"Thank you for visiting Hong Kong". That's the sign board you see as you leave Hong Kong via land.
After spending five days in Hong Kong it was time to move on with my Asia backpacking trip. Next country on my list was China. I wanted to visit China for so long and was super excited. The things I kept hearing about China. The stuff they do. Will refer things I saw first time and that amazed me with hashtag #AmazingChina.
Leaving Hong Kong
I left my hostel in the morning and started my journey. As usual breakfast with coffee was on the way. Took the MTR for Sheung Shui station. From here you have two options to cross into Shenzhen. Lok Ma Chau or Lo Wo. You will enter China in Shenzhen district. Shenzhen is huge. In fact any district in China is huge. So make sure you check your further plans, connections etc before choosing the border crossing point.
Tip: Try crossing the border in between 11 am - 2 pm. Its less crowded.
I choose to cross the border via Lok Ma Chau Station because it much faster as compared to Lo Wu and also for my connection to further journey.
Once you reach Sheung Shui MTR station take the appropriate route and reach your final destination. The border crossing is all enclosed in a big complex connecting the two countries via a massive bridge with windows.
Hong Kong immigration here has lanes for for Chinese Nationals, HK/Macao Nationals and foreigners. Your passport is stamped with exit from Hong Kong. Once done get on the moving walkway on the bridge connecting to China. You are crossing over a river here. This was my first time crossing a International border via foot.
You will arrive in China at Futian Port, Shenzhen. Enter the immigration section and pick up a arrival card. It basically a card immigration card.
Tip: Carry few pens with you always
Once done with immigration procedure you enter China. All done within 20 mins as there was no rush.
Once out of the port and in Schengen you will see a huge difference. Lots and lots of people everywhere. Vast spaces of land. Mega hallways filled with people.
Note: Cities in China are massive. Each city will most probably have four railway stations. North,South,East,West and one of them would be also named the main station. Make sure you double check
This statue greeted me as I exited Chinese immigration.
As this is China I will add a section of tools required to survive here. You get very few people who speak english so these tools are necessary. It helped me a lot and made life easier for the locals as well :D
There was a counter selling data sim in the border immigration area but I did not buy as felt it was a costly proposal. Had read on internet sims can be purchased from supermarkets in China with passport as proof. Seems the rules had changed.
Once out of the area and at Shenzhen Railway station I came to know of the new rule. Foreigners were only allowed postpaid.
Only option I had was to activate Airtel International Roaming for 10 days on my India Airtel sim card. The next available plan was for 30 days. I had 12 days in China. So I waited to get to my next destination and activate the Airtel data plan so I had 10 days left in China.
Have added the details in my blog " Planning my backpacking trip": https://www.outofofficedaku.com/blog/planningmytrip
Benefits of your Indian sim on international roaming in China is that all the locally blocked websites and apps work seamless. Including Google products, twitter etc. No need to repeatedly activate VPN.
Mobile apps (Tools)
Install these on your phone
Google Maps (Download offline maps)
Walked out of immigration area and was off to Shenzhen Railway Station. I had not bought tickets for my onward journey as there were multiple bullet trains available at regular intervals.
Tip: Always book your train travel in advance if your time and date of entry are confirmed. Train reservations get full instantly
I purchased my train ticket to Xiamen (180 CNY ) and had few hours to spare. Train booking is a simple process. There are multiple counters and will always have have one counter with english speaking staff. I never used one when in China as I wrote my ticket details clearly on a paper in english and handed over at the ticket counter.
There are many apps that search train details. Finalize the same on app and walk over to the counter. No need of translators.
There are check-in counters to reach the designated platform of your train. Keep an eye at the display board for the same. Gates open 30 mins before departure time.
Tip: Walk over to the opposite of the railway station main gate. There's a supermarket that sells good cheap food.
Shenzhen to Xiamen
Its 580 kms to reach Xiamen. Journey takes 3.5 hrs approx. Approx speed 190 km/h
Tip: Chinese railway stations have shops which sell nice packed food stuffs specifically designed for train travel. Get yourself some of it and a few chilled beers
As the journey started I was amazed the amount of food and drinks the locals were carrying with them. I had just bought a bottle of water and boarded the train. Been a Gujju I myself have never carried so much :D
The chinese food packed for the train doesn't smell. Passenger near me was having duck leg, fish, chicken noodles etc but no smell. Upon asking he said these foods are with some enzymes which prevent smells but retain taste. There were more than 70 passengers in the compartment hogging on food but yet no foul smell.
I get carried away with food talks :)
Once out of Shenzhen city and you start seeing the Chinese countryside
Xiamen means "Gate of China". It was a major sea port in ancient times.
Finally reached Xiamen. Quiet railway station with very few people at the station.
