Not every experience on your China vacation needs to be a long one, there are many things you can see and do during a China tour that can be ticked off in a few short minutes. We've put together a list of travel experiences for China's special administrative region, Hong Kong, which can all be done in very short trips. These are some of the best ways to get maximum value from your time in China.
Take a Trip on the Star Ferry
It only cost about 30 cents and it may be the shortest trip you take in China. The Star Ferry runs across the harbor in Hong Kong and the travel time is only 7 minutes. On the way you'll see the iconic shoreline on both sides of the harbor in all its glory. The best time to jump on the ferry is about 8 in the evening when they park up for a few minutes so you can take pictures of the nightly fireworks, lasers and light show that lights up the buildings around the harbor.
Wander Round Chung King Mansions
China's not famous for its cultural diversity but it is estimated that people from at least 120 countries will pass through this bargain basement traveler's mecca which can be found only a short walk from the Star Ferry terminal in Tsim Tsa Tsui. If you're looking for the cheapest possible mobile phones then this is the destination for you. China buys up all Europe's "14-Day Returns" and sells them out of the shopping mall here. You won't want to stay all day but it's a fascinating way to see how immigrant life plays out in Hong Kong.
Drink Ying-Yang at Tsui Wah (Near Central in Hong Kong)
If you want to see what life was like before the locals could take a vacation outside of Hong Kong then you might want to check out this old-school "Cha Chan Teng". They were originally designed to give locals a slice of "Western-life" but today they are considered to be totally ironic. This is kitsch China style and while you may not want to actually eat anything here – you can grab a cup of ying-yang (that's coffee and tea in the same glass) and enjoy the company of Chinese folks going retro for a few minutes.
Take a Hong Kong Heli-Tour
This tour only lasts 15 minutes and while it will make a lasting impression on your senses – it will also make a lasting impression on your wallet at $850 a head! You can arrange the trip so that the helicopter picks you up from the famous Peninsula Hotel and then take all the photos you can of the most expensive journey you can make on your China visit.
Take in the View from the Top of IFC Mall (Central Train Station, Hong Kong)
If you want to see the best of Hong Kong for absolutely no investment; you can just jump in the elevator at Central Station's IFC Mall. This is the China that most Chinese dream of and it's yours for free. There are restaurants and cafes galore but there's no requirement to stop and eat or drink if you don't want to. There aren't many views in China as spectacular as this one that are so completely affordable.
A China vacation's not complete without taking time out from your Mainland China tour in Hong Kong. It's a trip between the polar extremes of old China and the modernity and luxury of the old colony. Before you travel to China you might want to know a bit more about Hong Kong – so we've put together some fun facts for you.
- When you take a trip on The Peak Tram you're taking a journey on China's oldest cable railroad. You're in good company 4 million people ride this route every year.
- Professor Charles Kao is from Hong Kong and he won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics. His contribution to society? Fiber optic communications. Without his work – you wouldn't be able to call home on Skype during your China vacation.
- You may find that Hong Kong Chinese take their Feng Shui very seriously; so please don't move objects around in people's homes or in public spaces. In fact during government construction projects there is always a separate budget put aside to pay compensation for disturbing other resident's Feng Shui.
- One thing you might want to know as you travel round China's special administrative region is that "Hong Kong" means "fragrant harbor". The locals claim that this is due to the incense trade of days gone by.
- Get down to the Robot Kitchen for a meal during your China tour and you'll be waited on by Robot Waiters! Really. Best of all, there's no need to tip!
- The most populous place on earth is Mong Kok in Hong Kong. In a single square kilometer you'll have to rub elbows with more than 130,000 people! Strangely despite the sometime cramped city streets – Hong Kong is not the most densely packed place on earth (which is Delhi) because there's so much green, uninhabited space that's considered to be part of the city too.
- If you get a chance to travel out of the city then you'll discover that nearly ¾ of Hong Kong is that green space we just mentioned. China's SAR is home to over 20 natural parks and has 4 marine parks too!
- Hong Kong is a 24 hour city and if you know where to go there's always something happening. This makes it a China vacation hotspot for insomniacs as well as those looking for the glitzier side of Chinese life!
- Lantau (a stone's throw from Hong Kong island) is also home to the longest bi-cable ride in all of the Asian continent.
- There is a restaurant in Hong Kong for every 600 people living there! That makes it one of the most "food dense" places in the world and ensures that you'll never be stuck for choice when it comes to dining out!
- The "Symphony of Lights" on the Harbor is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show in the World!
