‘The last time I visited China was back in 2006 where I went went to Guangxi/Hanoi to see the famous waterfalls (De Tian Pu Bu). Prior to that, I visited Beijing in 2002. Yep – that’s me and China. I’m always reserving my visits to ‘China’ to ‘when I’m older’.
Well, my decision to (finally) visit China again was not really for ‘travel and leisure’ like I do for most of my trips but.. I guess it makes it easier when you have friends working there and.. accommodation was kind of free. Despite my unenthusiasm, my trip turned out really well – thanks to my awesome tour guide from Xin Travels and the two friends that worked there. For the first time ever, the only thing I did for this trip was to book the air tickets. Everything else was planned and settled by my tour guide, which was my super enthusiastic and detailed friend.
In this post, I would like to share some thoughts I have about the trip (some of my friends feel that I’m super suaku in certain aspects) plus I’ll end off with my 5-day itinerary.
China is very advanced in mobile payments and technology
In China (or at least the places I visited – Shanghai, Hangzhou & Suzhou), you will see QR code everywhere. It’s amazing how the country (or rather the 2 giants – tencent and alipay) manage to shift the habits of both consumers and merchants to go cashless and transact via mobile payment. Even one of the taxi driver we met in Hangzhou talked about LHL visiting Shanghai and being very impressed with the cashless society and that how he mentioned it in his National Day rally. I guess the people in China pay attention to our local news to a certain extent. Anyway, so we kind of look like Chinese so most sales staff will automatically presume that we are from China and when we want to make payment, they will ask like “WeChat or Alipay” and we will reply; sorry we are tourists.. cash? (How awkward..)
Even in the restaurants, you have to order your food or call for the service staff by scanning the QR code on your table. I believe the places I visited were pretty local. Somehow I really wonder how will a tourist without knowledge of mandarin survive..
My friend buys her arcade tokens online and scans her phone at the machine to retrieve her tokens. At restaurants/cafe, you might be asked to follow their ‘WeChat’ page in exchange for free wifi. Everywhere you go, you will see QR codes. I guess this is where the smart nation is progressing.
Tourists (without china bank account or mobile number) don’t get benefits nor discounts
So.. you know how China creates their own version of everything (WeChat for Whatsapp; Weibo for Twitter etc..), they aren’t exactly ready to share their technology with the world; well not yet. As a tourists without a china bank account or mobile number, you will be put in a highly disadvantaged position. You can’t book their “didi” (their form of uber/grab) without a china mobile phone, you cannot link your overseas credit or debit card to the payment options like WeChat/AliPay. So even their form of food ‘groupon’ called ‘da zhong dian ping’ which gives like reviews of dining places plus an option to buy discount vouchers; is not available for tourists who can’t make payment in China. I haven’t found a way to get around it yet but.. do tell me if you know how. Thankfully for us, we had friends who were working in Shanghai and they booked the train tickets for us, sourced for app discount vouchers plus booked all the taxis when required. Without them, we would have probably spend a lot more..
Declaring my love for VPN
So there was a very important meeting during the time when were were there. And.. they decided to block WhatsApp, on top of the already blocked Google, Facebook and Instagram. Social Media is kind of half my life so prior to my trip, i downloaded 3 VPN apps. Thankfully, perhaps 75% of the time, my VPN was working well and I can continue my daily Instagram story update. Anyway, it seems like the great firewall of China is only able to block app usage. My friends and I could still receive notifications on our homescreen for Instagram but when you click on it, nothing loads. Apparently, notification center for specific apps can’t be blocked by VPN. At least, not when I visited. Also, one annoying thing about using VPN in Chin is that you will have difficulty using the chinese app. So you will have to toggle your VPN off in order to access the chinese apps. It is that complicated.. but can you go on a social media detox? Well, I can’t.
Security is tight everywhere
In China (or at least the cities I’ve been to), there will be bag checks whenever you enter the train station (including the local trains). When it comes to the big railway stations (inter-city), the scan is even stricter and you may be asked to remove your shoes or jacket. Apparently, this has been enforced for a long time already but I was unaware since I haven’t visited China for such a long time. Do keep this in mind when you’re traveling because you need to cater extra time to queue. Then again, if you are in a rush, you can always ‘cut the queue’ by telling people that you are late. So far, the people there have been rather accommodating to these ‘latecomers’ who appear to be rushing for trains/flights.. It’s not difficult to be a ‘latecomer’ right. hmm.
