China is top on my parents' list of preferred overseas destinations and i would have been totally fine with that choice except for the mere fact that they like to travel by tour packages!
The 5,600 pictures that i happily shot throughout the eight days journey were shaved down to 4,446 and i am foreseeing a more substantial drop as i blog along in the next couple of weeks / months. As of usual practice, this post is a summarised one and you have to click on the individual links to delve into the details!
Singapore - Guangzhou (广州)
[5.30pm] Arrival at Changi Airport Terminal 3 with the kids dropping by to send us off! By the way, this trip involved only two persons in the family; my dad and i! My very first time travelling with my dad and i am keeping my fingers crossed that he would keep his legendary nagging at bay and i can get to eat the things i want.
[6.30pm] Got the boarding passes and detailed travel information from the Chan Brothers representative at Row 7 of Terminal 3; i didn't even need to fill up the entry and exit forms (similar to the white card previously used when Singaporeans need to enter Malaysia) as the agency had kindly filled up everything except for our signature.
Entered the departure zone shortly after even though our flight was at 8.15pm. As i have always advised, going in earlier allows you to check and compare the pricing of items found in the departure zone. Make a mental list for those cheaper ones you would like to buy when you return to Singapore!
[8.47pm] Given the busy air traffic at Changi Airport, the plane only shot off the runway thirty two minutes later! p.s. our flight was SQ852 - yes, the package was for a Singapore Airlines flight! If i were to plan for a free and easy, i can guarantee you it would be a budget airline.
[12.30am on 25 October] The aeroplane landed safely at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and we met up shortly with the China tour guide (Shen Fei) and the rest of our tour mates; in total, there were sixteen in the group, excluding the guide and the chauffeur.
Coach permanently assigned to us in the next few days; essential to take a photo of the license plate for ease of reference - 桂C21868.
[2.00am on 25 October] In 15 minutes, we alighted at HJ Grand Hotel (广州华钜君悦酒店); key cards were already issued back at the airport and i tiredly plonked onto the soft mattress after my mandatory wash up.
Guangzhou - Zhaoqing (肇庆)
[7.00am] Morning call was scheduled at 9am and i am already up with less than five hours of sleep! As i get older, it becomes extremely difficult for me to drift back into dreamland once i wake up!
With plenty of time to spare after a very light breakfast, i hit the gym for a short, 30-minute workout. No one was around and honestly, i am not even sure if i had used the equipment correctly...
[11.00am] Finally hitting the road with Shen Fei (Bryan Wong lookalike) introducing himself again and summarising our road trip for the next few days; peppering the speech with useful information that i would include when i get into the details of "each day".
[Noon] Lunch at a seafood restaurant by the name of 新庆嫂渔港. Meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) were covered for the entire duration except for dinner on the last day.
[2.00pm] Alighted at the Seven Star Memorial Arch which was next to the Seven Star Lake (七星湖); shall come back to the lake shortly.
The main objective then was to spend time at Duanzhou Pedestrian Street (端州步行街) which was more a shopping centre; didn't find it to be cultural and historically rich although i did enjoy the supermarket!
[4.22pm] Taking a cruise along the Seven Star Lake (七星湖) - the scenery was a disappointment for a person who has been to China no less than three times and almost all of us wondered if Zhaoqing was affected by the same haze we had in Singapore.
The karsts gave the lake its name and was a somewhat mini preview of what we would be getting in the next couple of days. To call it a preview would be pushing it as what we eventually got to see was way better!
[4.35pm] End of the boring cruise as i was seated right at the back and couldn't quite catch the guide's narration with my bad hearing! Nevertheless, i would have a full post for the cruise soon!
[5.00pm] Check in to Peninsular Hotel (半岛酒店)! In my past trips to China, it had always been triple sharing which, in the case of China, means an uncomfortable foldable bed for the third person. I didn't have to face it this time! Yippppeeee!
[6.15pm] Dinnertime! For tour packages, you would be assured of a soup, a few meat (including fish) and a number of vegetable dishes; balanced and sometimes, predictable. This meal was good although we had a shock when we found out the "other" dishes that the restaurant was serving.
[7.10pm] Night was still early; hence, it was a short stroll from the hotel to Songcheng Wall (宋城墙); a well preserved ancient wall dating back to the Song Dynasty.
Zhaoqing (肇庆) - Yangshuo (阳朔)
[8.00am] Leaving Zhaoqing for the highlight of this tour and was mesmerised by the wide spread of agricultural land that greeted the eyes with hues of yellow and green along the coach ride!