As I disembarked and was clicking pictures I was approached by two officers for ticket check and baggage scrutiny. They checked all and asked me to exit the station.
Note: Going too close to bullet trains front part to click pics attracts attention and a security will come running towards you. This happened with me couple of times during my trip.
Without sim connectivity I did not know which bus to take for my hostel. Started wandering and searching for WiFi but no hope. Finally a english speaking person helped me with the bus number and off I was to my hostel.
The man made me sit in the wrong bus. The journey ended 45 mins on the outskirts of Xiamen city. Without internet it was a real pain. Again sought help from the local and this time showed him pics of my hostel. He got me sit in another bus and instructed the driver to drop me at a certain stop.
Finally was dropped in the city centre. Connected my phone to free Wifi and started walking to my hostel. Travelling with a backpack helps so much. Start exploring the city as you reach. No keep bags at hotel/hostel etc
I stayed at XiaMen International Youth Hostel, Xiamen. For 700 Rs. My friends it's not a typo. You get a nice clean dorm bed with air condition and a attached bathroom.
Exploring Xiamen - Day One
As always I land and settle in my hostel a day earlier so I have a full day ahead of me.
Day started with me walking over to town. On way last night I had seen a lot of food shops.
The food shops and the innovations you see are amazing. Chinese are business minded and want to cater to all age groups. Cannot list all of them here but will talk about a few which I loved.
Breakfast was some lovely local fruits that were sold on the way.
A shop got my attention. It was selling fresh coconut water. In this shop you had option to order their products in a cup for adults or in a bottle for your baby. Told you they were all for customer satisfaction. #AmazingChina isn't it?
On my first day here I had a mango type juice with some sort of jelly in it. It was so good that I wanted to know what fruit it was. Searched and finally found the shop. Once at shop I saw him peel the fruit and slice it directly. Where is the seed if it was a mango?
Started my sign language and with help of translator app I was told it was a seedless mango #AmazingChina
It was super tasty and yummy.
Tip: Xiamen is famous for variety of fruits and seafood. Keep trying all
Moving forward I was introduced to fruit juices with different types of jelly in it. OMG the jelly was so soothing to drink and blended well with the fruit juices. During my stay here I have had multiple of these. They were extremely helpful in the hot weather.
Post few of these juices out of curiosity I wanted to find out the recipe of the jelly. It turned out to be "Sea Worm Jelly" LOL !!! At this moment all my gujju ancestors disowned me.
So basically the worms are cooked in boiling water and then set like gelatin.
You can read detailed preparation of the jelly here http://www.chinesestreetfood.com/2015/05/sea-worm-jelly.html
Did this fact give me regrets or stop me from not having it again? Nope I had them even after I knew what it was. It's all about the mental block your mind has. Overcome it and you will do fine. The thing was just so soothing you ignore the fact of worms. BTW I have been a vegetarian all my life.
Moving on there are many shops selling dried seafood, fruits, veggies etc. They are very polite and do their best in the sign language to explain you all.
Some shops have pre-printed english to chinese translation cards which they hand you over as you come to their shop. You can flip and show them what you want to ask. #AmazingChina
Once done with food scenes time to move on. My next stop was to visit the places around the corniche area of the city. On the way you can see a lot of high rise buildings under construction.
Tip: Rent a bicycle and its super easy to commute around. Many apps are available for rent bikes (CNY 5 to 8 per/hr)
There are not a lot of people around here. It's a quiet city. On your way to the corniche you cross many bridges and beautiful gardens. The views from here are amazing.
Walk on the right side to reach the Xiamen Ferry Terminal or as they also call it International Cruise Terminal
Tip: Google maps is updated with the latest public transport routes in spite of the service been banned in China. You would not need any additional apps.
Stop one - Gu Lang Yu Island
There are two terminals in Xiamen to get to Gu Lang Yu island. Tourists have to go via the International Ferry terminal. Get a return ticket on any of the three ferry service. Show your passport. and you are on your way to the island. The routes from Xiamen to the island are the same. On return you can take different routes back to Xiamen basis on your preference.
Songyu Ferry 7:30 to 17:30 or 18:30 (in summer)
Youlun Ferry 07:10 to 17:30 or 18:30 (in summer)
Youlun Ferry 07:10 to 17:30 or 18:30 (in summer)
Ticket costs ¥35/person
Getting on the island you will feel you have travelled back in time here. Few things have changed because of settlement by foreigners to do business.
Once on this island you can either walk or take the electric go-karts that are available which drop you at designated spots. You can hop in hop off anywhere on the way.
Tip: The go-karts are expensive for short rides. Walking is much better for covering the island
There are multiple attractions to be visited on this island. Choose what you want to see and get walking. There are nice direction maps as you enter the island. Take snaps and keep following them.
