What we get wrong about travelling to China

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How Instagram is ruining holidays1:18

What we get wrong about travelling to China

Instagrammers are spoiling once great and unique locations just to grab the perfect pic. Overcrowding, bad behaviour and local unrest has seen popular tourist cities fight back.

  • March 20th 2019
  • 2 months ago
  • /display/newscorpaustralia.com/Web/NewsNetwork/Travel – News.com.au/

What we get wrong about travelling to China

What we get wrong about travelling to China

Great place to eat and shop. Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. Picture: iStockSource:Supplied

While I love travelling more than anything, there was one destination that never really floated my boat.

China held absolutely no interest for me. When I conjured up a mental image of that country I envisaged crowds, pollution and fried chicken’s feet. Reasonably priced electronics just didn’t excite me enough to get it over the line.

But earlier this year I found myself in the city of Guangzhou, and it will probably end up being one of my most memorable travel experiences. It delivered a surprising mix of culture shock and serenity that I’ve never encountered before.

Guangzhou — formerly Canton — can been considered something of a gentle introduction to China. According to some of the locals we spoke to, this southern city doesn’t have the pushy nature of the bigger cities of Shanghai or Beijing and instead the slower pace allows an insight into traditional Chinese life.

CULTURE SHOCK

During my entire time in Guangzhou I didn’t see another westerner and that was a unique experience for me. Prepare to have people requesting to have their photo taken with you (as an aside, your western appearance may freak children out).

What we get wrong about travelling to China

While in Guangzhou I didn’t see another westerner and that was a unique experience for me.Source:Supplied

A great way to immerse yourself in local culture is a trip to the markets.

Wandering down the “pet street” in downtown Guangzhou we encountered a woman sorting through a container of deadly scorpions, using chopsticks (and no gloves). Scorpions are something of a delicacy and are boiled to make soup. If this isn’t the world’s most hard-core broth, I don’t know what is.

What we get wrong about travelling to China

A side of scorpions with your main meal.Source:Supplied

Nearby, on a street selling a fast array of weird and wonderful Chinese herbal medicine ingredients, we saw this bad-ass cat perching on a sea of shark’s fins.

What we get wrong about travelling to China

This cat guarding a pile of shark fins.Source:Supplied

For a truly mind-boggling experience, head to the 24-hour HongXing seafood restaurant.

It’s a raucous affair, with local singers belting out Cantonese pop songs as tables of chain-smoking men clap and dance in their seats.

You can select your meal from an array of animals in tanks and cages around the restaurant (or take the sissy-route like we did and order some more westernised dishes from the a la carte menu).

Palette-challenging options include live snake and something called a geoduck clam, which was officially our last menu preference.

What we get wrong about travelling to China

This is what a geoduck clam looks like.Source:Supplied

What we get wrong about travelling to China

Pick which snake you would like for lunch.Source:Supplied

HOW’S THE TRANQUILLITY?

While I was prepared for an onslaught of sounds and bodies, I found the city to be strangely peaceful.

Parks are filled with elderly men making their way through their daily Tai Chi practice, bicycle vendors peddling handmade sweets, women playing Mahjong and children terrorising goldfish in ponds. It’s a beautiful snapshot of a vastly different culture.

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这里是广州 广州 | by @marcus_tay 微信上搜索:[instaguangzhou]回复[入群]即可加入广州互粉群 —————————————————————— 這里是:#廣州 #China #Guangdong#Guangzhou #Canton #Guangzhoucity #instaGuangzhou #cantontower #羊城 #花城 #广州 ————————————————————————— 这里也有来自#中国 #上海 #香港 #深圳 #北京 #成都 #武汉 #南京 #杭州 #重庆 #China #Shanghai #Hongkong #Shenzhen #Beijing #Chengdu #Wuhan #nanjing #hangzhou #chongqing 的朋友

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There are some incredibly lush parts of Guangzhou. The Baiyun Mountain is a popular spot where you can take a cable car up to the top and look over a local monastery and school, where teenagers are going through rigorous exercise drills on the oval below.
At the base of the mountain is a sprawling and meticulously manicured botanic garden, perfect for walking off the yum cha you’ve (probably) just consumed.

One of our first stops on our tour was at the Buddhist Temple of Six Banyan Trees, which goes back about 1400 years. The smoke from joss sticks hangs thick in the air here, and local people scurry about making their offerings at the different statues of Buddha. Monks repeatedly walk circuits of the temple to show their devotion, but they’ll happily stop for a chat and a smile.

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#guangzhou #cina #temple #sixbanyantemple #sixbanyantrees #travel #travelinchina

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Obviously, one of China’s biggest drawcards is the food. Authentic Cantonese food is characterised by simplicity and lightness, rather than being drowned in rich spicy sauces.

The best way to sample an array of dishes is with a trip to a bustling Dim Sum restaurant. Just be prepared for the no-nonsense attitude of the waitresses.

