April 02, 2016

Travelling in China

Exactly one year ago we were in Shanghai, for the first time, figuring out schooling, housing, groceries, costs etc. for a possible relocation from Singapore. Before this, China was never a destination in our wildest of dreams … neither for relocation nor for vacation. But as they say - Never say never. 

Here we are, living in Shanghai since 8 months, all excited and nervous for our first China travel. 

Planning for a family vacation is a very time and thought consuming affair. Lots of research on the internet, reading guide books, seeking advice from friends, choosing a destination, decision making, itinerary planning, costs, making bookings, packing !! But once everything is set it just seems magical. We give a pat on our backs and say 'Voila !'. 

I realised that we all live our travel virtually while planning for it. Once the actual trip starts we gather real experiences but it ends in a blink. So enjoy the journey as well as the destination !! 

With spring knocking at the door and a long weekend in sight, we decided to take the plunge and started exploring for our first travel destination in China. The only obstacle was that we didn’t know where to start.

Tripadvisor did provide a few pointers but somehow it wasn’t as extensive as for other countries we have used it for so far. 

I asked around. Everybody had travel plans for Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia et al but China.

Surprisingly, Lonely Planet China was not available on amazon.cn. Some copies were available on Taobao but they were so cheap that I was afraid they might be counterfeits. Even the book store which had two shelves full of Lonely Planets did not carry the China one. (it's a mystery I need to find an answer to !) We finally asked a colleague to get us one from Singapore.

China where are you ?

One fine day, on a casual conversation over phone, a friend directed me to this map.

She also directed me to Ctrip and ChinaHighlights websites. This was my deja vu moment. These are english sites providing really detailed and clear information and itineraries on each place. I was quite amazed at the level of detail, given that these were sites of private tour providers. I mean weren’t they afraid that if they give such organised information people might not need their services !

We zeroed in on Guangxi, a province in South Central China. We will be spending four days in Guilin and Yangshuo in North Guangxi. The southern part of Guangxi touches north Vietnam.

We never noticed it earlier that the view on the 20 Yuan note is a picturesque section on the Li river somewhere between Guilin and Yangshuo.

All the Planning:

  • The return air ticket costs twice that of one way ticket. Simple ! Initially we were like 'What !  we don't get any cost benefit for booking a return ticket !' But then it gives us the flexibility to choose different to and fro airlines without worrying on losing the cost benefit.
  • When the price of air ticket for children came out to be more than that of an adult, we were sure there was some fault in the site. But it happened consistently wherever we checked. A friend confirmed that this was the case in China. (I still need to figure out the logic behind this). Some friends book children too as adults to save cost but as first timers we decided to play safe. (Though I can see ourselves travelling as 4 adults next time !)
||  This made me realise that there are some things that we are so used to that we just can’t believe that someone might think about it differently. ||
  • Booked one night in Sheraton, Guilin.
  • A friend suggested a good resort in Yangshuo - Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. It is high season for Guilin and this small resort is ranked no. 2 on trip advisor. We were lucky that they still had one room available.  Booked for 2 nights there.
  • Yet another friend recommended a good guide in that region (yeah ...now we are talking to the right people) . It turned out that she has already been hired by someone for that period but she promised to work on the itinerary with us and have her colleague join us. After some to and fro on emails, we agreed on an itinerary. She would provide us a car with driver, an english speaking guide and all required ticket bookings (which actually are a lot here !!) for the duration of our stay.
  • Now that flight, hotel, car, driver, guide and itinerary is set… the question on everybody's mind was - what are we going to eat as vegetarians and limited knowledge of the language (yes these two things are related ). Well ! It turns out that the top rated restaurant on trip advisor in both places is 'Kali Mirch', an Indian Restaurant. Why I ask !! Are there too many indian tourists or the non indian tourists love indian cuisine so much ? Will try to answer that question on the field.
  • While packing I realised that it is for the first time that we are having a domestic vacation in a country other than India. In our 6 years in Singapore, it of course always had to be international travel with visas and currency exchanges to be planned for. It is another matter that this domestic travel entails a 3 hour long flight which is almost the same or more than most of our trips from Singapore !
Thoughts on our mind:
  • The Yangshuo weather looks like this.... Will the rain play spoil sport ?

  • It's a long weekend and tourist crowd in China is notorious. Will we have to walk shoulder to shoulder with hordes of tourists ? Will we have to jostle for space and views everywhere ?
  • Will the flights be on time ?
  • There has been no money exchange with the guide...will the person turn up ?
  • Children below 1 m in height are not allowed on the bamboo raft. Though we have been suggested that we can fill our daughters shoes with tissue paper to increase her height, i doubt we will be doing that. Will we be able to do the rafting/boating which supposedly provides the best views ?

So we will find out !!