Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guanxi, Yunnan
Part 2

23-24.11: Munich -> BKK -> Hong Kong
25.11: Hong Kong
26.11: Hong Kong
27.11: Hong Kong -> Shenzen -> Shanghai
28.11: Shanghai
29.11: Shanghai
30.11: Shanghai -> Guilin
01.12: Guilin -> Yangshuo by boat
02.12: Yangshuo

03.12: Yangshuo -> Kunming
04.12: Kunming -> Dali
05.12: Dali
06.12: Dali -> Zhongdian
07.12: Zhongdian -> Lijiang
08.12: Lijiang -> Kunming
09.12: Kunming
10.12: Kunming -> Shenzen - Hong Kong
11.12: Hong Kong -> Delhi via Bangkok

Continued from Part 1

23-24.11: Munich -> Bangkok -> Hong Kong
Man Hing Lung Hotel: 250 HKD for a 3 x 2.5m room with A/C, TV, telephone, almost no furniture and a tiny 1x1m bath with shower. Free Internet access if you have a notebook computer with you (WLAN or cable). Still wondering if I got cheated by the hotel manager or if this is what you get in HK for this price. For this price in Malaysia and Thailand you get MUCH better rooms.
Weather: Kind of warm in the evening, perhaps around 23+ °C

The Thai flight leaves on time at 21:40 and is half-empty. Quite surprising, because according to the guy at the check-in counter the Thai flights MUC-BKK are all full during this period of the year. My guess is that people are deserting Thai, because Thai substantially raised the prices (a return flight Munich-KL was 640 Euro in August 2003, while I payed 906 Euro for the return flight Munich - Hong Kong). In any case I have a window seat and the two seats next to mine are empty. The plane, a Boeing B747-300/400 is quite old. It doesn't for instance have LCD screens in each seat, as is the case with Emirates.

The plane arrives in Bangkok early - at 13:30 instead of 13:50. After getting out, I walk to the post office where I meet the representative of the Bangkok travel agency who hands over Air India ticket to me (the flight Bangkok-Delhi-Bangkok on December 11 and 21). The post office of the airport (3rd floor, Terminal 1) has an Internet cafe (100 Baht for one hour and a half of surfing; credit cards accepted). However when I buy an Internet card, it doesn't work.

At 14:40 I'm at the gate 14 for the flight to Hong Kong. Most of the people waiting are Asian; I'd guess there is a majority of Honkies and Taiwanese (flight continues to Taipei). There is also a good number of Westerners, either tourists or business people I'd guess. The flight leaves on time at 15:20. This time the Thai Airways hostesses are quite pretty (well, actually so-so).

We arrive in HK international airport actually a bit early. It's the new modern airport built a few years ago. By the time I go through immigration, get the luggage, get through customs, call the hotel from the free airport phone and manage to buy the ticket for the train it's 19:40. Trains into town leave every 12 minutes, a one way ticket to Kowloon costs 90 HKD. BTW, there are ATMs at the airport (but Cirrus and not Maestro ??). The ride takes 20 minutes and at 20:10 I'm at the Kowloon station. There I fetch a taxi (30 HKD) to the Holiday Inn hotel, where Steve, the manager of the Man Hing Lung Hotel is waiting for me. We walk to the hotel (see description above). I enquire about tours, which cost around 300 HKD for 5 hours. Quite pricey in my opinion. There is even a tour which includes a helicopter ride for 550 HKD. Will decide tomorrow what to do. By the way, the skyline of HK at night is BREATHTAKING. I sleep at 1am.

25.11: Hong Kong
Man Hing Lung Hotel
Weather: around 25°C during the day, foggy

I manage to wake up at 8am, despite the jet lag, and start exploring HK. I run into a Delifrance restaurant where at 9:30am I have a breakfast. Then I check the prices of the flights to Shanghai and within China at two travel agencies. The prices are not too great, and are more or less in line with what the LP quotes.

Until 11am something I walk around the Tsim Tsa Shui area, then catch a ferry to Hong Kong island, which I reach at 11:30am. Then I spend the afternoon walking around HK island, visiting the park, the financial district, the Man Mo temple among others. I have sort of a lunch break around 2pm (sandwich in a restaurant - I'm going to lose some weight in this trip).

Around 3:30pm I cross back to Kowloon and fetch the underground to Prince Edward station, planning to visit the Yuen Po Street Bird Market. It takes a while to find this market (almost 5pm when I'm finally there) and it's not too impressive. By the way, in HK there are people, crowds everywhere. An incredible population density - people, people everywhere.

