My story begins when we arrived in Guangzhou International airport about 10 o’clock at night. The flight was smooth and uneventful, and landed early. But, like many other hub airports in China, Guangzhou is very large and by the time we had taxied to the gate, it was 10 p.m. exactly.
There are a few things you need to know when arriving in China by air.
- You need to fill in an arrivals card. Sometimes these are handed out on the plane, if not, cards are available in the immigration hall.
- It is now compulsory to collect finger prints from all foreigners arriving in China. In Guangzhou, there are self-service machines to do this. You scan your passport, followed by all your fingers. The machine then gives you a receipt. (Tip: The machines are located along the walkway from the gate to the immigration. Everyone ends up queuing at the machines in or near the immigration hall, so use one of the machines early on, to avoid the queues.)
- Take the passport, arrivals card, fingerprint scan receipt to the immigration officers. You also need to remove any hats and glasses. In Guangzhou, the officers we met were pleasant and efficient.
- After immigration, you can collect your luggage and also buy a local SIM if you want to. We didn’t try this as there was a long wait whilst they register your details for the SIM.
It was close to midnight as we arrived in Grand Victory hotel on Shamian Island (Tip: There are two entrances to the hotel, several hundred meters apart. So if you are booking the Grand Victory hotel, make sure you know which wing your room is in and which entrance to use. Otherwise, it is a long walk with your luggage).
Early the next morning, we explored Shamian island. Shamian island is the former British and French concession in Guangzhou (formerly Canton). For several hundred years this tiny piece of land was the only place in all of China that Europeans could establish a settlement. The buildings here reflect the European colonial architecture.
Although it feels a bit rundown, the area is still beautiful, with a number of parks and trees. The morning walk brought us across many people playing badminton and taking part in Tai-chi and aerobics classes.
After breakfast, our tour guide and driver picked us up for a city tour of Guangzhou.
Our first stop was the Ancestral Temple of the Chen family. Chen family used to be one of the largest families in Guangdong province and they built this temple in 1894 to honour their ancestors and as a meeting place for family members. The building itself houses a number of distinct carvings, made from brick, pottery, plaster and wood. The temple is very well preserved and has been converted to a Folk Art Museum.
The museum houses many beautiful artefacts – jade and ivory carvings, silk embroidery, porcelain art etc. Some of the cravings are so fine that they have to be viewed through a magnifying glass to appreciate the detail.
After the Chen family temple we headed to the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, also known as the Liurong Temple, which dates back to the 6th century. The main feature of the temple is the 9 story pagoda. It is also known as the 1000 Buddha pagoda as statues of 1000 Buddhas and 500 Arhats are enshrined here. The temple consists of a number of different halls, each dedicated to a different Buddha. At the entrance, we were given free incense sticks to offer at the temple. As I was to discover later, this is a regular feature in all Chinese temples.
Our third stop of the day was the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. Dr Sun Yat-Sen was the first president of the Chinese Republic, and originated from Guangdong province. The Memorial Hall has been built in the centre of Guangzhou to commemorate his life and work.
The hall is a large octagonal structure housing a large stage and seating over 3000 people. There is also a small museum dedicated to the life and work of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen.
After the Memorial hall we headed to the Guangzhounan station to catch our train to Yangshuo. Guangzhou station, like many modern Chinese stations is very large, and feels more like an airport than a train station.
We boarded a high speed train to to Yangshuo. This was our second time on a high speed train in China (Read about the first trip here). We travelled in the first class carriage. First class seats were larger and more comfortable than the standard class, but other than that, there was no discernible improvement.
About 400 km and 2.5 hours later, we were in Yangshuo. We were met at Yangshuo station by our guide and driver, who drove us to the our hotel.
As our first day on the trip drew to a close, we chilled out at our hotel for the next 3 nights, the Yangshuo Moondance Hotel. Set beside a tributary river to the Yulong River (which in turn joins the famous Li River) The Moondance Hotel is surrounded by Yangshuo’s signature landscape of Karst mountains.