Overview
Costs
Food
Hotels
Money
Mobile phones
Internet
Weather
Health
VISA
Security
Getting around
Photos

Nanjing, Suzhou, Longjing, Zhangjiajie, Guangzhou


25.11: Munich -> Beijing
26.11: Beijing -> Nanjing
27.11: Nanjing
28.11: Nanjing -> Hangzhou
29.11: Longjing, West lake -> Suzhou
30.11: Suzhou, Luxiang, Taihu lake
1.12: Suzhou -> Shanghai (Pudong airport)
2.12: Shanghai -> Zhangjiajie

3.12: Zhangjiajie
4.12: Zhangjiajie (Tianmen mountain)
5.12: Zhangjiajie -> Fenghuang -> Guangzhou
6.12: Guangzhou
7.12: Guangzhou -> Kaiping -> Guangzhou
8.12: Guangzhou -> Manila

19.12: Manila -> Beijing
20.12: Beijing
21.12: Beijing -> Frankfurt


 

Planning and overall impression

For this trip I focused on southern China, because it was quite late in the year (end of November-December) and in northern China it would have been too cold. I chose some places I haven't visited yet - the area Nanjing-Suzhou-Hangzhou area, Zhangjiajie and Guangdong. I was a bit nervous because I was going to rely on electronic payment systems (Alipay and Wechat pay) and didn't know if they would work. In the end everything worked fine, the only problem was that my Alipay got frequently blocked by my German credit card banks and even by Alipay.
China has again improved the travel infrastructure. Roads and motorway are in a very good shape and the high speed rail network is impressive. It's possible to easily and quickly travel from one place to another.


Costs

The travel cost in China has reached a medium level. Hotels are for instance cheaper than in Western Europe, but more expensive than in Eastern Europe for instance. Same for prices for tickets to tourist attractions, which are approaching the price level in Western Europe.


Food

There is a lot of food offered everywhere, but most dishes are heavily cooked. For instance, it's very difficult to find fresh salads. Lots of noodle dishes and dumplings.


Accommodation

Hotels, good ones, are readily available and bookable in hotel booking platforms. Booking.com is not so suitable for China - trip.com has a much larger choice of hotels and the app provides names and addresses in Chinese characters - very important if you need to tell a taxi or Didi driver where to go.


Money  / Exchange rate (November-December 2023)

1 Euro = around 7.8 CNY



Mobile phones and prepaid cards

I used a SIM card of China Unicom with 50GB of data and a local phone number for which I paid 250 RMB at the Beijing airport. Coverage and network speed were ok.


Internet access

WLAN was available in all hotels, although I often relied on the mobile phone because I had plenty of data and the connection often was better. Google and several international news website were not accessible in China. I didn't bother setting up a VPN and instead relied on alternatives (Bing for search, Amap and Baidu Maps for navigation, Wechat for messaging etc.).



Weather

It was mostly warm enough in the Nanjing-Suzhou-Hangzhou area (except for that day on the Tai lake) and Guangdong, while in Zhangjiajie it was cold on the first day. Really freezing shortly before Xmas in Beijing.
 


Health / Vaccinations

I didn't get any vaccinations for this trip (not even a Covid booster). Almost nobody wore face masks on the streets or in public areas.



VISA / Entry requirements

I got a visa at the Munich consulate, for which I paid 125 Euro. Had I travelled just one week later I could have entered China visa-free (using the 15-days mechanism).


Security

No problems, China is a very safe country.


Getting around

For trips from city to city I mainly used high speed rail (up to 300 km/h), and I took a flight from Shanghai to Zhangjiajie. Locally I relied mainly on Didi cars (which I booked with the app). I took taxis only a few times (when no Didi service was available).




25.11: Munich -> Beijing
Hotel: night spent on the plane
Weather: +1°C and some snow in Munich, overcast and some wind.

Shortly after 9am we fetch the train to the airport, arriving there before 10am. Then it's over half an hour of queue at the check-in. After that we eat something in a McDonald's restaurant. It's shortly before 11am when I say good-bye to Alissia, who accompanied me to the airport, and proceed through security and passport control.

There is a new security system at the airport (well, I haven't taken a flight since August 2022, so it may well have already changed a while ago). You no longer have to take out the notebook PC, the camera lenses etc. Now you just leave everything in one tray (including the belt) and proceed.

I'm at the gate around 11:15am, then walk into the plane at 11:49am. The aeroplane (a Boeing 777-300 of Air China) is delayed a bit. Instead of 12:05pm it takes off at 12:35pm.

The plane is only about 1/3 full - next to me there are two empty seats. It's an a bit oldish plane, with small LCD screens (the ones where you have to press hard with the fingernail to activate a button), and the control panel with buttons cannot be extracted. The interior of Persian Gulf airlines is more high level.

The quality of the meals and drinks is also a bit lower (less choice of drinks, a bit lower level food, although ok).




26.11: Beijing -> Nanjing
Hotel Holiday Express, Xuanwu lake. 416 RMB for a not so big room, but very adequate and well set up. No luxury, but it has everything necessary to make the stay comfortable. Not so much furniture, but very functional. The attached bathroom is also quite decent (good shower). The bed is a bit hard however.
Weather: sunny in Beijing with temperatures a bit below 0 in the early morning. In Nanjing overcast the whole day, no rain, temperatures topping at about 15°C during the day, dropping to about 7°C at night.

We land in Beijing on time before 5am local time. Then I proceed through passport control without problems and walk to the train which is supposed to take me to the domestic terminal (T3C).

I wait with the others for a while on the platform, but there is no train. After a while we realise that we have to walk down the staircase where there should be another option. So we walk down and fetch a bus which brings us to the domestic terminal.

At the domestic terminal I spend some time looking for an ATM. I find ATMs of two banks, but they do not offer the option to withdraw cash. On the other hand, changing a small amount of money (50 Euro) into RMB is also not such a good idea, because there is a steep fixed fee of 60 RMB.

The counter where they sell SIM cards opens at 7am. Around 6:30am I queue up there. The lady arrives at 6:48am (very diligent worker) and I buy a SIM card from China Unicom with 50GB of data and a local phone number for 250 RMB. I use Alipay to pay for it (3% Alipay fee added).

