded. I guess, in summary, I’d say we didn’t learn very much about the area; Sky100 was the best bit, but the hour tour had given us a feel for this part of the city.
Next stop was an early lunch. Fortunately, the tour finished right next to Pizza Express. It was empty when we arrived around noon and absolutely heaving, when we left around an hour later!
…and at HK$58 for a two-courser – around £5.80 pp – I’m not surprised; what’s NOT to love? 😋
Guided Walk around the City
Ann and I opted out of this one, as we wanted to complete today’s Blog post before the Night-Tour later (well, that’s my excuse!). Ralph and Karen flew the flag for the group! 😉, so we said our temporary goodbyes and they headed for the meeting-point via the Ferry. Cheers you two – see you later for the Night Tour!!
The Night Tour
This was a one-hour tour starting at 7pm. There’s only one departure time and it was suggested that we get there in good time to bag the best bus seat!
The Hotel’s free Shuttle-bus took me from the hotel and dropped me at The Peninsular – right where the tour started, so that was perfect!
I wouldn’t say it was the most exciting set of lights I ever seen but it was worth the trip if only to appreciate the sheer volume of the retail operation – especially the number of watch shops. The gazillions of people walking in every direction made us appreciate even more being on the top-deck of the Bus! 😃
We’ve got a FINAL full day here tomorrow, and it’s our last day in Hong Kong – and the holiday! Time to think about packing!
Well, that’s it! After 225,616 steps, we’re done here! (until the next time!) 👍 😁
It’s been a great break, with great friends and some unforgettable memories! Back to reality, when we land at 5.30am on Saturday (tomorrow) morning! 😴😴😴😴
Well, hello there Reader, thanks for stopping-by. It’s Day 2 for us in Hong Kong – day 17 of our 19-day adventure in China. 😎
We’re sight-seeing today by Bus today taking in the sights of Hong Kong, courtesy of the Big Bus Tour. We’re attempting to cover as many of their routes as possible over the next two days.
We love a challenge! 🤔
You can download a super-detailed map of all of their bus-routes from HERE.
Let the buses commence! Our first was the hotel’s free shuttle service, running pretty much throughout the day, twice an hour.
We’d already bought our Big-Bus bus tickets online (saving 10%) before we left – and opted for the two-day deluxe option (details HERE). Buying the tickets to cover two days meant we’d be able to pace ourselves accordingly. At the time of writing, the cost per couple was £135 and that included a trip on the famous Star Ferry, plus the Peak Tram/sky100 observation tower. plus all three routes (Red, Blue and Green), the night tour, a cruise on a Sanpan and a two-and-a-half hour guided walk around the city.
If you want to get a real feel for Hong Kong, in my view, this is probably the most time efficient/cost effective way to do things.
Once the shuttle-bus dropped us off, it was just a short walk to the (rather unattractive, but functional) Star Ferry Terminal.
After a bit of help from the Big-Bus visitor Centre at the Terminal converting our online QR codes to actual tickets…
…we were soon on-board ‘Twinkling Star’ heading for adventure…
…with some beautiful views across the water!
It’s less than 30p to use the Ferry, and it’s the easiest way to get across from the Island. The Big-Bus err… buses are large affairs with a semi-covered roof and an air-conditioned lower deck. There’s free wifi too! Headphones seem to be on ‘request-only’ these days in an effort for them to ‘help save the planet’ (their words).
On the Bus (Green Route)
11.15am: We’re off on the Green Route that takes in Ocean Park, Repulse Bay, Stanley and Aberdeen. I’d say it was less ‘hop-on/hop-off’, more hang on for dear life as our driver did the circuit at some speed! It’s very twisty-turney and not very camera-friendly given the foliage that was blocking a lot of the views. Ralph and did our best!
All in all, very green, very pretty and by the looks of it – very expensive! (Nine Teslas spotted plus a Ferrari showroom!) 😄
Oh yes, very nice indeed! 😎
On the Sanpan
A Sanpan is a Chinese flat bottomed-boat. We’re not quite sure of the difference between it a Junk, but we think the latter might have a traditional hull. Anyway, enough of the specifics, we got this one all to ourselves and our skipper navigated us with ease aroud the harbour area and further afield.
