duration: 41 days, incl. 29 days in mainland China
Route: Hong Kong – Guangzhou – Guiyang – Zhenyuan – Kaili – [Congjiang] – Basha – Zhaoxing – [Sanjiang] – Chengyang – Longji Titian – Gulilin – Yangshuo – Xingping – Guangzhou – Xiamen – Kinmen (Taiwan) – Xiamen – Guangzhou – Macau – Hong Kong
Information on HK, Macau and Kinmen is posted in the relevant section.
Visa: unfortunately this time the Chinese embassy in Warsaw did not issue a longer visa even though we requested 45 days and we had to adapt our trip to the maximum stay of 2 x 30 days.
Changing money: we changed some money in advance in Hong Kong’s Chungking and Mirador Mansions. Rates were so good that it was actually a little better to change money from USD to HKD to CNY than a simple USD to CNY change in China.
Once in mainland China, money is changed in banks. Only some branches are allowed to change money and they are usually marked by an English language sign. Many (but not all) bank branches are open on Saturdays and Sundays. Rates are very similar in all banks and they very little from the rates of the Bank of China (see: http://www.boc.cn/sourcedb/whpj/enindex.html). As seen in this table, it is much better to exchange cash in USD than EUR. Exchanging 100 USD costs ca. 5 yuan (ca. 0,75%), while exchanging 100 EUR costs 26 yuan (ca. 3,5%).
Booking train tickets: during our previous trips to China one of the biggest problems was hearing the notorious “mei you” at the train station and having to wait or arrange alternatives. Much has changed in this regard – Chinese train tickets can be now booked on-line from abroad and booking fees are reasonable.
The official Chinese railway booking site is in Chinese only and does not take foreign credit cards, so agencies are needed for booking from abroad. It seems that the most reasonable ones are Travel China Guide (https://www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains/) and Ctrip (http://english.ctrip.com/trains/). Travel China Guide has a better search engine, showing the availability of tickets for trains, while Ctrip charges lower fees (20 or 30 Y per ticket). The fee paid to Ctrip is converted to “c-money” that can be in theory spent on hotels but in practice when we booked a hotel and paid by “c-money” the hotel refused to honor our payment (presumably they did not receive anything from Ctrip).
Tip: when booking through Ctrip search the trains while not logged in and log in only after you have found your connection. In such way the booking fee will be 20 instead of 30 Y.
After the booking Ctrip issues a confirmation number that needs to be exchanged for the actual ticket at a train station. Any train station in China can do it but stations different from the station of origin charge 5 Y per ticket. Passport and the confirmation number are needed. Allow plenty of time for picking up tickets, as there are always big queues in Chinese railway stations.
One more thing to consider when travelling by train in China – Chinese train stations are huge and crowded. They are organized like airports, with a ticket check (queue) and a security check (another queue) to enter the station and gates to the platform opening 15 minutes before departure.
https://www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/ – for up-to-date practical information on several destinations (getting to and from the railway station, entry fees etc.)
Hong Kong – Guangzhou: by MTR to Lo Wu (ca 40 HK$), across the border on foot, by train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou Dong (East) 79,5 Y, ca 1 hr
Door to door from our HK guesthouse to Guangzhou hotel it took some 4 hrs.
We stayed in 3 places in Guangzhou during this trip
- Yecheng Hotel, near Ximenkou metro, 138 Y for a double (AC), comfortable but a bit worn down. Booked on booking.com. Nice central area with plenty of shops and restaurants nearby. Recommended.
- Guangzhou South Station No. 1 hotel (128 Y for a dark room, clean and with AC). We booked this one on booking.com, as we wanted to stay close to Guangzhou Nan (South) train station. It turned out to be a bad idea. The location marker was misplaced on the booking.com map. In fact the hotel is located in a small village-like neighbourhood ca. 1 km south-west from the station, across a small river, with some shops and restaurants nearby. Almost impossible to find by yourself, even the locals did not know the place. The location means it is not very practical to visit central Guangzhou from this place – it is ca. 20 minutes walk to the station (and metro), another 30-40 minutes metro ride to central Guangzhou. Our room was dark, as the only window faced a neighbours wall just 15 centimeters from it. To be recommended only if you plan an late arrival and an early start from Guangzhou South station and want to skip visiting the city completely. The owner gives free ride to and from the station.
