Louise and I had an exciting adventure, heading off from Hong Kong at 6pm on Friday 17 April and returning 6pm on Sunday 19 April.
Here is Louise's account of the trip...enjoy!
With a visa for a trip across the border to China soon to expire we checked out the option of traveling beyond Shenzhen but only within a few hours travel of Hong Kong. After an hour or so research of guide books in Dymocks and Bookazine we settled on Zhaoqing, which is about 120km west of Guangzhou. We read that it had a limestone landscape similar to Guilin so we thought we’d give it a go. Our research showed that one could either catch a ferry from the China ferry terminal or a train from Hung Hom, however neither of these options were suitable as they left in the middle of the day and we could not leave Hong Kong until around 6pm.
We therefore decided to travel by local trains…MTR to Lo Wu, walk across the border and then a train direct to Zhaoqing. Well, that was the plan however when we got to Shenzhen we found out that there were no trains to direct to Zhaoqing so the only option was to jump on a train to Guangzhou and then change for Zhaoqing.
We arrived at Guangzhou Main station and followed the crowd off the platform, finding ourselves outside the station and part of a substantial Friday evening crowd. We then had a bit of drama trying to locate the ticket booth for our onward journey to Zhaoqing. Thought we had to go back inside so we got in a queue and ended up “breaking” through security by vaguely waving our used train tickets from Shenzhen, only to find ourselves inside the concourse walking around in circles at various departure gates, where only onward ticket holders were supposed to be. We finally located the ticket office outside the station building.
We then had a bit of drama trying to locate the ticket booth for our onward journey to Zhaoqing. Thought we had to go back inside so we got in a queue and ended up “breaking” through security by vaguely waving our used train tickets from Shenzhen, only to find ourselves inside the concourse walking around in circles at various departure gates, where only onward ticket holders were supposed to be. We finally located the ticket office outside the station building.
With the help of props such as the very handy ‘used Shenzhen train ticket’ and a printout of Google Map in Chinese from the internet showing the Guangzhou – Zhaoqing) area, we managed to communicate where we wanted to go, only to find that there were no trains available till the next day. Plan B find a hotel (wondered how easy this would be on Canton Fair weekend). It proved not that difficult. Found a basic hotel just around the corner from the station. Here the reception staff spoke good English and were very helpful, so we were able to get advice about traveling to Zhaoqing the next day.
The advice was to catch a bus and not the train, so off we set the next day in search of the bus station. We had been pointed to the other end of the plaza in front of the railway station so we quite simply followed the crowds (including those with chickens in boxes) until we happened upon the intercity bus terminal, actually just around the corner from the station. Managed to secure a ticket and find the right bus (no chickens on this bus). Half an hour later we were on our way. First traveling though Guangzhou city then through the countryside beyond. It was a grey day made even greyer by the pall of smog in this, the industrial south of China.
It seems that every spare square inch in China is cultivated. There certainly are not many areas that are under utilized with the edges of the fields all planted with crops where in NZ there would just be grass and weeds. As we got deeper into the countryside the landscape along the plains of the Pearl River formed a patchwork of farmland interspersed with small ponds of geese or duck farms. Closer to Zhaoqing we started to run alongside the limestone hills that are a feature of the area and soon we arrived in the city.
On entering Zhaoqing the bus skirted Xinghu Lake (Star Lake), which surrounds the Seven Star Crags for which the city has become famous. Not that we could see the Seven Star Crags as the “haze” was rather thick, and rain was threatening so the resulting visibility was very low. The Seven Star Crags are limestone crags arranged in the shape of the Big Dipper and are one of the main tourist attractions of the city.
On arrival I was desperate to find a loo so followed my nose (literally) to the Ladies toilet at bus station where I was horrified to find that none of the toilet stalls had doors! You had to walk down the row (about 6 stalls) past ladies squatting inside, to find a vacant space. When you got to go, you got to go!
We had lunch at a street cafe where we had a great view of the comings and goings of the locals. Many motorcycles raced by, most motorcyclists “protected” by plastic helmets perched on the top of their heads with undone straps flapping in the wind. Local rickshaw drivers touted for business to take us around the sights however we chose to head for the hills instead of staying in the city over night.
Just 18km northeast of Zhaoqing is Mount Dinghu (Dinghu Shan). Dinghu Shan is renown for its beautiful mountain and forest scenery with tumbling waterfalls and ancient temples. The region has been named a World Nature Protection Association and is one of UNESCO’s ecology research centres. Dinghu has various accommodation options but we were more interested in finding a room within the park. We again used our trusty map as a prop to find out which bus to catch (local bus #21). Once the bus was sussed we went for a bit of a wander on the promenade by the lake. The rain was now setting in, so we ducked into a shopping mall to escape the deluge.
Outside motorcyclists had now all donned their poncho raincoats with even pillion passengers catered for with ponchos with double head holes! I decided that I needed a poncho (single) to wear on my mountain bike to dodge the downpours when heading from our house to the ferry terminal in Mui Wo, so we set about hunting for them in the mall. While riding an escalator in the mall 3 teenage boys decided to start a conversation to practice their English. They asked if they could help us, so we engaged them in showing us where to buy said ponchos…at the super market of course! I bought my single and I must say that I was very temped to buy a double one for my sister Ange and brother in law Glenn so that they could use it when riding with the HOG crowd on Harley Davidson rallies! The boys enjoyed the interaction with us and confessed that it was the first time any of them had ever spoken to a foreigner.
