After an unforgettable trip to China with my family, I’ve had time to reflect and summarize my experience through this blog. For anyone looking to travel to China, I share my top 5 practical travel tips below:
Although this may not impact you significantly, be aware of the patriotism in China. From advertisements to TV screens in restaurants, you’ll be seeing and hearing a lot of Chinese news. When we were in restaurants for dim sum, the news that I saw was consistently focused on China and clips repeatedly showed President Xi Jinping.
VPN and WeChat
If you want to continue using popular apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, consider downloading a virtual private network (VPN) before entering China. My sisters and I used ExpressVPN and set the location to “Hong Kong.” Many wi-fi channels in China are linked to WeChat. You’ll want to create a WeChat account, if you don’t already have one.
Tissues and Hand Sanitizer
Not all restaurants provide napkins, and you won’t always find toilet paper in stalls. Pack tissue and hand sanitizer with you to be prepared. P.S. – squatter toilets are very common in China.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray
The sun is strong and the mosquitoes are rampant. Before you head out in China, lather on some SPF and make sure you’ve spritzed yourself with bug spray to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
Watch Out for Spitting
It’s common to hear and see throat clearing and spitting on the streets of China. Watch where you step, and you should be in the clear!
This concludes my blog series for “Choys in China” – thanks for reading and safe travels!
What was your main takeaway from my blog? Any suggestions or travel tips that you would like to share?
Our family friend from Zhuhai graciously offered to show us around the region, and picked us up from our accommodations in Taishan. As we drove along the highway, I was mesmerized by the tree-adorned mountains in the distance. Nature’s presence was grand and powerful.
We finally came to a stop, and we piled out of the van at our first destination – the property of our driver’s friend. We were led to a lychee tree and encouraged to enjoy the fruit. Although I had eaten lychee before, it was my first time seeing a lychee tree and the fresh fruit tasted sweet yet tart.
Almost as quickly as we had disembarked, we found ourselves back in the van and en route to lunch. The restaurant we dined in was located by a large rice field, and we couldn’t help but snap a few photos… How often do you get to see stalks of rice in person?
After lunch, we visited an old village that’s served as a backdrop for Chinese movies. The location is a noted tourist stop that is part of the South China Historical Trail; however, I had difficulty finding an English name for the stop. Nonetheless, we enjoyed taking in the architecture and meeting some of the venue’s inhabitants.
We made a final stop to an outdoor display that paid homage to the Chinese railroad workers in America. A piece of history that’s impacted lives on both sides of the world.
As we prepared to head back to Taishan after another full day, I spotted a toddler by himself on a motorbike. It looked like his guardian had left him on the bike to run a quick errand. I was amazed by the guardian’s trust in the community, and the little boy’s look of determination as he confidently grasped the bike’s handles to prevent himself from falling.
In that fleeting moment, I saw characteristics that have been long-standing to the Chinese – community, grit and perseverance. I smiled to myself over the gentle reminder, and boarded our van back to Taishan.
When thinking of cultural identity, what defining characteristics do you associate with your group?
The capital of Guangdong province, Guangzhou, is located on the Pearl River and is a significant transportation hub in China. We decided to stop by Guangzhou, after spending a few hours in Zhuhai one day. Given the proximity of the two cities, we caught a train in Zhuhai and reached Guangzhou in an hour or so.
Once we arrived in Guangzhou, my sisters and I diligently followed our relative, Kim, as she swiftly navigated the crowds and ushered us onto the subway. The train swelled with more and more people, as we travelled closer to the heart of Guangzhou. When we stepped out of the subway station, we were pleasantly greeted by a street dotted with red lanterns.
Before exploring any further, we tracked down a place to eat. Kim said she had always wanted to try Tiger Prawn Vietnamese Restaurant, but there was always a long lineup. We approached the restaurant and to our luck, we were seated quickly. After eating Chinese food for over a week, I was eager to try the restaurant’s pho. The ingredients were fresh, and we left Tiger Prawn feeling full.