- The number one source of tourist for Hong Kong is the mainland. With nearly 30 million visitors a year coming over the border from Shenzhen; Chinese tourists outnumber all the other nations visiting Hong Kong combined!
As you'll soon find out during your China vacation there's one thing that unites Chinese people from all over China – the chance to have a little flutter. The only trouble is that gambling is illegal on the mainland so the Chinese have to travel to Hong Kong or Macau to indulge their passion. Macau may be famous for its casinos but there's more fun to be had over in Hong Kong during your China tour – a day out at the horse races at Happy Valley is truly memorable. So if you have time on your China trip you might want to jump on the MRT and head over and here's why.
About Happy Valley
Happy Valley was a legacy of British colonialism. The first horse races held here began in 1845. The whole track is constructed on reclaimed land. Thanks to a series of fires the original stadium is no longer available and you won't be able to sit on bamboo mats down the side of the course (probably to the relief of your back). The Happy Valley facility was rebuilt completely in 1995 and is considered to be one of the finest race courses in the world today.
If your China vacation doesn't coincide with the horse racing; don't despair. You can watch rugby, football, hockey and more on the inner field at Happy Valley when the races are off. However, if your China tour does give you the timing to visit a horse race you'll be sharing the stands with 55,000 highly-enthusiastic Chinese punters cheering on the horses. It's a very friendly affair but be careful not to engage in conversation unless someone speaks to you first – it might be considered "bad luck".
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Archive and Museum
For those with an interest in the esoteric history of gambling in China you could do worse than a trip to the museum at the Happy Valley racecourse. The Jockey Club holds all the gaming licenses for the whole of Hong Kong and they also run the lottery and the bookmakers found around town. The museum is a pleasant enough diversion before the races in the evening and you should be able to travel out an hour or two early and make it comfortable around all four of the exhibits.
- The Origin of Horses – The migration of the horse through China and into Hong Kong
- The Construction of Sha Tin – How the Sha Tin race course (the other major course in China's SAR) was designed and built
- Understanding Horses – This perhaps the nicest part of a tour of the museum though the skeleton of the three-time champion "Silver Lining" is a little out of place.
- History of the Jockey Club – A straightforward walk through the "selected details" of the institution's past
You want to visit Happy Valley on your China vacation if you enjoy the experience of live events and the roar of crowds. You'll make new friends and enjoy a chance to see how a very British pastime became part of the Orient for good. Gambling is completely optional.
Everyone who takes a vacation in China quickly comes to realize how rapidly the nation is developing. China wants to be number one at pretty much everything today if not sooner. That means your China tour will be full of fun facts and interesting modern sights. What you might not discover during your China travels is how many world records China has broken recently. However, if you get a chance during your China trip you might be able to track down the Chinese book of records; Chinness.
China's World Records
We've looked at some of the really impressive records China holds, like the world's largest building here on the blog recently. What we haven't done is taken a tour of some of the stranger records the country holds. So let's take a quick trip through the five strangest Chinese entries in the Guinness Book of World Records.
- Wei Shengchu took a vacation to Milan where he became the first person from China to stick over 2,000 needles in his head. That's right his record comes from driving 2009 needles into his face and scalp.
- Tang Guaoi from Beijing didn't trip once during the time he spent with a full glass of wine resting on a board balancing on his forehead. He stood there for 68 minutes like that.
- She Ping on the other hand wasn't going anywhere when he took the record for covering himself in live bees. More than 300,000 bees (over 70lbs) gave China one of the most curious records of them all.
- A trip to the beach gave just over 1,000 people the record for walking backwards in Shanghai back in 2012.
- China is also distinguished by a record number of tents forming a jigsaw puzzle; 900 of them to be precise.
The Chiness Book of Records
As you might be able to imagine these records are not a huge source of national pride in China. In fact it's unlikely that anyone would mention them during your vacation. The country is however very hungry for recognition. So hungry that it started its own book of records in which the only records mentioned are Chinese records.
The records within are somewhat more staid but speak to the ambition of the Chinese to be taken seriously in this matter. Let's take a quick tour of some of those records:
- CSomeone learned to recite Pi to over 20,000 places. That's quite a bit short of the Guinness record which is held by a Japanese chap who managed 100,000 places.
- CSomeone managed to carve nearly 800 Chinese characters on a bit of rock 1cm square. There's no equivalent record because Chinese characters are very different from Roman letters.
- Chinese man does just over 40 one finger pushups in 40 seconds, which pales in comparison to the 124 done in a minute by the Guinness world record holder.
As you can see the Chiness is for the moment a matter of national pride but given the investment the nation is making in development – it's probably only a matter of time before it rivals its better known global companion.
