This is probably the longest post I will ever write, but I recently got an opportunity to write an article for a local magazine about my travel to China last summer, and just when I started to write it, I realized how much I actually have to say about this topic, and that since I was boring all of my friends with this story for last six months, I decided to share it with you. As long as I can remember, I was attracted to Asia and Asian culture, especially China. I even learned a bit of Chinese language a while ago, and I sincerely hope that I will have more time and determination to learn it properly in near future. (Since all I know to say now is what time is it and what’s my name, lol.) Don’t get me wrong, I love Europe and it’s history, but wherever I go, everything feels kind a new, but too familiar to me.
I’m not sure when my fascination with China started, but I was always attracted to China’s culture and architecture, both traditional and modern. I even got Chinese letters tattoo more than 10 years ago (so basic white girl thing, I know, but it was personal and something I really wanted to do, and I don’t think I ever regretted it since than, even tho my sister still uses every chance she has to make fun of me for it. Not sure why I just shared this with you, but hay, it’s the era of oversharing, right?)
Anyway, as you can tell, visiting China was my childhood dream, and when my boyfriend suggested that we go there instead to the seaside last summer, my answer was of course YESYESYESYES!!! We visited friends in Shenzhen and Shanghai and spent a couple of days in Hong Kong, and took a day trip to Macau.
The summers in China are very warm and very humid, and even though we’re used to high temperatures here in Serbia, it still managed to surprise me when we landed in Hong Kong. It was so hot, and I could hardly breathe, and even bigger shock was that every car, hotel, moll we got in was so air conditioned (the good thing is that you are fully acclimated in a few days and you are no longer bothered by the huge differences between temperatures, the bad thing is that you will almost certainly get a cold). PRO TIP: So if you are by any chance planing to go to China in the summer, pack light, natural fabrics and don’t forget to bring one shirt with long sleeves or a denim jacket. And forget about looking cute for photos, wearing make up and doing your hair, just bring a sunscreen and a mascara, and if you are me, do your brows.
Hong Kong is a city that you have to visit at least once in your life. I’m not sure I can be objective about it, but I swear, it kind a feels like home to me, and I don’t get that feeling about many places. OK, I did about Shanghai too, but I will get to that later.
City itself isn’t as big as other cities we visited, but it does have a special vibe, and cause of the large number of tourists and expats, it’s really easy to forget on what continent you are. If you don’t have a lot of time there, here are few touristy things you have to do: I recommend a tram ride to Victoria’s Peak where you can enjoy the view of the whole city.
As for the nightlife, Hong Kong will not disappoint you. And I am from Belgrade, as you have probably heard, we know how to party. Take a walk through Central and Soho and you will find many different clubs and bars, or choose any of the rooftop bars, and enjoy a cocktail in view of a city that never sleeps.
The first Disneyland in Asia is in Hong Kong, and the first one I actually been to, and if you’re into that, you should visit it for sure. If you’re not, I’m not sure what’s wrong with you, but I do want to hug you and buy you an ice cream.
PRO TIP: Even if you are not there for shopping, Hong Kong is a shopping mecca, and in it you will find every luxury brand that you can imagine, but also a lot of small no name shops that should not be bypassed.
A half an hour drive from Hong Kong, is Shenzhen, a city that was only a small fishing village just 50 years ago, and now is a metropolis of 12 million inhabitants, and the main center of the Chinese industry. Knowing that, this city will take your breath away, trust me on that. Be sure to have a drink (or a cake) at The Drawing Room & St. Regis Bar at 100th floor of St. Regis hotel and enjoy the view.
Although Shenzhen is a true concrete jungle, there are many parks in it, with the Lichi Park being the biggest one. The park got its name from the lychee trees, more than 500 of them are planted in this location. You can take a boat and enjoy a ride on the lake or simply go for a walk. Do not be surprised if in the evening you see Shenzheners dancing or singing in the park, it’s all the part of their culture, especially for the older generations.