Then I walk to the gate. There I buy some food and drinks (am very thirsty), paying with Alipay - my only payment option because I have no Chinese cash and small shops don't take credit cards.

The flight to Nanjing takes off and lands in Nanjing at 9:50am. Once there, I retrieve my luggage and manage to book a Didi car with driver using the Alipay app.

The Didi car to the hotel in Nanjing costs only 79 RMB (10 Euro) despite the huge distance (40km) covered.

I arrive at the hotel before 12pm, check in and move into the room. There I get settled and take a shower.

Around 2-3pm I'm out again and look for a restaurant. At the restaurant I can't pay with Alipay. I walk back to the hotel and call my bank. Turns out that they block the card, because some fraud prevention system kicked in. They unblock the card and I walk out, have a meal in a restaurant and then call a taxi to the Confucius temple.

The taxi drops me off at a pedestrian area. From there i walk to the entrance of the temple, arriving around 3:25pm.

There I can't pay the ticket of 30 RMB, because Alipay rejects my card. I add a second card and a third one, but Alipay this time insists on multi-factor authentication which doesn't seem to work for some unknown reason.

I call again the bank and they tell me that the card is blocked again (or still blocked?) and that I should wait 10 minutes. But when at the third attempt I can't pay for the ticket I give up and start walking back.

By the way today whenever I have seen a bank, I have been trying to get cash from ATMs. All attempts failed for one reason or another. Finally after 5pm I find a bank with a working ATM (I must have tried a dozen banks).

There I'm even offered the option to withdraw 5000 RMB, but I just take 1500 because I'm not planning to use so much cash.

So I slowly start walking back to the hotel. I walk because I'm not sure I can take a taxi without Alipay and because I want to have a look at Nanjing.

The entire part of Nanjing I have been seeing today is quite modern, i.e. there is no historic core. Perhaps it all got destroyed in World War II and the post-war modernisation efforts did the rest. Not a very pretty city, and in fact I start regretting coming here.

One more thing about Nanjing, is that this place is really huge. The urban area probably extends for 30-40 km - it's an endless area covered with tall buildings. It's not like a European city where there is a small historic core and the urban areas is not so big. This place is big and the distances are huge.

When I try to pay for a snack (sandwich with pork meat), Alipay blocks again the transaction. This time apparently because I withdrew these 1500 RMB cash. I can appeal, but need to provide some documentation (photos of the bank cards).

The walk back takes much longer than expected. 5.5km are not that much, but somehow getting back takes a lot of time. Or perhaps it's way more than 5.5km? My step counting app shows a total of over 20000 steps and a walked distance of 13.8km.

Back in the hotel I call the Alipay customer support and explain the situation. They ask me to send them photos of by bank cards, which I do. Then they promise to review my case until 11am tomorrow.

At 10pm I sleep. I will wake up after 3am and be awake until 4am, then sleep until 8am. I complete the Wechat pay verification procedure, sending a copy of my passport and a photo of myself. Am told it takes three days for them to check my data.




27.11: Nanjing
Hotel Holiday Express, Xuanwu lake.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. Temperatures topping at around 18°C, warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt in the sun when there is no wind. Much more fresh at night.

I wake up at 8:15am. I managed to sleep well and got enough sleep, despite the jet lag. I stay in the room for some time. I check some things and wonder if I might ask my Beijing friend to put some cash into my Wechat wallet and I'll refund her with Paypal.

But when I try to login into Paypal, I am told that I must reset my password. But I can't do that because I'm in China and the multi-factor authentication which Paypal requires doesn't work here. So now also my Paypal account is blocked.

Well, it seems my Alipay is functional again. So the phone call of yesterday to customer support apparently worked.

I take a Didi car to the Sun Yat Sen mausoleum (initially trying to use Wechat pay, but that doesn't work because verification is still ongoing, then using Alipay, which works). I'm at the big parking at 11:10am.

From there I walk for a while to where the mausoleum is supposed to be. Kind of difficult to find it, because the area is big and it's not so obvious where to go. I ask some people and they tell me the way.

It's an 800m walk to the memorial hall. Long walk on a staircase, kind of a park area with many nice trees, autumn colours. Today the access is free by the way. Lots of people despite the low season. This place must be really crowded during the peak travel season.

Slowly walking and stopping here and there, I reach the memorial hall at 12pm. You can't get in today, although there is a gate with ticketing.

Then I slowly walk to the Ming Xiao tomb. It's a pleasant walk in a park environment. Beautiful autumn colours today, very nice setting.

Around 12:40pm I'm at the ticketing counter. 70 RMB ticket which I pay with Alipay. Then it's a walk to the Ming tomb through this park area. Very nice setting, reminds me of the Ming tombs near Beijing. This is a UNESCO world heritage site.

I reach the main tomb around 1pm and have a look. Around 1:30pm I leave this place and walk towards the exit. Then, instead of getting out of the compound, I take the path to the left with the statues (animal statues on both sides, similar to the paths to the tombs in Beijing).

Around 2:45pm I take a Didi car to the Confucius temple, arriving there at 3:25pm. Then i walk to the Confucius temple, pay cash for the 30 RMB ticket (this place is cursed, I don't want to risk again my Alipay here) and walk in.

The Confucius temple is kind of nice, cute, but is a relatively modern structure. From what I read it has been rebuilt in the 1980s. There are the usual number of halls, courts, pavilions etc. But somehow it's a bit underwhelming, if I compare it to the Ming tomb I visited earlier today.

Shortly after 4pm I leave the temple. I walk around the area (very touristy, lots of shops, many selling boiled duck), and run into the Wang and Xie historical residence (8 RMB ticket), which I visit. Seems to be a historical house of some wealthy person.

Then I walk out again and later have some dinner in a restaurant. Around 6pm I take a taxi back to the hotel.




28.11: Nanjing -> Hangzhou
Hangzhou Shange Laolongjing hotel, Longjing area west of Hangzhou. 391 RMB for a nice room, sort of a miniapartment with two rooms, a lower one with a sofa and table, toilet and an upper one with a bedroom.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day in Nanjing. Top temperatures around 18°C. No wind, no rain.