Very nice! 😁
And good to see the floating Chinese restaurant again after all these years. it still looks the same! Beautiful! 😍
On the Retail Therapy
Lunch was now calling! LOUDLY!!! 😁 So, when the bus dropped us back at the Ferry Terminal, we took the short walk over the footbridge to a rather swanky shopping centre – The International Finance Centre. Crikey! There’s posh places to shop, even posher places to shop… and then there’s this development! 😯 Seriously impressive with some very expensive items on sale, especially writwatches… and especially RADO! Leave me here, I’ll be fine! 😁
On the Burgers
However, our needs were more basic – even a burger would do! And as luck would have it, there was an outlet called Shake ‘n’ Vac Shack (website HERE). It was looking pretty busy with seating inside and out – and on two floors! We joined the queue but were quickly ushered into ‘fast-track’ because we were paying by plastic! 😁😁
We sat outside with some great views across the water – and the food wasn’t bad either. Pity tht the loos were so far away though! (must be my age!) 🙄
We were stuffed, but we still had plenty of Hong Kong still to cover, so we headed back to the Big-Bus boarding point near the Ferry Terminal (whilst taking in some great views of the ‘Hong Kong Observation Wheel from the covered walkway).
Next stop was the world famous The Peak and the equally famous Tram to get us there…
On the Tram
The experience was pretty unique! It climbs VERY steeply, and in spite of a fellow passenger insisting it was climbing at an angle of around 22°, Ralph and I reckoned it was more like 45°!
On the ‘Wonk’
Ann and I have been here before and so we knew what to expect when we got to the top…
…only we didn’t! Much has changed here in terms of the viewing opportunity. They seem to have built UPWARDS and created a major new viewing area. We thought it was going to cost us extra, but a quick wave of our Tram ticket got us in up there for nothing! 😊. Apparently it’s called Sky Terrace 428 and is the highest platform in Hong Kong at 428 metres (ahh, that explains the name!)
And nothing could have prepared us for the views! They were great last time – this time? simply jaw-dropping!
Then it was down to earth the way we came – by Tram…
…where we waited for the next Red-Route Bus for about 45 minutes (Grrrr!) that took us back the Ferry Terminal.
On the Ferry
It had been an action-packed day, and we were glad ot be back on the Ferry. We caught a taxi at the other end and were soon back at The Kerry for our evening meal at 5.30! Phew! 🥱🥱🥱🥱
We briefly planned what we left to do on our two-day tickets and it looks like tomorrow is shaping up to be a another fun-filled day, just like today! 😎
As much of the Blue Route as we can
The visit to the Sky100 Observation tower
A guided walk around the city
The Night Tour
By the way, there’s hardly any evidence of social unrest here (maybe contrary to what you might have seen in the media). A bit of graffiti, but not much more than you see in a typical modern city!
Evening all! We’re now on the final leg of our Chinese adventure – we’re in Hong Kong! 😎
We landed around 4.30 local time (09.30 KMT) and headed for our home for the next four days – The Kerry Hotel.
Ralph and Karen are here in HK for the first time, whilst it’s the fourth time for us.
Our bags were sent to the belt so quickly, by the time we got to the baggage area, they’d almost done a lap-of-honour! In all my years of travelling, that’s a first! 😁
We had a good journey from the airport (about 40kms) and we were soon checking-in.
We were then ushered to our ‘special floor’ (floor 8) where we were plied with all sorts of delicious treats, whilst they readied our rooms.
As we’re here for four full days, one of our first priorities is to establish the real extent of the social unrest here, so we can plan our exploring. A quick word with reception and all was clear! The demonstrations are daily and the Metro system shuts down at 10pm. Other than that, it’s ‘business as usual’.
First impressions are good ones, and this 546 monster hotel feels GREAT! It was built as recently as April 2017, but looks like it opened yesterday!
…and that’s before we got to room 5553! Holey Moley! This is totally OTT! I’ve trained groups in rooms smaller than the ‘lounge’ and used syndicate rooms smaller than ‘loo 2’! 😉😉 Ridiculously large, but we love it! 😍
We quickly unpacked and headed back to floor 8 for a few more nibbles before hatching a cunning plan for tomorrow. Looks like we’re going to take the free hotel shuttle-bus into town and then book a ticket for the city’s Big Bus sightseeing tour.
