Shenzhen – China

“The Silicon Valley of China”

Shenzhen, China, November 2019

Returning from a holiday in Thailand heading back to London, was nice to have this brief stopover in Shenzhen and even on a super rush, being able to visit some of the main sights, notably admiring the impressive skyline rising as far your eyes can reach. This is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and here are some numbers and facts that will surprise you. Back in 1979 its status was raised from Town to City. With a small population and almost non-existing infrastructure other than the railway terminus of the Canton to Kowloon (in Hong Kong) line, it exploded like nowhere ever seen before in such a short time to be home of more than 13 millions inhabitants, although the numbers in question are likely 20 at any one time as the authorities estimate. Home to one of the busiest container port in the world and becoming the “Silicon Valley of China”. How all this happened this quick is simply fascinating!

It forms what is called the Pearl River Delta Megalopolis together with Hong Kong just south across the border, the major cities of Haizhou and Dongguan in the north and other cities all of which home to a population of approximately 50 million people. The province, Guangdong, is one of the most populated in China. It’s a funny fact that one can take the metro in Shenzhen to the south border, comply with the customs and immigration and take Hong Kong’s metro to continue your journey; this is how near one to each other really are.

So while on our way into Thailand the stopover was at Chengdu where we enjoyed the traditional side of China, the important tea culture so vivid over there, temples and shrines; here was totally the opposite, with a fascinating new city built in 40 years, doubling its size in almost no time. Nowadays it is one of the cities with the largest amount of super-tall towers (defined as anything over 300 meters high), and a metro system expanding from 8 to over 25 lines, that’s almost 1000 kilometres of new tracks when the project is completed. (more…)

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Chengdu – China

“Starting point of the Southern Silk Road”

Chengdu, China, November 2019

A very unexpected visit to a city I did not actually plan on any trip at all in these years nor in the coming future, however it worked great as a surprise having found the best air fare to the final destination Bangkok. Not only the stopover was meant to be 12 hours all during the day, but an almost last minute change of schedule from the airline translated in giving us an entire day over there. What is best, no need to even apply for a visa to enter China. someone travelling from a country A to country C via country B, in this case China, is automatically granted 72 hours visa free transit which allows, depending on the city of transit, to be ONLY in the city, or across an entire region such as the case of Guangdong Province. In our case, with the city was good enough for a little stroll and break a long haul flight.

Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province, might sound unheard to the average tourist, however we are talking about a city larger in population than any across the entire European continent including Russia. It’s home to over 10 million inhabitants, over 18 including its metropolitan area, this makes it the 5th largest conglomeration in China. It is a very powerful centre for finance, economics, education, industry, transport, communications and culture and its development and growth do not see an end in the near to mid-term future.

It is also world famous for being the capital city of the region from where one of the cutest animal on the planet lives, the giant panda bear. The main research and care base is some 2 hours northwest from the city, and this is the only one place in the world where you can hold one in your hands, a baby one of course. (more…)

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Taipei – Taiwan

“Formosa: The Beautiful Island”

Taipei, Taiwan, October 2019

Taipei, the capital of the Republic of China (well better known as Taiwan), is the heart of one of the Four Tigers of Asia, together with South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. A fascinating overdeveloped city in an island with a very strong personality and heritage very much to the likes of South Korea and Japan, where everything is perfect, cared for and respected. Some of the most polite, educated and helpful people, and a place of contrasts where old traditions survive in the shadow of the countless new towers and districts being created.

It is nice to return for a second time here. Back in 2014 it was a trip from Manila as we were touring a little bit of the Philippines. Today is again a wider trip, coming from Hong Kong, then continuing into Malaysia. On both occasions the time spent here has been the same, 2 days and a half. While not a lot, it is enough to get a glimpse and enjoy most of the sights in the city however, the island has other wonderful cities and villages, nature and landmarks truly worth to explore, but unfortunately it will have to wait for another trip in the future.

As a little background history, Taiwan used to be known as Formosa, name given by the Portuguese meaning “beautiful”. It was part of the Spanish Empire for a short period of time however was never keen to deploy any army and settle nor build the infrastructure needed to protect it against other invaders such as the Dutch to whom it lost the colony. The Spanish colony only lasted from 1626 to 1642. Thereafter the Dutch and the Portuguese developed their settlements and claimed to their own for centuries. Wars and occupations did the rest until its modern history.
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Hong Kong – SAR

“Fragrant Harbour”

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A well deserved time to return to this fascinating city almost 7 years after the first time, and once again as part of a much wider trip across some Asian/Southeast Asian countries. It is still the fact that no matter how many times I come to this part of the world, that I enjoy more the more times I return especially with Southeast Asia as the favourite from everywhere I’ve been in the world.

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, or let’s keep it short as everyone else in the world does, simply Hong Kong, while not a sovereign country itself, it enjoys its freedom of economy and people’s right as part of “One Country, Two Systems”. This was the deal agreed between the United Kingdom and China when the colony was handed over to China back in 1997. On a same note and same year, the nearby ex-Portuguese colony of Macau was handed over to China with the same principles in the agreement. Now to anyone’s eyes, it’s hard to say you are in “China”, especially if you’ve been to mainland China itself, not to mention there is not even need to apply for a visa in order to visit Hong Kong or Macau is you are a citizen from Europe and most of the Western World countries.

