In February of this year, I was lucky enough to explore Eastern Asia with my dad. We started in Hong Kong before going on to Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei. I had never been to Asia before, and while the well-trodden gap year routes of South East Asia are well publicisied, I had no idea what to expect of the more foreign cities of China and Taiwan.
Arriving into Hong Kong, my dad tried to explain to me numerous times that this was actually a separate country to China, therefore quite different from the other cities we were going to visit. Although it had a growing Chinese population, Hong Kong is know for the expat community throughout the city, which gave the place a slightly more Anglicised feel. Don’t go imagining London or Paris however, this was a world away from Europe. The smaller streets on Kowloon side, with the many Chinese signs hanging across the roads, and shops selling everything from antique pennies to dried foods I couldn’t even attempt to recognise, was a sensory experience like none I had ever had. I found something so beautiful in the Chinese characters found everywhere from street signs to menus, that were so artistic yet impossible to decipher.
Hong Kong didn’t feel like a huge city, it felt like somewhere you could really get to know and learn to love. Although I was only there for three days, I certainly felt as if it was somewhere I would love to live in the future, and discover more of its quirks, culture and amazing food!
Amazing panoramic view of the city. The tram travels up through the tropical greenery which is scattered across the city. The higher you get up the hill, the more expensive the property becomes. You are able to walk up or down from the peak, or do what we did and walk halfway then take the tram the rest of the way!
Star Ferry across to Kowloon
One of the TripAdvisor top 50 things to do in Hong Kong. Kowloon itself is interesting – smaller streets and feels like an older district than Hong Kong side.
One of the upper class districts of Hong Kong, known for its large expat community. The Stanley Market is not to be missed – unique Asian clothes, art and jewellery. Try out your hand at haggling!
Little Bao was one of the best restaurants we visited – try it for a trendy Asian fusion experience. See my review of the restaurant here.
After Hong Kong, believing I knew more of what to expect from China, I arrived in Beijing completely overwhelmed by the masses of people coming from all angles. I knew that it was one of the busiest places in the world, yet in reality it is so much more overwhelming than you expect. As a people, the Chinese are much more pushy, loud and rude than any other people I have encountered, yet this is understandable if you had grown up in a place as populated as Beijing. Although initially quite a shock, I grew used to people’s behaviour but after a few days I began to tire of it as I had to push and shout to be heard.
In my naivety of what to expect from this completely alien country, I had no clue what the weather would be like. It was freezing, honestly one of the coldest places I had been to. It was winter when we went but the city was so much colder than my home in England. Lesson learned – pack lots of layers and a hat if you visit in February!
The city was much older than Hong Kong, with large streets edged with proud buildings with ornate, sloping roofs. This was more like the China you see in the movies.
Great Wall of China
Take a day out of your time in Beijing to visit this wonder. We hired a private guide for the day which was worth every penny, as we could go at our own pace. We stopped off at a Jade Factory on the way to the wall which was an interesting insight into this Chinese trade. One the way back to the city, we had a tea ceremony which was something else not to be missed as we were educated as to all the different teas drunk and sold in China.
Another amazing historical insight into the imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty. Amazing architecture and design. A true Chinese experience.
I recommend XiBei XiBei Cai for amazing noodles and pork sandwiches.
1949 specialises in Peking Duck. The dinner we had there was an exciting experience in itself – our duck was delivered to our table with the announcement of a gong sound, with the chef carving it at our table.
Instead of flying, my dad and I decided to take the high speed train to Shanghai – why would we turn down another new exciting first? I am not exaggerating when I say that the train station in Beijing was the busiest place I had been to in my life. There were people swarming the huge space, and for some reason most of these people were taking photos of anything they could see. The arrivals board. The waiting area. The queue to get on the train. They took a photo of it. I was baffled why they felt the need to document EVERYTHING they did. What on earth would you do with a picture of a dustbin on your phone? But they were all doing it so there must be some reason for it.
Shangai was more Alglicised than Beijing, and although it felt like a large daunting city, it was more similar to Hong Kong in the fact that it was modern and well sign posted!
Oriental Pearl Tower
An iconic building. Go up to the glass viewing deck about two thirds up for a stomach churning view of the city beneath your feet.
Yu Yuan Gardens
A highlight of my time in Shanghai! Beautiful gardens that once served as the summer gardens for an emperor. The surrounding streets are worth a look, as they sell handcrafted souvenirs, much nicer than the tacky stuff on offer elsewhere. The City God temple is right next to the gardens and is an interesting old temple right in the centre of a maze of streets.
For the one day we were in Taipei, I was guided around the city by two of my dad’s Taiwanese work colleagues. This was both very exciting and very daunting. It gave a proper insight into the city from a local’s point of view – I was able to point at anything I saw and say ‘translate that’, which was as close as I’m going to get to reading those arty yet indecipherable characters. However, they threw me in at the deep end with a meal in their favourite restaurant. Very thoughtful and kind of them, but they ordered CHICKEN TESTICLES. It was a difficult meal to say the least, but I can’t complain that I didn’t get a full insight into their lives.
We took a glass-bottomed gondola up the Making mountain, where we visited the temple at the top. It is well signposted on the gondola, and there are various other attractions up the hillside so it it a good activity to do with amazing views of the city beneath.