Then I get back to the hotel, and by the time I processed the photos and checked my emails it's almost 8pm. Finding a restaurant turns out to be complicated. There are several restaurants in the Nathan road area, but they are all geared towards large groups of people who go there to have (expensive) eight course dinners which last two hours. If you are short of time and are just hungry (as I am), you should avoid these places. I spend 100 HKD for a somewhat disappointing dinner. Then, I head to the waterfront for some photo shooting. I sleep around 1am.

26.11: Hong Kong
Man Hing Lung Hotel
Weather: cooler than yesterday, sunny in the morning, cloudy and foggy in the afternoon.

Again I manage to get up at 7am, despite the jet lag. It must the the room, which is very bright (sun shines into it). Around 10am I go to the Shoestring travel agency, planning to get the ticket to Shanghai (and only that). I end up staying there until 1pm, buying seven flights (all flights to Shanghai and within China). Basically the guy manages to get the cheaper fare for the local Chinese people for me. I pay for instance only 1128 HKD for Shenzen-Shanghai, 768 HKD for Kunming-Shenzen and only 668 HKD for Shanghai-Guilin (half of what is quoted in the LP).

Paid (including tax)
1650  (for HKG-SHA)
340  (for Zhongdian-Kunming)
(includes 288 airport tax)

Editor's note (November 2006): as I find out on subsequent trips to China, I would have saved 20-30%, had I bought the plane tickets directly in China. The travel agent in Hong Kong told me I would be charged a higher 'foreigner fee' and the Chinese would not have been able to read the name on my passport. This turned out to be simply untrue, as in every travel agency in China it is very easy and fast to purchase a plane ticket - just show them your passport.

I also purchase an afternoon tour with Greyline. This turns out to be disappointing (or maybe HK doesn't have that much to offer in terms of tourist attractions. The weather is bad and everywhere you can see how huge numbers of people share tiny pieces of land. No wonder homes and real estate are extremely overpriced.

Lunch and dinner are in fast-food restaurants (Delifrance and McDonalds). In the evening I'm again on the waterfront shooting photos of HK's skyline at night (really breathtaking).

27.11: Hong Kong -> Shenzen -> Shanghai
Hotel "Kind", 117 Hong Kong road, Shanghai. Tel. 021-63293330*419, Email: http://www.kaien-322@sina.com. Good value, especially considering what I was getting in Hong Kong for just a bit less. 280 RMB for a big room with furniture, large bed, TV, telephone, large toilet with bathtub and shower. There is even a small room with a sofa and a table between the door and the bedroom. They have A/C, but no heating...
Weather: overcast and foggy in HK in the morning, sunny on arrival in Shenzen at 10am. In Shanghai it is sunny with a thin clouds layer and cold - not sure how many degrees during the day, but downtown Shanghai in the evening at 7pm it's 8°C. Fine for walking around with a jacket without freezing. It is a bit windy by the way.

I wake up at 6:50am, pack my things and am ready to leave the hotel at 8:10am. The taxi to the ferry pier is 15 HKD. At the ferry pier, which BTW serves many shipping companies and not just the Turbojet (which I'm using), I check in my luggage and proceed through immigration.

The ferry leaves on time at 9am. On the ferry I order a cup of instant noodles (25 HKD), which turn out to be full of chilli, so I can't eat it (people here are obsessed with chilli). The ride with the ferry is quite smooth, despite being fast (actuallly also the sea is quite smooth on this November morning). The ferry is almost empty and arrives in Shenzen on time at 10am.

In Shenzen the sun is shining. At the immigration in addition to the usual entry form I have to fill in a quarantine declaration form, stating that I have to SARS, no other diseases and no fever.

Outside there is a free shuttle bus from the pier to the airport (takes 5 minutes). At the airport I try to get some cash at the China Bank ATM. I try four times, the first time I enter 3000 Yuan and the ATM says max 2500 are allowed. When I reenter 2500 I get a receipt and no money. I then try another two times (2500 Yuan) and get two more receipts and no money. Interesting. The screen menus are all in Chinese, by the way. Can't find any Bank of China office in the hall. Possibly there is a limit on my card, which is lower than 2500 Yuan. But the funny thing is that yesterday I withdrew without problems 2000 + 3000 HKD from the Citibank ATM in Nathan road. Will try again with a lower amount once I reach Shanghai.

Note: after getting back home and checking the bank statements, it appears no money was withdrawn from my account. Apparently the 2500 RMB was more than what the ATM was willing to dispense.