Expensive Bubble Tea is trendy (HEY TEA)
In Singapore we have KOI and GongCha (or perhaps the less popular LiHo), but over in China (or at least in Shanghai), they have this ultra popular 1-hour wait HEY TEA. My friend told us that she queued 1 hour on a weekend for this tea and we visited on a Monday afternoon and had to wait for 20 minutes too. Anyway, this brand’s signature would be the cheese foam (which tastes really awesome). I tried the chocolate + cheese foam which was a little overkill but the taste was really awesome. I mean, the LiHo one left 0 impression in me but the one from HEY TEA was like ‘wow’ for me. Disclaimer: you gotta be a cheese lover to like it. Apart from the cheese foam, it brand also specializes in fruity teas and unlike Singapore, they do not have toppings (like pearls or jelly). No doubt, it is pricey – at 15 – 35 RMB ($3 to $7), but I guess the people in Shanghai are willing to pay a premium for quality. I’ve tried other brands as well, but nothing is as memorable as HEY TEA. If you’re planning to try, do set aside sufficient time for queueing.
(Bonus) The UFO toy catcher machines are awesome
Been trying to upload this video since forever but the Code V is like extremely unstable for me the whole of yesterday. Well, this is a #lategram from my second night of arcade visit in Shanghai. Can’t wait to continue my arcade invasion tonight (my last night) when I’m back in Shanghai again. #ufocatcher #flyhoneystarschina #flyhoneystarstravel #gengar
Anyway, so my friend discovered this arcade near her accommodation which has quite a good success rate. Nevertheless, skill, time and concentration is required as well. I caught 20+ toys in total and spent about $50-60 SGD on it over 3 nights. Wish I could have taken more sucessful videos like the one above but I had to chiong against time as the arcade closes at midnight every night. Anyway, after various discounts, it was only $0.32 per try on the UFO machine and the tricks it that you get the staff to re-position the toys for you. The sad thing is, you are not able to exchange the toys so you got to be satisfied with the quality (like how one of my toy had lopsided eyes; oh wells).
Day to Day Itinerary
To view my full InstaStory videos – click here.
Day 1 – Wednesday (Shanghai)
[6:05pm] Arrived @ Shanghai
[7:02pm] Train from Pu Dong Airport to Hot Pot place for dinner (yes, with our luggage)
*Note: The 1 hour+ train ride cost us only 7 rmb (SGD $1.40)
[8:15pm] Arrived @ 辣府 La Fu (Mala HotPot) (Link to DianPing in Chinese)
This brand has multiple stores in China. The one we visited was near Huai Hai East Road.
*Note: There is a branch in Singapore too! https://www.facebook.com/SpicyHouseSingapore/
[9:40pm] Walked to accommodation
[10:09pm] Left accommodation, mobike to Arcade
*Note: For mobike in China, I used the same account I created in Singapore. They require me to do a top-up of credits (min. $5) in order to use the bike. $0.20 as deducted per trip.
[10:15pm] Arrive @ Arcade – Started catching toys @ UFO Machine
[11:23pm] moBike back to accommodation
Day 2 – Thursday (Shanghai)
[10:05am] Left accommodation
[10:15am] Arrived at Breakfast place – 顶特勒粥面馆 (Link to DianPing in Chinese)
We had porridge, noodles and ‘lu rou fan’ but nothing left an impression – and we had suspicions that it was full of MSG as we felt so thirsty after that..
[10:49am] Bus to Jade Garden (Yu Yuan)
*Note: Bus rides are 2rmb (regardless of distance)
[11:10am] Explored the area surrounding the garden(which was super crowded).
Queued and ate xiaolongbao (which were nothing special for me)
[12:25pm] Walked to Shanghai ‘The Bund’ aka 上海外滩
[1:20pm] Took the ferry across the Huangpu River
[1:36pm] Took bus to Shopping Mall – 正大广场 Super Brand Mall
- Queued and drank super popular 喜茶 HEY TEA.
We waited for about 20-30 mins and the Cheese foam was really super awesome!
I had the Cacao flavour drink and cheese+chocolate was a pretty heavenly combination!!
*Note: There are many imitations or ‘inspired-by’ brands of HEY TEA. The closest copycat is HEE TEA (which is in Singapore Post Center). Have yet to taste it so I can’t comment on how different it is.
- Lunch @ 耶里夏丽 (Link to DianPing in Chinese) which is a mongolian (Xinjiang) restaurant.
The premium mutton kebab is simply delicious!
Also, there is this starter salad called 水晶冰菜 (Crystalline iceplant) whic is absolutely delicious. How should I describe it. Imagine dew on your greens which is juicy and crunchy when you bite. I’ve only eaten it twice my life (once at Lingzhi vegetarian restaurant) and the second time in this restaurant. I showed my friends the picture and most people haven’t even seen it before. Oh wells, I’m like dying to eat it again and find out more about it but I’ve not chanced upon it in the markets/supermarkets of Singapore..
If we had WeChat pay – we could have self-service and made the payment using our mobile phone (after scanning the QR code on the table).
- Supermarket Shopping @ Lotus
The number of Lays flavours they had was crazy..