The drive would take seven hours and since i find it hard to sleep on the coach, my time was used mainly to clear the levels on Candy Crush and listen to the playlist on my iPhone. The guide also took the opportunity to offer us sampling of local products he recommended; like the above pack of easily made luohanguo (罗汉果) drink.
[11.25am] Lunch at a localised restaurant! A Cantonese lady in our tour group was extremely pleased with the authenticity of dishes served there.
[Noon] Another back-aching ride to our destination but as you can see, mountains had given way to the formidable karsts formation that was a signature sight for Guilin (of which Yangshuo actually belongs to).
[3.00pm] After dropping off at Xing Ping Ancient Town (興坪古鎮), let's now cruise along the most scenic section of the Li river (漓江) that also hosted ex USA president Mr Bill Clinton back in 1998!
The word spectacular was insufficient to describe the beauty soaked in during the cruise! It was breathtaking and we have no doubt the decision made by China currency board to have the scenery as the primary image for their twenty-dollar bill.
Dad even masqueraded as one of the locals with two real cormorants (fish eagle / 鱼鹰); well, we had to jostle with those on the same cruise to rent the birds at 2 RMB for the photoshoot.
[5.00pm] Unlike Singapore, the sun set earlier in China; providing an amazing backdrop when our cruise ended after ninety minutes.
[6.00pm] Dinner! Sorry, i had to include all the timing for meals as this would provide those who are thinking of signing up for the package a rough estimate on mealtimes, which can be very touchy depending on individuals.
[6.45pm] Caught the optional "Impression Liu Sanjie 印象刘三姐" show. Despite having the natural backdrop of Guilin signature scenery, it was a disappointment. I could not blame anyone as both my sister and mom, who caught the show when they visited a few years ago, had issued a grave warning to me before i left for the trip!
[9.19pm] Finally got to the Elite Garden Hotel (阳朔万丽花园酒店), touted as a local five-star hotel even though it was located along a row of shophouses and the facade was nothing to scream about.
[10.10pm] After a much needed shower, my dad and i decided to explore the bustling foreigner street (known also as West Street or 西街) right across the hotel!
[7.00am] The automated morning call woke me up and i finally got to try the highly acclaimed Guilin vermicelli at the hotel's breakfast buffet; not too impressionable actually.
With more than an hour to go before the group met up, both of us decided to walk over to West Street as there should be a noted contrast between daytime and nighttime.
Once we got back, ahead of time if i may add, we chanced upon our tour mates crowding this automobile cart selling nuts, dried mushrooms and berries! I regretted not buying more!!! :(
[9.16am] Green Lotus Park (碧莲幽境) - the climb was comfortable even for our oldest tour mate who was over eighty years old and there was this interesting Chinese character that was written in a that converts it into a mind-boggling couplet comprising fourteen Chinese words!
Strolling along, we continued to be marvelled by the 山水景色 (literally mountain and water scenery). Dad was ecstatic and his only complaint was that the weather could be cooler!
[11.09am] If you have counted, this would be our third boat ride; however, this experience was more traditional as it involved a bamboo raft that could only be moved with the physical strength of the boatman! In addition, let your ears be serenaded by the crystal clear voice of a lady from the minority Zhuang tribe as she belted out songs popularised by the highly popular 1960s movie, Third Sister Liu / 刘三姐 . Click here for the details!
At the same cruise, we got to see how the domesticated cormorants fished for their owners. It was fascinating even though at the bottom of the heart, it can be deemed as cruel by hardcore animal lovers.
[12.15pm] A yam feast was prepared for us for lunch as the area we were in, known as Lipu (荔浦), was well known for its yam! When my mum was here a few years back, she hauled back a few heads of yam to Singapore!
[1.00pm] Almost every trip to China (via the tour package mode) required a visit to a cave and this was no exception as we explored the hot and stuffy Silver Limestone Cave (银子岩).
My dad and i were the last to get out as we got crazy taking photo after photo! Given the low light condition, many turned out to be unusable. Anyway, we bought the dried persimmon which was another local delicacy!
[4.00pm] It was not even 4.00pm when we got back to the hotel and being the kind who could not stand wasting time sleeping in the hotel room, my dad and i proceeded to climb up a hill that appeared to have a temple / pavilion on top. What i didn't expect were the uneven steps and the not very tall railings!
We did achieve our objective (click here for its location) and totally loved the scenery of Yangshuo town from up above. To think we didn't even pay a single cent! p.s. the descent was frightening!!!
[6.00pm] Dinner back at the hotel after we navigated our way to West Street again. Remember the Green Lotus Park? Bloody park was right at the end of street!
