CROSSING THE BORDER
Once off the metro from Hong Kong to the border of Hong Kong & mainland China, we crossed through immigration & customs to find ourselves on the other side of the boarder in a mega transit center on the edge of Shenzhen. When I say a mega transit center that is exactly what I mean. It is a center that encompasses bus, train, & taxi transits and is the size of most airports I’ve been in.
TICKETS, TAXIS, & RELAXATION
Keep your passport handy, you will need it for everything you do from money exchange & hotels to train tickets. First things first, make sure you transfer $ from Hong Kong or your home currency to Chinese Yuen. You won’t get far if you don’t do this first. Most places do not take cards. Before going up to the money exchange counter find out what the current exchange rate is. It is highly likely that on this side of the border that the money exchanges will try to short change you if you do not know approximately what you’re to get back. From there go directly to the ticket booth for purchasing your train tickets if that is how you plan to travel to your destination. We were headed to Yangshuo, Guanxi Province and due to the distance decided that the high speed train was the best route. To get to Yangshuo by bus expect around 10 hours but by high speed train into Guilin it’s 4 hours then another 2 by taxi or bus. When we finally found the ticket booth (yes things are a bit hectic and since very few people speak English it can take a bit of time to find the correct ticket booth. Be patient you will get there, I know you’re probably exhausted from carrying your luggage, early metro rides, & customs/immigration but push on.) we found that there were no tickets for that day. From what I’ve read this is fairly common, but due to possible hang ups on the metro or at the boarder I do not recommend pre-purchasing tickets, wouldn’t want you to pay for tickets and then get hung up & miss your train. Instead we purchased tickets for the following day, which after seeing the size of the stations, the fact that we had to travel to Shenzhen North Station to get our train, & overall exhaustion I’m thankful we left the next day instead of that same day.
You see to get the train to Guilin we had to get a taxi to Shenzhen North Station which is on the other side of the city. First lesson about China, be sure you are getting a legitimate taxi not one of the random people trying to offer taxi rides. We did not know there was a difference here and ended up in a car with a lady who had no idea how to drive let alone how to follow a gps. This meant after seeing her pass several signs that said Shenzhen North Station we had to direct her to the correct place. The sim card I recommended previously came in very handy here. Once we got to the correct station we decided to figure out where we needed to go the next day since the station is so big. I highly recommend this especially if you have an early train. All along the way relax go at an easy pace no need to rush any of this. We sat down several times along the way to relax with a hot drink or get something to eat. This is a several hour process but that’s why it’s good to purchase tickets for the following day.
Once you have figured out where you need to go when it’s time to leave, look for a hotel close by. Yes hotel not hostel, for a few reasons. First, there are no real travelers hostels around. We found one but it turned out to be a place for students not for travelers & we couldn’t seem to find it in person anyways. Secondly hotels are cheap here so no reason to look for a hostel anyways. We found a nice hotel only a few blocks away from the station for around $300CYN or at the time of this writing $45USD. It was a nice hotel and it felt fantastic to have a nice place to clean up and rest up before leaving on the train the next morning. Expect anywhere you stay for the bed to be incredibly hard. This is not a mistake on the hotel’s part or an oversight in their planning, this is part of their culture. To alleviate the shock of this on our bodies as much as possible it helps to sleep on an extra blanket and use another one to cover up with.
By the time we were checked in and all said & done it was dinner time so after a short nap to rejuvinate we walked around and found a charming local resturaunt. Do not expect anyone to speak English you’re pretty much on your own to pointing at pictures but that’s part of the experience so take it all in & enjoy it. Use your HK sim card to pull up google translate if need be (it will come in very handy in a lot of situations). If you are a breakfast person and have an early train purchase something from one of the bakeries the night before for that morning as nothing opens before 7.
*Expect as a foreigner not fluent in the language or customs or prices for things like taxis to take advantage of you. Try to avoid it when possible but remember at the end of the day it was a learning experience and try to do better next time, but although frustrating it’s really not that big of a deal if the cabby charges you a bit more than he’d have charged a local. If you got there safely and at what you considered a reasonable price take that lesson to the next taxi and learn from it eventually getting fair prices.
HIGH SPEED RAIL FROM SHENZHEN
Our train from Shenzhen left at an early 7:20am, but as discussed earlier the station is massive, so I highly recommend getting there early & treating it as you would a flight. We arrived at 5:30 but the gates do not open before 6. Lines were backed up early though so I still would get there before 6 if you have an early train. You will go through a security and ticket check similar to an airport and then you will see a board that will list the gates & destinations. Go to the gate where you will be leaving from and relax. You will not check your luggage anywhere, instead you will need to find an area on the train once you board to put your luggage out of the way. There’s a decent area to buy food but again it’s pointing so try to experiment and not get frustrated if you do not get exactly what you were hoping for it’s all an experiment when you don’t know the language.
Once in Shenzhen we had Omeida Chinese Academy in which we are volunteering with schedule us a taxi ahead of time so that we would not have to struggle going to find a bus into Yanshuo then to the academy. The taxi waited for us at the exit of the train with a sign with our name on it. It was a long interesting taxi ride into Yangshuo. Depending on where you have traveled in the past you will either find the traffic here terrifying or hilarious or maybe even both.
After a very long journey from Hawaii to Hong Kong to Shenzhen to Guilin we have finally arrived in Yangshuo. Remember, sometimes things take a bit more effort than you expected and sometimes communication doesn’t happen but keep trying and keep smiling. It’s all part of this wonderful wanderful life & the lessens travel brings with it.