Shanghai Surprise and Hong Kong Hospitality: A July 2018 China Family Trip Report - VIDEO ADDED p. 3

Discussion in 'Other Lands' started by CaptainCook, Jul 24, 2018.

  1. BLTtinkerbell

    BLTtinkerbell DIS Veteran

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    Welcome back! I am following along and looking forward to reading more.....

    I will be flying from Toronto to Hong Kong on Air Canada (15 hours). I am happy to hear your flight was better than expected. Did you have Economy seats or upgraded?
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2018
  2. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    It was enough for us, though my daughter is a pretty light eater. If you had 4 adults I would probably order a side dish or two to round it out.
     
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  4. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Plain old economy seats. We're cheap that way! It was still a relief to get off the plane, but it wasn't the nightmare I thought it would be.
     
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  5. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Friday, July 13 - Xi'an

    We woke up on the sleeper train shortly before pulling into Xi'an. The other passengers had settled down nicely overnight, and it hadn't been as noisy as I'd feared. But by morning, the bathroom was in pretty bad shape, the smoke haze had reappeared, and we were ready to get off that train.

    Our new Mr. Orange driver was waiting for us as we came out of the station. We loaded up our luggage, and set off for the Terra Cotta Warriors, about an hour's drive away. We got there just after 9 am and agreed to meet our driver again in a couple of hours. Then we purchased our entry tickets, declined numerous offers for guiding services, and followed the throngs of people already heading to the pits.

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    We decided to start with Pit 1, which is by far the most spectacular. We briefly debated going in reverse order and leaving Pit 1 for last, but thought that the crowds were only going to get worse, and that we should see the best of the best with the least amount of jockeying for position possible.

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    The warriors were pretty cool to see in person, but there were no surprises. If you've seen photos from this site then you pretty much know what to expect.

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    We went on to the next two pits - I'm not sure if we went in numerical order or not - which had way fewer full soldiers, and showed more of the excavation and restoration process.

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    The most interesting part to me was to see an area with workers in the pits with the warriors, painstakingly trying to piece them together and using little toothbrushes to clean off the shards.

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    It was much too dark in these areas to take any decent pictures, at least with my camera equipment.

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    Coming out of the last pit, we did debate going back to Pit 1 again. But with the crowds of people continuing to pour in, we decided we had accomplished what we wanted to do, and would be satisfied to leave. We had some time to kill before meeting our driver, so we had some ice cream and browsed in a few shops. There is a huge complex of shops and restaurants set up at the exit from the site.

    With that, we headed back into Xi'an to our hotel, the Grand Park. Our rooms were ready for checkin when we arrived a little past noon. We got a great deal on two connecting rooms, with breakfast included. (Some places we stayed in China had family suites available and we rented those when we could, but some places maxed out at 3 people per room, likely a holdover from the old One Child Policy days. We rented two adjoining rooms when we couldn't fit 4 people into a single room.) The hotel is well appointed, and coming off a night in a sleeper train - it felt like heaven. It's got great views of the old city wall, and was within walking distance of the other places we wanted to see.

    After we freshened up a bit, we headed out for lunch. Knowing we'd be eating dinner at the Muslim Street market, we catered to our picky eater by going to McDonald's for lunch. This was actually quite fun to see how different the menu items are from what's at home. I love a Filet o' Fish, and the ones in China are totally different (and not very good). The sweet taro pie, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise.

    I used the McDonald's bathroom after our meal and it was go time - they only had squat toilets, I sucked it up and used one, and lived to tell the tale!

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    After lunch, we went up on the city wall and rented bikes.

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    We then took a couple of hours to do a complete loop around the wall, which is 8 miles/14 km. We stopped at nearly every cafe on top to buy bottled water - the sun was coming out and it was pretty hot, maybe around 90F.

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    It was very uncrowded on top of the wall with the exception of the area right around the south gate where the tour buses park and people climb up for a look-see. Once you get away from the south gate, the crowds really thin out.

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    Finally we made it the whole way around. Hot and tired, we headed back to our hotel for a shower and a break. Around 7 pm, we headed out again. This time, our destination was Muslim Street. We planned to eat dinner there (though after our greasy fast food lunch, none of us were all that hungry), and in particular we were hoping to find a cotton candy vendor whose creations we had seen online before our trip.

    Muslim Street as it turns out is not just one street, but a whole complex of side streets as well.

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    We walked over to Muslim Street and started there, but then we got sucked into the Muslim Mosque, which is not what I think of when I think of a mosque, but is actually more like a bazaar. (EDIT: trying to find more information about this after coming home, I don't see anything online referring to the bazaar as a mosque; perhaps the signage instead referred to the mosque being accessible through the bazaar? I'm not sure.)

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    Coming out of there, we wove up and down numerous side alleys in search of the elusive cotton candy. We saw lots of flatbreads for sale...

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    And we saw these everywhere. Oh, let's get one!, we said; a pineapple spear would be delicious right now. Ha ha. These are actually glutinous rice cake with date sauce. And they aren't very good, IMHO. We didn't finish it.

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    We eventually decided to throw in the towel on searching any further for the cotton candy, and were going to simply head back to our hotel via the main road, when we finally found it!

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    Mallory chose a design and they spun her a lovely creation, which she shared with the rest of us. Good thing, too; it was huge.

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    Happy that we'd accomplished our goal, and all growing very tired, we started to head back to our hotel. Chad and Liam had to make one last purchase when we passed "the tentacle stall". No idea what sort of tentacles these were, but they really liked them.

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    On the way back to our hotel, we encountered several bits of entertainment; the city really comes alive at night. First, there was a show featuring beautiful traditional costumes and music and lights happening between the the outer and inner city walls. We also saw a few groups of (mostly) ladies line dancing on the sidewalk closer to our hotel.