Today’s Post therefore is about just one thing – the spectacular light show here in ‘The Bund‘ area of Shanghai city that wows the crowds every night.
The photos probably don’t do it justice compared with seeing it live, so here’s a short video…
Tomorrow, we’re on the move again! Next stop is Hong Kong and we arrive around 4.30pm local time. We’ve got four full days there, so we just need to make sure we’ve got our face–masks, petrol bombs and umbrellas and then we should blend in quite nicely! 😮
Morning! 😃 (Sorry it’s late again!) Today, we’re on the train heading for Suzhou! But before all that, what could be better than meeting a new Tour Guide?
…it’s meeting TWO new Tour Guides. First up, there’s Mark who’s looking after us in Shanghai, and later we were to meet Stephen, for our Tour around Suzhou.
And it looks like the great weather has returned – around 24-26℃ with a gentle breeze! Perfect! 😎😎😎😎
Being China, AND travelling from Shanghai meant it was no ordinary train either – it’s another ‘bullet’ type!
We were picked up by Mark at the Hotel, and our Driver quickly (and I do mean quickly – cyclists, pedestrians and anything else moving beware!) whisked us to Shanghai Railway Station. Opened in 1987, it’s a monster and another impressive piece of Chinese architecture. Very shiny and not a speck of dust in sight! 😁
Today’s Tourist Tip: Make sure you travel to the right one as there are FOUR in Shanghai! 🤔
Our 100km journey at a top speed of 300 km/h (including stops) to Suzhou meant that we arrived in around 35 minutes (by ‘standard train it’s anywhere between 1 and 2 hours). It’s the fastest way to get to Suzhou and there’s plenty of them as these trains run every 20 minutes, every day! Impressive!! 👌
So what about Suzhou? It’s a major city located in southeastern Jiangsu Province of East China, about 100 km (62 mi) northwest of Shanghai. It’s a major economic centre and is the focal point of trade and commerce.
But we’re not going there for a lesson in economics! It’s a holiday and we’re attracted to its other claim-to-fame – it’s also known as the Venice of the East (after its extensive canal structure).
We met with Stephen – our Guide – and we were soon into our Tour Bus (Driver, Mr Chau) and heading for out of the city for our one-day tour. On the the ‘to-do’ list today…
China’s Number 1Silk Factory
The Garden of the Humble Administrator
A boat trip on the Canal
Lunch at a local Chinese restaurant
A visit to the Opera Museum
The Sun was out and it was a pleasantly warm morning as we arrived at China’s ‘No 1’ Silk Factory. It was founded in 1926 as a state-owned factory but is now in provate hands. After parking, Stephen led us straight into the factory itself and a comprehensive demonstration about the all-important birth of a silk-worm.
We then moved into the factory itself our first stop was a a bit of quality control! The factory also buys-in silk cuckoons and we observed a member of staff sifting through the latest batch to reject those that didn’t come up to scratch!
It looked like a big (and very repetitive) job! Our next stop was seeing an actual loom working and it was impressive to see how fine the strands of silk were.
Click above to play
Those Silkworms are clever beasts!
And if we were thinking this was just about the creation process, we were wrong because the next stop was a sizeable piece of retail space selling their wares…
From duvets and pillows to silk prnts, it seemed to have everything! It’s a lot cheaper out here too! – about a quarter of the price than in the UK.
I was tempted, but resisted, whilst Ann didn’t! Worth it though – two large silk scarves for £30 total!!
Our next stop was the “ever so ‘umble”… 🙄
The Garden of the Humble Administrator
The Humble Administrator’s Garden is a Chinese garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous of the gardens of Suzhou. The garden is located at 178 Northeast Street, Gusu District. At 13 acres, it is the largest garden in Suzhou and is considered by many to be the finest garden in all of southern China.
The story of the ‘Humble Administrator” goes like this: During the reign of Emperor Zhengde (1506-1521), the site was occupied by Dahong Temple. At that time, a censor named Wang Xianchen, an Imperial Envoy and poet of the Ming Dynasty, appropriated the temple and converted it into a private villa. In 1510, he retired to his native home of Suzhou under the occasion of his father’s death. He had experienced a stressful official life consisting of various demotions and promotions, and gave up his last official post as magistrate of Yongjia county in Zhejiang province, and began to work on the garden. But the Wang family could not maintain it. After the death of Wang Xianchen a few years later, Wang’s son lost the garden to pay gambling debts and in the coming centuries the garden repeatedly changed hands and was rebuilt many times.