- Jiamei Hotel, opp. the main mosque, near Gongyuanqian and Ximenkou metro, 178 y onbooking.xom. Very good location, nice clean and comfortable room. Recommended.
Guangzhou Nan (South) to Guiyang Bei (North) – CRH high speed train, 5 hrs, 267,5 Y, booked via Ctrip
Guiyang (alt. over 1000 meters, visibly cooler than most other places)
Accomodation: Guiyang Nande Youkong Youth Hostel, 128 Y for double room, ensuite, no AC. Location within walking distance to some sights and a night market specializing in seafood and crayfish. Washing machine and a rack for drying laundry. The whole hostel was an adapted ground floor apartment in a 1970s block of flats tucked into a small lane (difficult to find). Downside: the place has very poor ventilation, pervasive smell of mould, it was humid and hot in summer. There was no AC and not even a fan in our room. We slept with an open window and it was still far from comfortable. Not recommended.
Guiyang – Zhenyuan – by train, 41 Y, ca. 3 hrs, booked a day in advance at the station
Zhenyuan (alt. 450 m, hot and sticky like HK or Guangzhou)
Accomodation on the main street turned out to be quite pricey – most rooms facing the river were 250 Y or more. Finally we settled for 150 Y for a slightly shabby but large room with balcony over the river, a bit further from the old bridge (AC).
Bus no. 1 links the main street to both train and bus stations.
Entry fees: Qinglong 60 Y (30 Y discount for ITIC card), mountain above the town 30 Y (15 Y with ITIC card)
Zhenyuan – Kaili – tickets were sold also for a fully booked train with standing room only, as it was only 1 hr (15 Y).
Kaili (alt. 650 meters, a bit less hot than Zhenyuan)
Bus no. 2 from the train station into city.
Accomodation: New Mills Inn, (凱里新磨坊連鎖酒店), 26 Yingpan Dong Lu (營盤東路26號) 138 Y for an AC room. In a side lane from Yingpan East Rd but visible from the main road. Good location, walking distance to shops, restaurants and the main bus station on Wenhua Lu. Recommended.
We took a day trip to Miao villages around Langde (郎德) and Leishan. There are buses to Leishan from main bus station on Wenhua Lu every 1hr from 7.20, 8.20 etc. Last bus back from Leishan is at 6.20 p.m. Fare 22 Y. There are also buses directly to Langde 1 hr, 12 Y.
We walked from Langde to the villages of Baode and Nanmeng. The hike would have been great but unfortunately there is a paved road all the way now, so it turned out to be a bit boring even though there was almost no traffic. From Nanmeng we caught a bus to Leishan (10 Y) and from Leishan back to Kaili (22 Y).
Kaili – Congjiang (从江) – bus at 8.20 am from bus station on Wenhua Lu, 138 Y, 4 hrs
Basha (岜沙) (a Miao village near Congjiang, alt. 550 m, hot in summer)
From Congjiang we took a taxi to Basha for 40 Y. Entrance fee of 80 Y is charged at the village gate.
Accomodation in a big guesthouse on the right side of the main road, ca. 100 m after the ticket booth, between it and the main square. 100 Y for double with bathroom (no AC, fan only), great views from the window. Erratic water supply.
Basha was still mostly traditional and only a little touched by mass tourism, unlike many other villages in the area.
For the ride back to Congjiang we took a minibus hanging around the main square (40 Y for the whole car).
Zhaoxing (肇兴) (another Dong village near Zhaoxing, alt. ca. 400 m, hot in summer)
From Congjiang we first took the frequent bus to the Congjiang high speed railway station (gaotie zhan), located some 5 kms from Zhaoxing. Took 1 hr, cost 10 Y. Then a minibus from the railway station to Zhaoxing, 10 Y per person, 5 kms. There is a 100 Y entry fee for Zhaoxing.
Accomodation: we paid 150 Y for a nice AC room in a guesthouse, just behind Zhaoxing Hotel in a lane up to the right from the main street.
Zhaoxing was much bigger and more touristy than Basha, with a big choice of accommodation, shops and restaurants along the main street. Anyway, we found the village still nice and authentic. Somehow it managed to avoid the ‘theme park’ model of development.
We did a nice hike via Xiage to the village of Tangan (alt. 840 m), mostly signposted. 3 hrs one way during a heat wave, through nice traditional villages, forest and rice terraces. There are a few restaurants and places to stay in Tangan.