After a night with not so much sleep due to the jet lag, I'm woken up at 9am by the alarm clock. I get ready and around 10:30am check out of the hotel, leaving my bags in the lobby.

I then take a Didi car to the Linggu temple. This is another cute Chinese temple in the Zijin mountain area. Perhaps it would be possible to walk from this temple to the Sun Yat Sen memorial.

I'm at the entrance to the temple area at 11:10am. There I buy a ticket (35 RMB) and walk in. It's a pleasant walk in a nice park with autumn colours. I run into a building which turns out to be the Beamless Hall. From there it's a short walk to the Linggu temple. This temple is nice, but looks like it has been recently rebuilt (?), i.e. the structures look too clean and modern.

While there, I try to pay the Didi car with Alipay, but Alipay reports that the transaction has been rejected by my bank

Walking slowly across the park I exit the compound around 12:30pm or 12:40pm and call my bank and instruct them to unblock my card. Then I call a Didi car to the Nanjing museum.

At 1pm I'm at this museum. Quite big indeed, lots of exhibits. Free entry, but you need to show your passport and you need a Wechat account.

Takes a few minutes of time and the help of the local staff to get everything done. Then I walk in.

Big museum with many halls, even one with skeletons of dinosaurs. Lots of pottery, swords, spears, burial stuff, clothes, statues etc.

Around 2:50pm I get tired of this museum and walk out. I call a Didi car to the park with the ruins of the Ming palace. The driver calls me to tell me that it's faster if I just walk. So I walk to this place.

The park is nice, but is not terribly interesting and I can't find ruins of palaces. So I just walk through it in about 10 minutes. Once at the other end I call a Didi car to the Jiming temple.

By the time I reach this temple it's 3:45pm and the sun is already quite low in the sky. 10 RMB entry fee. The temple is actually cute and could be even nicer if restoration works were not ongoing on the main tower.

Together with lots of other people (lots of people in China everywhere) I walk into the compound. Also this temple is not as ancient as it might look. The structures look as if they had been built quite recently.

Shortly after 4pm I'm done with the temple and walk out from the northern exit. There I notice the old city walls in walking distance. So I walk towards them. This is a short section open for visitors. The walls are huge and in a good shape (perhaps they have been restored?).

Also here there is a ticket (20 RMB) to get into the walls area. It's a nice wall section, offering views of the lake and the city.

Around 5pm I call a Didi car and get back to the hotel. I have some food in the noodle restaurant I visited on Sunday, then get back to the hotel, retrieve the bags and call another Didi car to the Nanjing South train station. I'm there before 7pm.

Big train station, almost like an airport. Passport and ID needed to get in, security check with X-ray scanner. Well organised, functional. Trains clearly shown on big boards.

I have some other food (a Subway sandwich), then walk to the waiting area and download the photos to the computer.

Around 7:50pm I proceed to the train platform. The high speed train to Hangzhou (> 300 km/h) arrives with a couple of minutes of delay. Then I take the seat I booked.

The trip to Hangzhou takes less than an hour and a half. No food or drinks are offered on this trip. Some Chinese guy making a lot of noise for some reason.

In Hangzhou West I get out and walk to the exit.

The problem is now how to enter the address of the hotel into the Didi app, because booking.com are only providing a name in English and an address in English. And even if they provided the name and address in English, it would not be of much help, because you can't copy the text from the booking.com app and paste it into some other app.

So I ask some people and call the hotel. To create more stress, I got a notification from booking.com that my reservation was cancelled because I didn't show up. Finally we manage to get the English hotel name translated into Chinese and I can call a Didi car.

I'm in the hotel around 10:40pm.




29.11: Longjing, West lake -> Suzhou
Home Inn Neo hotel, Suzhou. Around 34 Euro for a big room, functional, business like but perfectly adequate. Located in the central area of Suzhou.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, no rain, no wind, top temperatures of 23°C. Enough to walk around in a T-shirt.


Finally Wechat pay is activated, so I can use it for payments.

I check out shortly after 10am, leave the bags in the reception and ask where the tea estates are. Apparently they are here, in walking distance, right outside the village. Looks like I chose the right place.

So I walk out and immediately run into a wedding celebration. Fireworks and expensive black Mercedes cars.

It takes a few minutes to figure out how to get to the tea hills. They are almost immediately outside of this village (Old Longjing). These are neatly set up rows of tea plants with irrigation pipes. More advanced than the tea plantations I have seen so far.

There is also a good trail, or let's say trail network, allowing you to get deep into the tea estate. No place however where they offer tea to tourists. Perhaps it's off-season? By the way, the tea plants are blooming right now.

I'm alone in this place, which is quite an achievement considering that this is China.

After some walking and picture taking I walk back to Old Longjing village and go to the hotel, where I have some lunch at 12:30pm.

Around 1:15pm I take a Didi car to the West lake, Gushan park, arriving at 1:30pm. Gushan park is on a small island, near the tourist area (the one with many temples).

I spend some time in this place. Lots of people and nice views, pleasant autumn colours. Nothing terribly impressive, but all in all it's a nice place to be on a day with nice weather.

Around 1:45pm I leave the island and walk back along the lake. There are lots of school classes, apparently doing a school trip to West lake. Some students ask to me to take a picture with them.

I buy an overpriced bainiang (white lady) icecream for 20 RMB. Was recommended to me by the lady selling the icecreams.

Opposite the road I notice the entrance to something like a temple or palace. According to the Lonely Planet guide, this is the mausoleum of general Yue Fei. 25 RMB ticket.

Inside there is a compound with some structures, temples, statues etc. Kind of cute, although not terribly interesting.

I'm there until 3:15pm, then continue walking along the way. Suddenly I notice a staircase going up on the right side. It's the beginning of a trail into the mountains. I walk up and have a look.

Around 4pm I'm on top of a small summit. But there is no nice view of the area there. So I just walk back to the main road.

At 4:30pm I take a Didi car back to the hotel. There I fetch my bags and with the same car drive to Hangzhou East train station. I'm there at 5:55pm.

My train to Suzhou is at 7:29pm, so I have some time to kill. I have some dinner in a restaurant, then wait on a chair in the waiting area.