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    And finally, the Drum Tower and Bell Tower and city wall were all lit up beautifully too.

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    We could have chosen to stay out much later to enjoy these, but the desire to sleep won out, and we headed back to our room.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018
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  6. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Saturday, July 14 - Chengdu

    Today was our trip midpoint, and something of a scheduled rest day. Our Mr. Orange transfer was scheduled to pick us up at the hotel at 8 am. We headed to the extensive hotel breakfast buffet at 7 am, and enjoyed some tastes of home while also having the option to try a few new things. We came down to the hotel lobby with our baggage shortly before 8 am to find our driver waiting for us. We loaded up and set out for the Xi'an North train station. This was a different station than the one we'd arrived on - much nicer and newer. It took perhaps 45 minutes to drive to the train station.

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    (This photo was taken while driving to the train station - but we saw people driving like this everywhere. It made my stomach flip every time.)

    Checkin was quick and easy, and in no time we found ourselves in a spacious waiting area that had enough seating for us - that was a first for a Chinese train station.

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    Our train boarded 20 minutes before departure. We had two pairs of comfortable seats in a second class compartment for our 4 hour trip. The seats had lots of legroom, and a power outlet to share between them. Across the aisle, seats were 3 across. I think the main difference between these tickets and first class tickets are that the first class compartment seating configuration is 2 and 2, I.e. 4 across rather than 5.

    The ride was smooth and comfortable. The high speed rail line between Xi'an and Chengdu was completed just a few months ago. It was a scenic trip - well, half of it, anyway. The scenic half passes mountainous countryside that flattens out into terraced agricultural fields near the tracks - and the occasional smoke belching power plant that explains why the sun has been buried behind smog all week.

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    The other half of the trip took us through dark tunnels bored into the mountains, and made our ears pop.

    We disembarked in Chengdu, and found our next Mr. Orange driver waiting for us. We were on our way in the minivan less than 14 minutes after the train had arrived in the station. The drive to our hotel, the Chengdu Panda Garden Crowne Plaza, took about half an hour. It's outside of the city, just a couple of kilometres from the panda research centre. We were able to check into our rooms right away, and again had two adjoining rooms, though this time they did not connect.

    We went down to the pool area for a bit before dinner. Chengdu was quite warm, probably around 95F, and this was the first hotel we'd stayed at that had a pool. However, when we got down to the pool, we were surprised to learn that there is a mandate that all bathers wear a swim cap. I'm not sure if this is a cultural thing everywhere in China, or if it is specific to this hotel. We don't normally wear swim caps at home for leisure swimming, so this caught us by surprise. Luckily, we were able to rent a cap from the recreation desk for 20 yuan/$4 CDN and still go for a swim.

    For dinner, we elected to stay in at the hotel. They had an elaborate dinner buffet that contained a good mix of eastern and western dishes. After a week of nonstop travel and sightseeing, it was nice to have a quiet afternoon and evening, rest, and do some reading. On this trip I'm reading J. Maarten Troost's "Lost on Planet China" and I find myself laughing and nodding along with it.

    After dinner, we spent some more time reading and relaxing in our rooms. Chad went off in search of an ATM to withdraw more cash; China is definitely a cash-based society, and credit cards are not widely accepted. I went down to a public patio a couple of minutes away from our hotel for a bit. There were lots of people dancing there, and kids on a rollerblade course. Watching them all made for some good entertainment.
     
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  7. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Sunday July 15 - Chengdu

    Today was panda day! We had all been looking forward to it very much. The weather forecast was calling for possible rain late in the morning, and clearing skies in the afternoon.

    We went down for breakfast right at 6:30 am when the buffet opened. Again, it was a lavish east-meets-west buffet, and we all got plenty to eat. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, our destination for the day, opens at 7:30 am, and so we had requested a taxi for 7:15 am. Multiple staff members at the hotel tried to talk us out of this, because the hotel has a free shuttle that departs at 8:15 am. They acted like going any earlier than that would be unnecessary, but we took the taxi anyway. At 30 yuan/$6 CDN, it was overpriced for the distance travelled, but would turn out to be money well spent.

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    We got to the centre around 7:25 am and the taxi dropped us off right out front. We were immediately accosted by hawkers outside the park gates who were peddling all sorts of panda headbands, hats, stuffed animals, etc. Chad hopped into line to buy entrance tickets, and the rest of us hopped into the queue to get in, which had already started to build. Chad came over with our tickets right as we were approaching the turnstiles. In we went.

    It was misty and damp, but not raining. By the time we got inside, there were already lines for the trams that will take you to the back of the park. We bypassed those and started walking.

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    There are lots of signs posted around the park telling you where to go. We didn't have much of a game plan, other than to see some pandas.

    However, as we passed enclosure after enclosure, they were all empty. This was kind of befuddling, and we were beginning to wonder if perhaps the hotel staff were correct in telling us not to go so early. We did see a couple of pandas behind glass in one area, but they were sleeping and it wasn't a great sighting.

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    Eventually we happened upon a building and entered it, not knowing what was inside. We walked along a mostly empty hall that had a row of windows covered in curtains. We had just set off down the hall when an employee appeared on the other side of the glass as she drew back the curtains. Lo and behold, we were in the panda nursery!

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    Window after window opened, and we saw panda cubs of all ages, from the very smallest pink hairless ones, up to fuzzier babies, and finally some cubs that actually looked like pandas.

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    We were simply lucky to be in the right place at the right time to enjoy this experience with hardly anyone else around.

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    It was probably still before 8 am. We were able to walk back and forth from window to window and spend as long as we pleased at each one.

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    After we'd had our fill of panda babies, we went back outside to the panda enclosures, and now the bears were out.

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    And we were lucky to have some pretty awesome sightings.

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    Pandas in groups, pandas on their own, pandas climbing trees, and lots and lots of pandas stuffing their faces with bamboo.

