Zhongshan, Macau, Hong Kong & Guangzhou 2015

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Going back to China and visiting relatives is something that we usually do every second year, but because we didn't end up going in 2014 (the last time we went was 2012), we decided to go in 2015 instead. We were there for almost 4 weeks—from 13 January to 8 February 2015—but instead of travelling from one city to another, we were just going back and forth between cities because our route for that month was literally: Sydney → Guangzhou → Zhongshan → Macau → Zhongshan → Hong Kong → Zhongshan → Guangzhou → Zhongshan → Macau → Zhongshan → Sydney.

We flew with China Southern Airlines, and I have to say that out of all the times I've flown, Airbus A380 has the best in-flight entertainment system so far due to its good movie selection—I even managed to watch a couple of Chinese movies I've been meaning to watch but couldn't find online. (Though, it would've been better if they allowed us to use our own headphones—just sayin'.) The plane food was decent—nothing spectacular, but nothing too terrible. The seats weren't that great either (it had little leg room and uncomfortable seats), but it was something I expected in economy class anyways. ★Tip: If you're flying economy, try to sit in the upper deck because it gives you a bit more space.

We figured that it would be easier to fly to Guangzhou than to fly to Hong Kong or Macau because then we wouldn't have to go through a number of security clearances.

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For this trip, I decided to part with my Canon EOS 500D and opt for a lighter and smaller, but just as powerful alternative: the Olympus PEN E-PL7, which I ordered all the way from Japan because Australia doesn't stock the white version. #likewhy #raisesfists

Zhongshan (中山)

While Zhongshan is a city that I've become familiar with over the years because it's my parents' hometown, it's also a place I can never get used to due to its low hygiene standards and the fact that there's really not much to do there (or worth staying for an extended period of time). That's why I regret spending 2 entire weeks in Zhongshan because we could've used our time more wisely and visited somewhere we've never been before. #coughshanghai

However, we did manage to do some things that I've never done before, like going strawberry picking for the first time—which was a lot of fun. Though, my experience was short-lived because we were told that the strawberries were sprayed with chemicals to make them grow faster overnight. I didn't believe it at first until my dad showed me the evidence: the strawberries that we picked in the afternoon had already turned into a big pile of mush by dinner. #likewhat (Luckily I only ate a handful!)

We even managed to successfully climb the tallest mountain in Zhongshan, called Dajian Mountain (大尖山), which took us almost 2 hours. But despite the fact that we were wearing the wrong gear and carrying unnecessary belongings, it was a still good hike and workout.

We also had "steam pot" (蒸氣火鍋), where food is cooked by steam and then eaten as is or with a little bit of soy sauce on the side. But the idea of this steaming method is to allow the juices from the meat, vegetables and seafood to drip through the flat colander and onto the uncooked rice (that was previously placed at the bottom in a saucepan) to make congee. It was seriously one of the best meals we had on our trip because not only did the food taste good, it was healthy as well. It's supposedly much healthier than normal hot pot because you're not actually cooking with fire.

But other than that, food anywhere else was the same old oily, soy-sauce drenched junk you get at most Chinese restaurants, and it wasn't any better at "home" either. Because I eat clean, it was hard eating out, and everytime my sister and I would order steamed (or boiled) vegetables for dinner, we would have to tell them specifically "no oil and no soy sauce". We get the same confused looks everytime as if we're eating something from another planet!

To be honest, I don't think I've ever been judged so badly for what I eat—and not because I eat unhealthily—but the fact that I eat "weirdly healthily". My auntie has criticised us for not putting oil and/or soy sauce on boiled vegetables because "it won't taste good without it"; and my uncle has called us stupid for eating bananas for breakfast (and while laughing in our faces)—when they're the people who don't exercise, eat all sorts of junk food, and don't lead healthy lifestyles. I mean, the last time I checked, my vitals were doing pretty good. #rantover

To count, I've been to Zhongshan 7 times, so it'll probably be another few years before I go back again. But even if I do, I'm just going to stay a week at most to visit some of my relatives. Two weeks is simply way too long.

