Entering Tsim Sha Sui metro, it was a good ten minute walk which led us underground and through the long walkways that would take us to the platform. It is always so surprising to see the number of commuters hurrying along below street level whilst those above continue to work their way through the hustle and bustle of the city. As with anything, the first time you do a route it feels like it takes forever but in fact it was not long before we were buying our ticket and jumping on the tube that would take us to Hung Hom. As we arrived, it was clear that there was plenty to do and it was really geared up for the main train services it provided to mainland China. There’s no chance of you going hungry as there’s a Starbucks, McDonalds, a few local brands and you can stock up on every essential you may need for the journey as there’s a chemist, 7/11, currency exchange and tour office. We made the decision to head straight for the ticket desk and dealt with a really helpful lady who spoke great English (we were conscious it would not be this straightforward to communicate with staff once we left the city). The journey was only going to take us two hours so we opted for the cheapest ticket available which ended up costing us $192 HK each (£14.82). Trains through to Guangzhou leave pretty frequently, there’s normally one about every hour so we had plenty of choice on what time to leave, opting for one midday so that we did not need to rush getting ready.
Anyway, back to the present day. We had been quite good and got most of the organising done last night. There was just one last chance to have egg tarts for breakfast so I took the dodgy rickety lift downstairs and popped into the Macanese restaurant next door to grab our final stash. With just enough time for one last use of the Nespresso machine and to take advantage of the high speed Wi-Fi, we were soon handing in our key cards and setting off on our next adventure. Now, when we first mentioned to people that China was on our itinerary, there were a few mixed feelings about it. Our travel agent had strongly recommended that we do the country as part of an organised tour as it was very difficult to navigate and with few people speaking any English, may prove to be a problem. One couple we met on the trip even said that they had not been brave enough to visit the country yet, but we just kept thinking, it can’t be that hard and after speaking to a friend who had lived out there for months, made the decision to do it by ourselves, that way we had more freedom to do it our way. What we would say though is entering the unknown was a little daunting and deep down we knew our instincts would be right but until we got there it was always going to be a wonder of what China had in store for us, now was the time to find out.
Arriving at the station with plenty of time, we grabbed some supplies and waited until it was our turn to join the departure queue. The terminal is very much set up similar in style to an airport. We had to go through a security machine and our bags were put through the x-ray scanner. From there we entered a smaller waiting area which was purely for those leaving on the next train. They tend to recommend that you make sure you are through at least 30 minutes before, just in case there are delays processing people through security. Grabbing a seat, it didn’t take long before people on mass, stood up and started heading for the escalators, we guessed that was the sign for us to go to. Along the platform there were members of staff ready to direct us to our carriage. It was a double decker train so we managed to find a space to put the backpacks and headed downstairs to grab our seat. The train itself was really good. The seats were comfy with plenty of leg room and I don’t know what we were expecting but it was much better than we had thought it would be. There were both western and squat toilets in each carriage and a lady was constantly up and down the carriage as she went to clean them. Each seat had a drop down table so we used it for watching a film on the computer to pass the time. A stewardess came round with complimentary water for everyone and there was also an on board menu if you wanted any hot drinks or snacks delivered to you.
It soon became clear that we had left Hong Kong behind us as the style of buildings and scenery began to change. You could not argue with the train’s efficiency as before we knew it we were pulling in to Guangzhou station. Now it may have been a bit presumptuous of us to think that there would be quite a lot of westerners using the train service, in fact, there was probably only a handful of us on the entire train. Entering the terminal, we again had to go through a number of security procedures including immigration, well there was no turning back now, heehee. Getting our next stamp in the passport (we love that part), it was the first time we had encountered sniffer dogs, but after a quick wiz around us, the pooch seemed happy enough to let us on our way. As you head for the exit, you will be targeted by taxi touts wanting to take you at inflated prices. The trick is not to be fooled and continue on to the outside area where you will always find an organised, legal taxi rank area. All the other westerners seemed to have pre-arranged transport which collected them but we were sticking to the plan and joined the long queue. Slowly but surely we gradually made our way to the front where an officer directed us to a waiting vehicle. You have to be quite quick about it as the cars are stopped at traffic lights so we threw the bags in the boot and leaned over to show our driver the address we had for our hotel which we had photographed from our booking confirmation. We had assumed that this would be okay but this was our first Chinese lesson. Unfortunately and unknown to us the address was written in Mandarin. We had assumed it would be in Cantonese and we knew that this was the dialect spoken in Guangzhou, oops and our poor driver didn’t speak any English. He tried to signal for us to phone our hotel so that he could speak to them but as we had decided against a phone on this trip, could not call. Spotting that we had an issue, the officer came over who could just about understand the situation and said something to the driver. Well, as the lights turned green we were off but had no idea if we were actually heading in the right direction; this was going to be interesting!
Using Guangzhou as a quick stop over, we had decided to stay at the Crown Plaza next to the airport as we were due to fly out the following day. As we travelled through the city, the driver still looked quite bemused and at times a little worried as we think he was wondering what to do with us if he couldn’t work out where the hotel was. From looking at the pictures on the motorway signs we knew we were heading in the right direction as there were aeroplane pictures throughout the journey. We agreed that if we could not find it we would have to impersonate a plane to get him to take us to the airport and find someone who spoke English there instead. About 50 minutes into the journey we knew it could not be much further and so kept our eyes peeled for any hotel symbol we recognised. Turning onto a main highway, Az suddenly called out and pointed to a building, there it was just up the road. You have never seen such a relieved taxi driver in your life and he had the biggest smile on his face, phew! Pulling into the entrance we were greeted by a member of staff and made our way inside. Now you may be thinking that the Crown Plaza was a little bit flashpacker for us backpackers but there was little choice and this was the cheapest option. Heading up to our room, it was a fantastic surprise to see the amazing room we had. A study area, massive comfy bed, huge plasma and a bathroom with, yes you have guessed it a bath, heaven.
For the rest of the night we joked about how the day had certainly been an interesting start to our Chinese adventure. Enjoying some good food and pampering, we used the time to make sure that we were a little more prepared for tomorrow and sat back and enjoyed what we must say has got to be the best airport hotel we have ever stayed in, China, we think we are going to like you.