Returning to our history tour of China's dynasties today we're going to take a trip back into China's past and look at the period of the Southern and Northern dynasties (420-589 A.D.) You should be able to see plenty of the works left behind by this part of China's history during your vacation. This is the time in which the Han Chinese would travel across the country and become the dominant people of Southern China as well as Northern China.
As you might expect China was divided into two states for this period – the North and South. It was a time of nearly endless military tours of the country conducting a full-scale civil war. If you'd taken a vacation in China back then you would have found a country in political chaos but with a keen eye for cultural, technological and artistic development. It was also the time when Buddhism and Daoism would travel from India into China and take hold in many parts of the nation.
The Southern Dynasties
The failure of the Eastern Jin Dynasty when Liu Yu seized the throne split China in two. In the South of the country the Liu Song rose to power and were followed by the Southern Qi, the Liang and then the Chen. All of them were based from Jiankang at one point or another and thus are considered to be "the Southern Dynasties".
Liu Yu founded the Liu Song and was considered a generally competent Emperor. He was terrified of losing control of the Kingdom he ruled and would have his own family assassinated regularly to preserve his power. His line would continue until the Emperor Houfei was deposed by a rival general who crowned himself Emperor Gao of the Southern Qi nearly 50 years later.
The Southern Qi only had brief trip in the Imperial role for China. Gao's grandsons triggered another civil war and they were quickly overthrown by Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty.
Wu was perhaps the best of the leaders of the Southern Dynasties. He is famed for caring for his people and trying to reduce the conflict in the country. Sadly for Wu he failed and starved to death during a siege of Jianking. Fighting continued until the Emperor Wu of the Chen dynasty prevailed. The dynasty would fall to the Sui forces when they finally took Jianking and reunited China.
The Northern Dynasties
The Northern Wei united Northern China and began the sinicization of the country. It is their influence that allowed the Han Chinese to travel freely and slowly exert a strong hold on the nation. They were also responsible for some of the finest Buddhist art, much of which you will see on your vacation, and for the general acceptance of Buddhism as a religion in China.
Internal conflict was responsible for the collapse of this dynasty and provided the opportunity for the Northern Qi to seize the throne. The Northern Qi lasted only 25 years as the family split and the breakaway branch The Northern Zhou would reconquer them almost immediately. They lasted only 6 years before the Emperor Wen of Sui took the North and then the South of China.
If you're booking your China vacation now and you want to know what events you can catch during your China tour; then we've got a quick round up of what's planned in Shanghai in 2014. Travel in China is always fascinating but if you want a little extra on your trip then don't forget these dates. Just make sure that China's biggest city is in your travel plans.
Shanghai International Fashion Festival
This one's in March and will be held in the Shanghai Expo grounds. If you time your vacation for this festival you'll be able to check out how China is slowly catching up with New York, Paris and Milan for world class fashion. Of course, the vast majority of the show is aimed at international buyers but casual visitors are welcome to come and check out the catwalk talents too.
Shanghai International Flower Festival
A firm favorite if your China tour allows the time for a visit here in April. This festival is a little way out of the city center but it may be one of the finest displays of natural beauty in the country. The carpets of flowers combined with the scent of exquisite bouquets are incredibly memorable.
Shanghai International Tea Culture Festival
If your trip is in April you might want to check this festival out; it highlights the most important drink in China –tea. You'll be able to try blends and leaves from all over the country and get caught up in a lot of history regarding the plant.
Shanghai International Music Festival
This is simply splendid and a great reason to book your vacation in May. With music and performers from the entirety of China giving demonstrations of everything from classical opera to modern pop, it should be unmissable.
Shanghai International Film Festival
This event in June is supposed to be the world's fastest growing tribute to the cinema. It's the largest festival of its kind in Asia and it pays tribute to the emerging world of Chinese modern film. You really shouldn't miss it if you're in town at the time.
Shanghai International Arts Festival (And Art Fair)
The Festival runs from October to November so there's plenty of time to schedule it in during your China travel but the Fair is only open for 3 days in November. There's something for everyone with both local and international talents represented in all the arts. It's one of the largest events in Shanghai and it should be easy to find something to your tastes that fits in with your tour schedule.
Shanghai Fitness Festival
With a mixture of the weird and the wonderful from Chinese sport you may be able to catch a great martial arts display or dragon dancing performance in November. You may also find that China's greatest passion, table tennis, dominates the events a bit.
Whenever you time your visit to Shanghai there's bound to be something that adds a little extra sparkle to your trip round the nation's financial capital.