[7.17pm] You wouldn't believe it; we went back again (to West Street of course)! Dad couldn't keep up with me and choose to retire back to the hotel while i eventually opted for a coffee on the third level of a cafe with free WiFi!
Yangshuo (阳朔) - Guilin (桂林)
[7.00am] Unexciting breakfast again at the hotel. Although the room was comfortable, the breakfast could have been better. There was nothing that caught my fancy and i am glad i brought along my Old Town 3-in-1 white coffee sachets.
[8.36am] The Forgotten Homeland-Guilin Shangri-La (世外桃源) would have been unforgettable, in a positive way, except for a problem; the rain which marred the experience! To be fair, the rain brought with it a lower temperature comparable to Cameron Highlands!
[11.30am] The bad breakfast was made up with a sumptuous meal called Wangfu feast (王府宴) which means a feast from the prince's palace.
There was a place right beside the restaurant where you can take nice photographs! When i am overseas, i tend to eat fast so that i would have more time to check out the surroundings!
[12.30pm] Another tourist spot: Elephant Trunk Hill (象鼻山公园). We didn't climb up and like many others, were just there to marvel at its similarity to the biggest mammal on land.
[1.00pm] After which was to Rongshanhu Lake Scenic Spot (榕杉湖景区) where there were two things for us to look out for; the banyan tree which had been at that same spot for a thousand years!
And the Ancient South Gate; the last remaining gate in the city.
[1.55pm] There seemed to be a lot on day five but we strangely didn't feel that it was a rush. Next up was the upcoming cruise (yes, again) along Tao Hua River (桃花江 / Peach Blossom River); part of the compulsory additional tours.
Our starting point was at a village called Family Lu Village (鲁家村) that was renowned for its tofu products! Sadly, stinky tofu wasn't one of them.
Anyway, the cruise was nothing much and the highlight was the dam gates that the ferry would have to go through in order to cruise along the higher segment of the river.
[3.45pm] Checking in to the most luxurious hotel for the trip; the five-star Sheraton Guilin! And it came with a gym which i fully utilized during my three days two nights stay.
[4.45pm] "Mirage Lijiang (梦幻漓江)" - part two of the compulsory additional tour. This was better than "Impression Liu Sanjie" even though on a comparison scale, the "Charming Xiangxi" show in Hunan was a notch better!
[6.03pm] The theatre was just a short stroll from Sheraton Guilin and it's time for dinner at the Cathay Chinese restaurant within the hotel.
[7.00pm] Time to digest the food with a walk down the 666-meter Zhengyang Pedestrian Street (正阳步行街). Personally, i prefer the West Street at Yangshuo as there was less of a cultural feel here; didn't help that it started drizzling halfway through too.
Guilin (桂林) - Longshen (龙胜) - Guilin (桂林)
[8.30am] Hitting the road again after an international breakfast buffet at Sheraton Guilin and we got hold of this mystical view during one of the toilet breaks!
[10.30am] Our aim on day six was to Longji (Dragon’s Backbone) Terraced Fields (龙脊梯田) and as it was on the treacherous highlands (one wrong move and Cavin would be gone from this world), we had to switch to an internal coach.
The journey up was breathtaking! Unlike the coach ride up Cameron Highlands, those on the last row in the coach can choose to unwind the window, allowing the cool air to hit the face in a most exhilarating manner.
[Noon] Lunch was at this minority tribe restaurant within the paid attraction and we all had a nagging suspicion after the meal that we were fed fried egg cooked with ants which, by the way, was delicious!
[12.40pm] We were notified beforehand that the upward climb to view the terraced fields would take about two hours to and fro and if we were unlucky, rain can make the steps extremely slippery.
[1.16pm] Guess the tour guide belittled our ability as quite a few of us reached the top in less than forty minutes! The scenery in front of us was damn worth the tiring climb! It could have been better before the fields were harvested.
Started pouring heavily when we left for Guilin. Quite fortunate as it would have spoiled the experience. Funny that i love the rain in Singapore yet hate it whenever i am overseas!
[5.50pm] Dinner was at this newly opened restaurant which was also holding a wedding! Despite i being Chinese, customs can vary a lot across dialects, tribes and countries and in the case of China (at least in Guilin), a bride who is seated while welcoming their guests would mean the marriage was a shotgun!
[6.40pm] Night Scene of Guilin; the third installment of the compulsory additional tour was conducted right after dinner, in the coach which was, in my opinion, pushing the justification to even pay extra. There was an on-foot component though; one of which was the free waterfall performance by Lijiang Waterfall Hotel (桂林漓江大瀑布饭店).
