Our recent trip to China was short but a good introduction. After spending almost 3 months in Vietnam, we wanted to travel overland to reach Hong Kong. Originally, we had planned to spend more time in China, being that it was our first visit. But as we are travelling all year, we wanted to slow things down, so we decided just to stop off at the cities we were stopping in on our train journey. We could have just stopped in Guangzhou and then went straight to Hong Kong, but I wanted to see at least two places and also take a bullet train, so we went through Shenzhen too.
So it’s not exactly your typical China Itinerary of iconic landmarks, green tea terraces and global cities. We originally wanted to explore the beauty of the Guangxi region, walk the Great Wall Of China and get lost in Beijing and Shanghai. But what we wanted more was to really enjoy the places we were in, and adding multiple more locations and more travel time was right down the bottom of the ‘things we wanted to do’ list.
What we did see and discover was a less touristy side to China, the struggles of travelling with language barriers (and how much we take the English language for granted), beauty of a different kind and a lot of people.
Day 1 – Arriving in Guangzhou
We arrived in Guangzhou after 2 trains (Hanoi – Nanning and Nanning – Guangzhou) and about 20hrs of travel. The idea of the train was so we could see some landscape and different parts of the country along the way. The first train was mainly overnight, so not much to see until the morning, but then there was some nice landscape. We arrived in Nanning with no Chinese Yuan, but had to get a taxi to our next train station. After trying multiple ATMs they would not accept our International cards, we were finally able to communicate (speaking different languages) with someone who pointed us in the right direction. What a relief, we had our Yuan, got a taxi and got on our next train. The next train was really nice and there was some beautiful green landscape… mixed in with some abandoned looking towns with buildings that looked identical to each other. It was very clear we were somewhere unlike anywhere else we had ever been. Arriving in Guangzhou we got on the metro to our accommodation. Busy and hectic would be a gigantic understatement.
We were staying in the Liwan District, and walking around the streets felt like a combination of stepping back in time to another era and being on a movie set, it was so different. We even had a drizzle of rain just to set the scene.
Being a big city, I didn’t expect to see the ancient quaint architecture and I was pleasantly surprised. But it quickly became apparent that English was not widely spoken, or narrowly for that matter. As we were only in China for 4 days, we had decided not to get a local sim card for internet, so this combined with the language barrier meant every little thing we did was a huge effort. It may sound like I’m complaining, and I’m not going to lie, in the moment it could get very frustrating, but it really opened my eyes to how much we take our language for granted, and how we subliminally expect someone to speak English. As hard as it was, I loved the lessons it was teaching me, be patient, be prepared and don’t have expectations. It was also fun trying to communicate when neither party really had a clue, but I really appreciated the people who really tried to communicate, which usually ended in lots of laughter rather than answers.
The only thing we tried to do as we arrived in the evening was find a dim sum restaurant I had researched, but I had the English name and trying to figure out where it was sent us in about 5 different directions. After maybe 2 hours of walking around, starving and tired, we finally arrived at Panxi restaurant, and had our very first Dim Sum in China :) Well worth it! And then you walk home in 5 minutes and you don’t know whether to be happy it was so quick or frustrated it took you 2 hours to get there ;)
Things we did:
- Dinner at Panxi Restaurant
Day 2 – Guangzhou
A day to explore. The one thing that stood out about Guangzhou was that there are so many different sides to it, from older more authentic locations, to crazy busy, to ultra modern and ahead of it’s time. The architecture in Guangzhou was one of my favourite things, particularly in the Zhujiang New Town.
Things we did:
- Bejing Pedestrian Street
- TaiKoo Hui Shopping Complex
- Zhujiang New Town (Guangzhou Library, Opera House)
- Walk along the Pearl River
- Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street
Day 3 – Guangzhou To Shenzhen
Last day in Guangzhou, with a quick visit to Shamian Island and Litchi Bay, both were nice stops but can be done pretty quickly. Then we hopped on a bullet train to get to Shenzhen, which only takes 35 minutes!
Rewind… the bullet train may have been super quick but we almost missed it, as getting onto the bullet train took quite some time. Buying the tickets at the train station took about 30 minutes, but then we almost didn’t even have enough time to make the train, as all the lines and security to get to the platform took longer than expected. We only just made our train by about 1 minute. It was a really nice train though and I’m happy we had the experience.
Shenzhen was so different to Guangzhou. Shenzhen was very modern and just had a totally different feel. But today we fully intended on relaxing at the hotel and exploring Shenzhen tomorrow.
Things we did:
- Shamian Island
- Litchi Bay
Where we stayed: The Langham Shenzhen
Day 4 – Shenzhen
Our day started at Lotus Hill Park… one of the most beautiful open parks I have seen. So many people were out, flying kites, enjoying the beautiful weather. If only I had a blanket and some food I could have stayed here all day.
Next stop was the nearby book mall, my heaven. Then lunch, shopping and the insane street that is Dongmen pedestrian street. Three words.
I honestly found it too overwhelming and didn’t stay long. But overall, loved our day exploring Shenzhen.
Things we did:
- Lotus Hill Park
- Shenzhen Book Mall (self-confessed nerd)
- MIXC Shopping mall
- Jiang Nan Wei Dao for lunch (in the MIXC shopping mall)
- Dongmen Pedestrian Street
Day 5 – Shenzhen To Hong Kong
Our last morning in Shenzhen was just spent relaxing in the hotel, before heading to the train station to go to Hong Kong. This process was fairly easy. First you go through a security check then you buy your tickets on the other side. We purchased an Octopus card as you get slightly cheaper rates, you only need to load it and then tap on/off, and it can also be used at many stores around Hong Kong. From here, arriving in Hong Kong is as simple as getting off the train.
Our 5 Day China Itinerary Review
Our time in China was a bit of whirlwind, but I’m so glad we made time to stop off and see two different places. Although we didn’t do the typical China Itinerary, I still really enjoyed it, and it really was a great introduction, learning more about the culture, the differences and the people. If you were visiting China as your one destination, I probably wouldn’t recommend just seeing these two places, as there is so much more to see and do in China. But if you are travelling overland from Vietnam to Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are very convenient stops and will give you an insight into China.