Sunlight Rock: CNY 50 Bright Moon Garden: CNY 10 Organ Museum: CNY 15 International Lettering Art Gallery: CNY 5 Shuzhuang Garden: CNY 30
I just kept wandering around the island clicking pics. The island has restaurants which serve a wide variety of seafood. Get a table outside , order your food and keep enjoying the views.
Some restaurants have tubs of water with live sea animals. Select and they cook it for you.
Tip: There are coin machines across the island which provide cold drinks and water cheaper than the shops. Keep coins handy
Try out the fruits, candies, ice creams etc that are sold all across the island.
I used to keep having a white ice candy which was super addictive in the hot weather.
Once done with the food head over to the other parts of the island
By day end I had exhausted myself roaming all over the island.
Alert: Keep in mind the last ferry timings to go back to Xiamen.
I took the last ferry back to Xiamen. Took a ferry route which got me to the city center directly.
Stop two - Food street
Once back you can start exploring the "Food Street" which has multiple food stalls and restaurants. It's all seafood and fruits. People all across China come here for enjoying the yummy seafood. No use to me.
Veg and egg varieties were available. You will need to take efforts in explaining them to omit all the other non-veg stuff. Some food stalls showed me all what they will use to cook and took a yes from me. Lot of bakeries sold veg stuff. Ask them what they have in veg/egg and someone will mark all veg items for you to choose.
Even if you don't eat any seafood or are vegetarian like me it's a lovely experience to go here. Keep hogging on cheap exotic fruits all the way as I did. Don't forget to add jelly. I should stop calling myself vegetarian (Note to self)
Tip: Please ask locals before photographing their shop pics. They won't mind if you don't but ask them and see the way they smile or even get out of the way for your picture
Done feasting with my eyes and mouth was off to my hostel. Many roads blocks are put in place by evening. Vehicles are blocked in many areas from coming in the city limits. Helps people commute via foot and cycles.
Ended my day walking on the Zhongshan Road to my hostel sipping on the seedless mango juice and boiled worms jelly
Exploring Xiamen - Day two
Today was my last day at Xiamen. Packed my bags and was off to explore the city. On my agenda for the day was a temple and visit to some local supermarkets.
Stop one - Nanputuo Temple.
The temple includes Devajara Hall (the Hall of Heavenly Kings), Mahavira Hall (Daxiongbaodian), Dabei Hall (the Hall of Great Compassion) and a Pavilion built in 1936. The Nanputuo Temple is a very famous Buddhist temple founded in the Tang era.
Entry fee ¥3/person
Once done visiting the temple went to some supermarkets to check for the packed food which I had seen on the train. Wanted to take some back for my friend Gaurav Saha. If you have a foodie friend who loves to try different non-veg stuff these food items are heaven.
Alert: Make sure you check norms for taking this types of food if you have onward journeys. I had to throw two items as same were not allowed in that country.
By 2 pm was off to my hostel as it was too hot to be outside. Before the trip I was not able to book a train ticket from Xiamen to my next destination. The tickets sold out in flash. Had to buy a plane ticket instead. It turned out to be cheaper than the train ticket.
I used VPN and changed my location to China. Booked the ticket with OCR translation (Chrome count translate simplified chinese for some reason).
Need more such tips and tricks. Check my video where I explain "how to book cheap flights" : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqovNJ2x_Bw&t=651s
Took my luggage and was off to the bus stand. Took the bus to the Xiamen Airport.
Tip: Always keep adequate time for taking outstation flights or trains. Goof ups can happen and you will need to have some spare time to make them right
As I arrived at the airport and showed my ticket to the counter I was told this flight departs from another airport. I did not enquire with the hostel I stayed about the airport. I was in the impression it would be just one airport in such a small town. I was wrong. This is China, nothis is small here. City had two airports and I was at the wrong one.
Luckily I had 3 hours to spare. Due to lack of time and public transport options had to take a taxi to the other airport. It was a just 15 mins away. Lucky me. Phew !!!
Bye Bye Xiamen
Finally reached the right airport and checked-in. It was at this security check I had to throw away my free power banks I had got at Macau. (Hope you read my Hong Kong blog. If not read it here: https://www.outofofficedaku.com/blog/hongkong )
Wandering at the duty free shops I found Buddha shaped pears. They were super cute. Just so so cute #AmazingChina I had seen square shaped watermelons on the internet but this was much better.
There were a lot of flights getting cancelled that day for some reason. I just wished mine was not one of them. Waiting for my flight I searched the airport for hot water and had my noodles.
Tip: Always carry cheap ready to make noodle bowls. I used to keep one with me always. Hot water is easily available in airports, malls and trains. (China hai bhai noodles k liye chaiye na)
Lucking my flight was on time. Boarded and was off to a new city within China.