Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Weekend in nearby Mainland cities

This weekend I went with a couple of friends on a weekend adventure to nearby cities in the Mainland. It is a long weekend over here with Monday the 14th being a holiday. The pan was to go hiking in Shaoguan on Saturday and rafting somewhere else on Sunday. I would leave them Monday to go to Zhongshan to visit family. Not very much went as according to plan.

As it turned out, my friend is actually a very bad planner. Unlike my other trips where most of the important things are figured out, we had nothing figured out when we started. We only found out we can buy train tickets from HK to Guangzhou online the afternoon before we left and most trains were already full. So we decided to take the MTR to Shenzhen. My friend had read that you can take either a bus or a train from Shenzhen to Shaoguan so we looked for bus tickets after we got off of the MTR at Lukwu. But turns out you can only get buses at the other cross border checkpoint so we ended up taking the SZ Metro to the SZ train station. This took a long time as SZ is actually a very big city. When we got too the train station, we found that trains to Shaoguan leaves at 5pm which would not be ideal for hiking. In hindsight, we could have still gone, spent the night there and then hike leisurely the next day.

But instead, we chose to buy a ticket for Guangzhou that left an hour and a half later. We had lunch and then promptly napped on the benches. I didn't get very much sleep the night before and was still a little sick so I had been really looking forward to an opportunity to a long train or bus ride. After we finally got to GZ, we find that the high speed train station is really far from the city center and it took more than half an hour to get into the city by metro where we finally were about to properly start our holiday.

We walked around a pedestrian street and were really not that impressed by the shops. There were not as many accommodation choices as we expected but we managed to find a pretty nice 3 star hotel with reasonable prices. One of the things I like about traveling in the Mainland is that accommodation is cheap. We proceeded to walk around Shammien Island and then found a place to eat at another pedestrian street. The restaurant we ate at had traditional Guangdong food which we ate with pretty good tea. We walked around the pedestrian area after but it was mostly clothing stores and not many interesting things. We walked along the Pearl river for a bit and then tooka taxi to the Canton Tower. Wee got there after 10pm and I have to say that night views are not very good. Daytime viewing is much more interesting as you can see more stuff. Especially since this tower did not have an outdoor viewing area and the glass window reflections blocked a lot of the view. We tried unsuccessfully to get a cab back and ended up taking one of those motorized "three wheel vehicles" which consisted of open air seating behind a driver of a scooter like vehicle who drive through many red lights. We got back safely in the end and slept pretty well that night.

We were in a bit of a rush to get to the train station the next morning to catch our train to Shaoguan. We had thought our train left at 9:30 and ran to the gate at exactly 9:30. Luckily for us, the train's actual departure was at 9:44am. None of us has bothered to actually read the ticket after we bought it.

So we finally got to Shaoguan and found the train station to be very desolate again. We asked about buses to the hiking area in Danxia Mountain and found that we had missed the bus. Some driver trying to make money told us the bus only confess every hour so we asked around for prices and ended up taking a taxi. The bus probably comes more often but who knows. We were again accosted by people trying to make money after getting to Danxia Mountain. These people on scooters told us that tickets would cost $120 each but that they can take us in through the backdoor for $60. I think it was not too bad to take them because everything is very far apart and it would have taken us a long time by foot. This backdoor deal was a bit sketchy but we ended up right at the start of one of the trails so that worked out fine.

We did some serious hiking all the way up to this fortress. We all agreed that there really should be more warning at the start so that people know what they are getting themselves into. Fortunately for us we went up one way where we can easily see the highest point. The way back down was more hidden so the people who took that way up had no idea how far they had to go and where they were going. We saw one group who were complainting loudly at the start and one of the girls even has her shoes off (probably had a pair of shoes that were unsuitable for hiking to begin with) and we warned them they had a long way to go.

After our tiring hike, we chilled at a restaurant/bar and recovered before striking out to find the geology museum. We found a driver who was willing to take us for very cheap. After we got there we found ourselves at the sex/erotic museum instead and were told that the geology museum was actually inside the park. We would need tickets to go back in. I wouldn't have minded staying at the park for the night as it is very scenic and peaceful. But we had already left the park and wanted to try to get to another nearby city to stay for the night. That city has some temples and things but I really doubt we would've been able to see anything given all the travel time necessary to get there. I've found that it's hard for my friend to give up on an idea after he's decided on something. Anyway, we got to the high speed train station only to find that all tickets to that city were sold out for the day and that the next available train for GZ was at nearly 8pm, which meant we would have 2.5 hours to kill. So that's where I wrote most of this on my phone due to the lack of anything else to do.

After we successfully got to GZ, I got another train ticket to Zhongshan for the next morning. We asked about nearby hotels at the information desk and was recommended one that had train station pickup and dropoff included. The hotel was pretty standard but didn't have any 3 people room. The double delux had a couch included so we opt for that. The couch was kind of small but still OK. We proceeded to go find food and went into a nearby mall whose Chinese name is the same as Festival Walk, the name of the mall I work at. Really can't escape. But as it was nearly 10pm, things were closed. We settled for a Cha Chan Tang serving HK style food. They really made everything that you could find in HK. So we all got some stir fried noodles and milk tea. It was 11 by the time we finished and we still hadn't showered so we basically went back to the hotel and slept.

The next day we parted ways and I headed to Zhongshan by high speed rail. Got up to the platform just as they were letting people in. Really need to reserve more time for these train stations. They are very big! It takes forever to walk from one end to the other. Anyway I got to Zhongshan and was met by my uncle. We had a lunch together and I managed to get some bank stuff done before heading back to HK. The trip back took a while as there were no ferries due to a typhoon. So I took the bus to Shenzhen and then took the MTR back. There was lots of traffic in Shenzhen and tons of people at the border crossing. Maybe I should have had dinner in SZ and avoided the rush.

I think it was good to get away from HK for a long weekend. Should really do this more often. But better planning and not being sick would definitely help.

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