The train to Suzhou leaves punctually at 7:29pm and arrives in Suzhou at 9:09pm. Then things proceed smoothly and I check in at the hotel shortly after 9:30pm.

I receive an email from Shanghai Airlines. They have changed my flight from 5:25pm to 6:30am. I cannot find another flight in the late afternoon for a reasonable price (all prices are above 400 Euro), so accept the re-booking and book a hotel near Shanghai Pudong airport, otherwise it's impossible to catch this 6:30am flight.




30.11: Suzhou, Luxiang, Tai lake
Home Inn Neo hotel, Suzhou. Good shower.
Weather: sunny, mostly blue sky with a thin clouds layer every now and then. But much colder than yesterday - the temperature tops at 10°C. At the lake there is a breeze and it feels even colder. No rain.

At 10:30am I meet my friend who came to pick me up with her car. Together with two other friends of her we set out to the Tai lake, about 45km to the east.

We arrive at 11:25am and briefly stop at the Tai lake. It's a big lake, quite nice scenery. We walk a bit along the shore and take some pictures. Somehow today I'm freezing - hopefully I didn't get sick.

Then we drive to a restaurant and have a lunch there. Chinese style with many shared dishes.

After lunch, at 1pm, we get into the car and drive to the Luxiang village. This is an old traditional village, which is now set up as a museum. Ticket needed to get in.

The village is indeed very nice. We visit a number of old houses and mansions, and a museum. After that we drive to the Chunzai mansion, a richly decorated house built by a rich person in 1922 (ticket needed to get in). Also this place is very photogenic.

Around 3:30pm we drive back to Suzhou, then, at 4:45pm I get out again and call a Didi card. With that I go to Pingjiang road, which I'm told is the tourist area of Suzhou.

And in fact I run into a historical centre with old houses, water canals and narrow alleys. Wildly photogenic, lots of people, lots of shops, restaurants. This seems to be the tourist hotspot of Suzhou. I took a taxi, but notice that it is actually in walking distance from the hotel.

Despite the cold, I spend about one hour and a half in this place, walking up and down the alleys. Lots of girls and women in hanfu (traditional Chinese dress) doing photo shoots.

I'm back in the hotel before 7pm.




1.12: Suzhou -> Shanghai (Pudong airport)
Home Inn Neo hotel, Suzhou
Weather: sunny, spotless blue sky, some wind. Still cold, but I'm able to spend the whole day outdoors (even if I'm freezing a bit). Top temperatures of 10°C according to the weather forecast.

I get up at 9am, then start my walking tour of Suzhou around 10:15am. The hotel I chose is in walking distance of the historic centre of Suzhou (i.e. Pingjiang street).

I try to go to what seemed like historical houses yesterday, but it turns out that this building is a police station. It takes some effort figuring out from the map of the Lonely Planet guidebook and Baidu maps and the Amap app where things actually are. In the end I'm able to find the entrance to the Humble Administrator's Garden, which seems to be one of the major gardens here in Suzhou.

The entry ticket price is quite steep, European levels - 70 RMB now because it's off-season, otherwise 80 RMB. Inside it's a quite large compound, with characteristic buildings, ponds, paths, bridges, trees and vegetation.

Lots of women and girls in traditional Chinese hanfu dress, who came here to take pictures of themselves. Nice fall colours, trees with green, orange, yellow and red leaves.

Despite the weekday and the off-season, this place is really full of visitors. I see one guy falling into the pond (not a good idea, given the freezing temperatures).

I'm in this garden until almost 12pm, then get out and have some lunch in a KFC restaurant. The food is not bad here, better for instance than the one of KFC restaurants in Malaysia.

Around 12:40pm I'm out again and walk towards the Pingjiang area. Now at noon time this area of narrow alleys and canals is not as fascinating as it was yesterday in the evening.

After some walking, I get out of the historic core and walk for some time along the main street outside. I run into a couple of malls, which however do not look that great. Finally, to save time as walking would take 50 minutes, I call a Didi car to the Panmen scenic area (40 RMB ticket).

This is sort of a largish park, with a pagoda (6 RMB to go inside; can only walk to the third level), some pond, gardens, traditional houses, pavilions and a piece of city walls. Kind of cute, but less impressive than the Humble Administrator's Garden.

At 3pm I take another Didi car to the Master of Nets garden, arriving there at 3:15pm. This is a smaller garden, but according to the Lonely Planet guide a more original one. Inside it's nice, but there are more or less the same kind of things I have seen earlier today.

Around 4pm I call a Didi car to the hotel. This takes quite some time to arrive and when it arrives, the Didi app gives a slightly inaccurate location, so I waste some time to find it. In any case, I get back to the hotel, pack my stuff and check out.

I had booked this hotel for three nights, but then the airline changed my flight, so essentially I'm sleeping one night less in this place than planned (tonight I'll spend the night at the Pudong airport to catch the early flight).

Surprise, when I check out the girl says I don't have to pay for the third night. Or do I misunderstand? If I really don't have to pay, cool, good hospitality here in China.

I take a Didi car to the train station. There I take the 6:08pm train to the Shanghai Hongqiao station. This arrives with a small delay of a few minutes.

Once in Hongqiao, it takes a while to figure out where the exit is, or let's say the place where you can catch the Didi cars. I end up walking to the wrong place (all floors up to the bus station), until I get it right (you have to go the the B1 level).

From there I call a Didi car to the hotel at the Pudong airport. This charges me 145 RMB for the 46km trip.

I'm in the hotel at 8:45pm. At the check-in they tell me it's either the 4:30am or the 5:30am shuttle to the airport. I was hoping for a 5am shuttle, but there is none. Taxis are not an option either, so early in the morning.

The next day I will realise that the 4:30am shuttle was the right one, because had I arrived half an hour later, I might not have made it in time to the gate.

In the evening I get a mail in which the airline informs me that my December 5 flight from Zhangjiajie to Guangzhou is postponed to Dec 6. Quite a problem, because it messes up my travel schedule. I check a number of options, such as for instance getting to Xiamen on Dec 4 (either inconvenient or expensive flights).