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    It was still early, and the park was still peaceful and relatively empty. This was exactly what we had hoped for.

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    We toured around the enclosures to see all of the bears (the centre is home to 83 of them), and we went to the red panda enclosure, too.

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    We also stopped in at a couple of gift shops that are sprinkled throughout the park.

    After a couple of hours, the crowds had grown to a level that was starting to make our visit decidedly less enjoyable. It was getting tough to navigate the narrow walkways around the enclosures due to the sheer number of people in the park, especially in the locations where the pandas were present. We passed by the nursery again, and I noted an impossibly long line of folks waiting to get in.

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    People were being fed through in a non-stop one-direction single-file line; no stopping to take a photo, or doubling back to see something again.

    Also, most of the pandas had by now finished feeding, and had gone to lie down. Time to go back to sleep.

    Shortly after 10 am, it started to rain. And not just any rain; buckets and buckets of rain that surpassed even what we experienced at the Great Wall. In no time at all, we were soaked right through, despite having rain jackets and umbrellas with us. It felt like every single patron in that park put up an umbrella, and if we thought it was tough manoeuvring before, it was now ten times worse.

    We had planned to eat lunch in the park at the Bamboo Restaurant before leaving, but this felt like the universe was pointing us in a different direction. Our hotel was running a free shuttle back to the property at 11 am. We decided to jump on it, even though the rain was starting to let up. We had accomplished some great sightseeing in the first few hours of our visit, and anything more would be of considerably less quality. None of us felt like sitting through lunch in our wet clothes. They literally needed to be wrung out.

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    So we made our way to the front of the park, where guests were continuing to stream in through the gate.

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    Tour buses were still dropping them off in droves. We had five minutes to find our hotel shuttle in the midst of all the chaos, and we got lucky and found it. We jumped on and headed back to the hotel, where our first order of business was changing our clothes and hanging our things up to dry.

    We had a 2 pm late checkout time, so we went down to the hotel restaurant for lunch and ordered off the menu. Pork and prawn wonton noodles for me, a spicy Sichuan bowl for Chad, a club sandwich for Liam and plain noodles for Mallory.

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    The food was great. Over our lunch hour, Chad tried contacting Mr. Orange via WeChat to see if we could be picked up earlier than our scheduled 2:30 pm meeting time.

    The day before, we had received an email from Air China notifying us that our flight time was changed and would now be departing 90 minutes earlier. We had planned to spend a few hours wandering on Jinli Street in Chengdu before heading to the airport.

    Unfortunately, not only did we not hear back from the Mr. Orange office to confirm an earlier pickup time, but our driver was actually 20 minutes late based on the original pickup time, having been slowed down due to a major accident on his route. He called ahead to let the hotel staff know so they could notify us. This was one of those grin and bear it moments, and the only time Mr. Orange let us down.

    Finally we were picked up and driven to Jinli Street. Based on our flight departure time, we had about 75 minutes to wander.(Jinli Street turned out to be our favourite of all the markets we visited in China, and would have been worth more time if we could have squeezed it in.)

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    So it was a rushed visit, but in that time we sought out one of the local candy makers who makes animal-shaped lollipops right in front of you, and bought some;

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    ...we sampled the sticky pineapple rice we had heard about;

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    ...we tried a cute panda-themed dim sum; and we browsed in several shops.

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    We would have liked to watch a short face-changing show, but simply didn't have time for that. Our driver met us back at the appointed place and time, and we were off to the airport.

    Checkin at the airport was pretty quick and easy. We shopped in a few stores, and grabbed dinner inside the airport.

    Despite all the negative reviews we'd heard about Air China (not to mention our own scheduling difficulties - they canceled our original flight about two weeks before our trip started, which necessitated some scheduling changes on our end with regards to hotels and transfers) - our flight boarded and left on time, and was smooth as can be. We landed in Guilin, collected our luggage and met the driver who was waiting for us. This was a driver arranged by our hotel in Guilin, and not through Mr. Orange.

    I was not at all impressed by this driver, which made me realize how good we'd had it with Mr. Orange. This driver's van was full of garbage, and he drove recklessly, weaving in and out of traffic excessively (even by Chinese standards) and traveling much faster than the other vehicles on the road. I tried not to think about the fact that China has the highest per capita traffic fatality rate in the world as we sped through the city.

    Finally we arrived at our hotel, the Secret Courtyard. It's a cute boutique hotel, and I think it promises some stunning views, which we'll have to wait until tomorrow to see.

    For now I am off to bed. I have had a very sore throat building all day today. I don't feel like I am otherwise sick, and am wondering if China's air quality (or lack thereof) is starting to affect me. Hoping that the fresh air of rural China over the next few days helps to clear it up quickly.
     
  8. BLTtinkerbell

    BLTtinkerbell DIS Veteran

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    We also booked economy seats. Too many other things to spend money on. I am happy to hear it was do able. It is one part of our upcoming trip we have been concerned about. We have been taking advice from others and purchased compression socks & leg sleeves (I think I like the sleeves better), downloaded a few tv series, we have travel pillows, know we have to get up & walk around & stretch, drink plenty of water.....

    Please let me know if think of anything else.
     
  9. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Monday, July 16 - Longsheng Rice Terraces

    Today was a planned late start. We had a driver picking us up from the Secret Courtyard at 10 am, so we had some leisurely time to get up, have breakfast, and stroll around the village where the hotel was located. It did indeed boast some pretty views of the karst mountains. This was the first time we'd seen the sun in a week - it's amazing what getting out from under the smog of the Chinese supercities can do to improve your outlook on life!

    Breakfast at the hotel was a much more modest buffet than what we've had for the past few days, but certainly adequate. Our driver met us on time, and we set off for the Longsheng Rice Terraces.