After Zhaoxing we wanted to get to Sanjiang, for Chengyang, another Dong village already in Guangxi. We hoped we would be able to hop on the high speed train for one stop from Congjiang to Sanjiang South (would take ca. 20 minutes). We took a bus from Zhaoxing to the high speed train station from the parking at the village entrance (8 Y). Unfortunately there were no tickets to Sanjiang for the next day or two and the cashier would not sell us tickets with standing room only, even just for one stop. We had to take a bus back to Congjiang bus station (10 Y). From Congjian to Sanjiang ( 三江) we took another bus (32 Y, 107 km, buses every ca. 40 min, last bus at 17.00 pm). It took 3 hrs of a bumpy ride, with walking across a landslide site and transfer to another bus at the other side. Arrived at Hedong (east) bus station in Sanjiang. There are regular city buses and minibuses to Chengyang from Sanjiang. We took a taxi for 60 Y, as heavy rain was approaching.
Chengyang (程阳) (a cluster of Dong villages near Sanjiang)
Entry fee of 80 Y is charged for the entrance to the most famous wind and rain bridge in Ma’an village, at a ticket booth the entry to the bridge from the Sanjiang road. Easy to avoid just by going to the next bridge along the road, some 100 m upstream. The main bridge can be then entered from the village side with nobody asking for the ticket.
Accomodation: Long Feng guesthouse in Ma’an, one of the first places after crossing the bridge. 100 Y for a nice dbl with AC and views from the window.
Chengyang is a very good area to spend a couple of days doing easy walks between traditional villages, across rice and tea fields, with several nice wind and rain bridges and drum towers. The next village, Yan, is barely 10 minutes walk from Ma’an and there are several other ones beyond it, mostly linked by footpaths avoiding roads with traffic. A useful basic map can be found in a leaflet distributed in guesthouses. There is some development for tourism (including useful signposts and public toilets) but the villages have mostly preserved their authentic character.
From Chengyang we took a minibus to Sanjiang (5 Y) to Hexi (west) station, walked across the bridge to Hedong (east) station and took a bus to Longsheng (龙胜) from there (1,5 hrs, 20 Y, every 30 min or so).
Longji Titian (Longji Rice Terrace)
There are two main villages with accommodation in the Longji Rice Terrace – Ping’an (平安) (alt. 800-850 m) and Dazhai (大寨) (alt. 810 m), with the smaller village of Tiantouzhai (田头寨) (alt. 1000 m) some 40 minutes walk uphill from Dazhai. We wanted to stay in both places and considered walking from Dazhai to Ping’an but finally decided against it to avoid walking with all luggage. Finally we stayed 2 nights in Tiantouzhai and then went by bus to Ping’an where we stayed another night. Both Tiantouzhai/Dazhai and Ping’an have splendid hiking opportunities across rice terraces. The Tiantouzhai/Dazhai area has longer hikes, with a walk around the main viewpoints and villages in the area taking a full day. A circular hike from Ping’an around main viewpoints can be done in leisurely 3 hours or so.
Both Ping’an and Dazhai are linked by frequent buses with both Longsheng and Guilin. We took a bus from Longsheng to Dazhai (30 Y, 2 hrs). Entry fee to the whole Longji Titian area was 95 Y and was charged in a ticket booth at Heping (和平), right after the intersection from the main Longsheng-Guiling road. The entry ticket covers both Ping’an and Dazhai and is checked at the entrances to both villages. There was no problem with presenting the same ticket in Ping’an after 2 days since having it stamped in Dazhai.
In Tiantouzhai (alt. 1000 m) we stayed in a nice place (100 Y double with bathroom, great view, no AC but not needed) in lower part of the village, next building to a youth hostel. Water supply in the village was erratic.
Getting from Dazhai to Pingan involved a change of buses but was very easy. First we took a Longsheng-bound bus from Dazhai (found right on arrival at the Dazhai parking lot), telling the ticket inspector that we wanted to go to Ping’an. She dropped us at the Erlong bridge, where Ping’an road branches off (fare 10 Y). From Erlong bridge we took the first passing minibus to Ping’an (almost no waiting, 10 Y per person).
There were many buses to Guilin from Dazhai parking lot (no need to book in advance), priced at 50 Y. There were also ads of direct buses to Yangshuo for 70 Y.