2.12: Shanghai -> Zhangjiajie
Manyuan Resort hotel, Wulingyuan. The equivalent of 35 Euro for a nice room (best so far on this trip to China), with a soft bed, good shower with plenty of hot water, good powerful heating, nicely decorated, furniture, lots of things. Friendly staff who advise how to visit Zhangjiajie. Free laundry facilities. In walking distance of the entrance to the national park.
Weather: sunny and cold (6°C) in Shanghai in the morning. Cold and overcast in Zhangjiajie, no rain.

I get up at 3:45am (actually I woke up earlier) and get ready. By 4:25am I'm in the lobby, the bus to the airport leaves shortly after 4:30am. We reach the airport after 4:40am.

I go through the procedures and reach the gate at 5:50am. When I arrive, boarding starts. I'm in the plane after 6am.

The plane takes off at 6:40am, with a small 10 minutes delay and lands in Zhangjiajie before 9am. The Zhangjiajie airport is quite big and modern (I was expecting a rural airport).

Getting the luggage takes little time and I walk to the exit. Then I book a Didi car to the hotel (70 RMB).

Despite the early time (around 10am), I'm able to check in the hotel. I just leave the bags in the room and go back to the reception. There the staff tells me what to visit and how.

At 10:20am I walk to the entrance of the national park. There I get a four days ticket to the national park (147 RMB). Surprise, surprise, one of my bank cards got blocked by the bank due to fraud suspicion (probably because of the many Alipay payments). I'll unblock it tomorrow, by calling my bank on the phone.

Passport needed to get the ticket and the picture of my face is what will open all doors. The ticket is only for the access and the bus transportation inside the national park.

Then I walk in and get into a bus. With that I get to the point where the hotel staff told me to start the trail.

As soon as I get out, I meet aggressive monkeys who are waiting for tourists, hoping to get food. I start walking on a trail which runs along a river. Cool scenery on both sides, with tall stone towers on both sides.

I end up walking much longer than I had been told in the hotel - they said 7km, I walk a total of 16km according to the step counter. Very nice scenery, but with sunshine and higher temperatures it would have been better.

Finally I reach the end of the trail. I briefly stop in a small restaurant and have some food. Then I get into the bus which brings me to the cable car. There I buy a return ticket with the cable car for RMB 118 (we are at 600m of altitude, the cable car brings you to 1050m). It's now 2:25pm.

This cable car brings you to the top of these stone peaks to what must be the "Avatar mountains" area. And indeed the view is really impressive. Reminds me a bit of Huangshan.

There is a round trail with a length of around 3.2km (you can walk more or less, depending on the shortcuts you take).

By the time I'm done with the trail it's 4pm and I rush back to the cable car station (last service at 5pm). I get down, then take a bus to the next stop and walk to the exit. There I take a bus back to the entrance of the national park.



3.12: Zhangjiajie
Manyuan Resort hotel, Wulingyuan. 
Weather: again overcast the whole day, cold but no rain.

I check with the reception my plans for today. They suggest to do the Tianmen mountain tomorrow because the weather will be better and the altitude is 1500m. So today I will visit the glass bridge and the grand canyon. I'm told the details of the programme (ticket is 215 RMB if you book online, 245 RMB if on the spot) and call a Didi car.

The trip by car (57 RMB) takes a while. It's actually 27km until the entrance of this attraction. I'm there at 11:23am.

Then it's a matter of figuring out where to go and where to get the tickets.

You have to walk up a staircase, pass a security check (they check if you are carrying something which could be used to break the glass of the bridge - I'm allowed to proceed with my camera bag), then walk further and finally pick up the tickets at the ticket counter (mine was booked online by the hotel staff).

Seems I have the entry slot 11:53-12:00, so I have to kill some time (about 15 minutes). Then I proceed to the bridge.

Pretty cool bridge over a 300m deep canyon. A bit scary to watch down through the glass in the middle of the bridge

After the bridge I stop for lunch in a fast food restaurant.

At 12:50pm I continue walking. You now have to get to the bottom of the canyon and there are a couple of ways to do so. Before that you view a six minute long 3D VR of the canyon.

One option is to cross the canyon in mid-air sliding down on some steel cables (am not allowed because apparently my total weight exceeds 80kg), the other is to take an elevator, then walk down a staircase.

After that there is a long slide which brings you further down to the bottom of the canyon. This slide is on polished stone, not steel.

At the bottom of the canyon you take a boat, but for 200m only. Then you walk for about 2km along the river, until you reach another artificial lake where another boat brings you to the exit.

The scenery is actually quite cool, because you are walking all the time in a deep gorge.

I reach the exit around 3:20pm. Outside there are some people with cars waiting for tourists going back to Zhangjiajie. 30 RMB to Zhangjiajie per person.

I take one of these services, but because I'm staying in Wulingyuan (not in Zhangjiajie) I get out of the car about 500m after the car left Wulingyuan. I walk back into town, buy some food and drinks, then walk back to the hotel.



4.12: Zhangjiajie (Tianmen mountain)
Manyuan Resort hotel, Wulingyuan
Weather: sunny, blue sky, top temperatures of 18°C according to the weather report. No rain, almost no wind.

First sunny day since I arrived to Wulingyuan. I get up shortly after 8am, have breakfast, then take a Didi car to the Tianmen mountain cable car station in Zhangjiajie, arriving at 10:20am.

There I ask about the ticket and the itinerary. Different prices are shown on the information table, but in reality there is only a 275 RMB ticket and today only the option A is available.

Essentially this consists of the following: cable car up to Mt Tianmen (1400+ metres asl), round walk of 3.7km around the mountain top, cable car to the middle station, bus to the staircase of the heaven gate, walk up to the heaven gate and down again, 500m walk to another cable car station, cable car down to a parking area, bus from there back to the Zhangjiajie cable car station.

The most impressive part of it is the walk on the paths around the Tianmen mountain and the staircase to the heaven gate. Very impressive views, steep, steep, steep and tall rock walls, dropping by hundreds of metres.

I'm at the mountain station of the cable car at 11:10am. It's now a matter of choosing whether to do the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. I chose clockwise.

I've been told it takes four hours in total to complete this trip. In reality I'll spend over six hours on this trip and could have even spent even more time on the mountain, because I skipped lunch, some side trails and other activities. I think you could even spend 10 hours on this trip, because there is a lot to do on the mountain (also many souvenir shops).