Macau (澳門)

We went to Macau twice during this trip: the first time for 2 nights, and the second time for a day only where we arrived in the morning and left in the evening. For the first 2 nights, we stayed at the Metropole Hotel like we usually do due to its inexpensive room rates and convenience. I originally wanted to book another hotel just for the sake of going somewhere different, but I couldn't argue with its location and how close it was to everything. I ended up quite liking our hotel room because it was newly renovated and therefore, clean—which is the number one thing I look for in hotels. It was actually much better than room we got at the Langham Place Hotel in Hong Kong! (The Metropole is a 3.5 star hotel, while Langham Place is a 5 star.)

As per usual, we spent most of our time in Senado Square (議事亭前地) or what is commonly known as "The Fountain" (噴水池). The Square is one of the city's main shopping districts and is our most favourite place to hang out in Macau. Not only do they have many clothing and beauty stores like Bossini and Sasa (莎莎), there you will also find a lot of food stalls and small restaurants that sell local specialties like the famous pork chop bun (豬扒包) and the classic Portuguese tarts (葡撻).

For anyone with a sweet tooth and a health-conscious lifestyle, I highly recommend going to "Lady Fa's Anti-aging Grinding Workshop" (發嫂養生磨房), a small dessert shop located near St. Dominic's Church (玫瑰堂) in Senado Square. Their dishes are not overly sweet and they use real medicinal materials to make desserts like black sesame soup (芝麻糊), walnut soup (核桃糊), and turtle jelly (龜苓膏).

While Macau is often described as the "Las Vegas of the East", I think that most people will agree with me when I say there are just too many casinos for such a small peninsula (they have a whopping total of 33 casinos)—it's not doing the city any good and it's overcrowding what can potentially be a really lovely city. The two casinos we went to was the Wynn Macau and The Venetian, which is the biggest casino in Macau.

Until Macau decides to get rid of some of its casinos (or does a massive overhaul), it won't be a place I'd be rushing to back anytime soon. It's a good place for a weekend trip, or even a layover in between connecting flights because you don't need a long time to experience Macau.

Hong Kong (香港)

Although I'm been to Hong Kong a few times already, we've only been to places mostly around the Yuen Long District (元朗區) because we have family friends who live in that area. However, for this trip, we decided to be a little bit more adventurous and told our parents that we wanted to stay in a more bustling area of the city: Mongkok (旺角)—one of the Hong Kong's major shopping destinations. (It took some time persuading our parents, but it was totally worth it.)

We were in Hong Kong for a total of 4 days and 3 nights, and we stayed at the Langham Place Hotel, which is conveniently located in a heart of Kowloon (九龍). Interesting, it was actually cheaper staying in Hong Kong for 3 nights than it was in Macau for 2 nights. The room wasn't that great, but the convenience factor of the hotel's location made up for it—I loved being able to step out of the hotel and walk around streets and that were bright, well-lit and populated.

One thing I have to mention is the Hong Kong MTR. It might not be anything special for those who ride the subway often, but it is for someone who rarely catches the train yet is still able to navigate her way around. We caught the MTR twice to Victoria Peak and Yuen Long, and it was so so simple! (I couldn't believe it!) Not only are the transit lines colour-coded, the direction arrows lead you directly to the place you need to be.

The food in Hong Kong was the bomb: the roast meats (燒味) was amazing, the milk tea (奶茶) was smooth and fragrant, and the iced lemon tea (凍檸茶) was refreshing and not very sweet. They are definite must trys if you visit! But what I don't like is their breakfasts—they're unhealthy and contain very little nutritional value.