We passed interesting eateries and retail buildings, as Kim led us to Beijing Lu – a popular pedestrian street in Guangzhou. More red lanterns hung gracefully from the trees along Beijing road, and we spent a good 10-15 minutes trying to capture the magic on our camera phones.
Kim wanted us to try one last “speciality” along Beijing Lu, and we found ourselves in front of a mango drink stall. Both Kim and my sister, Angie, put in an order and I looked in wonder as they turned around with mango drinks that were larger than their faces. The smoothie-like concoction was topped with cream and generous chunks of fresh mango.
After a packed day of travel, we were ready to retire for the day. We found our way back to the train station, and headed back to our hotel to rest.
What’s your most memorable sightseeing location? Why would you go back for a visit?
Although my parents grew up in small villages on the outskirts of Taishan, they were very familiar with the city. When they were kids, it was a “pretty big deal” if you made a trip to Taishan.
As our family friend from Zhuhai drove us into Taishan, my mom pointed out the hospital that I was born in. From an early age, I was told stories about how I was born in China before immigrating to Manitoba, Canada with my mom, when I was nearly one years old. The hospital seemed calm and quiet, as we rumbled by in our van.
Our hotel was close to the river and after we settled in, we began exploring our surroundings. I was surprised by the number of palm trees that lined some of the streets to create a lush, green walkway. However, despite the awning effect created by the palm leaves, there was little reprieve from the heat as the temperature continued to hover around 29-31°C with relative humidity levels of 80%+.
Taishan would be our “home-base” for the remainder of the trip (i.e. after embarking on day-trips, we would be coming back to the city in the evenings). My sisters and I got to know one of the main shopping areas – a vehicle-free street filled with small shops and boutiques.
With a conversion rate of approximately 1:5 for the Canadian Dollar to Chinese Yuan (abbreviated as CNY, RMB or by the sign ¥), we quickly got used to “mental math and shopping.” We picked up clothing and tech items at great prices.
Whenever I visit another country, I make a point to check out grocery and convenience stores to get a better sense of food items that locals might purchase. Our visit to Vanguard’s and Hui Jia did not disappoint. From cucumber flavoured chips, to purple sweet potato oatmeal, and dried chicken feet, it was neat seeing the different foods beckoning local taste buds. It was also interesting to observe brands, like Quaker Oats, tailoring their flavours to a specific market.
In addition, you could buy beer at Vanguard’s for the equivalent of $0.50 CDN.
Though the window shopping alone could keep us busy for a week, a trip back to Taishan wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the villages. My last Taishan village visit was during the summer of 1995. I was young, curious, and fearless. I stayed with my uncle and his family, played with other kids in the village, and caught frogs for fun. In present day, it was bittersweet seeing many of the homes empty. Most of the former residents had abandoned the village to live in larger cities, and improve their lifestyles.
As we walked around the village, we spotted an older, shirtless man at least 100 feet away (because of the heat and humidity, it’s not uncommon to see a man with his belly exposed or without a shirt – especially in the more rural areas of China). Before we uttered a word, the man shouted, “Is that Terry?!” My dad often bragged about being known by everyone “back at home” – he was right.
My parents still refer to a partially abandoned village in China as being “back at home.” What does “home” feel like for you? How would you define it?
Bordering Macau is the Gongbei Port of Entry. After a brief taxi ride, we reached the port in Macau to go through immigration and customs. With our Canadian passports and Chinese Visas in hand, the paperwork was relatively painless and we were processed quickly.
Once we exited the Gongbei Port, we were officially in Zhuhai in Guangdong province. Police officers kept a close watch on the sea of people entering and leaving the port, and used segways to weave their way in between the crowd.
It was late morning, and my parents told us that a family friend would meet us across the street from the port to take us for lunch. I soon found myself in a restaurant with plastic wrapped plates and cups.
To promote hygiene and sanitation, cups and plates are often rinsed with hot water or tea, before use. Although our dinnerware was wrapped, our relative, Kim, still rinsed off our plates and bowls with hot tea. As we waited for our meal to arrive, I tried to tap into the restaurant’s wifi and immediately encountered the “Great Firewall of China.” In Hong Kong and Macau, I had no trouble accessing my social media platforms and websites I commonly used in Canada (e.g. Google). Friends in Canada had forewarned me that I would lose access to popular North American apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, once I was in mainland China – and they were right.
