08/26/17

Relaxing trip to Yangshuo

Yangshuo

Balancing between hectic work and being parents to an active toddler really makes “rush hour years” like we say in Finnish. During the workdays life is a triangle between home, work and daycare. During the weekends it’s either catching up with household chores or going out with friends. I bet many parents can relate, there is seldom time for just relaxing.

So when we got a chance to escape the busy life in Guangzhou and travel to Yangshuo, we welcomed it with open arms.

Yangshuo station

Fast trains operate between Guangzhou and Yangshuo many times per day and it takes just two and a half hours to reach Yangshuo station. Ticket for one adult one way is 117RMB. These are modern and comfortable trains, bring a magazine and some snacks and you are ready to go. Meals and snacks on the train are much pricier than in shops.

Mountain Escape Yangshuo

We were invited to Yangshuo by Gary who is the owner of Mountain Escape Yangshuo, a boutique hotel in a quiet village away from the busy city center of Yangshuo. I’ll share a hotel review with you later, but I can tell you it was one of the fanciest places we have stayed!

Yulong Village Yangshuo

It was Saturday afternoon when we arrived to Yangshuo and first we just relaxed at the hotel. After checking every corner of our room we headed out to walk around the small Yulong village. Unfortunately few months ago there had been a huge flood and some of the old mud houses had collapsed.

Bike Asia Yangshuo

After breakfast on Sunday morning Gary drove us to the city center where Bike Asia‘s Snowy was waiting for us. She had planned a family friendly biking tour from their shop through rice fields back to our hotel. I haven’t done any exercise for a long time, but the route Snowy chose was perfect for me and I didn’t feel too tired even after cycling for 18 kilometers. Anna enjoyed the ride and beautiful scenery at the back of Alan’s bicycle.

Mountain Escape Yangshuo

Our trip to Yangshuo happened to be at the same time as a small group of families where having a family trip to our hotel. On their last evening they organized a kids party for everyone with delicious dishes and even more mouthwatering desserts! While other kids stayed and joined the activities, for us it was time to get a shower and put Anna to bed.

Yangshuo Yulong Bridge

On Monday morning we still have a little time before our train back to Guangzhou so we decided to check out the ancient Yulong bridge that was just 10 minutes walk from our hotel. The Yulong river was full of bamboo rafts waiting for tourist, but we decided to hang out at the coffee shop and enjoy the view with a cooling fan.

Yangshuo

Just after two short nights and three days it was time to head back to Guangzhou. During our short trip we realized how many activities there are in Yangshuo and definitely need to head back for a longer holiday one day soon.

In my next posts I will introduce the hotel, the bike trip and share lots of more photos from our family getaway.

08/11/17

What should you really bring to China

Guangzhou

That’s Guangzhou recently listed 18 Things All Newcomers Absolutely Need to Bring to Guangzhou and I would like to add a few words of my own to the list. Do you actually need to bring all of these?

1 Hand sanitizer

I don’t personally carry hand sanitizer around with me, but I have seen it being sold on Minisoto and Watson’s for example. Feel free to bring a bottle, but no need to stock up.

2 Skincare and make up

Brand products are more expensive in China than abroad so do bring your favorite products. I don’t do make up my self so I buy the skincare products I need here. I even found face cream with UV protection at Watson’s.

3 Deodorant

Deodorant might be cheaper elsewhere, but it’s easily to be found in any supermarkets, Watson’s, Mannings and so on.

4 Tampons

Difficult to find 7 years ago, but now easy to find same as the deodorant. All Watson’s and Mannings have tampons, mostly ob brand so if you prefer something else, you can consider bringing them with you.

5 Painkillers

Do bring your important medication with you, but for an occasional headache it’s easy to find ibuprofen tables (布洛芬片) in any local pharmacy.

6 Unlocked cell phone

If  you are staying long term, get a Chinese SIM card for your old phone or get a new Chinese brand phone.

7 Photocopies of your passport and visa

You should carry your passport with you, but if you are worried losing it, at least carry a copy of it with you. You might be fined if the police find out you don’t have your passport with you.

8 VPN

Yes! Definitely do download and register a VPN before you come. I have used VyprnVPN since 2015. Click her to get it with a nice discount!

9 Extra clothes and shoes

My shoe size is 38 and in clothes I use M or L (European size) so I don’t have too many troubles finding things to wear. I usually shop at Uniqlo and H&M. If you have a large shoe or clothing size, you probably want to bring more with you, especially nice shoes. Also if you are much taller than the average Chinese.

10 Basic Mandarin

You can learn a few phrases before you come, or even better, join me at Expat Chinese and register for my courses!

11 Baby powder

Guangzhou is hot and humid, but I’ve never used baby powder after leaving toddlerhood. I do use roll-on deodorant for my thighs to avoid rubbing the skin.

12 Antidiarrheals

Same as with number 5, take the medicine you are used to using back home too. For sudden stomach pain, Chinese pharmacies have better remedies than I’ve been able to find in Finland.