We then headed to a bus stop and waited and waited watching every number bus come and go but no #21. Finally after about one hour a very rickety local bus 21 came along complete with metal tubular bar seats – very comfortable - NOT. We rattled along for the 30 minute journey stopping at every bus stop, as one would expect of a local bus. Arrived at Dinghu and were deposited at the end of the line just by the park entrance. We tried to find out about the park accommodation options from one of the local tourist operators but language difficulties put paid to that idea. Then a friendly American “local” told us that as well as the main hotel in the park there were a couple of monasteries that also offered accommodation.
We each paid our 50yuan for park entry then inside each bought a 15yuan ticket to ride the local transport to the top of the mountain. On the way up we were lucky enough to capture glimpses of the plains below. On a clear day it would have been a really cool view out over the Xijiang River plains.
The park itself is well worth a visit. Really nice bush and some cool pagodas and garden areas. At the top of the hill there were temples and lookout points set in gardens. It was pretty packed with local tourists but we were the only white faces in the crowd. Got talking to a group of university students who were of course keen to practice their English and all either individually or in groups of one or two wanted to have photos taken with us. We managed to escape the photo taking frenzy and headed off on foot down the other side of the mountain. About half way down we came upon a Buddhist monastery and temple with a hotel attached.
After taking a look at the rooms we decided to check in for the night. Not a bad deal – 380yuan for a spacious bedroom with adjoining small lounge area. It soon became obvious that we were the only guests for the night. By 6pm, after the monks drumming session on a huge gong outside the temple, all the other tourists had left and the place became airily silent. We were now the only non-monastery people there. It was a pretty cool atmosphere wandering around the temple in the pleasantly drizzling rain. Fragrant joss sticks and candles burning with their smoke diffusing in the low light and fog.
As we checked in we had arranged to go to dinner in the restaurant at 7pm, but upon arrival, the restaurant was completely dark with not a sole in sight. We went back and quizzed reception and they managed to find the one guy who spoke English who roused the chefs and helped us to order…vegetarian food duly cooked and delivered to our room.
The beds at this hotel lived up to the usual Chinese standard (our experience to date in 3/4 star hotels has been rock hard beds). At 3am the monks let loose on the gong again (we had been warned about this). It was not too loud and actually quite soothing in a weird sort of way. At 8am we checked out and started our wander down the valley. It was very pretty wandering through the bush and especially nice that we were the only tourists in the park at this early hour. We walked down the trail to the accompaniment of piped Chinese music eventually coming to a very pretty waterfall, which was famous for being where Sun Yat Sen used to swim in the cool waters.
Got back to Dinghu and wandered the streets before the #21 bus turned up to take us on the bone jarring trip back to Zhaoqing. Back in Zhaoqing we again found someone who could speak English (in Walmart no less) to tell us how to get to the railway station. This entailed catching the #1 bus, which being a “town” bus this was not quite as rickety as the #21. This bus seemed to circumnavigate the town so we had a local and very cheap tour where we got to drive alongside the river and see the Yuejiang Lu Tower and city walls built during the Song Dynasty.
We arrived at the station on the outskirts of the city and ascertained that the train to Guangzhou would leave in about an hour and a half. Not enough time to head back into the city for further sightseeing so we bought our tickets and wandered off to find food. First stop was a street fried dumpling vendor. These dumplings were so delicious we had to go back for seconds. Then found a local sidewalk café and had soup noodles before heading back to the station to wait for the train. Time for another toilet stop before our journey! When Merrin saw me walking back towards him grinning from ear to ear he knew he was in for another toilet story. This time not only were the stalls open, but instead of individual porcelain squat toilets there was one central chute that you squatted above. If you were lucky enough to be at the end of the row, you got to watch everyone else’s business floating on by!!!
Finally there was an announcement that the train was due to arrive. As soon as the announcement was made everyone jumped up to queue at the gate. As usual we did not bother trying to be at the front of the queue, but in retrospect this was a mistake. Everyone had their tickets checked at the gate and were then herded out to line up at the appropriate mark on the platform according to ticket number. Of course as soon as the train appeared the lines meant nothing…it was a free for all, everyone running and elbowing to get on to the train first at whichever carriage they were nearest to. Naturally we were about the last ones on the train and it was only at this point that we realised that we had no seat numbers allocated. This of course meant no seats! So we spent the first hour of the journey standing in the vestibule, which oh joy also doubled as the smoking area! After a couple of stops where more people got off than got on, Merrin managed to secure one seat next to a small boy (his mum was sitting opposite). When I took my turn sitting the kid obviously thought I was a scary monster and moved to squeeze in with his mum, so Merrin and I ended up having a seat each for the rest of the journey.
We arrived in Guangzhou and duly caught the fast “fancy” commuter train, back to Shenzhen (with allocated seats of course). We walked across the border and jumped on the MTR back to Hong Kong from Lo Wu then ferried back to our island.
It was a great weekend trip! There are of course easier ways to get to Zhaoqing from Hong Kong including the ferry from the China ferry terminal or a train directly from Hung Hom, but hey, our way was way more fun!
Monday, April 20, 2009
Louise and I had an exciting adventure, heading off from Hong Kong at 6pm on Friday 17 April and returning 6pm on Sunday 19 April.