I watched as plates of chicken, fish, razor clam, and leafy vegetables started to land on our table. My mom commented on the tasty flavour of the chicken, and a sense of familiarity washed over me. We were back in the motherland.
Prior to our trip, I had heard stories about this Chinese Special Administrative Region, which was a Portuguese colony until 1999. I was looking forward to seeing the Portuguese influence on the city. To reach the region, we boarded an evening ferry in Hong Kong, and within an hour or so we reached Macau.
The night gave way to bright lights and spectacular casinos, as we made our way into the city. I would soon discover that the casinos were part-gambling, part-hotel, part-shopping, and part-dining. The multi-purpose casinos were a sight and experience in themselves, and customer service was top-notch.
I was surprised to learn that Macau used its own currency – the Macau Pataca (MOP). However, we were able to continue using the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), without any issues.
As we strolled through Macau, we reached Senado Square. Considered the “city centre of Macau,” the paved streets, colourful buildings, and Portuguese architecture were a feast for the eyes. Souvenir shops and food stalls dotted the streets, and we couldn’t resist trying the famous Portuguese egg tarts. With several stalls offering the treat, it was difficult to pick just one! I found the humidity affected my appetite, and I’ll have to come back to try the pork chop bun and meat jerky.
The Ruins of St.Paul’s is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating back to the 17th century. By the time we reached the site, tourists were already scattered along the stone steps taking selfies and group photos. As we continued walking uphill towards the Ruins, we came across a path that led to the Fortaleza do Monte (aka Mount Fortress). Formerly a restricted military area, the fort offers a phenomenal view of the city and now houses The Museum of Macau and the Mount Fortress Garden.
After an exhilarating stop in Macau, we were ready to enter mainland China and cross into Zhuhai.
If you had to choose between a Portuguese tart, pork chop bun, or meat jerky, what would you go for?
My parents, Chui and I landed in Hong Kong on June 26th, and we reunited with Angie at the airport after going through customs. After a 13 hour flight from Vancouver, I was tired and ready for some shut-eye.
I soon learned that a relative, Kim, would be joining us for the entire trip. Since Kim lived in mainland China, she would help us navigate our travels and show us around. Kim met up with us at the Hong Kong International Airport. As we exited the airport, I felt like I walked into a wall of humidity. I knew it was going to be hot and humid in Asia, but I was still taken aback by the high humidity level.
We made our way to our hotel in Kowloon, checked-in, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and went to sleep. The next day, we realized that the hotel supplied a Handy cell phone for guests to use, at no extra cost. We could use the phone for calls, text messaging and data.
The convenience couldn’t have come at a better time. I was scheduled to meet with the Career and Leadership Centre’s department head at the City University of Hong Kong, and the Handy cell phone helped me stay in touch with my family throughout the morning.
After my meeting at CityU, where I learned more about the career development practices in Hong Kong, I met up with my sisters and explored the Mong Kok area in Kowloon. Known for its shopping, we popped into various stores and checked out the infamous Ladies’ Market.
The next day, we took a bus up to Victoria Peak (aka The Peak). According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, The Peak is “the highest point on Hong Kong Island” and is “the city’s most exclusive neighbourhood since colonial times.” As our bus wound its way up the mountain, narrowly missing oncoming traffic on the small road, we scaled closer and closer to the top. Once we were dropped off, we made our way to The Peak Tower and paid to access the Sky Terrace 428. The 360-degree panoramic view from the terrace is every bit as spectacular as Time says it is, and I highly recommend it.
As if the stunning view from The Peak wasn’t enough, The Peak Tower also offered shopping and a few trick eye wall paintings. Trick eye galleries are popular in Asia, and are a fun way to play up optical illusions.
With the Hong Kong skyline seared into my heart and memory, we repacked our bags to head off to our next destination: Macau.
Have you visited Hong Kong before? What was your favourite spot?