In Pingan after checking several places which turned out to be quite pricey (300-900 Y for a room) we stayed in Caiyun Hotel in the upper part of the village, for 130 Y, negotiated down from 150 Y. The place was a bit shabby but friendly, room with ensuite bathroom and nice view.
Food was expensive all over Longji Titian, in average double the price of average simple restaurants elsewhere.
When continuing from Ping’an to Guilin we found no direct Gulin bus at the Ping’an parking lot. No problem at all – took a Longsheng-bound bus from Pingan to Heping (10 Y) and the bus ticket inspector arranged for us a transfer to a passing Guilin bus on the road a bit after Heping. Heping to Guilin cost 27 Y, took ca. 2 hrs.
The bus dropped us at Qintan Bus Station out of centre. Autorickshaw from there to the main train station was 15 Y (according to the map, city buses 2 and 12 also ply this route).
There are plenty of inexpensive hotels around the railway station and the main bus station in Guilin. We stayed in Guilin Hotel, directly opposite the train station (128 Y for a large comfortable room with AC).
Great place for street food – a covered market near Zhengyang Jie, just north of the central square on Zhongshan Zhong (Middle) Rd. Just head into the biggest crowd to find it.
From Guilin we took a bus to Yangshou (30 Y, ca. 2 hrs). It seems that the main bus station has a deal with ladies hanging out at front of the train station – they refused to sell us a ticket while the ladies simply put us on the next bus.
Arrived at the main bus station on the western outskirts. A city bus goes to the centre from there.
Accomodation: Hotel Indonesia (Oversea Chinese Hotel) on the waterfront. A nice room (AC, ensuite) with balcony and great view of the river was a non-negotiable 180 Y. Recommended. We asked at several other places nearby and they were either much worse or much more pricey.
From Yangshuo we did the Yulong river walk, taking the bus back from Baisha. The way was easy to figure out with the help of maps.me app.
We moved from Yangshuo to Xingping after 2 days to stay in a less crowded place in the middle of the karst scenery. Travelled by local bus from Yangshuo south bus station, 1 hr, 7 Y.
Accomodation: Xingping This Old Place hostel, booked by booking.com, 150 Y for a nice AC double.
Xingping turned out to be a nice place in a spectacular setting, with a couple of atmospheric old streets and a relaxed feel once the tourist groups left in the afternoon. We liked it much more than Yangshuo. One drawback was mediocre food – in our 3 days in the village we did not manage to find a place which we liked. Everywhere the food was rather bland and geared to one-time visitors.
Xingping is a great base for longer or shorter hikes. We did the Laozhai hill hike, just 40 min from Xingping waterfront. Shoes are advised, as the upper part is pretty rocky and there are a few places with sheer drops. Views are spectacular.
Another short walk was from Dahebei village (across the river from Xinpging, by ferry, 2 Y) to a semi-deserted cave temple at the riverside some 1 hr downstream (maps.me app was useful to find the way).
We also wanted to do the long hike from Xingping to Yangdi along the Li river. Unfortunately we were told this hike was now closed, so we went as far as it was possible. The first part from the 20 Yuan View to the ferry crossing in Lengshui can be now done along a new path all the time along the riverside instead of following the road. Easy and pleasant. The ferry crossing in Lengshui cost 10 yuan. The hike was well accessible and pleasant up to Laocuntou, where there are a few basic restaurants and cold beer. Short time after Laocuntou things got complicated. The path along the river quickly became overgrown and on some places broken by small landslides. It is also completely deserted, we met no other hikers on this stretch. We followed it nevertheless up to the place where it joins a road coming from the village of Yaotou, on a plateau overlooking the valley. We were warned against going further to Quanjiazhou and towards Yangdi by staff at our hostel in Xingping. Apparently there is no ferry at Quanjiazhou and local bamboo boat owners are very unscrupulous, to the point of being dangerous, in demanding extortionate amounts for crossing the river. According to them, this part of the hike should be considered closed for tourists.We turned back to Yaotou then – it had great views but going there up on an asphalt road was quite a slog in the mid-day heat. Going from Yaotou back to Laocuntou was another tricky part, as there is no road, only some paths across fields, orchards and forests, and no signposts at all. We had to turn back 2 or 3 times before we finally found a path descending all the way to the bottom of the valley and reaching the Laocuntou road on the other side.