Today is not so crowded, so I have almost no waiting times. But I hear that on a more busy day you end up spending one hour at each cable car queue (and then it becomes a full day trip).

At 1:40pm I do the (short) glass floor walk (RMB 5 ticket), at 2:30pm I'm at the base of the staircase to the heaven gate (1000 m of altitude). From there a steep staircase leads 160m up to the heaven gate. The staircase to the actual gate is closed today.

After 4:30pm I'm back at the cable car station in Zhangjiajie. Zhangjiajie looks like a modern, clean city.

I walk to a KFC restaurant, have some food at 5pm, then take a Didi car back to the hotel.

In the evening I manage to reach the customer support of Advanzia bank and get the credit card unblocked (had been blocked since December 2, because the anti-fraud system thought my Alipay transactions looked suspicious).



5.12: Zhangjiajie -> Fenghuang -> Guangzhou
Hotel T-Social, Guangzhou. The equivalent of 44 Euro for a room, not too big, nice soft bed, toilet with shower, all facilities. The hotel is a bit old, but the room is ok. Very little hot water in the shower.
Weather: sunny, almost spotless blue sky until about 3pm, then overcast. Top temperatures of 20°C, no wind, no rain.

I get up at 7am, check out at 8:15am, take a Didi car to the train station Zhangjiajie West, arriving at 8:50am. The Zhangjiajie train station (and the Fenghuang one as well) is clean, big and modern. Probably designed to handle peak traffic periods, when huge numbers of travellers move across China.

Around 9:40am boarding for the train starts. It's quite a long walk to my waggon (Nr 8, the last one of the train). At 9:52am the train leaves punctually. My waggon is almost empty.

The train proceeds speedily (top speed is 305 km/h) to Fenghuang. There is an incredible amount of tunnels, short and long ones. Actually more of the track is inside a tunnel than in the open air. Seems the Chinese engineers decided to create a very straight trail, probably to allow high speed travel.

At 10:43am we reach the train station of Fenghuang. I get out and check the luggage storage situation. At the information counter I ask some ladies. One of them leads me to sort of a room/shop in the lower level, where for a fee of 20 RMB I can leave my two bags.

Then I take a taxi (25 RMB) to the historic centre of Fenghuang. 15 minutes drive, I'm there at 11:15am.

It takes some time to figure out where exactly the historic centre of Fenghuang is, where it begins and where it ends. Seems it extends along both sides of the river and is surrounded by city walls. Then, in the centre it extends a bit inland.

The walls and the architecture seem renovated, i.e. not original. Then, there are countless shops selling souvenirs, traditional articles and junk food.  Lots of women in traditional minority attire doing photo shoots in strategic locations.

This place looks a bit like a tourist trap. Reminds me a bit of Lijiang, with its fake traditional houses. To some extent, Fenghuang is a bit like a theme park.

But at least the city walls seems authentic. The other thing is that obviously the tourism boom helps the local economy. The streets are clean, the infrastructure is in a good shape, people (most people) are not poor. The standard of living seems to be high.

I walk a bit around, then try to get to a higher place in order to get some pictures from above. In the process, I enter sort of a park (expensive ticket of 50 RMB, i.e. expensive compared to what you get). This park extends up a hill and is supposed to be an attraction. But there is nothing special to see.

At 1:35pm I'm back down at the river. I cross on the eastern side and have a quick look. Nothing terribly interesting there, but lots of renovated or fake buildings.

I have a bowl of beef noodles for 15 RMB, then continue walking around.

At 3pm I'll have a second meal - rice with beef for 62 RMB. I had asked for vegetables, but get none. Seems practically impossible to get freshly cooked food in China: it's all pre-cooked stuff which gets warmed up or re-fried. And in the rare case you get some vegetables, it's stuff which has been boiled for hours.

The concept of fresh food or freshly cooked food doesn't exist in China. Everything they serve has been cooked multiple times. Good luck asking for a mixed salad.

When I get out of the restaurant at 3:40pm the sky is already overcast. I continue walking for a while, then around 4:20pm take a taxi to the train station. There I retrieve my luggage and at 6:27pm board the train to Guangzhou.

This train arrives punctually and is full of people. Next to me an oversize guy whose seat is too small for him. Some food and drinks served on the train.

After five endless hours we arrive in Guangzhou South. Huge train station, it takes forever to reach the exit.

Once I'm out I'm immediately harassed by countless drivers, some even shouting 'Didi'. But the problem is that I need to make the booking through Didi, because I don't know these guys. With a Didi booking it's less likely that they start to 'play games'.

In any case the situation is really messy outside there. I only manage to get into a Didi car to the hotel after midnight and will sleep after 1am.



6.12: Guangzhou
Hotel T-Social, Guangzhou.
Weather: overcast the whole day, some sun every now and then. No rain. Top temperatures of 20°C according to the weather forecast.

Because the weather is not so great, I only leave the hotel room after 10:30am. I enquire in the reception about shopping malls or complexes in Guangzhou and how to get to Kaiping. They tell me the bus takes three hours, so I better take a train.

It's 10:53am when I finally leave the hotel. To get an idea of Guangzhou I walk along the street towards the mausoleum of the Nanyue king. This area of Guangzhou where I am is very clean and modern.

I run into the Yuexiu international congress centre. Later I stop in a Burger King restaurant for some early lunch.

At 12:08pm I'm in front of the mausoleum. This is actually a museum built around the tomb of this king, with all the artifacts which were unearthed during the excavation. Very interesting museum, gives an insight into the history of this early southern Chinese kingdom.

While there, I run into a Chinese tourist from Beijing who suggests to have a look at the Guangzhou museum.

Around 1:15pm I take a Didi car to the Guangzhou museum. Once I arrive there, I spend 5-10 minutes walking around the block, looking for the entrance to the museum. The building and the compound around it are huge.

Guangzhou is a city suitable for cars, but not so suitable for pedestrians. The streets are very wide, no narrow alleys and the distances are big. I end up walking over 20000 steps.

The area around the museum is interesting. There is a huge square with tall skyscrapers and a very tall tower (perhaps built for the Asian games).