[5:40pm] Train to 人民广场 People’s Square
[6:44pm] Dinner @ New World City 新世界. We had yabby 小龙虾 but nothing worth mentioning.
[8:18pm] Arcade time @ same arcade
[9:20pm] Return to accommodation to meet friends
[9:53pm] Supper @ 蟹黄鱼 (Link to DianPing in Chinese)
- This supper place specializes in Crab egg. Since it was the season of hairy crab, the amount of egg they gave was like seriously super value for money!
[10:30pm] Walk around Xin Tian Di 新天地
Day 3 – Friday (Shanghai -> Hangzhou)
[8:38am] Left accommodation
[8:53am] Train to Hongqiao Railway Station
[10:28am] Train from Shanghai to Hangzhou
- 2nd Class Train tickets was 56 rmb; 1 hour train ride. Since we booked kind of late, we all had separated seats.
[11:31am] Train arrived at Hangzhou
[11:45am] Took cab to Airbnb (near touristy Hefang Street)
- This airbnb had good reviews but if I was the one rating, I would have given it a 3 upon 5 stars. Well, towel wasn’t provided and we kind of miscommunicated with the owner. It mentioned that they provided 一次性毛巾 (One time use towel) but it turns out to be those Magic Towel which expands when in contact with water. We ended up buying towels at the night market as the Magic Towel think doesn’t make sense to us.. Furthermore, the bed was like the super hard type. I guess this might be the norm in China but I guess, not for us. Furthermore, the accommodation area was slightly dark at night PLUS it looked really creepy on the outside. I guess we were all used to staying in fanciful places so this was a bit shocking to us. PLUS, my friend had trouble opening the door as the lock was a little rusty. Nevertheless, the location was superb and the pricing was definitely cheaper compared to a hotel.
[1:04pm] Walked along Hefang Street and snacked; continued walking towards West Lake
[1:59pm] Reached West Lake and found a ‘tram’ to hop-on
- Tram/Buggy ride was 60 rmb per person (Price differs when you transit between zones). There is no designated area for boarding and alighting. You simply have to wave and pray hard that there are seats for your group. Otherwise, you’ll just have to continue waiting for the next tram. We had to wait for about 3-4 trams before boarding.
[2:38pm] Arrived at the famous restaurant (楼外楼) to eat their Dongpo Meat. Oh gawd it was legendary. So basically that’s it. Everything else in the menu was meh.
[3:42pm] After lunch, instead of exploring the area, we ended up on a wooden boat. Well, it was supposed to be a 1 hour journey but it got cut short as there was a warning for strong winds. All the boats had to evacuate and base on my phone’s location/timing tracking, our boat ride was only 41 mins but we paid the full price (150rmb) anyway.
[4:23pm] Back on Shore
[4:52pm] Attempted to look for a dessert place.. but failed.
[5:42pm] On our way to the night market, we chanced upon a Food reflexology place and decided to have a break
- Food Massage was 99 rmb each if I don’t recall wrongly. The sofa we sat on was so comfy that my friend was like.. this is even more comfortable than the airbnb beds! The cool thing about massage placs in China (or perhaps this one), is that you get to relax and enjoy the room up to 2 hours after your massage! We had a private room for the 3 of us, which comes with a TV + china cable box – where we ended up watching the last episode of Sing China. Also, there was a sign in the room which says ‘谢绝小费’ which means like refuse tips. I guess tipping culture is not prevelant in China but.. was it necessary to have a sign?
[7:31pm] Walked to Wushan night market. Snacked on some things and bought our towels here.
[8:18pm] Grabbed a cab and went back to Hefang Street (where we started in the day)
[9:34pm] Back to airbnb
Day 4 – Saturday ( Hangzhou -> Suzhou -> Shanghai)
[9:57am] Train from Hangzhou to Suzhou (1 hour 51 mins)
[11:42am] Arrived @ Suzhou
[12:10pm] Taxi to lunch place for Hairy Crabs at Yangcheng Lake – 鱼米之乡十八灶(阳澄湖店) (Link to DianPing in Chinese)
- Note: Taxis in general don’t allow for more than 4 passengers in the car (There were 5 of us). However, when we started requesting for ‘didi’ (china’s equivalent of Grab/Uber without fixed pricing), the drivers were generally fine with squeezing 4 passengers in the backseat.
As it was my first time eating Hairy Crab, we watched the video on YouTube which teaches you how to eat it in the most effective and glam way. This was my final art piece. I guess I’m 80% close.
[2:42pm] Private Car (Didi) to Shantang Street (Tourist area with canals; oh wells Suzhou is kind of like the Venice of China)
[4:41pm] Private Car (Didi) to a Bookworm Cafe
- Okay we kind of had high expectations of this cafe but everything turned out to be a disappointment.
