Exploring Hidden China From Hong Kong

  • 01 of 07

    The Five Hidden Destinations From Hong Kong

    Diaolous Kaiping
    ••• Kevin Poh/Flickr

    Once you’re in Hong Kong it’s hard to resist the urge to stick your nose over the border and say you’ve seen China. The most popular destinations are day trips to Shenzhen and overnight stays in Guangzhou. They both have their appeal, but the cities are increasingly modern, high rise and international. In short, if you want to experience the more traditional character of China they aren’t your best choice.

    Instead, try one of the lesser known cities along the Pearl River Delta or in eastern Guangdong. Few people know about the ferry connections Hong Kong has into China along the East and West Rivers. You’ll not only be introduced to UNESCO protected diaolous, limestone mountains and the best tea houses in China, but it’s get a chance to cruise past rice paddies and see skyscrapers spurting from the jungle. There is no better introduction to China.

    Click through to see our favourite hidden China destinations. 

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  • 02 of 07

    Zhaoqing: The Almost Imperial City

    Dinghu Mountain Resort
    ••• Jacque C (photo.e7go.tw)

    Relatively undiscovered by international tourists, Zhaoqing is a beauty spot that has drawn local tourists for decades. The attraction is the mountains that rocket out of the rice paddies on the city outskirts. Explore the Seven Star Crags to find limestone mountains picturesquely positioned on the shores of Star Lake, as well as Buddhist temples and Taoist icons at the waters edge. Ding Hu Mountain Resort offers a wilder setting where you can hike jungle clad peaks and enjoy wider vistas across the resort’s mist filled valleys.

    Zhaoqing itself is also worth investigation. The city once stepped in as a temporary imperial capital during one of China’s warring periods, and you’ll find temples and pagodas that date back more than five hundred years. It was also was here that the Portuguese, who were busy making themselves at home in Macau, would establish the first Christian mission in the country. The museum documenting the mission is set inside the 15th century Red Mansion, from where...MORE the last of the Ming Emperors also ascended to the throne.  

    Frequency: One round trip each day from Hong Kong
    How long: Three and a half hours

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  • 03 of 07

    Kaiping: UNESCO Listed Heritage

    Kaiping watchtowers
    ••• Payton Chung/Flickr.

    Once you’re here, you’ll wonder how they have kept Kaiping a secret for so long. Stretched out across the Nantan River, Kaiping will one day be famous for its diaolou, or watchtower guardhouses.

    Found scattered around the city and clustered in the villages in the surrounding countryside, the oldest are stone built Ming era towers that were used to keep look out for bandits and pirates. Yet, while the Ming towers are the oldest they aren’t the most interesting. In the 20th century many returning Chinese immigrants who had made their fortune in Australia, America and elsewhere built their own interpretations of the towers inspired by their travels. Today, you’ll find over 1,500 guardhouses featuring the turrets of a German castle, flared colonial archer or a minaret inspired by Islamic architecture. Now more than 100 years old, most of the diaolou have a little peeling paint but almost all are still standing -and recently listed by UNESCO. There are organised tours from the city centre...MORE that will take you to the the three or four villages that have the most diaolou. 

    Frequency: Two round trips each day, via San Bu
    How long? Four hours

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  • 04 of 07

    Jiangmen: Saunas and Hot Springs

    Gudou Spring Resort
    ••• Gudou Hot Spring Resort

    Find heritage buildings jostled by skyscrapers in Jiangmen; a city that’s a little more attractive than some of its big smoke rivals. If you want see China’s break neck development, then the skyrocketing skyline will impress; while there are enough ancient temples and historic forts to keep your camera filled with photos. The historic waterfront district, from where the British and French once dealt in opium, has been especially well preserved and restaurants and cafes now make the most of the fancy colonial fixtures and fittings.

    Ultimately, however, skyscrapers and temples are not rare finds along the Pearl River Delta – but what about hot springs?  Find bubbling mountain water and saunas at the slightly time worn Gudoushan Hot Spring resort. Avoid Golden Week, and where possible weekends. It can be absolutely packed.

    Frequency: Six round trips each day
    How long? Two hours and 30 minutes 

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  • 05 of 07

    Shantou: Old Town and Tea

    Shantou old town
    ••• Thomas Timlen/Flickr

    It might still be in Guangdong, but Shantou feels very different to the rest of the province. With their own language and cuisine, the Teochow people of Shantou have a story all of their own. As one of the original treaty ports opened to western powers and one of the original special economic zones of PRC, the city is the story of China itself. Between the new business districts and trading towers, you’ll still find run down villas of British administrators and French churches, while traditional wooden store fronts and walkways still survive. The nod to the PRC? Head to the Cultural Revolution Museum for a straight faced introduction to one of China’s most tumultuous periods.

    Shantou is also the number one city in China for drinking tea. Lovingly served Gongfu style the tea houses here are the best in the country. Settle in amid the musty shelves and thick wooden chairs to try local brews and have your hand held through the tea stewing process. Not that tea drinking is dying out. Late...MORE night and downtown you’ll find the pedestriniased streets busy with youngsters grabbing a cup.

    Frequency: One round trip each day
    How long? 6 hours 

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  • 06 of 07

    Huiyang: Stretches of Seaside

    Xunliao Bay in Guangong
    ••• chinatours.org

    Eastern Guangdong is less built up than the ever changing skylines found in the west. You’ll find forests, mountains and some stunning stretches of coastline out here.  

    One of the best stretches is Daya Bay, just south of Huiyang City. There are nearly 100 islands scattered across the bay, most of which are uninhabited, and you’ll never be far from a stretch of golden sand. The further you can get away from Huiyang, the remoter and prettier the bay becomes; find jungle clad hills slip into the South China Sea and the odd crumbling fisherman temple adds a little colour. The best of the beaches is on the east side of the bay. Head to Xunliao Bay for some fine stretches of golden beaches and swanky resorts drawn to the sands. Staying a few days? Travel another hour or so south and you can visit the Gangkou Sea Turtle Reserve, set on a stunning beach with a dramatic mountain backdrop. 

    Frequency: Two round trips each day, via Aotou
    How long? 90 minutes

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  • 07 of 07

    How to Get There

    Jetfoil in Victoria Harbour Hong Kong
    ••• Bernard Spragg. NZ

    The information on the previous slides is based on ferry routes from Hong Kong to China,. The routes are run by several different operators and are subject to change and sometimes cancellation based on popularity. The best source of English language information for ferries from Hong Kong is Chu Kong Passenger Transport.

    While the ferry is the most enjoyable route to these destinations, there are alternatives. Guangzhou is the region’s transportation hub and you’ll find daily direct buses to all of the destinations listed. Western Guangdong is also well served by fast trains and several destinations are connected to the track. If you do find yourself stuck in finding a route, try one of the China Travel Service travel agencies found throughout Hong Kong - they will be able to point you in the right direction. 

    If you are travelling to China from Hong Kong, you will need a full Chinese visa. You can apply for a Chinese visa in Hong Kong