I have always wanted to travel to China but kept putting off and went on exploring other parts of Asia during my annual summer holidays – the only thing putting me off was the cold weather during their winter as that would be only time I could travel there. However, with my summer holidays now in July/August here and the fact that Japan and China are in such close proximity to one another made it the perfect destination for my summer vacation!
As a little taster of such an enormous country with such varied climates and cultures, I decided to go for a short 10 day trip travelling from Shanghai to Hong Kong. The tour I chose did not hit many of the big tourist spots – the Great Wall, Forbidden City or Terracotta Warriors but instead traveled to lesser known spots and into the country side. This is what I was looking forward to, getting to see the nature that this country has to offer rather than the massive cities.
My flight into Shanghai departed from the rural airport of Ibaraki, in the northerly neighbouring prefecture to Tokyo. So that itself felt like a trip as it was a 2 hour bus ride away. The airport was so tiny it was the only international departure at that time!
My first taste of Shanghai, other than the taxi ride from the airport, was walking the streets to a rooftop bar that overlooked the Bund – which is the waterfront with such unique looking skyscrapers, unlike any I have every seen.
The next day after checking out the Bund in the day time in the oppressive heat, we headed to the subway to get to the high speed rail station for our train to Wuyishan. While the station was quite an expansive complex, the sheer number of people mulling about was really overwhelming. It was the first time I really got to feel how many people there are here. While Tokyo’s population may be similar to that of Shanghai’s, it is more of an organised chaos. Here, there was little order which took some adjusting to, especially coming from such structure in Japan.
In Wuyishan we hiked up Wuyi mountain – when I say hike, it was a lot of stairs at a snail’s pace as the number of people hiking up was astounding. It made it a lot more tolerable, especially with the heat, with a lot of waiting around for people to keep moving. The view along the way and from the top was amazing; so lush and green in contrast with the blue of the river.
In our free afternoon, after the hike, a couple of the tour group members and I wandered around the town and stumbled across a snake museum in which snakes were displayed in exhibits as well as preserved animals. It was really quite an experience – a very bizarre place!
The next day started off with bamboo rafting – we caught the public bus to the wharf and after a bit of a wait we all enjoyed a relaxing one and a half hour ride down the river. It was another blazing hot day; they tried to provide some shade but with little success but the occasional breeze was welcome respite. The view of the mountains from the river was spectacular, we sipped on Oolong tea as we drifted down the river with the lady serving the tea playing an interesting mix of Chinese and English love ballads.
Then we were off to our next city, Xiamen, on another high speed train. The next day was a free day to spend without the help of our guide and it became increasingly clear that China is a very tricky place to navigate if you don’t speak the language!
The thing to do in Xiamen is to visit the small island off the coast called Gulangyu Island – a historic island a couple of square kilometres in area that allows only electric powered vehicles. We had been advised to get to the pier early to buy tickets, so after a few delays we set off from the hotel early in the morning. We tried to find taxis, but there appeared to be none around at that time of day. So we tried to catch a bus, but as everything was marked in Chinese, we had no idea which bus would take us to the pier. By some miracle, I managed to match the Chinese characters (some of which are similar to kanji in Japanese) for the bus we needed to catch, and with the help of a lovely stranger of two, worked out which bus to catch and where to get off. We got off at the pier without a hitch only to be told that this pier was for local residents only and that we had to catch another bus to the international cruise terminal! What a kerfuffle! Luckily, some volunteer guides helped us out – one even catching the bus with us! – and we made it to the terminal only to find out that the next available ferry was at 5.10pm (it was barely 10am in the morning at this point!)
So we headed back into town, stopping by a random drink vendor and had the lady recommend a drink and it was refreshing fruity concoction – perfect for another boiling hot day. We walked along the seaside and then tried to find somewhere for lunch. After many a failed attempt at communicating what vegetarian was, Becky and I tried our luck at a noodle place in which the owners were so willing to help – even translating and asking what we could and couldn’t eat. It was one of the simplest meals I have every had, but probably one of the tastiest!
After lunch we headed to a nearby temple. It was so hot and humid in the middle of the day that looking around a temple, which I would normally love, became hard work. The temple grounds were quite expansive, it involved many stairs which was excruciating in the 35+ degree heat. Unlike temples in other countries, this temple was not serene and peaceful. Rather it was lively and crowded, bustling and boisterous.
We then made our way back to the ferry terminal and made it to the island! The trip to the island was a nice reprieve from all the walking around we had done and the sea breeze was welcome respite from the heat. We made it to Gulangyu Island among the packs of other Chinese tourists and managed to navigate our way around. It had an interesting atmosphere – relaxed at times, lively vendors selling fresh seafood and other local delicacies, the architecture was an interesting mix of east and west.
One of the main attractions of the island was Sunlight Rock where we were able to see some amazing views of the coast at sunset. As like with most things in China, it involved being jostled in a queue up to the look out point, but that is part of the fun and the views were worth it!
The view from the top of Sunlight Rock
*Part two of my adventure in China coming soon (hopefully!)