The museum is free. Inside, well, it's a bit underwhelming. Or perhaps I missed some collections or exhibits? Lots of space, but only a few halls with ancient exhibits. The exhibits about the history of Guangdong however are interesting.

After the museum, at 3:45pm I spend some more time checking the area, then call a Didi car to the Chen clan ancestral hall. I'm there shortly before 4:30pm.

This hall looks like a mix of a Chinese temple and an old Chinese mansion (similar to other mansions I have seen on this trip). Inexpensive 10 RMB ticket.

After the ancestral hall, around 5pm, I'd like to buy some food and drinks, but can't find any convenience store or supermarket nearby. So I just walk towards the Liuhua lake park.

The Liuhua lake park is nice and is open until 10pm. Some people are exercising in the park while I'm there.

I find a mall, well, sort of a mall, and have some dinner there. Then I'll spend some more time walking around looking for another mall (I won't find any), walking until the northern train station (and there people will offer me taxi trips again), buying some food and drinks and walking back to the hotel.

When I try to pay in a shop shortly after 8pm, my Alipay gets blocked again, this time by Alipay. I appeal, upload a copy of my passport and pictures of the credit cards. Less than two hours later Alipay is unblocked again.

Later in the evening I'll book a return train ticket to Kaiping for tomorrow.




7.12: Guangzhou -> Kaiping -> Guangzhou
Hotel T-Social, Guangzhou.
Weather: sunny, blue sky. No wind, no rain. Top temperatures of 25°C. First really warm day while I'm in China.

I leave the hotel before 9am and take a Didi car to the temple of the six banyan trees. This is a nice, traditional Chinese temple with a tall pagoda in the middle.

I spend a bit over 10 minutes in this place, then walk to the nearby Guangxiao temple. This is a larger temple, entrance ticket costs 5 RMB. Also this temple is nice, has many visitors, but no pagoda.

At 10am I get a Didi car to the train station. I have a train to Kaiping at 11:42am, but will need to eat something for lunch before.

We reach the train station at 10:52am (some traffic along the way, and the driver drove slowly). I have some food in a McDonald's restaurant, then wait for the train. This is another modern high speed train. Almost embarrassing what kind of trains we have in Germany. There is nothing comparable and trains in China are even punctual.

We reach the Kaiping train station at 12:41pm. When I walk out of the train station I'm again approached by touts / taxi drivers, who want to bring me around. Zili village for 70 RMB.

I key in Zili in the Didi app and immediately find a Didi driver who will do the trip for 42 RMB. At 1:15pm I'm in Zili.

The question then is what ticket to get. The 180 RMB one covering seven places, or the 150 RMB one only covering Zili village and the Li gardens. Because the lady at the reception says there is no time to see more than two places, I get the 150 RMB ticket (bus at 3:30pm will take me to the Li gardens).

Zili is sort of a village turned into an open air museum. There are these characteristic diaolou tower buildings, built at the beginning of the 20th century in mixed European / Chinese style. Some tourists, although not too many.

Around 2:30pm I'm done with this village. There is one hour to kill until the 3:30pm bus. I was told there is no Didi service here, but give it a try. Surprise, surprise I quickly manage to find a Didi car to the Li gardens. I'm there at 2:38pm.

The Li gardens are quite nice. Large garden area with these special mansions built by rich people.

It's 4pm when I leave the Li gardens and call a Didi car to the next place, the Majianglong village. I have to wait for a while for the car and the trip takes a bit longer. I reach Majianglong at 4:25pm.

50 RMB ticket and the village is open until 5:30pm. This village is less interesting than the two places I have seen today. It seems to be still inhabited.

Shortly after 5pm I'm back at the entrance and call a Didi car to the train station in Kaiping. This time I have to wait 15-20 minutes, because this is a relatively remote place and not so many Didi cars are here. The other thing is that this trip is more expensive (90 RMB).

I'm at the train station at 5:53pm. At 6:25pm I get into the train to Guangzhou and am back in Guangzhou at 7:25pm. Then I take a Didi car back to the hotel, getting out at a Burger King place in order to eat something.

My Alipay account is blocked again, due to "risky activity". I'll spend 15 minutes on the phone with the Alipay customer support to get it unblocked.




8.12: Guangzhou -> Manila
Hotel Red Planet Manila Binondo, Manila. 1622 PHP for a small, minimalist room with actually everything you need (even a hairdryer and shower/shampoo mix). Bed reasonably soft, quiet room with a window.
Weather: sunny, blue sky. Top temperatures of 25°C according to the forecast. No wind, no rain.

I get up at 8:15am, pack my stuff and check out after 10am, leaving my bags in the reception. Then I walk to the Yuexiu park.

The Yuexiu park is a beautiful park with vegetation resembling to a certain extent the one in parks in Malaysia or Thailand. Lots of people, many of them aged. No western tourists. Big trees, which provide a lot of shadow.

Around 12pm I have some lunch in a Burger King restaurant, then I take a Didi car to the Yuyin mountain villa garden.

It takes a while to get there, because the place is quite out of Guangzhou (about 30km). I'm there at 1:30pm.

This place is kind of a small park with some temples, ponds and pavilions. A bit underwhelming, I was expecting more, and about half of this garden is closed.

At 2:10pm I take another Didi car back to Guangzhou (Enning street). Getting there takes almost one hour.

Enning street is in a heritage area of Guangzhou. Many restored old buildings, lots of people. Tons of shops selling various stuff. Lots of food places. I run into a centre for Cantonese opera and have a look at a live performance with two actors.

After the Cantonese opera I continue exploring the area. Finally around 4:30pm I walk to a shopping mall. There I look without success for some products I need.

At 5:08pm I cross the street and walk into the Shamian island area. Here there are several European style buildings.

Around 6pm I take a Didi car back to the hotel. I have some dinner in the restaurant of the hotel, then at 7:45pm get into a Didi car to the airport, arriving at 8:30pm.

Slow queue at the checkin counter. Some Filipinos are carrying huge boxes, which they want to declare as checked in bags. I only manage to get to the security check at 9:30pm.

Again a slow queue, this time at the security check. The passport control check is faster.

I reach the gate after 10:15pm. Boarding has already started, I rush into the plane. Inside, the plane is almost empty (perhaps 20% full). It takes off around 11pm with 15 minutes of delay.