My first time eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant was also in Hong Kong. I originally wanted to try "添好運" (Tim Ho Wan), aka the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, but we didn't end up going because we ran out of time. (Now it's coming to Sydney!) However, we did stumble upon "Ming Court" in the Langham Place Hotel, which is a 2-starred restaurant serving contemporary Chinese cuisine. We didn't order anything fancy, just yumcha—yes, yumcha. (I mean, out of all places!) No doubt I felt like a peasant eating at such a high class restaurant, but it was a great dining experience nonetheless.

Not only was the food really good, they also served us the prettiest dessert I've ever seen! It was the mango and red date pudding swamped with dry ice—I made a GIF because a still photo does not do it justice.

But aside from all the shopping and eating in Mongkok, we also headed up to Victoria Peak (太平山) on our second day to see the famous view of Hong Kong's skyline at night. It was absolutely breathtaking. I don't know if I'll go again because it took us almost 2-3 hours just to go down the mountain when we only spent about half an hour at the top. However, I do recommend a visit at least once—you won't regret it.

Our time in Hong Kong was the most memorable and fun because we did things while we were there—we didn't just sit around waiting to be fed like we did in Zhongshan. Of course there wasn't much to do in Zhongshan in the first place, but the fact that we spent so much time there and did so little made the trip less enjoyable. Hong Kong is vibrant city full of culture, creativity and character—and with a buzzing nightlife and great food, I'm really glad we didn't stay for one night only.

Guangzhou (廣州)

We originally planned to go to Shanghai for a week but we couldn't decide on a tour to join, so we went to Guangzhou for 2D1N trip instead. My first time in the city was in 2010 where stayed for one night before flying back to Sydney.

Given the short time we had, we only visited the Beijing Road Shopping District (北京路步行街), and a few sections of Zhongshan Road (中山路). However, the highlight was definitely the view of the new Guangzhou skyline with the Canton Tower (廣州塔) and Zhujiang New Town (珠江新城) in the foreground. The place we went to see that was Huacheng Plaza (花城廣場), which is beautifully lined with many other impressive architectural buildings, such as the Guangzhou Library (廣州圖書館), the Guangzhou International Finance Centre (廣州國際金融中心), and the Guangdong Olympic Stadium (廣東奧林匹克體育中心), the stadium for the 2010 Asian Games' ceremonies.

We stayed at the Rosedale Hotel and the room we got was okay—the biggest one we got so far on this trip—but the bathrooms (we got two actually) was old and really dirty. I wish we did more research before going on this trip, because it was so sudden!

When we were in Guangzhou back in 2010, we only went the Guangzhou Pearl River Cruise (珠江夜游) so I never got to experience the streets of the city. This was my first time, and although it was only for a short two days (especially when you're spending half the time eating and waiting around with relatives), this trip did give me a good introduction to what the city has to offer. I'll definitely be going to be back one day. (Riding the intercity high speed train from Zhongshan to Guangzhou only takes about half an hour, so don't know why we always get one of our uncles to drive us because it takes 2 hours by car!)


We flew back to Sydney from Guangzhou on a night flight (which I don't like because you're basically forced to sleep when they turn the lights off). I only managed to sleep for about 2 hours out of the 9. What entertained me for the remainder of the time was endless hours of music and 3 movies (2 from the in-flight entertainment system and 1 on my sister's iPad).

I missed Sydney so much by the time we were 3 weeks into our trip. I even asked my dad to take me with him in his suitcase (he left for home earlier than us). That being said, this is going to be my last family trip to Zhongshan. I don't think I can cope with carrying multiple suitcases full of baby formula, fish oil tablets and biscuits again.

But interestingly enough, after experiencing all that I did, I didn't come home empty-handed. I'm not talking about my huge shopping haul, but the fact it brought out my sense of exploration; made me step out of my comfort zone; and opened my eyes further to world of travel. I'm also very glad that I wasn't put off by everything given how much of a germaphobe I am. Because looking back, it's another story to tell. To quote Kristen Brotemarkle and Alan Alda:

A comfort zone is a really beautiful place where absolutely nothing gets done. Be brave enough to live creatively. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You cannot get there by bus, only by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: Yourself.

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