At the airport they are security and control freaks. It's a domestic flight, but when I go through the security inspection I have to produce again the passport and the guy checks that it is valid and has a valid visa. Then, when passing through the scanner, the scanner beeps even if I have virtually no metal on me (actually it beeps with everybody who goes through). Then a "body touch" inspection follows, with the officer thoroughly checking that you carry nothing dangerous on you. Surprise, surprise, when they scan the backpack with my computer, they don't ask me to switch on the computer - but they ask me to open the mineral water bottle and to pour something into a cup, which another officer then smells. They must be thinking that it could be some liquid, transparent explosive, or some flammable liquid or some liquid, transparent chemical agent that I could have used to hijack the plane. The Shenzen airport is brand new and the hostesses of Shenzhen Airlines are very pretty.

The plane lands on time at 1:50pm at the new Shanghai Pu Dong airport. There I need to do two things: 1. Get some cash, and 2. Find a hotel. I solve problem Nr. 1 after some searching and asking (how to say 'ATM' in Chinese?). There is an ATM on the 3rd floor of the airport (of an agricultural bank of China). It luckily accepts my ATM card, but the max. amount is only 1500 RMB. Then I head back to the 1st floor (arrivals) where I book a hotel at one of the booking counters. I ask for a cheap hotel and they offer a nice hotel for 280 RMB/night (see above).

To get to Shanghai (about 30km distance) I get on the new MagLev (Transrapid) train (40 RMB if you arrived by plane). Very, very cool train. Travels at a top speed of 430 Km on a magnetic levitation track and in matter of minutes we arrive in Shanghai - unbelievable. There I fetch a taxi for the last 12km to the hotel (cheap at only 33 RMB).

A bit after 4pm I start exploring the town. Very curious, as this is my first time to China. First I walk along the river (great view of the opposite side with all skyscrapers and tall buildings), then I turn right into Nanjing road, which happens to be the major shopping road in Shanghai (must be - I'll see tomorrow if there are more such roads). Today is Saturday and the streets are full of people. It's almost 5pm, when I turn to the left into a side street where they have a market selling faked goods. Interesting, will get back there later. Then I get back onto Nanjing road and continue walking. It slowly gets dark (sunset is at 5pm) and the numerous neon lights give the street a colourful and bright atmosphere.

Then suddenly two young girls stop me and tell me that today is Saturday, that it's their free day and they would like to make my acquaintance. Ah... perhaps they want to practice their English (they don't look like prostitutes). They suggest to go into a cafe and have a chat there.

Well.... I wouldn't mind getting in touch with the locals - after all I'm doing this China trip also to improve my Chinese. But on the other hand I'm 40, married and my wife can't travel with me because she is in Malaysia and has to take care of the baby. What am I supposed to do with two young girls in a cafe ? So I just say 'no thanks' and continue my walk. A few minutes later, almost the same story. Again two girls who want to become my friends. This time I explain that I'm married ("jiehun le") and that I have a baby. The girls say "Oh, no problem". Ah yes, no problem ?....

And again and again. The whole street is full of couples of girls who approach you and want to become your friends. Progressively, as I continue walking, the age gets up. At some point it's couples of more mature ladies who want to become your friends (???). This time it's unlikely that they are students who want to practice their English and I get the impression that they are indeed prostitutes. It even happens that single women approach me and want to become my friend. Then guys start offering me ladies...

It's probably a mix of prostitutes and (normal) women who are hoping to marry a westerner - just guessing here. Shirley told me that the women in Shanghai are terrible, i.e. that they very aggressively hunt for men, even if they are married. Around 7pm I head back to the hotel, as I'm tired and it's getting a bit fresh. I spend the evening in the hotel.

28.11: Shanghai
Hotel "Kind"
Weather: sunny the whole day, but with a thick smog layer (or perhaps just pollution). Shanghai does have a serious air pollution problem. A bit warmer than yesterday.

I get up late at 10am, but manage to leave the hotel only after 12pm. I bring my clothes to the laundry in the street nearby the hotel (not really cheap at 30 RMB for a small plastic bag with clothes, but perhaps this is the price for the same day service). Because it's so late I skip breakfast and lunch (looks like I'm on a diet - I have to start eating, otherwise I will lose too much weight). I head towards the riverfront and fetch a return ticket through the sightseeing tunnel (40 RMB, 30 RMB one way only - later I discover that I could have taken the underground line for 2 RMB). Funny ride in a cabin across a tunnel with sound and video effects.