[6:02pm] Walked to dinner place
[6:14pm] Dinner @ 甩辣私房火锅 http://www.dianping.com/shop/72473569
The most amazing thing about this place is that there’s a 32% OFF voucher available on dianping (can only be bought using a china card) and despite ordering premium meat and eating till we’re super full, the bill was about 60 rmb ($12 SGD) each for our group of 5!
Look at the huge amount of premium meat they gave us! Yea, you gotta ‘undress’ barbie to eat the meat. very creative. Got us thinking about the Lady Gaga meat dress a couple of years back.
[8:10pm] Train to Suzhou Station
[9:14pm] Train from Suzhou to Shanghai
[9:39pm] Arrived at Shanghai
[10:09pm] Arrived at accommodation
[10:25pm] moBike to Arcade
[10:37pm] Last & Final arcade session in Shanghai
We caught so many toys that.. my friend had to use a selfie stick to capture this image (so that its like a top down not a slanted angle).
Day 5 – Saturday (Shanghai)
[9:06am] Cab to Breakfast Place
[9:09am] Queue and waited for Jia Jia Tang Bao
(While waiting for Jia Jia Tang Bao, we bought the Sheng Jian Bao from the shop opposite which was quite popular too)
I think we waited about 20-30 minutes for Jia Jia Tang Bao. Oh gosh it was seriously damn good! Especially the crab roe xiao long bao which was like 99rmb but its worth like every bite.
At the end of the session, we each ate 9 xiaolongbaos in total..
[10:45am] Walked to Marriage Market @ People’s Park
The Marraige Market was a short distance away from People’s Park – which was a matchmaking corner where parents meet to find potential matches for their kid (yep, it’s pretty much a one-child thing in China). The walk was pretty interesting – I’m sure there are like few hundred umbrellas with their kids qualification. They will basically post the ‘qualifications’ of their child – age, height, employment status, annual income, whether they own a house or not and sometimes company name (if it was prestigious enough). Some will post a ‘looking for’ request and state their requests which can be somewhat absurd (6-digit annual income in usd) etc. The funny thing is – none of this postings included photographs.. so, I guess paper qualifications is better than.. looks?
There was also an international corner – which I thought was like international but it simply meant that their kids were overseas.
We saw a few ‘Singapore’ listings and because we hovered around too long, the dad of the Singapore posting started talking to us.
He listed her daughter qualifications (behind her daughter’s back and mentioned that her daughter will be so pissed if she finds out) and apparently has been around for quite some time already (so does this mean that the success rate is pretty low?). Anyway, I concluded that he was probably quite well-to-do cause her daugther has her own house in Singapore (should be a condo) and that he visits her pretty often. It was funny because 2 out of the 4 of us were already married and he appeared to be somewhat jealous. My friends were like.. “don’t worry, there are guys in Singapore too.” awww. I hope his daughter never reads my blog cause he will be in for a big scolding if she finds out.. oh wells.
[11:04am] Cab to Tianzifang (french colonial place)
I bought the buns below cause it looks cute. It doesn’t taste nice at all.
[12:38pm] Cab to Cafe @ Fumin Road
[1:43pm] Lunch @ (Jing An)
[2:46pm] Cab back to accommodation
[4:24pm] Accommodation to Airport via Taxi (56 mins car ride)
We each bought a 24 or 26 inch from Taobao to bring all the items we bought from Taobao back home. This was only possible because we had a friend staying there which could help us receive all our deliveries.
[7:00pm] Depart Shanghai Pudong Airport
Data Roaming/WiFi access by GlocalMe
For this trip, I used GlocalMe’s new device – G2.
I will do a full review on a separate post but let me share how awesome this mobile broadband is – despite having a screen, the battery life is extremely good! I never had to charge my portable wifi when I’m out of my accommodation (more than 10 hours a day). I bought the 5Gb package for only 6.50 euros. This is seriously the cheapest package that I’ve come to hear about. The only ‘catch’ is that you kind of need to buy their device which ain’t the cheapest thing ever.
So.. how much did I spend?
I don’t have the exact sums but base on my balance money, I think I spent about $420 for my 5D4N trip, excluding 3N accommodation in Shanghai where I slept on a couch. Taobao shopping – could possibly add up another $200-300 and our air tickets was about $500+ on SIA. I guess I kind of overspend again. Seems like I’ll spend about the same amount if I were visiting Hong Kong. Then again, we splurged on our air tickets. Oh wells. I was never good at keeping to my budget anyway.
for writing a rather messy blogpost for my China trip. The situation has changed and I no longer have the luxury of time to do a great job. Furthermore, because of my frequent video-ing, I kind of forget to take photos. In fact, i did not even utilize my Canon S120 for the whole of this trip. The camera was in my bag but forgotten =/
Most of my adventures are recorded on my Instagram Videos which can be seen on my Facebook Page. If you need help or advice, do leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer.
Sorry and thanks for reading =)