Clearly the locals knew all of this and consequently it was very busy. It felt like the whole of China had arrived at the same time as us, and it made the photography a lot more challenging!
Very green and only ONE pagoda! 😁
It seemed to go on for ages (in a good way) but at times, it was a real rugby-scrum at times.
Monty Don would have been proud, but the ‘Jobs for the Weekend’ would have been enormous! 😊
Our day was flying by, and Stephen led us to our next experience – Suzhou’s Canal.
Boat trip on the Canal
This was the highlight of the day for me! Canals in China is not something you immediately think of (well, I didn’t!) but it looked perfectly natural and in-keeping with the local area. In fact it’s part of the longest canal IN THE WORLD at 1104 miles (part of the Grand Canal). I didn’t know that! 😏
And it didn’t disappoint! Our ‘Pilot’ was a woman, slight of build, but very handy with an oar! She manouvered our boat with extreme precision and confidence, even performing an abrupt ‘three-point-turn’ towards the end or our trip to avoid a temporary obstruction. Respect! 😲
But things were about to go a bit ‘Pete Wong Tong! What we weren’t to know when we innocently boarded our vessel some 20 minutes earlier was that ‘obstruction’ I mentioned meant that we didn’t quite fully complete the journey – and Stephen was waiting half a mile ahead not knowing that we’d already got off! 🤔 Cue some degress of stress on both sides!
Luckily, it all worked-out in the end, but it was one of those ‘moments’ where your mind works overtime thinking about all the negative permutations! 😲
Stephen had rescheduled lunch for later than previously suggested without explaining why, so by the time we were told, we were ready for it as it was getting on for 1.45pm! At this point, things started to unravel. Whether Stephen was even more un-nerved than us about what had happened on our canal journey, but the result was his timings went a bit more wobbly and we ended up not getting to a restaurant to eat until around 2pm. As we’ve learned out here, restaurant cooking stops at around this time, so over the next hour, things got interesting in terms of what we ordered!
Initially, it didn’t seem to be a problem. We were shown to our table and handed a menu. Stephen helpfully guided us through it all and we chose what had become our ‘standard’ out here – Sizzling Beef, Boneless Chicken, Noodles/Rice, some Veg and a portion of that nice sauteéd potato.
Err, not quite! After a heated exchange between Stephen and the local waiting-staff (which we guess when translated went something like this: “what time do you call this? Do you realise the kitchen is closed!”
What we ended up with was chicken WITH bones, NO sizzling beef, some rice (yay!), some potato that looked like spaghetti, and a local speciality dish called a Squirrel Fish. Initially, we weren’t sure whether it was squirrel dressed-up to look like a fish or fish dressed-up to look like a squirrel. Fortunately, it was the latter! 😁
I guess it all turned out to be ‘OK’ (just) and certainly not the best meal we’ve had out here. Never mind, after an hour, it was off to the next part of our tour. However, we seemed to walk for miles along the banks of the canal (very nice!), but again, it was packed!
..and then our Guide got lost! 🙄 meaning we had to double-back on ourselves! After a couple of further mis-steps, we located the Opera Museum. Our only obstacle (well, two actually!) was there was a canal in the way and an un-made road/path! (it’s sometimes hard ot tell the difference out here!)
The Opera Museum
The latter was the type that was perfect for ricked ankles… or worse! So Ann and I sat things out whilst Stephen, Ralph and Karen scrambled over the rugged terrain to the Museum.
And that was it! Our Tour was over. It had been great to see so much of Shinzou and just shame, timings went a bit awry later.
We said our goodbyes to Stephen and thanked him for his services. After a quick coffee at McD’s, we headed for the platform perhaps finally accepting that no-one queues out here and pushing-and-shoving is part of the daily grind when commuting. We returned again by bullet-train and were soon back at our Hotel, (after a slightly mis-calculation locating our Driver). After a quick refresh, we ‘hit the town’ for a light-bite.
Tomorrow is our final day in this beautiful city – and it’s a rare ‘non-organised’ day! Phew! I could do with a rest! No doubt we’ll find something to fill the space! 😁