    The first hour or so of this trip was on highways. The mountainous scenery was attractive. We passed the ticketing gate for the terraces about 75 minutes into the trip. Our driver purchased our tickets for us. "Oh, we've arrived," we thought. Nope. The journey to the base of the cable car took us another hour on a road that grew increasingly smaller and increasingly more windy, yet was now clogged with tour buses. And our driver was insane. He passed every other vehicle on the road, passed on blind mountain corners, passed with oncoming vehicles present - he did it all.

    In hindsight, I should have given the kids some Gravol before the trip. By the time we arrived, they were definitely green around the gills. But we made it in one piece, and that's what mattered.

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    We decided to grab something to eat before heading up to the rice terraces. There were several places to eat and buy souvenirs.

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    We found a table at one of the local restaurants, and ordered the local specialty, bamboo rice, as well as some plain rice and fried cucumbers (which turned out to be a stir fry) and drinks.

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    It came to 71 yuan/$15 CDN and it was all tasty. Stomachs full, we headed over to the cable car. Of course, there is never not a wait in China - so we queued up for about 45 minutes to get a car.

    Finally on our way, we rode the cable car to the top of the terraces.

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    It was busy at the top, but definitely not as busy as some of the attractions we'd recently visited.

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    There is an extended viewing area at the top of the terraces that gives you several excellent vantage points, but the real fun is hiking down into the terraces themselves and seeing them up close, include the irrigation systems that have been put in place to service them.

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    It's pretty impressive how these mountain villagers have made the treacherous terrain work for them. In addition to the rice terraces, here and there we would see terraces growing corn and other crops as well.

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    Back up on the main viewing platform, we bought some ice cream before taking a return cable car down the mountain (thankfully with a shorter line this time). There are lots of places to buy food and drink and souvenirs at the top of the terraces. You can even rent a traditional costume and dress up to take a photo of yourself.

    Back at the bottom of the hill, we met up again with our driver, who was sleeping in the restaurant where we had eaten lunch. The restaurant staff came out and spoke to us, telling us we had been undercharged for lunch. We knew this wasn't true, because we had ordered items from an English menu with prices listed alongside. We think that our driver had lunch after we left, and told the restaurant that we would cover his bill. That was definitely not part of our arrangement, and didn't improve our opinion of him. We did not pay any more.

    Before driving back, I did give Liam some Gravol at his request. The road did not seem quite so bad going back down, or maybe I was just desensitized to it. We knew it would be a longer drive going back, because we were going all the way to Yangshuo; however we did not expect it to take more than 3 hours like it did. To make matters worse, our driver stopped for a smoke break when we were 20 minutes away from the hotel. His agency will definitely not get a favourable review from us.

    As we got closer to our destination, we were amazed by the karst mountains that started to crop up in the landscape. They are surreal. It was twilight, and almost too dark to see them by the time we pulled into Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. This is our home for the next 3 nights, and it is gorgeous. We know we'll love it by the light of day.

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    We were exhausted from our hiking and the drive, and we went down to the on site restaurant for a quick bite to eat. The menu is pretty extensive and features lots of western dishes as well as local dishes. Prices are higher than some places we have eaten, but inexpensive compared to home, with meals in the $5-10 range. I had a plate of spring rolls and a coconut juice for a total of $8 and both were delicious. Chad had the Longzhou style fried rice, which he said was good, but the heat blew his head off.

    We retired early. More adventures to come tomorrow.
     
  10. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    I think you've got it covered.

    I was pretty conscious about getting up and walking around before we boarded, and then when the time came, I wasn't very diligent about it. The aisles were often blocked and it was just easier to stay seated. But I was diligent about doing ankle circles, calf raises etc. while in my seat. When we got off the plane I noticed that I had some 'cankles', i.e. fluid accumulation in my feet, that I'd never had before, not even when pregnant. But it went away pretty quickly.
     
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  11. Shock13

    Shock13 DIS Veteran

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    I'm curious...did people want to take pictures with your kids because of their red hair or did they take pictures with other 'westerners'? Btw, I love your pictures!
     
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  12. cschaaf

    cschaaf DIS Veteran

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    Great report so far. Can't wait to see your Guilin photos and comments.

    We did a Viking trip through China last year. Just about everyone in our group got stopped and asked for photos. There was one family with two guys well over 6' tall, they got stopped the most. At the Forbidden City, there was a line of young girls waiting to take pictures with them.
     
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  13. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    I agree that it's Westerners in general who draw attention - even my husband and I were approached for pictures - but generally speaking, the more exotic you look to those asking, the more likely you will be asked! I do think the kids got asked a lot because of their red hair and freckles. I've heard that blondes and tall folks are also very popular.

    What surprised me was that all of the attention we got was received in the big cities - Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu. It was not as prevalent when we made our way to the countryside, and by the time we hit Hong Kong, which has a much more multicultural feel, it was gone altogether.
     
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  14. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Sorry, formatting trouble. Will try again.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2018
  15. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Tuesday, July 17 - Yangshuo

    I woke up early this morning and got out of bed right away. I was keen to see outside and potentially catch the sunrise. Our room (which is actually a family suite containing a large main room with a king bed, a smaller room with bunks for the kids, and the bathroom) faces onto the river and the view was spectacular, though the sun was rising to our backs.

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    I read for a while, and eventually we woke the kids up. We were planning to take a bamboo rafting trip on the river, and wanted to beat the rush. Rafting opened at 8 am and the hotel staff had told us that the starting point was a ten minute walk upriver along a waterfront path.

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    We ate breakfast at a table down by the river, during which time we saw the first couple of rafts of the day go by. By the time we finished eating and walked upriver, it was probably 8:45 am. Rafts were starting to set off regularly, but it was not at all crowded yet.

    We rented two rafts, and our guides led us down to the water where we boarded.

