Another ‘reading’ week, another week of very little reading. There was no time for studying – I still had one remaining entry on my Chinese visa. When I visited China back in October, I’d flown up to the capital but this time I was seeing the country using my favourite method of travel – train. Ever since my infatuation with Thomas the Tank Engine as a child, I’ve loved trains and travelling on them just seems so much more relaxing than planes, cars or buses. As such, my plan was to travel overland from Hong Kong to China’s third biggest city, Guangzhou, which is located just over the Chinese border.
Following Guangzhou, I will take a sleeper train to the central city of Zhangjiajie, home to China’s most iconic national park and the inspiration for the blockbuster film Avatar (which I still haven’t seen). For now though, I had to make the journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, making use of the 2 hour high speed train which departs from Hung Hom (at the beginning of the turquoise East Rail Line). Arriving at Hung Hom, take Exit C and then head to the ticketing desk where a single ticket to Guangzhou East Station costs $190. I was told to get there 45 minutes before but when I arrived they were still accepting people for the train which left in 20 minutes. I decided not to risk it after doing a similar thing in Beijing and missing my train, so opted for the slightly later train. The trains are really regular, departing pretty much every hour.
It’s definitely the slowest ‘high speed’ train I’ve ever been on. It was pretty much crawling for most of the journey, though we made it to Guangzhou in just over 2 hours. It was a really nice train – plenty of leg room and a free bottle of water. Take note, Virgin. I stayed in a nice flat in Taojin (Line 5 on the subway) courtesy of Airbnb, which was a great location – midway between the two train stations I’d be using during my stay. There are also loads of shops and restaurants in Taojin as it used to be the city centre, so it was a great base.
By the time I got settled, it was almost evening so I went out for a wander. My first trip when I got to the city was to get away from the city by visiting Shamian Island (Huangsha subway station, Line 6), which is the pride of Guangzhou. Crossing a bridge, you escape the bustle of the city and are walking amongst colonial buildings and peaceful waters. The greens are just that little bit greener over here, with calm parks, nice views out to the water and a good choice of eateries. It makes for a great stroll.
As night fell, I went over to the city proper, walking for what must have been a few kilometres along the river. Guangzhou doesn’t quite match Hong Kong’s skyline but it’s a great walk. Their bridges dazzle with every colour, as do some of the pavements, their national stadium and of course the city’s iconic Canton Tower, the top of which was shrouded in cloud and mist. I keep comparing China to Europe but it did feel like that. It was hard to believe it’s the country’s third biggest city as it’s just so calm.