At almost 7.5 million inhabitants considering such a reduced space, it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. With not much space to even build, the sky is the limit they say. Towers, towers and more towers, with some latest additions becoming super tall skyscrapers with some truly icons designed by the top world class architects. It is out of question the city will impress any visitor for its incredible skyline. Merely built in just few years, aligning both banks of the impressive Victoria Harbour as if it was an avenue. However, not everything is as shiny as it might appear on a first look. Just behind such glorious skyscrapers of beautiful care for design, lies a maze of tiny streets with high-rises of awful taste and dubious designed communal blocks where millions of people live in tiny spaces. Nevertheless, even such constructions have become a sight on their own among the tourists looking to get great pictures, especially of the thousands of windows and air-con units on their never endingly high patios.

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Macau – SAR

“Las Vegas of Asia”

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As quite mandatory for the average tourist visiting Hong Kong for few days, a day trip to Macau is out of question. The second of such SAR, Special Administration Region of the People’s Republic of China under the same principle of “one country, two systems”, hence what you have here is a totally open region with a high level of self-administration where the politics of China are not affecting in regards of freedom of speech, gambling, political views, economics, education and more.

It was great to return after almost 7 years since the first and only time I’ve been here, hence a great chance for updating this guide which was as old as the year when I started with my travel blog project with briefly described and not so complete guides as what kept coming the years after. Considering I very much enjoy to return to several places after the years, there are not many “older” guides left awaiting to be appropriately updated.

Macau, a very small piece of land that once was one of the first European settlements in Asia, was also the last European colony to ever leave Asia back in 1999, becoming one of the most densely populated places in the world, topping an already over-crowded Hong Kong, however things are very different here. The space is really minimal, and even with the massive reclamation project that completely filled-up the space between the islands of Taipa and Coloane to form a bigger island, was still not enough considering the high demand and also knowing that the entire reclamation was given in full for the purpose of building the gigantic casinos and hotels the city is so well famous for. The yearly revenue from gambling is 7 times higher than the collection of Las Vegas. Can you imagine that? Now think twice again, how is it even possible to happen in such a small piece of land which you can walk side to side? Las Vegas is huge in the other hand, with plenty of space in the middle of the desert. (more…)

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Beijing and the Great Wall – China

“The Last of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China”

Beijing, China, September 2014

Reaching our last destination on this trip we arrived to the capital city of China. The heart of the country where the former emperor flair can still be felt in the air in the spectacular palatial constructions. Royal temples, palaces, gardens and broad avenues dating back to the Qing and Ming Dynasties, where the center of power of the vast empire, the Forbidden City, was (and is) located at the very heart, with the rest of the city following concentric rings on an ever expanding city.

Having been before in Shanghai which apparently is a larger city than Beijing, you do not get this feeling once in Beijing. You will come across a vast city where sights are so distant one to another as you surely did not really expect before when planning your trip. Have this really in consideration as the time you will spend commuting around is going to be really incredible long.

But having said quite a positive introduction, the unfortunate reality can change your mind rapidly. Yes, no one can argue about the impressive sights and history on them, but how about what is in the middle of the way between the sites; this is, the city itself? Well, that is the downside here. It is a complete disaster in architectural taste. Horrible apartment high-rises simply everywhere possible, ugly streets without any taste; huge avenues where pedestrians are the less considered. Only congestion, pollution, noise and traffic at any time of the day. (more…)

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Xian – China

“Starting Point of the Silk Road

Xi'An, China, September 2014

Our next move within China and after our first impressions of what is like to be in mainland China, we took off from Shanghai to Xi’An in the heart of China. The starting point of the Silk Road. Impossible to argue it is one of the most historical cities in China and perhaps under rated by most of the tourist, which they just go (or are taken as part of a tour) to the Terracotta Warriors and leave the city without even see the impressive city walls or not a glimpse of what other attractions the city has to offer.

I knew Xi’An had way too many places to visit and lots to do, but unfortunately in our super busy agenda all we could spare were 2 days, from which almost a full one was gone for the Terracotta Warriors. Still, from the remaining time we had in the city we definitely saw the most we could, and yet again as the same note of what happened in Suzhou, unfortunately the rest of the city around the sights is really an eyesore.

A very good point in favour is the way the city developed. Meaning what is within the walls covers at least 75% of all the sights and must do’s, and it’s easily reachable even on foot around the central ones. Only some temples, monuments and museums are outside of the walls. (more…)

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Suzhou – China

“Venice of the East”

Suzhou, China, September 2014

At little over 100 km from Shanghai to the west is this “beautiful” canal-city. A glimpse of very traditional Chinese architecture, gardens, temples and all criss-crossed by many bridges over the countless canals. A must visit should you have enough time in Shanghai. It will truly make your trip to China an excellent addition merely to be able to really appreciate and feel the real ancient Chinese life. You might wonder why the quotations on the word beautiful, but will explain later below.

And at only 25 minutes by super frequent high speed trains from Shanghai, and only around £5 per way there is no excuse nor hassle why not to come and visit. Perhaps the only constrain will be having the time for it. Thankfully for us we planned 3 full days in Shanghai for which we could allow one of them for Suzhou since in 2 days you can more or less visit pretty much every sight in Shanghai. Still for you to know, 1 day in Suzhou is not enough to see everything. At least 2 would make things better.

Shockingly the city is rapidly growing and will soon have 10 million inhabitants! That’s just crazy growth and here comes the quotation on beautiful mentioned before. Sadly most of the old city centre is now gone for horrible constructions, meaning what is basically left are all the gardens, temples and monuments scattered around them, many of them listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. A sad truth of what China is really doing with its development.

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