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    I had elected to bring my good camera along for the trip, taking the chance that our raft would not flip and that I (and it) would stay dry. Most rafters we saw throughout the day had their phones out, so this seemed to be a fairly safe bet.

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    The half hour we spent on the river was delightful and well worth the 100 yuan/$20 CDN per person. The mountains were gorgeous, the rafting was fun, and the whole thing was just so bucolic. We could see a few rafts ahead of us on the water, but at no time did it feel like we were part of a flotilla of rafters. We floated by the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat around the halfway mark and continued on. There are 3 or 4 small drops over a little dam that make for some good fun and a splash, but overall it is a very tame float trip.

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    After half an hour, we came to a bridge by the Big Banyan Tree. This was the take-out spot unless you paid more to continue further on downriver. The guide pulled us over to the opposite bank and we disembarked. Then he swung back to the original bank where the rafts were being loaded into trucks and driven back to the starting point.

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    Over the course of the day as the rafting got busier, we would see the rafts come down the river toward our resort in waves. We hypothesized that there would be lineups for the rafts and that as truckloads of rafts were returned to the starting point, rafters would set of off together in groups.

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    After our rafting trip, we walked back to our hotel along the road. It was not yet 11 am, but the temperature was soaring. It hit 99F today, and was quite humid. Back in our room, we cooled off in the strong, icy air conditioning for a bit, before the boys donned swimsuits and walked a ways back upriver to drop into the river on inner tubes. I went with them to see them off, and then Mallory and I both watched them float into our resort area, where there is a dock they could use to get out.

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    When we were looking for places to stay in Yangshuo, the first few hotels we considered were not on the river. How lucky we were to eventually choose a hotel that was waterfront. Having access to the water added immensely to our enjoyment of the area.

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    The Li River is the larger, more popular river in the area, and the Yulong River where we were situated is a smaller tributary of it. However, the Yulong is reportedly much cleaner than the Li, something to keep in mind if you plan to swim.

    We played some badminton using the resort net and the paddles and birdie we'd bought in the park in Beijing. Soon enough we were hungry, and headed into the restaurant around 12:30 pm for lunch. Unfortunately we got there right as a large tour bus was arriving to dine. This made the restaurant a bit crowded and noisy, and the hotel staff apologized and said our food would take longer to prepare. But it was still served much more quickly than I would have thought possible. We shared the fried noodles with vegetables and the fried rice with egg, and it was all amazing. Mallory ordered macaroni and cheese and couldn't finish it so we helped her, and that was fantastic, too. Unlike mac and cheese at home, but better. We rounded the meal out by sharing a fruit plate, and the kids had ice cream. We chatted a bit with one of the tour bus guests, who told us his group was Belgian (we'd been trying to guess).

    We inquired with the hotel staff about seeing the cormorant fishing demonstration we'd heard of. It does not run every night of the week, but they called to find out for us and told us it would be running tonight, so we put our names in for spots. We'd be picked up by cab at the hotel at 7:40 pm to take us to the 8:00 pm show.

    After lunch the heat of the day really hit, and we did our best to beat it. For a couple of hours, the kids goofed around in the river on inner tubes. Steady streams of rafters were passing by, and many of them were taking photos of the kids. Liam and Mallory thought this was funny, and did their best to entertain the rafters by balancing on the tubes, doing belly flops, etc. I sat at a table in the shade to watch them, and did a bit of reading.

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    Around 3:30 pm, I set out on a bike ride. I wanted to see more of the countryside around the area. The resort has about 50 bikes in seemingly excellent repair for guest use. I headed back upriver on the walking path. There are multiple signs posted on the path telling cyclists and scooters to stay off, but the path was used mostly by cyclists and scooter riders anyway. There are some spots with a few steps up or down where I had to get off and carry the bike, but it wasn't too bad. I passed lots of farm fields, gardens, rice paddies, a couple of oxen chained out in a field, a pond filled with water lilies. All the sorts of things you'd expect to see in rural China. I also passed multiple spots on the river where folks were in the water cooling off.

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    I only planned to be gone for an hour (and it was too hot for more than that anyway) so I turned around when I came to the end of the pedestrian path. I am still curious about what more is out there to see.

    Back at the hotel, Liam and I jumped in the river for another quick float around to cool off before having a shower and cleaning up for dinner. We were the first ones in the dining room when we went in around 6 pm. We ordered the pineapple chicken and local style fried rice that was made with ham and peanuts in it. Again, both were amazing. We really love the onsite restaurant here.

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    At 7:40 pm we caught our cab into town to see the cormorant fishing demo. As we were leaving, a hotel staff member saw my camera with me and asked if i am a photographer. I said yes (a hobbyist counts right?), and she said that there is another cormorant fishing show in XingPing that is popular with photographers that we might want to try another night. Hmmm. We didn't know there was more than one show, and we thought we were seeing 'the show' - the one where the fisherman is dressed traditionally and uses the birds and a lantern on an old bamboo raft to catch fish.

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    So leaving the hotel, we were not confident in the quality of the show we were about to see. We were dropped off by the taxi at an old boat ramp into the river in downtown Yangshuo, behind the main road. Several other families were also there to see the show. By now it was dark, and I wondered what, if anything, we would see. The show started without warning. It consisted of a fisherman, yes, on a bamboo raft, yes, with birds, yes, and they caught fish, yes. But no fancy costume on the fisherman, and he had a generator-powered floodlight rather than a quaint lantern.

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    And as I said, we essentially watched from a parking lot - so much for a scenic riverside locale. But we did see the birds catch fish, and he did pose for pictures after the show. So for 50 yuan/$10 CDN per person, it was ok. I would call it more of a demonstration than a show (there was no narrative to accompany it), and I would still give the hotel staff feedback that it should be made clearer that there are multiple shows on offer.