We land in Manila a bit early (before 1am). Then I proceed through passport control (registration on the e-travel site of the Philippines needed - I do it with the WLAN of the airport on the smartphone).

The luggage retrieval is also quite smooth. I get some cash - no problems, except for the steep 250 PHP ATM fee. Then I get a SIM card for 1100 PHP with 55 GB of data (4G and 5G; they promise coverage also on the islands; data only, i.e. no local calls, although I could top up the SIM card and add local calls later).

Finally I need to update the Grab app on my phone. After that I call a Grab car to the hotel.

Everything went relatively smoothly and without delays at the airport. However I will sleep after 3am.



Continues with the Philippines 2023 travelogue



19.12: Manila -> Beijing
Happy Dragon City Culture hotel, Beijing. 532 CNY for a very nice room, nicely decorated, lots of furniture. Bathroom with toilet and shower. Location in the hutongs, about 3km from the forbidden city.
Booking.com doesn't provide name or address in Chinese characters in the app, so I spend some time trying to determine the address in Chinese (in the end, I contact the hotel). Later I discover, that the email of booking.com contains the Chinese name and character. So booking.com needs to fix this app problem.

Weather: tropically hot in Manila. Sun, blue sky, -7°C and strong wind blowing in Beijing in the afternoon (-15°C at night according to the forecast). To walk on the streets of Beijing today you need to dress up like an eskimo.

Early wake up at 3:10am. At 4am I'm the reception. The taxi is not there. The pre-arranged transfer consists of the receptionist calling Grab and asking for a car. This causes a delay of 10 minutes, i.e. we leave at 4:10am.

At 4:21am I'm at the airport. I queue up at the Air China check-in. Long queue already, I'm one of the last. Quite a few non-Chinese travellers. Probably these people are transiting in Beijing to the final destination.

I manage to change the last Philippine pesos to Euro, then proceed to the gate.

The 6:20am flight to Beijing is delayed and takes only off at 7am. On board I manage to sleep a little bit.

We land in Beijing at 11:19am. I get through passport control, retrieve the luggage and proceed to the pick up area for the Didi cars. There I call a Didi car to the hotel.

In no time somebody responds. The estimated fare is 77 CNY for 25km distance. The driver calls me and asks where I am. I pass the phone to somebody else and ask him to explain to the driver where exactly I am. I speak Chinese, but not well enough to explain where exactly I am (too many specific terms I don't know in Chinese).

The driver quickly shows up and guides me to his car, which is one level higher. By 12:30pm we leave. This is Chinese efficiency and professionalism. Quite a difference from the Philippines.

At 1:15pm I check in the hotel. I get settled, and wear one additional thing before going out. I'm walking to a nearby mall.

Along the way I stop in a small restaurant where I have a bowl of beef dumplings (quite tasty).

In the mall I run into a good supermarket with all products I need. I buy food and drinks, enough for dinner tonight and the breakfasts, because I won't go out for dinner tonight. It's just too cold to walk on the streets and at night it will be even colder.

I'm back in the hotel before 4pm and will spend the rest of the day in the hotel.




20.12: Beijing
Happy Dragon City Culture hotel, Beijing.
Weather: sunny, blue sky and freezing. Daytime top temperatures of -7°C, at night the temperature drops to -15°C. And the main problem is the wind (and the fact that I don't have heavy winter clothes with me).

Day spent visiting friends in Beijing. It starts with Anita and Jane whom I meet for lunch at 12pm (hot pot restaurant), then at 2:30pm I meet Jackie and finally at 6:15pm Cathrine, again in a hot pot restaurant. Seems people here in Beijing like to eat hot pot.

Walking on the street is still a problem. I'm not dressed adequately for this cold weather, I'm not acclimatised (having spent the last 10 days in the heat of the tropics). Essentially I limit my outdoor time to the minimum and move from place to place by taxi.

Booking Didi cars is relatively easy. I never have to wait long, except for the last Didi car in the evening at 9:30pm.

In the evening I do some shopping in Wangfujing, then go back go the hotel.



21.12: Beijing -> Frankfurt
Hotel Sheraton, Offenbach. Hotel provided free of charge by Lufthansa, because they cancelled my flight and I have to spend one night in Frankfurt. The room is ok, comfortable beds, toilet with good shower and shampoo, shower gel, hair dryer etc. About half an hour from the airport by local rail transport.
Weather: sunny, blue sky in Beijing, freezing cold at -7°C during the day. Mild temperatures (7°C to 10°C) in the evening in the Frankfurt area.

I leave the hotel at 11:15am and take a Didi car to the airport. Not much traffic, by 11:52am I'm at the airport. By 12pm I'm queueing up at the check-in.

About half an hour of queue, at 12:30pm I head to a café/restaurant where I have something.

I'm at the security check around 1pm. Panic with the security ladies when they see my boarding time of 1:30pm. Apparently from this point it takes a while to reach the gate.

In fact, this involves some walking and taking a train to the gates area, then queueing up at passport control.

I'm at the gate at 1:35pm and there the "last boarding call" sign is already flashing. Why all the rush, given that the plane is scheduled to take off at 2pm?

At 1:40pm I'm seated in the plane. Then it's a long, long wait until the plane takes off. Planned was 2pm, but the take off is only at 3:47pm.

Could be a problem in Frankfurt, because I only have two hours in between flights.

The plane is a big B747-8. Relatively modern and comfortable, but I can't find the control to switch on the seat light.

After a long flight we land in Munich at 7:19pm local time, too late to catch the 7:15pm flight.

Apparently I have already been rebooked to a 9:15pm Lufthansa flight, but then I receive an SMS stating that this flight has been cancelled.

It takes some time to figure out what to do. Finally I queue up at the rebookings counter. If I take a train to Munich today, the luggage will be sent by DHL to my home address, but tomorrow we are already flying to Spain, so there will be nobody who can receive it (and I need it for the trip to Spain).

So I ask to be rebooked on a flight for tomorrow morning, 8:15am. Lufthansa also provide a hotel free of charge.

So it's more or less all ok. It's just that I would have preferred to reach home this evening.


Continues with the Spain 2023-2024 travelogue


Copyright 2024 Alfred Molon