13 Portable fan

Very useful during the Summer, but much cheaper to buy once you arrive!

14 Adapters

Depend on each country, but coming from Finland I haven’t needed any adapters. Many Chinese extension cords are suitable for any kinds of sockets.

15 Gifts from home

Always a good idea to bring special gifts from your hometown, but remember Chinese have a very different style compared to Finns for example. Finnish design isn’t that big of a deal here yet so I often just buy Fazer chocolate for everyone.

16 Extra space in your luggage

Sure, if you are coming for a short trip, you probably want to do some shopping over here. If you live here, you most likely want to bring more stuff from home to China. Besides chocolate, I always bring rye bread with me.

17 An open mind

Absolutely! This is the most important thing to bring with you. China is huge, China is amazing, China is different, be ready for a culture shock. I’ve lived here more than 7 years and there are still parts of the culture that shocks me or surprises me in a good way. It’s constant learning that keeps you going when living in a new culture.


Sara’s short list of things to bring to Guangzhou or China in general:

  • Open mind!
  • A good VPN
  • Personal medicine and hygiene products you can’t live without
  • Some comfort snacks
  • Well… that’s it!
02/1/15

Visiting Meizhou: Traditional weilongwu architecture

IMG_7259

When I hear the word Hakka (Han Chinese that speak Hakka Chinese) I always think of the famous tulous (土楼) I’ve always wanted to visit. But little did I know, that the Hakka people has other traditional architecture as well. January 2015 I finally had the chance to visit Meizhou, Guangdong Province, and found out that the weilongwu (围龙屋) is the traditional building for the locals. Where as in the Fujian province more tulous can be found. The name 围龙屋 literally means to encircle dragons house.

Hakka weilongwu

Above is a miniature of a three tier weilongwu. At the China Hakka Museum we were told that Hakka people pay a lot of attention to fengshui. The weilongwu is arranged as a half circle and can include from one to several tiers. The family and relatives live in the middle part of the weilongwu, leaving the half circle tiers to servers, helpers and storage space. In order to preserve symmetry, a half circle pond was dug in front  of the compound.

IMG_7298

The Owner of this weilongwu welcomed us with open arms and told us stories how his family had important cement from England and pipes from Germany. All around Meizhou you can see the influence of those Hakka people who moved abroad to study or work, and then contributed to the culture and business back in their home city. Those with ability to go overseas also had the most means to build weilongwu and also to preserve them until today.

IMG_7272

This particular weilongwu we visited on our fist day is called Tong Yu Zhuang or Tong Yu Manor. It was build by an Indonesian overseas Chinese on the 24th year of the Republic of China (1935). The manor has 56 rooms, 13 halls and 9 atriums. Because many weilongwus were lavishly decorated with gold, they were hit quite badly in the Cultural Revolution. A beautiful mirror was saved just because a big portrait of Mao Zedong was hanging in front of it, no one dared to touch it.

IMG_7266

In Meizhou I noticed one very interesting detail in the houses. Look at the picture above, can you guess what is the whole on the right side of the entrance? Yes, it’s for cats to go in and out freely!

IMG_7279

Atriums are an important part of architecture both in Hakka culture and beyond. They let the sun light come in and gather the rain water from the roofs.

IMG_7287

Weilongwu is usually build on a hill or slope, so that the back part of the complex is higher than the front. This is for both better fengshui and water flowing through the pipes from back to front as well. Behind the main buildings in the front and before the first half circle, there is an open space that represents the female womb and makes sure that the family will continue from generation to generation.

For more travel posts check out all my travel blog posts here!

09/21/14

Watching sun set at Hangzhou West Lake

Hangzhou West Lake

My one week trip to Hangzhou and Suzhou feels like ages ago, even though it was just last month that I did this trip alone to find some joy after being at home for such a long time. My husband encouraged me to go out and see new places before starting my master’s degree, luckily I listened to his advice!

What I liked about Hangzhou and Suzhou is that you could actually explore parts of the city by foot. Guangzhou is so huge that by foot you don’t really get anywhere and have to rely on metros and buses. In Hangzhou the best place to wonder around is of course the famous West Lake!

 

Sara and Jocelyn

I had Jocelyn from Speaking of China as my local tour guide, showing me beautiful views to the lake and also taking me to taste both local and foreign delicacies. I’ve been reading Jocelyn’s blog since I first came to China in 2010, it was great to finally meet her. And as it happens, we just talked and talked for hours that day!

Hangzhou Tea House

Our day started at Qing Teng Tea House were we had this amazing lunch with main dish, fruits, snacks and dessert. Not to forget the famous longjing tea. We had our own small room with beautiful decorations, offering a very peaceful and calming surrounding for our lunch.

Hangzhou West Lake

Back in February 2010 I was walking on the foot steps of emperors and concubines in Forbidden City, but now in Hangzhou I was following poets and painters through dynasties who had been fascinated by the breathtaking scenery at West Lake.