This website can be used to figure out the topography of the hike but bear in mind that it describes the hike when going all the way to Yangdi was still possible and easy, which is not the fact anymore: http://hiking-area-yangshuo.blogspot.fr/2015/07/yangdi-xingping-trek.html
Xingping is located very close to Yangshuo high speed train station (gao tie zhan) – just 15 minutes by minibus, 5 Y. The minibuses are coordinated with train departures.
From Xingping/Yangshuo station we took a high speed train back to Guangzhou Nan (South) station (2,5 hrs, 117 Y, booked much in advance via Ctrip).
After a night in Guangzhou we continued to Xiamen – by taking the train from Guangzhou Nan to Shenzhen Bei (75 Y, 40 min, booked a day in advance at the station) and then another high speed train from Shenzhen Bei to Xiamen (4 hrs, 154,5 Y, booked in advance via Ctrip). There are more trains to Xiamen Bei (North) station, linked to downtown Xiamen by BRT 1, a fast bus line on elevated road (a 50 minutes ride).
We stayed in Baijiacun Youth Hostel at Nanhua Lu 20, opp. Zhongshan Park (131 Y for the first night, 100 Y for subsequent nights). Bus 96 from Xiamen train station. Good location (walking distance to Zhongshan Lu) but notoriously unreliable. The ladies staffing the reception spoke absolutely no English and were quite difficult to communicate with even using broken Chinese and a translator app. Our first night was booked via Ctrip and pre-paid using Ctrip “c-money”. They refused to acknowledge it and just demanded a payment in cash without contacting Ctrip. Ctrip ignored our complaint e-mail as well. We were promised a price of 100 Y per night for our second stay a couple of days later, so we stayed there again. To our surprise on check-out they demanded 190 or so yuan per night. We refused to pay this amount, showing them a sheet of paper they themselves had written with the agreed price. Finally they had to accept the initially agreed price of 100 yuan but the whole issue left a bad impression. Not recommended.
Xiamen turned out to be a real haven for inexpensive seafood. The best area were side lanes from Zhongshan Lu, with our favourite spot just behind Nanzhan mall, in a lane accessible from Dazhong street. It was also a great place just to walk around and explore, with a lot of nice architecture in the centre, some lively walkable districts between Nanputuo temple and the centre (it was a good idea to walk this distance) and a great linear park converted from a disused railway line a short walk up from Zhongshan park towards the botanical garden.
The biggest disappointment of our Xiamen visit was trying to get to Gulangyu island. The ordinary ferry from central Xiamen (cost 8 Y) is now for local residents only and tickets can be bought only by showing a local ID. Tourists (foreigners and Chinese alike) are sent to the Dongdu international ferry terminal out of the city center (you need to take a bus or taxi to get there) where there are tourist ferries with tickets for 35 and 50 Y. Those ferries sell out – when we finally reached the terminal the nearest free slot was for departure in 1,5 hr. As it was already quite late, in result we dropped our plans to visit the island. Non-locals are allowed to take the ordinary ferry from the center only after 6.30 p.m. but still paying the ‘special’ tourist fare of 35 Y. There is little information in English, so not sure about that. Anyway, as it gets dark at 7 p.m., it’s too late for more than a short walk on the island.
For getting to Kinmen – ferries now depart from the Wutong ferry terminal, near the airport. It is reached by bus no. 6 from Xiamen train station. The bus stop for no. 6 is on Hubin Dong Lu opp. train station, not on the main bus stops on Xiahe Lu. The ferry ticket to Kinmen was 155 Y, the ride took less than 1 hr and departures are very frequent – no need to book in advance.
After a few days in Kinmen (see the Taiwan section) we returned to Xiamen and went to Macau via Guangzhou. First we took the Xiamen Bei to Shenzhen Bei train (booked a few days in advance, 155 Y) and Shenzhen Bei to Guangzhou Nan (75 Y). On the following day we wanted to take a fast train from Guangzhou Nan to Zhuhai Gongbei (for Macau border) but it turned out that trains from Guangzhou Nan were sold out 5 hrs in advance. We took an unofficial shared taxi from the opposite side of the street on the south-eastern side of the station. Going rate was 100 Y per person + a flexible commission for the touts hunting for customers at the station south-eastern entrances. The ride took less than 2 hrs, highway all the way. Probably taking a bus from central Guangzhou bus station would have been a better idea.
See the HK and Macau section for information on the remaining part of the trip.