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Arriving at Guangzhou train station, I didn’t know what to expect of the city. It’s one of those modern metropolises often seen as a stop-over to other parts of the world. As one of China’s busiest airports, Guangzhou Baiyun is the home base and central layover for China Southern Airlines. It’s also growing into one of China’s most important centres for the high-tech industry with booming industrial sectors. A great place to shop for electronics.

Guangzhou city

The metro from the train station is as efficient as any other in China. Well laid out maps with an intuitive system. The ticket machines always available in English and prices around 1 dollar to get anywhere in the city.

Guangzhou doesn’t quite have the history to match some other major cities, its streets full of modern architecture and high-end retail. It looks and feels clean, modern and safe. The people smiling and milling about town in a jubilant fashion.

The city is busy, but it doesn’t feel busy in the same hectic way that other cities do. A relaxed nature seems to permeate the air.

Guangzhou Skyscraper

Exploring at night is a great decision. The air is cooler, that southern humidity dropping off slightly with the absence of the sun.

The city begins to glow in the evening and continues on into the night. The lights of the towers coming to life in a myriad of colour and modern expression. The air itself glowing purple as the mist and fog catch the light.

The waterside is wonderful, it seems this is the time and place to exercise, the riverbank flowing with activity. Again, it’s busy with crowds but doesn’t feel like it. The noise and behaviour are calm and comfortable. The locals at peace in their home.

Guangzhou bridge and Canton Tower

The Canton Tower stands high in the sky, its shifting rainbow of light dancing in the sky. It’s a marvel to look upon as it reflects on the river. The tower can be ascended, with a glass observation deck at 450m!
Across the bank, Huacheng Plaza is abuzz with life and laughter. The ‘place to be’ apparently, the square teeming with families and children playing on the colourful ground which lights up like a disco floor, the city’s tallest towers bordering both sides displaying their own light shows.

I spent hours wandering the streets, seeing everything on display. It really comes off as a very happy place, a big city with a welcoming environment.

Some other highlights of the city are definitely;

  • Shamian Island
  • Chen Clan Academy
  • Baiyun Mountain Park

After taking the metro back across town to my hotel, I wandered down the streets lined with small food stalls, the smell captivating and irresistible. I couldn’t finish my walk empty handed, grabbing a portion of crispy looking gyozas. Completely delicious, every bite a reassurance of the decision I had made.

Guangzhou by night

Guangzhou is a wonderful place to visit for food, its streets full of wonderful regional cuisine and international favourites.
Make sure to try these delights when visiting;

  • Yum Cha
  • Kao Ru Zhu
  • Long Hu Dou
  • Shuang Pi Nai
  • Dim Sum

Thanks for reading!

Henry

Not far from Guilin, around 95kms, lie the breathtaking rice terraces of Longji. Amongst these flowing hills of lush green forest and rice, is Dazhai village. I cannot recommend this place enough, whether you’re looking for adventure and hiking or just time to relax in a serene location surrounded by some of the most beautiful country scenery I’ve ever seen!

Dazhai Village

Like many places of stunning natural beauty, it is a little remote. I travelled by local bus from the airport which was very slow and involved a few vehicle switches in small towns where no one spoke English. When I left a couple days later I discovered the direct bus which was much faster and a lot more comfortable! From my experience, unless you’re very confident on your own I would definitely recommend visiting the Longji area with private transport, or as part of a tour! For me, it’s a place not to miss either way!

I stayed in the Longji Dazhai International Youth Hostel. It’s definitely not a youth hostel in the traditional sense of low-cost backpacker style travelling. I had a wonderful king room with en suite and private balcony overlooking the centre of the village, which was also a rice field! Very comfortable indeed.

Dazhai Rice Terraces

Despite being such a small town, there are quite a few local restaurants serving up fresh local produce. Every time I went for a walk, there would be friendly invites and gestures to join a table for lunch or dinner. I actually ate all my meals in the hostel, which had a great menu of wonderful variety. I had some of the freshest and most flavoursome food I’ve ever eaten during my stay!

About a 10-minute walk down the road that you come in on, is an enormous cable car ready to whisk you up to the highest point in the immediate area for incredible views of the surrounding valleys and terraces.

The area provides some excellent hiking, most of which follows small paved paths that curl and weave around the hills. Some of the greenest green that I’ve ever seen greets you around every bend and over every crest.

Dazhai Hiking

Dazhai and the Longji area were a wonderful escape from the flat-out-busy lifestyle of the Chinese cities. Even the drives in and out were incredible, the narrow roads following a river through the valley. Waterfalls cascade down on both sides, one even straight onto the roof of the bus as we drove past. It did rain a lot while I was there in mid-July but I felt this added to the experience. July through September is a beautiful time to go, as the crops are mid-growth and will be glistening green with the fresh rains.

Thanks for reading!

Henry

Xian, the capital of the Shaanxi province, is one of the oldest cities in China and the oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. In English, the name translates to “western peace”.