The best time to visit West Lake is sun rise or sun set when the sky is painted with soft colors. And don’t make a lit of visiting the most famous spots around the lake, it’s much better to just wander around and avoid the crowds if it happens to be a weekend or a public holiday.

Hangzhou West Lake

As many beautiful places in China, the West Lake is also a popular destination for wedding photos. This bride looked amazing in her figure-hugging lace bridal gown, that I had to snap a picture.

Hangzhou West Lake

“Green mountains surround on all sides
the still waters of the lake.
Pavilions and towers in hues of gold
and azure rise here and there.
One would say a landscape composed by a painter.
Only towards the east,
where there are no hills,
does the land open out,
and there sparkle, like fishes’ scales,
the bright colored tiles of a thousand roofs.”

—From Daily life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276

Hangzhou West Lake

When the sun set below the horizon, fishermen came out with their long boats. Me and Jocelyn continued our discussion about everything between heaven and earth. I guess when two Western girls living in China and both having Chinese husbands, interesting topics for discussion are never-ending.

Next time I hope to visit Hangzhou and Jocelyn together with my husband.

08/19/14

Wuzhen Water Town

IMG_6170

Wuzhen Water Town is a famous and popular travel destination near Hangzhou. Wuzhen has a history of 1300-years and ancient Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal flows through the town. As a representative of the ancient water town architecture and culture, it has become a huge tourist spot for Chinese and foreigners alike.

I visited Wuzhen on 8th of August this year, having just arrived to Hangzhou on the very same morning after midnight. My flight from Guangzhou was delayed several hours, but even with sleepy eyes, I managed to make to most of my visit to Wuzhen.

Wuzhen Water Town

Wuzhen Water Town

Wuzhen includes two areas that are close-by each other, the West Scenic Zone and the East Scenic Zone. Ticket to the west are 120RMB, to the east 100RMB and for both 150RMB. If you have a full day or are staying the night, it’s best to get the combined ticket.

Wuzhen Water Town

While searching for information about Wuzhen, I find out that the West Zone is mostly designed for tourists with tea houses, restaurants and shops. Because of time limits and being able to visit Wuzhen during the week, I decided to brave the crowds and head to the West Zone. The village had many tourists wondering along, but I was possible to find more quieter alleys as well.

Wuzhen Water Town

Wuzhen Water Town

The West Zone alone is quite big and you can spend a full day there walking around, taking photos and spending time with local delicacies. The Chinese tourist seemed to be able to buy something new to eat on every stall.

Wuzhen Water Town

When walking along the numerous streets and alleys, I noticed it’s easy to get a bit lost in Wuzhen. The maps they have in many crossroads are sometimes from East to West and sometimes from West to East, making navigation harder. At the same time getting lost is always part of the experience in all ancient villages, just take your time and let your feet lead the way.

Wuzhen Water Town

IMG_6141

I didn’t have time to visit the East Zone, but that’s said to be more quiet, less tourists and the place where actual locals reside. Of course those same locals also offer hostels and hotels there, but most of the commercialism seems to be gathered at the West Zone. If you have a full time, I recommend visiting the East first and then continuing to West with the shuttle bus.

IMG_6149

Wuzhen Water Town

Because of the popularity, avoid public holidays and even weekends if possible when visiting Wuzhen. In my opinion Wuzhen is not a place to explore the daily life of locals, it’s best to be seen as a picturesque village ideal for great photography and relaxation.

Wuzhen Water Town

If you decide to stay for a night, take a good book with you and find a nice spot in a tea house along the river. Watch the sun set and see another beautiful side of the water village. I bet the evening view with lanterns lit is amazing!

IMG_6130

If you are going to Wuzhen from Hangzhou, take a bus at the couch terminal (客运中心站), easily reachable by the one and only metro line at the moment. The bus tickets is 30RMB and it takes about 1.5 hours to reach Wuzhen. From the Wuzhen bus station you can take a local bus K350 to both of the Scenic Zones, costing only 3RMB. At the bus station you can buy your return ticket too when you arrive, that way you don’t need to worry about not getting a ticket during the busy season.

For more information on how to get to Wuzhen check their own website.

IMG_6182

I recommend Wuzhen for everyone who is interested in ancient Chinese water towns South of Yangtze river, but isn’t looking for finding a quiet and tourist empty place out of the beaten path. Wuzhen is a nice and easy village to visit, which makes it great for day trips from Hangzhou or Shanghai.

Wuzhen Water Town

Plan your trip away from national holidays or Summer vacation weekends, and you will have a pleasant time wondering the streets and canals of Wuzhen. I had about six hours in the West Scenic Zone, walking slowly and stopping often to admire the view. I found Wuzhen to be a great place to visit with my camera, something totally different than I see daily in Guangzhou.

If you have any questions about visiting Wuzhen, just leave me a comment! More posts about my week-long visit to Hangzhou and Suzhou are on their way too.