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    We had asked our taxi driver to give us an hour after the show so we could check out the infamous West Street. This turned out to be about 55 minutes too long. West Street was crowded, noisy, tacky, and totally not our vibe. It was our least favourite of all the markets we visited in China.

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    We went to a KFC to have an egg tart and kill time in an air conditioned environment before our trip back out to the peaceful countryside.

    And with that, another day is done. It was a great day overall - this is the best hotel of the trip, and we have fallen in love with Yangshuo.
     
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  16. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    May 7, 2009
    Messages:
    381
    Wednesday, July 18 - Yangshuo

    We thought we'd start out early today, but needed some sleep. We went for breakfast around 8 am, again eating on the riverbank. It was a little more overcast than yesterday, and had a bit of a breeze, but promised to be just as hot (forecast high of 97F).

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    After breakfast, we jumped on some bikes and rode to Moon Hill. The ride was only about 20 minutes. The first part of the ride, on our hotel road, was the worst. It's supposedly closed to traffic from 7 am to 7 pm as part of the 'Yangshuo River Scenic Area', but we can't see evidence of that. There is a steady stream of vehicles on it all day. The main road was actually better for biking, because it has a wide shoulder for bike and scooter traffic.

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    Moon Hill Scenic Area costs 14 yuan/$2.75 CDN per person to enter. We locked up our bikes and bought some cold water from an elderly lady who approached us.

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    The hike up only took 20 minutes, but it was the sweatiest 20 minutes of our lives. Chad had to wring his shirt out. The trail consists of 880 steps to the top and is not for the faint of heart on a 97 degree day. But we made it! There are some nice views of the mountains from the top, but we didn't linger long before heading back down.

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    At the bottom we bought some more water from the other elderly lady who had been hounding us, to make it fair. Then we hopped back on our bikes, rode the 20 minutes back to the resort, and collapsed in our igloo of a room.

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    Luckily the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat has some strong air conditioning.

    We popped into the restaurant for a quick bowl of ice cream that Chad had promised the kids in exchange for their labour. Then the boys jumped into the river to cool off for a bit, and Mallory and I both did some reading, before going back to the restaurant for lunch.

    For lunch we split some spring rolls and chicken curry rice. Again - cheap, delicious, and no need to go off property to eat.

    After lunch, the kids wanted to stay cool for a bit. I was itching to get out on a bike again, and Chad wanted to come with me. We left the kids with explicit instructions not to go in the water, and set out for a ride. (Mallory spent the whole time reading, and Liam on his iPad, in the room.)

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    Chad and I rode down the pedestrian path to the end and then onto some local roads. We were hoping to make it to Yulong bridge, but owing to a couple of wrong turns, we didn't quite make it before deciding to turn back so as not to keep the kids waiting too long. Unfortunately, that is right about the time I got a flat tire on my bike. At first I thought I was just getting tired because the bike felt like it was getting more and more difficult to move. In hindsight, I understood why! Chad chivalrously took the flat tire bike and let me ride the good one home.

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    We were back after 90 hot and sweaty minutes, totally parched despite drinking 4 bottles of liquids on our ride. Chad and Liam went out to the river with inner tubes. Mallory was still reading in the cool indoors, and I took my book out to the riverbank. We whiled away the last couple of hours before dinner in this fashion before showering and going down to the dining room.

    Dinner was the shrimp specialty, egg fried rice, and a fried broccoli with garlic dish that was perhaps the best thing I'd eaten yet on this trip. We also shared a fruit plate. We were ready at 7 pm to meet our taxi driver for the trip into town, because we had tickets for the 8 pm Impression Sanji Liu show.

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    I expected good things from the show, particularly after finding our seats and seeing the way the natural amphitheater was set up. We'd heard that the show uses the water and the surrounding mountains as part of the show.

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    But we all agreed afterwards that we were a bit disappointed by it. I expected more lights on the surrounding mountains, and Mallory thought she would see water fountains.

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    It turned out to very much be a stage show, focused on the actors. There were a large number of them (around 600), which I suppose was impressive, but it fell a bit short to my mind. Then again, they run 3 performances nightly and it often sells out, so what do I know?

    After the show, we met up with our taxi driver again for the return trip, stopping at an ATM to pick up enough cash to settle with the hotel. Then we came back to the room and packed up in anticipation of checking out early in the morning.
     
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  17. BecBennett

    BecBennett Statistically, 6 out of 7 dwarves are not happy.

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2007
    Messages:
    4,944
    I think I squealed when I saw your baby panda photos! They're adorable!

    I can't believe your driver! The scary driving is bad enough, but he honestly stopped for a smoke break? Surely he could have dropped you off first!
     
  18. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    May 7, 2009
    Messages:
    381
    He was THE WORST. It made me realize how fabulous our experience with all of our Mr. Orange drivers was. But I also try to keep in mind cultural differences; lots of drivers were driving more aggressively than I would, and maybe punctuality isn't a big deal in China, either? Hard to say. Luckily, this was the only leg of the trip we had with this driver.
     
  19. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    May 7, 2009
    Messages:
    381
    Thursday, July 19 - Yangshuo to XingPing to Hong Kong

    This morning we woke up early, and sadly packed up our things. We checked out of Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, and the taxi we had arranged through the hotel arrived on time at 6:30 am. We had a 10 am train to catch, but we had a couple of other stops to make first.

    We drove to XingPing, where the train station is located, about 40 minutes away. First up, we wanted to stop at the famous 20 yuan note spot. It's easy to find, and there's a sign posted there confirming it's the right place. There were a couple of other parties there taking photos when we arrived, so we waited a few minutes to get our own.

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    Next up, our driver took us to Laozhai Hill.

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    We wanted to do one hike to a high vantage point over karst mountains, and this one was conveniently located. It's not for the faint of heart though; it's 1169 or 1189 steps to the top (I can't quite make it out in the picture), including one place where there's just a ladder.