As part of the economic revival of inland China since the 1990s, Xian has emerged as a cultural, economic and industrial centre for the north-west.
Xian has a rich and important history in China, offering ancient history and a very inviting atmosphere for tourists.

Terracotta Army Xian

I decided to take an organised group tour for Xian for one day, and have a second day free to explore the city on my own. After my visit, I thought this was definitely the right decision, I met some awesome people on the tour and we had a great guide, super informative. The private air-conditioned bus was plus also!

The city tour, which focused on the ancient history of Xian, included the Banpo Museum, Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor and of course the Terracotta army.

Banpo is the name given to ancient village ruins discovered in 1953. Just east of Xian they have been carbon-dated to 5600-6700 years ago. A truly ancient relic of modern humanity. I knew nothing about this incredible place before this tour, learning the history of the places you visit, especially ones as old as this is one of my favourite parts of travelling.

From Banpo, we went to a sculpture workshop, to check out all manner of local craft. Beautifully intricate jade carvings and hand-woven clothing, alongside full-size replicas of the Terracotta soldiers. You could even have the soldiers made with your head on them, the artists achieving an excellent likeness!

It was now time for the day’s main attraction. The most famous site in Xian would have to be the Terracotta Army. The army was originally discovered by a farmer who was digging a well but found the stone head of a soldier. Since that day the area has been protected and has resulted in one the greatest ever archaeological finds with over 8000 figures spread through a number of pits.

What an incredible sight it is, I just stood and stared, the vastness of the main pit is really staggering.

Chariot Xian

Alongside these 2 major historical sites, I used my free day in Xian to check out some other local attractions, including;

  • Fortifications of Xian
  • Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor
  • Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
  • Great Mosque of Xian

The fortifications still to this day, run in a full loop around the centre of the town. If you’re feeling up for it, you can walk or ride a bike the 15km circumference right around the top!

If there’s one food dish that represents Xian, it’s ‘yangrou paomo’. This dish is made up of shredded flat bread in a mutton soup. Spicy and delicious.

Alongside this, don’t miss the ‘chuan’er’. Very similar to a shish kebab, this barbecued meat on a stick is wonderfully spiced and flavoursome.

The place to find this food? The Muslim quarter, a district of myriad colours, sounds and flavours. Check it out once the sun goes down, this is when the streets come alive!

Xian Muslim Quarter

In regard to getting around, I will offer the exact same advice as I have in earlier China pieces! It’s super easy!

The city’s subway system is very modern and intuitive, with easily readable maps and very cheap ticket prices. Around $1 will get you almost anywhere in the city!
Taxis are always available to take you where you need. I highly recommend if you don’t speak any Mandarin, to get your hotel staff to write down your destinations and addresses in Mandarin and then show this to the taxi drivers! Always make sure they are using the metre to avoid being ripped off!

Thanks for reading,

Henry

Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China and one of the world’s most populous cities. A truly modern metropolis rich with thousands of years of history, Beijing has something to offer everybody.

The name Beijing, means “Northern Capital”, and has been the country’s political centre for the majority of the last 800 years.

Temple through the gates Beijing 

Taking an organised tour is a great and convenient way to see the city and its tremendous highlights, while also taking the pressure off you if you’re worried about dealing with the traffic and busy streets. It’s very normal to feel this way, a population close to Australia’s total in one city can be daunting for anyone!

 

A 2-day tour would be an absolute minimum, 3 or 4 days preferable, don’t try to rush this city and cram it all into one day! Here’s a few spots that shouldn’t be missed;

  • The Forbidden City
  • The Temple of Heaven
  • The Great Wall at Mutianyu
  • Tiananmen Square
  • The Summer Palace
  • National Museum of China
  • Simatai

 

This list is just some of the highlights, with some, such as the Great Wall, worthy of having an entire day or more dedicated to them alone. The Forbidden City, Tiananmen square, Temple of Heaven and The Summer Palace combine for a great full day of city touring, without too much driving or wasted time transporting between.

Forbidden City rain Beijing

A personal favourite of any organised tour is always the incredible included lunch!

Like all China, Beijing has its regional specialties and delights. Local restaurants are very accommodating to foreigners, with most having illustrated menus in English and helpful, friendly staff. You may have to point to what you want on menus at times but I find this adds to the fun of it all and goes part and parcel with the travelling experience.

Make sure to try some of these local bites when in Beijing;

  • Peking Duck or Beijing Roast Duck
  • Chinese dumplings – Jiaozi
  • Gangou potatoes
  • Noodles with Soybean paste
  • Tuckahoe Pie

 Beijing Tea

Once you’re in Beijing, the intense traffic can seem intimidating but getting around can be very easy!
The city’s subway system is very modern and intuitive, with easily readable maps and very cheap ticket prices. Around $1 will get you almost anywhere in the city!
Taxis are always available to take you where you need. I highly recommend, if you don’t speak any Mandarin, to get your hotel staff to write down your destinations and addresses in Mandarin and then show this to the taxi drivers! Always make sure they are using the metre to avoid being ripped off!