On the other side there is the huge TV tower and all modern skyscrapers. Quite cool architecture, very nice especially when coupled with the nice sunny day. Many people, almost all Chinese. The ticket to go to the 269m platform is 50 RMB. Going up is quite speedy, with little waiting time. Nice view from the top, but the dirty air and the haze spoil the experience. At 2pm I want to go down. Very long queue for the only elevator which goes down. To top it all I initially manage to get into the wrong queue. It takes me 45 endless minutes to finally get down.

In the reception hall, at 2:50pm I finally have two sandwiches, the first food of the day. When I get out of the tower, it is already 3pm and the sun is already on its way out. I have a walk in the skyscraper district - interesting combination of modern architecture (skyscrapers - we have almost none in Munich - one week ago the inhabitants of Munich voted in a poll against allowing buildings taller than 100m) and local Chinese people.

I discover that there is an underground station nearby. I manage to get onto the right train to the People's place garden (2 RMB, two stops away). Upon arrival, when getting out of the underground I discover a place where they sell milk shakes with fresh fruit. Excellent stuff - I get two (10 RMB each). Then I buy a SIM card for my mobile phone. It's 100 RMB for the card and another 100 RMB for the calls. It takes some time to make the card work (it's a China Mobile card - I even call Shirley in Malaysia and ask her to translate for me what the seller is trying to say). I buy one more 100 RMB refill for a total expense of 300 RMB.

When I finally I get out of the station it's already 5pm and it's getting dark. I start looking for an Internet cafe and after some asking here and there I finally find one at about 5:30pm. I spend approx. one hour checking my emails, then head towards a Chinese restaurant, where I have the first (and last) hot meal of the day.

When I get out again it's almost 8pm. I slowly walk towards the river, shooting some photos every now and then. Around 10pm I go back to the hotel. Tomorrow I'll visit the old part of Shanghai.

29.11: Shanghai
Hotel "Kind"
Weather: sunny and cool, probably the same temperature as yesterday. As usual the air is very, very dirty and polluted. No clouds in the sky.

I end up sleeping until 11am (this time I didn't set the alarm clock), then manage to leave the hotel a bit after noon. There will only be daylight until 5pm, so I have to rush a bit. I take a taxi to the Yu Yuan park (10 RMB, ride takes less than 20 minutes). Not knowing what Yu Yuan exactly is, I first walk into the Yu Yuan bazaar. Very impressive architecture - old Chinese buildings, as in the ancient paintings. But also very heavily commercialised and tourist oriented, with souvenir and handicraft shops everywhere.

I spend about 50 minutes walking there, until more out of curiosity than hunger I end up in a restaurant (actually a big hall with many food stalls). It takes a while to choose something, because everything is written in Chinese only, so you cannot know if you just ate chicken, dog or cockroach meat. In any case I have some dumplings with vegetables and some meat inside (don't know which) and a piece of cold boiled chicken with soya sauce. Not too bad...

After lunch, at 2:40pm I finally enter into what is the real Yu Yuan garden (entry fee is 30 RMB). Very nice ancient Chinese gardening style with ancient buildings. This is the only historical architecture I've seen in Shanghai - everywhere there are skyscrapers and modern buildings. The Chinese say "if old doesn't go, new cannot come". Great, but in their fervor to let new come, they've distroyed everything old.

At 3:10pm I decide to go to the Yu Si temple, before it gets dark. I take a taxi and arrive there at 4pm (some traffic jam in Shanghai blocks us - ride is 26 RMB). The temple is ok, but not that impressive after all. I've seen much bigger and better temples elsewhere.

At 4:50pm I fetch a taxi to go back to the People's square. The ride takes about half an hour. I get back to the milk shake place where I had milk shakes yesterday and have two milk shakes. Then I buy a recharge card for the mobile (100 RMB). After that, I go to the nearby Internet cafe to which I went yesterday and check my emails.

Around 6:45pm I leave the Internet cafe and go to a restaurant. The food is not too terrible and actually they have a quite good vegetables dish (potate and pepper cut into thin stripes and slighty fried), but the beef I order is very, very spicy. It's basically pieces of beef soft as jelly, floating in a big bowl full of chilli. I order something else and they bring me pieces of fried beef with tomato ketchup and mayonese (bleah....!!). They must be thinking all Europeans are happy to receive meat with ketchup and mayonese.

Never mind, at 7:30pm I leave the restaurant and take the underground to Ju Jian Lu, on the opposite side of the river near the Oriental Pearl tower. I manage to be there at 8pm and spend a bit over an hour there walking around and taking some photos. Tomorrow I'm flying at 7:55am to Guilin. 1am now - it will be a short night.

Copyright 2005 Alfred Molon