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    If we thought we were sweaty after hiking Moon Hill, we were even worse after this one. But the view from the top was worth it.

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    We asked our driver to give us an hour to complete the hike, and we were about 6-7 minutes late meeting him afterwards.

    Finally, he dropped us off at the train station around 9 am. The XingPing train station is much smaller than any of the others we'd been to, and very easy to navigate. We bought some snacks and drinks while we waited.

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    (More egg tarts for me - I couldn't get enough of them!)

    We had purchased tickets for the full route from Liuzhou to Shenzhen, but we were getting on the train mid-route in XingPing at a point where the train number switched. (They don't release tickets for segments of a route until the tickets for the full route have been released for a period of time, and we were worried that the full route could sell out and leave us stranded; not worth the risk when our itinerary had no flexibility built in.) Regardless of all that, everything ran smoothly.

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    The trip to Shenzhen was about 2.5 hours and although I had an engrossing book to read, I spent most of the trip looking out the window at mountains, villages, and farmers working in their fields.

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    Arriving in the border city of Shenzhen, we had a driver from Delight Car waiting for us (who turned out to be another good driver). Exiting the train station, the first thing we noticed was the abundance of English language signage that made easy work of finding our rendezvous point. We met up with our driver, loaded up our luggage, and set out for Hong Kong.

    The border crossing was simple. We had our China departure cards saved from our flight in, and our driver gave us Hong Kong immigration cards to fill out. As we drove through the border, he passed those cards and our passports on to the border agents. I think we saw a total of three border agents and one health officer. All of them took a look in the van to match up passports to faces, but it was a quick process overall, and we didn't have to get out of the vehicle. The health officer did take a temperature reading inside the car to check for infection, and we passed. China let us out, Hong Kong let us in, and we set out for Disney's Explorers Lodge.

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    We arrived here around 2:30 pm and checked in. Our room was ready, and we were able to pick up our park tickets for tomorrow. Sadly, our park tickets are all Iron Man and Star Wars themed; no Mickey tickets to be had here. On the bright side, we were pleasantly surprised to be given three sets of Fastpasses since we are staying at the hotel for 3 nights - despite the fact that we only have one park day.

    We dropped our luggage in our room and immediately headed downstairs to the quick service restaurant to get something to eat. Mallory kicked her Disney trip off with Mickey Waffles, I had an avocado chicken flatbread, Chad had spare ribs, and Liam had nachos. My flatbread was accompanied by a bowl of soup, as was Chad's meal, which seemed like an odd side dish to serve in a tropical climate in July. It was really good though! Food is expensive here - my meal was 140 HKD or about $23 CDN. I also couldn't resist getting a Cookie cupcake - Cookie being the new Duffy friend who was just introduced at Hong Kong Disneyland. It was another 70 HKD. Yegads! It was mango and caramel mousse flavoured, and also happened to have blueberries inside. It was also really good.

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    We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering around all 3 Hong Kong Disneyland resorts to see the properties, check out the gift shops and restaurants, etc.

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    On the agenda for tomorrow: Hong Kong Disneyland!!
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2018
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  20. Disney127

    Disney127 DIS Veteran

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2009
    Messages:
    707
    Still following along - love reading your trip report! What a great adventure! Heading off to Asia next week - flying from Calgary, can't wait for our stay at the Toy Story Hotel and Disney's Explorer Lodge. We usually stay off site when we are at California's Disneyland but we do stay onsite at WDW. Even though, we could have found less expensive accomodations, we decided to splurge :-) for this trip.
     
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  21. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    May 7, 2009
    Messages:
    381
    Friday, July 20 - Hong Kong Disneyland

    We were up at 7 am with plans to leave the room at 8 am. We chose to spend our first full day in Hong Kong at the park so as to avoid visiting on a weekend. We had breakfast at the Chart Room Cafe on the ground floor again. They offer about half a dozen different breakfast combos. I chose one that included congee, fruit, and 2 BBQ pork buns that were quite adorable!

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    (We had discussed the idea of doing the Disney-themed dim sum lunch at Crystal Lotus, and ultimately decided not to. Mostly because of the limited time we had; but I'll say it was also nice to save the $200+ it would have cost us. I thought this breakfast combo was a great low-cost way to still have the fun of sampling some fun dim sum. I've heard the dim sum lunch looks better than it tastes (and that can also be said of these pork buns; they were OK, but nothing special.))

    Another note from this photo - I stopped wearing makeup completely about two days into the trip. With the heat and humidity melting it off my face, there was no point.

    We left the hotel about 8:55 am and walked to the park, which took 20 minutes.

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    The first half of the walk is along the waterfront. Then you turn inland and pass through Disney grounds with theme music and gardens. We got to the gate at 9:15 am and were behind 6 other people in our line.

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    After our experience in Shanghai, coming through a side entrance, I was happy to get to the front of the park again in Hong Kong and get to experience the walk down Main Street, etc. The Disneytown entrance in Shanghai definitely lacks that magical feeling. There is no separate hotel guest entrance in Hong Kong, for better or for worse.

    The official park opening time today was 10 am. At 9:30 am they did the Family of the Day ceremony, and then opened the gate immediately after.

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    I was also pleased that the Main Street view of the castle did not suffer too much from the ongoing construction. You still got the spires peeking over the top of the construction wall, and that was good enough for me. It is definitely a change of pace to see a Disney castle with mountains behind it. I know I posted this photo at the start of the report, but this is where it fits into things. Here I am again, repping my #ParkGoals. (And note how uncrowded Main Street is!)

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    We were able to shop and eat on Main Street until 10 am when they dropped the rope in front of the castle. Here is what that looked like. The crowd size is not bad at all, though those awful umbrellas are out in full force again.