 

Beijing is the perfect place to launch any adventure in China, it’s size can be daunting but its clean and safe and has so much to offer. A truly captivating city showing off an incredible mix of China’s history and modernity.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Henry

The People’s Republic of China can be a daunting place to visit, with its enormous population, sprawling cities and almost endless options, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

If you’re thinking of booking a trip to China, but keep asking yourself;

  • Where do I start?
  • What shouldn’t be missed?
  • How do I pay for stuff?
  • How will I communicate with the people?
  • How do I get around?

Then check out our quick guide below and forget your worries!

Where to start

The first steps are often the hardest on any adventure or new experience. This will often be based on how much time you have but I would definitely state that Beijing is a great place to start! The capital, located in the north east, is not to be missed, and is home to some of the biggest sites; The Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China for starters.

 

The essentials

Whether you’re looking for culture, food, adventure, wilderness or city-scapes, or all of the above. China has a lot to offer. Here’s 10 of the top locations to give you an idea;

  • The Great wall of China – BeijingStreets at night China
  • The Terracotta Army – Xi’an
  • The Li River – Guilin
  • The Yellow Mountains – Huangshen
  • The Forbidden City – Beijing
  • The Bund – Shanghai
  • Victoria Harbour – Honk Kong
  • Giant Pandas – Chengdu
  • The Potala Palace – Lasa, Tibet
  • West Lake – Hangzhou

 

Currency

The Chinese currency is the Renminbi, the basic unit of which is the Yuan. Yuan is generally how it’s the referred to, especially in international context. ATMs that accept international cards can be found in most places and cash is the easiest way to pay for anything, especially in the smaller cities. It’s often best to make sure you have enough cash on you before heading out though, in case you find yourself in a less touristy area. International airports are a great place to get cash when you first arrive. Train stations also!

It’s recommended to stick with the major banks such as;

  • Bank of China
  • HSBC
  • ICBC
  • China Construction Bank

Despite being a cash-based society, more and more places are beginning to accept international credit cards. Especially hotels, foreign brand name stores and up-scale restaurants. A credit card is great for making larger payments so it’s always worth carrying one with you.

China is very advance when it comes to mobile payment systems. Unfortunately, it is only serviced by local companies such as WeChat or Alipay who do not accept most international credit cards. If you ever encounter a shop that only accepts mobile payment, you can ask your guide to pay with their service and then give them the cash in exchange.

The current exchange rate is roughly: 5 yuan to 1 Australian dollar. Making it nice and simple to convert prices. 50 yuan is $10, 1000 yuan is $200 and so on. It’s often a comforting feeling knowing what you’re spending in your home currency!

Forbidden City rain China

Communication

Mandarin Chinese is the official national language of the mainland, accounting for a majority of the population.
English is the most common foreign language and is generally enough to get by in tourist areas.

It’s always worth learning a few words and phrases in Mandarin Chinese to use on your travels, just putting in the effort is always well received! It can also be very useful when looking for directions, shopping and ordering food.

Here’s a few useful phrases to get you started;

  • Nǐ hǎo (Nee-haoww) 你好
    Hello/Hi
  • Nǐ hǎo ma? (Nee-haoww-mah?) 你好吗
    How are you?
  • Xièxie. (sshyeah-sshyeah) 谢 谢
    Thank you
  • Duìbuqǐ. (dway-boo-chee) 对不起
    Sorry
  • Yǒuméiyǒu …? (Yoh-may-yoh …?) 有没有 …?
    Do you have …?
  • Duōshao qián? 多少钱 (Dwor-sshaoww chyen?)
    How much money?
  • … zài nǎlǐ? (… dzeye naa-lee?) …在哪里
    Where is …? (location said first)
  • Wǒ xiǎng qù… (Wor sshyang chyoo …) 我想去 …
    I want to go to …
  • Cèsuǒ. (tser-swor) 厕所
    Restroom/bathroom/toilet

rice terraces China

Getting Around

All tours will include modern air-conditioned private vehicles, with pick-up and drop-off right from the hotel lobby. Private transfers chauffers are also available between airports and hotels. When not on organized tours, or when you’re looking to venture further on your own, transport is no issue in China. With an incredibly modern network of airports and trains to link cities, alongside fantastic subway and taxi services in the metro areas.

Almost all services will have signage in English also, and the subway systems are very intuitive, with easy to read maps (also very cheap!) Avoid peak business hours and you’ll have no trouble, a fast and easy way to get around town!

Taxis are generally safe and reliable in China, and definitely the easiest way to get around. Make sure to carry cash, smaller notes are better. Where ever you’re heading, the best thing to do is get your hotel to write the place in Mandarin Chinese and then show this to the taxi driver to save time and avoid communication issues.

Thanks for reading!

Henry

Great Wall mist China