According to our guide, the city’s best dumplings can be found at Liwan Famous Eatery, which has been operating for over 100 years. For 12 yuan ($2.50) you get three massive pork and chive dumplings with water chestnut. Definitely the best — and cheapest — dumplings I have ever eaten.

What we get wrong about travelling to China

The city’s best dumplings can be found at Liwan Famous Eatery.Source:Supplied

The other excellent dish we had was cheong fun, which are thin rice noodles whipped up by a streetside vendor, filled with prawn, pork or eggs and doused with soy sauce and spring onions. This is often eaten for breakfast. At 8 yuan ($1.70) these soft silky noodles are a budget-friendly way to start your day.

What we get wrong about travelling to China

This dish, known as cheong fun, is a mix of thin rice noodles whipped up by a streetside vendor, filled with prawn, pork or eggs and doused with soy sauce and spring onions.Source:Supplied

You can also push the boat out and get a little adventurous. Locals queue daily for the dish at the top of the photo below. It’s a fish skin salad — the skin has been boiled and then mixed together with soy, coriander, onions, ginger, peanuts, and sesame. The texture is a little slimy but once you get past that, the flavour is incredible.

What we get wrong about travelling to China

Why have a piece of fish when you can eat the skin instead?Source:Supplied

SHOPPING

Guangzhou is an important centre for manufacture and foreign trade, so it’s a shopper’s paradise. The One Link shopping centre is a jaw-dropping wholesale market stretching over nine levels that sells everything from designer home furnishings to stationery, beauty items and bizarre toys. If you want to get some quaint souvenirs, this is the place.

It’s also worth ambling along the bustling Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. Stretching over a kilometre, this retail hub is a mecca for bargain-priced clothing.

What we get wrong about travelling to China

Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street is a shopper’s dream. Picture: iStockSource:Supplied

DAY TRIPS

Two excellent daytrips you can do from Guangzhou include Hong Kong (it’s just a 50-minute trip on the high-speed train) and Foshan.

Although it’s only about an hour away on the metro, the smaller town of Foshan gives a glimpse of a slower pace of life. This is considered the home of martial arts and you can give yourself a history lesson in Bruce Lee and other famous Wing Chun masters with a trip to the Ancestral Temple. They have lots of memorabilia and interactive exhibits, where you can try to roundhouse kick (and fail miserably).

The temple is also home to the pre-eminent dragon dance school. I will admit that previously I thought dragon dance was loud and tended to go on for a bit, BUT WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE THEM DO IT WHILE LEAPING ON POLES. That really ramps things up a bit.

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Next level lion dancing at the Wong Fei Hong museum in Foshan. The guy is carrying a full human above his head while jumping from one pedestal to the other, 8-9 ft off the ground 😱💪 Petitioning for this to be a sport in the Olympics! . . . #liondance #舞獅 #hunggar #hunggarkungfu #kungfu #gongfu #wongfeihong #foshan #martialarts

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There are daily dragon dance performances and you can watch the teenage acrobats training and honing their skills in the courtyard between shows.

Foshan has also long been a centre for ceramics. There’s a 500-year-old kiln that is still in working order, as well as “Creative City” which includes a long strip of market stalls selling unique ceramics and other local crafts. It’s a great place for picking up some super cheap souvenirs.

WHERE TO STAY

An excellent boutique accommodation option is the LN Hotel Five, set on the banks of the Pearl River. Spend an evening sipping cocktails in their rooftop bar as you watch the brightly lit paddle steamers snake their way through the city.

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这里是广州 广州 | by @mryichao 微信上搜索:[instaguangzhou]回复[入群]即可加入广州互粉群 —————————————————————— 這里是:#廣州 #China #Guangdong#Guangzhou #Canton #Guangzhoucity #instaGuangzhou #cantontower #羊城 #花城 #广州 ————————————————————————— 这里也有来自#中国 #上海 #香港 #深圳 #北京 #成都 #武汉 #南京 #杭州 #重庆 #China #Shanghai #Hongkong #Shenzhen #Beijing #Chengdu #Wuhan #nanjing #hangzhou #chongqing 的朋友

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TO TOUR, OR NOT TO TOUR?

While tours usually aren’t my thing, I was incredibly grateful for our guide in Guangzhou. English isn’t widely spoken and it’s handy to have a local to translate where needed, explain the local history and customs and take you to their favourite spots.

We spent our time with the very wonderful Maggie from Wendy Wu tours. She is Guangzhou born-and-bred and food is her passion, so she has the top tips on all the best places to eat. And in China, that is worth its weight in gold.

TRAVEL INFO

For more destination information visit www.gzly.gov.cn

China Southern Airlines flies 24 times weekly from both Sydney and Melbourne, 7 times weekly from both Brisbane and Adelaide, 4 times weekly from Cairns and 5 times weekly from Perth in high season. See csair.com.au for more information.

The writer travelled to Guangzhou as a guest of Guangzhou Tourism and China Southern Airlines.

What we get wrong about travelling to China

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