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    Some of the attractions had a 10:30 am opening time, and it wasn't clear to us what we should attempt to do first. We had 3 Fastpasses from the hotel that were valid for 5 attractions (Hyperspace Mountain, Runaway Mine Cars, Ironman Experience, Mystic Manor, Philharmagic) and you can also pull paper legacy Fastpasses inside the park for the Adventures of Pooh, Ironman and Hyperspace Mountain.

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    We started with Pooh, which was walk on, then did Ironman as a walk on before heading over to Mystic Manor.

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    This was the ride I was most excited to ride, and it was fantastic. The whole family enjoyed it.

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    We immediately followed it up with the Runaway Mine Cars, and then declared THAT to be the best attraction in Hong Kong. It's more thrilling than Big Thunder Mountain, while still being a smooth ride that's not too scary.

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    (More evidence of construction: the turquoise wall runs around the castle and right into Adventureland.)

    We headed to Toy Story Land next, and wanted to do the parachute drop, but there was a technical malfunction with it.

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    We jumped into line for a photo with cowboy Mickey since we were passing by and it was short.

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    The irony that we had come 13,000 km in order to see Mickey dressed in his American garb was not lost on me!

    Then we headed into the theatre to see Festival of the Lion King, which has some differences from other versions we've seen, and is really well done.

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    We were able to get good seats for the 12 pm show by arriving only 5 or 6 minutes ahead of time.

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    When we came out from the show, crowds had built a bit. We did Jungle Cruise with a 10 minute wait and Mystic Manor (again) with a 10 minute wait.

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    Then we went for lunch at the Explorers Club. Meals here were all in the 150 HKD ($25 CDN) range, very expensive compare to the US parks, though they are big meals. My Hainanese chicken combo included chicken, vegetables, rice, a bowl of soup and a drink.

    Following lunch, we took another spin on the Runaway Mine Cars, and then on our way into Fantasyland, we stumbled upon a pin trading event that happens one day each month.

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    There were several cast members present trading their own pins, and a large bulletin board set up with other pins to trade. One cast member also had a blind pin board you could choose from, and of course some of those pins were lucky finds. We saw a lot of pins at the event that we hadn't seen before, and did some serious trading.

    We waited 30 minutes in line for It's A Small World, which would prove to be our longest wait of the day.

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    Love to see Canada represented on IASW at the international Disney parks! (It's not part of the original attraction in WDW.)

    We went back over to the pin trading area as they were packing up to get one last look and trade once more. We rode Hyperspace Mountain using one of our Fastpasses, and then found a spot for the Pixar Water Play street party. This parade was much shorter than I expected, and we didn't get all that wet from it; honestly it was a bit of a letdown and definitely not a must-do.

    We went back to Toy Story Land and split up. The boys rode RC Racer and the girls did Slinky Dog spin. Both were posted 30 minute waits, and both waits were about half of that. We grabbed an egg tart and some drinks, and went for a spin on the teacups before trying to get into the 6 pm showing of Mickey and the Wondrous Book. Unfortunately, we cut it too close and by the time we got there, 6 minutes before showtime, it was already full. Instead, we did Philharmagic on standby, then did one last walk on visit to Mystic Manor, before coming back to the last Wondrous Book showing of the day at 7:15 pm. This time we got there 22 minutes before showtime, and had no trouble getting seats.

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    This was a great show and it's unique to this park (I think), so it's well worth seeing.

    The show let out at 7:43 pm, and many attractions were scheduled to close at 8 pm. So we walked (quickly) back to Grizzly Gulch and took one last ride on the Runaway Mine Cars for good measure. The "We Love Mickey" light show was happening on Main Street at 8 pm, so we ran over to catch the tail end of that. Then we bought a few souvenirs and some snacks on Main Street (t shirts and pineapple breads and a Pooh shaped doughnut) before settling in to watch the Paint the Night parade at 9 pm. We got there a few minutes after 9 pm (but before the parade made its way that far) owing to some long queues in the park stores, and were still able to find good second or third row spots for the parade. Most front-row folks stayed seated, which definitely helped.

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    I missed the big circular "Paint the Night" float that they have in California - it was absent from this parade. But most of the floats were the same, and the soundtrack was the same, though it was in Mandarin or Cantonese, I'm not sure which.

    There were no fireworks, owing to the construction work currently happening at the castle. So after the parade, we filed out of the park and walked back to the hotel.

    We used up the 3 Fastpasses from the hotel, but did not pull a paper Fastpass all day.

    Overall, our impression of Hong Kong Disneyland compared to Shanghai Disneyland is this: it's more similar to the Western parks. In fact, aside from the food, it's very like the Western parks, the original Disneyland in particular. Compared to Shanghai, it's cleaner. There's less litter. There's less line cutting, less running, and less smoking out of bounds. There are less umbrellas being used, though still enough to be annoying as hell. Many of the attractions are done in multiple languages, but it felt like they have more English than Cantonese or Mandarin. There are Western toilets that come with toilet paper and soap, amenities I'd nearly forgotten about these past few weeks. There are many more Westerners there, particularly Australians. And we were not a novelty to anyone. Nobody gave us a second glance, asked for a photo or said a shy "hello".

    We didn't do everything at Hong Kong Disneyland, but we did what we wanted to do, and we did some of those things multiple times. I've heard Hong Kong Disneyland called a 'half day park', and that's just not fair. There is plenty there to see and do.

    I think I *liked* Shanghai more because of how 'different' it is, but I *enjoyed* Hong Kong more, with its smaller size, lack of crowds, and behaviour from other park guests more in line with what I'm accustomed to.

    Having said that, I expected Shanghai to have the wow factor attractions, and it did have those, but Mystic Manor and Runaway Mine cars are on par with Pirates of the Caribbean and Tron. For me, anyway. So in terms of which park has the best attractions, I think it's a draw, though Shanghai does indeed have more attractions overall.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018
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