Illuminated by lights, the sun-moon pagodas and other structures along the river were dazzling to the eyes. They were definitely pretty and surprisingly, my photos turned out okay.
[8.34pm] The group split ways and continued their shopping along Zhengyang Pedestrian Street (正阳步行街). For me, there wasn't much to do except for the indulgence of stinky tofu!
Guilin (桂林) - Hezhou (贺州)
[6.30am] Woke up this early so that i can hit the gym! The past few days had resulted in a perfect grasp of timing. For the tour guide, he gave the morning timings as such; morning call, breakfast and then setting off!
[8.39am] Mulong Lake Scenic Area (木龙湖景区) - last of the 650 RMB compulsory additional tours, most of the structures here were man-made and the only saving grace was that the weather had taken a turn to be really cooling and windy!
[10.00am] The rain struck us once again at the Seven Star Scenic Area; it abated somewhat when we arrived at the Camel Peak (骆驼峰). I am referring to the travel itinerary issued by the tour agency as i am writing this post and weirdly, this seven star scenic area wasn't listed at all!
[11.00am] Super early lunch and i already had a heavy breakfast that morning. The cheesy omelette at Sheraton Guilin was so good; i had two at one go!
Sad to leave the wonderful mountainous scenery at Guilin as we left for another city called Hezhou, a three-hour coach ride away.
[3.05pm] Yawns.... arrival at the Hezhou Square (贺州广场); honestly, i have no idea why this was part of the itinerary since i have no memory of any important events that had taken place at the square. Thankfully, this was only a 20-minute stop.
[4.11pm] Advice for Chan Brothers - Remove Hezhou Square and allocate more time for Mount Gupo National Forest Park (姑婆山); said to be a place super rich in negatively charged ions!
Whatever the healthy factors, we had an relaxing time at the waterfall, wine brewing factory and the tea plantation! Maybe because we were the last customers, it felt as if the whole place belonged to us!
[6.17pm] Dinner and once again, there was another wedding at the same venue! And the bride was pregnant too!
[7.15pm] Our last hotel for this trip; the Hezhou Zhengling Hotel (贺州正菱大酒店). As there was no shopping street around this area, i actually slept pretty early.
Hezhou (贺州) - Guangzhou (广州) - Singapore
[10.00am] The caring guide allocated more time for us to sleep in as he understood we would have a midnight flight that day. Anyway, we left the hotel right after breakfast.
[10.50am] A way too early lunch - took place at the same restaurant as on day three! No complaint on the "last" meal, which featured much more deep fried stuff.
[11.30am] Left the hotel and spent the drive east to Guangzhou looking at the vast agricultural landscape that Singapore would never have.
[2.48pm] Aside from the sightings of taller buildings, another giveaway when one has reached the city is the frustrating traffic jams!
[4.00pm] The last item on the itinerary ranked high (supposedly) on the minds of our tour mates as we were going to spend five hours at Guangzhou Beijing Shopping Street (北京路步行街).
Shopping is the least favourite for my dad; hence, i would have to sugar coat it with other things; like visiting a rather popular yet hidden Buddhist temple in one of the alleys.
Dinner was settled at this tiny wanton noodle shop (巧美面家) at the end of Beijing Shopping Street; it was memorable! So much so that i am prepared to try out the new Mak noodles in Singapore, only to realise one bowl cost an exorbitant S$9.30!
[9.00am] We eventually blew our remaining time at Pacific Coffee where i can hook up to the internet and met up with the group at the designated timing. There were few latecomers but it wasn't an issue since our flight was at 1.35am! No tear was shed when we bid goodbye to the guide and the chauffeur even though i believe all of us have great memories of our journey to Guilin! The road trip itself covered a distance of 1,500 kilometers!
[5.30am on 01 November] Plane was delayed yet touched down twenty five minutes ahead of time at Changi International Airport! It was a tiring flight with me catching less than two hours of sleep.
Verdict of the No-Shopping Tour Package
Shen Fei was obviously a fantastic guide and we all know the attitude of the guide plays an important role in any tour package. On the no-shopping component - put it this way, this shall be my basic requirement in any tour package to China in the future! There was no pushy salespeople, there was ample time for us to soak in the attractions and i had plenty of rest!
Expenditure (Per Person)
Price of Package - S$1160.40
Compulsory Additional Tours - 650 RMB (S$145.37)
Optional Tour - 280 RMB (S$62.62)
Tour Guide & Driver Tips - 200 RMB (S$44.73)
Baggage Service - 50 RMB (S$11.19)
Baggage Service - 50 RMB (S$11.19)
Personal Expenses - S$500