After seven very pleasant weeks in Beijing it was time to move on. It was getting cold so we wanted to move south to warmer climates and our three month visa (extended from its original two months) only had six weeks left. And so it was that we set off to follow an irregular line south 2900 km to Hong Kong.
When we started we had a pretty poor idea of what we'd encounter. We did of course know about the biggest cities such as Shanghai and Nanjing, but we wanted to see some of the "inbetween". After lots of study of the map and the "Lonely Planet" travel guide our plans were made and we were off on the early morning of November 1, 1999.
Our first stop after Beijing was Chengde, a former summer captial of the Mongols somewhat north of Beijing. In fact, technically it is in Mongolia (now renamed) whereas Beijing is not. (They are on opposite sides of the Great Wall of China.) When we left Beijing there had already been a snowfall and going north was no way to get warmer weathers, but we were fairly lucky and had bright sunshine with very cold temperatures. So after a fascinating week seeing a dozen temples (modeled mostly after Tibetan ones) and the palace grounds and gardens we set off south.
We left Chengde early in the morning and were in Beijing early enough to consider going to the train station and looking for tickets further south without spending a night. We wanted to go to Tai Shan, which would be the second of (we hoped five) famous temple mountains that we would visit. Jinan and then Tai'an are the gateways to Tai Shan. We were happy to find there was a high-speed train that would take us the 550 Km to Jinan and get us there early in the evening.
From Jinan we took a bus to Tai'an, the small town at the foot of the mountain and from there made our assault on the peak. Our Tai'An hotel helped us book a room on top so that we would not have to attempt a round-trip on the same day. That was fortunate because we would not have made it!
With Tai Shan under our belt, we moved on to Qufu, birthplace of Confucius and center of the quasi religion dedicated to him and his philosophy of life, once more in favor we should note after the demise of the communist regime. Next was Nanjing, the capital of the Chiang Kai Shek regime during WWII. We liked the city very much and were later happy to make its reacquaintance as part of Gerry's consulting for ZTE. After Nanjing came the garden city of Suzhou with its Grand Canal and mostly small-town feel. And finally to Shanghai, where we expected to spend a good long time but found it underwhelming after Beijing and so cut our stay there short in favor of a trip to Hangzhou and its famed West Lake and from there a trip to Huang Shan, Yellow Mountain, probably the most famous mountain in China. By this time we had used up our allotted six weeks and so took a night train from Huang Shan City to Shenzhen to cross the border into Hong Kong.
By the time we arrived in Hong Kong we had lots of wonderful memories and photographs but overall we had barely scratched the surface of China. Consider this: China has slightly more area than the USA while the populated parts (which exclude Tibet and the deserts) are about the same size as eastern USA or Europe. Our trip was the equivalent in the USA of spending seven weeks in New York City, then spending about a week each in Boston, Newport (Rhode Island), Washington DC, and Chicago with a few days in the mountains of West Virginia.
The equivalent in Europe would be seven weeks in Paris (we spent 10 there), a week each in London, Munich, Strasbourg, and Milan, with a few days in the Italian Dolomites. You can see from this how much we missed.
Our schedule was heavily dictated by the need to leave China when our visas expired, December 12. In our original thoughts, before we knew that we would have visa problems, we had expected to stay a month or more in Shanghai.
Entering Hong Kong
Our last stop before Hong Hong was Shenzhen. In Shenzhen our hotel was a few blocks from the train station; from our 25th floor room we could see the border and the northern hills of Hong Kong. But we could not figure out how to take the train directly from Shenzhen to Hong Kong. After many attempts at the train station, asking in various hotels, and trying to understand the Lonely Planet, we gave up. To get out of China and into Hong Kong we literally walked, dragging our luggage, from our Shenzhen hotel, down the main street past the train station and through the Chinese emigration building and across a connecting bridge to the Hong Kong immigration building and then into the connecting railway station in Lo Wu. Later we were to learn this is the way it's always done: first immigration and then train, not the other way around.
From the exit of immigration, already technically in the Hong Kong S. A. R. (Special Administrative Region) we took a train to Kowloon, a taxi to Central Hong Kong, and a ferry to Lamma Islandwhere we were to stay. And then we dragged our luggage carts up the hill about 200 feet in height (about a 20 story building). It's rather rural, with only paths and no roads or cars. By 3 p.m. we were exploring the place.