For a younger crowd, there is the OCT Loft, a thematic park with numerous galleries, bars, cafes and restaurants, and definitely a place worth seeing. And please don’t forget to try some of delicious sweets at Lu Patisserie. At the OCT Creative Exhibition Center you can see the interactive exhibition of Team Lab and I must admit that this is one of my favorite experiences from China. Although we didn’t have enough RMB at that moment with us, and I had to go alone while my boyfriend was drinking coffee in a nearby cafe (but I still suspect he did this on purpose tho).
PRO tip: always bring your cards or exchange money during the day, banks don’t work late hours and exchange offices are hard to find if you don’t speak the language, and not usually located in big shopping malls. If you want a nice hotel for a good price, I highly recommend The Bauhinia Hotel, located across the Mix City Shopping Center. (We also stayed in the same hotel in HK, but this one was my favorite.)
I will say it again, and it seems like it’s the theme of this post, I wish we spent more time there. Honestly, I wasn’t up for going to Macau since it was a bit out of our plan for that day, but we ended having so much fun, and I regret that we didn’t spend the night there (and visiting the Macau Grand Panda Pavilion, but we were leaving for the Shanghai next morning, so, see you next time baby pandas). Anyway, we took a boat ride from Hong Kong (you can also visit it from Shenzhen), and after an hour or so, we were in Macau, and I was in love, instantly.
What I didn’t know is that Macau was administered by the Portuguese Empire from the 16th century until late 1999, when it was the last remaining European colony in Asia. Now days, Macau is a special administrative region in China. Official language is Cantonese, but Mandarin, Portuguese and English are also spoken.
What makes Macau so attractive to tourists? If you’re not me and you’re not impressed with numerous colorful old buildings, than it’s probably gambling. (OK, I’ll admit, I was also impressed with this, since everything is so shiny and over the top, and it’s impossible to not be impressed with it. Or I just have a soft spot for everything kitsch.) Macau is known as Las Vegas in Asia, and it’s also tax free heaven, and an offshore financial center. There you have all those cute old buildings and just around the corner there is a row of enormous casinos, with a reproduction of Eiffel Tower and a Grand Canal from Venice, with gondolas.
PRO TIP: Even if you’re into gambling or not, take your time and book at least one night there, so you can have the time to explore, and to see both Venetian and Ruins of St. Paul’s Church (and pandas of course).
We spent only few days in Shanghai, unfortunately, because this city is a true gem and I hope that I will be able to visit it again soon, this time for a longer time. Shanghai, after the Opium Wars, being the largest port in Asia was open to trade with European cities, and due to the large number of English and French traders and missionaries, today’s architecture is mix of European cities from the beginning of the 20th century and modern skyscrapers. This is making Shanghai simply irresistible, at least to me.
Be sure to take a walk on Nanjing Road, the main shopping street and pay attention to Chinese brands you have never heard of, you will be pleasantly surprised. After a while, you will reach the Bund, the promenade along the Huang Pu River, where you will enjoy the panorama of this beautiful city with a large number of tourists. Honestly, I have never in my life seen more people on one place. And I do get nervous in crowds, I’m not sure how I managed not to freak out, but the view was certainly worth the fear of panic attack.
Do not overlook the beautiful Yu Garden and the City God Temple of Shanghai, where you can buy authentic souvenirs.
PRO TIP: Don’t be ashamed to bargain, they won’t be offended and it’s also part of their culture, plus it can be so fun. Also, I can’t recommend enough the beautiful Pudi Boutique Hotel, which is located in the center of the former French Concession, near the Fuxin Park. And if you miss European food, just around the corner of the hotel is cute little brunch spot, called Ladybug.
So, if you made it up to here, I hope I didn’t bore you to death, and I hope I inspired you to pack your bags and go visit China. The country is so big and beautiful and so much more than you can see on TV, and I know it such a lame thing to say, probably cause we here it to often, but this trip will move you from your comfort zone for sure, and trust me, you’ll love the adventure and it will be good for your soul, so it’s worth it.