Pearl River Delta Trip Report Card Part 1

Firstly, I wanted to showcase photos of my kids taken with some of the transportation vehicles/vessels we rode during the trip, spanning land, sea and air. If you have a kid who’s fascinated with various modes of transportation, a trip to the Pearl River Delta can fulfill his/her dreams. You don’t need to go to Europe.

transport
Clockwise from the top left, plane, ferry to Zhongshan, Hexiehao high speed rail to Lowu, MTR, double decker electric tram (aka “Dingding”), light rail (tram) at Yuen Long, mini bus, Hong Kong airport express. Not pictured above, taxi in Zhongshan, private rental car from Zhongshan to Kaiping and Dongguan, taxi and double decker bus in Hong Kong

I was thrilled to find out that it was possible to travel by ferry from the airport to all the major cities in the Pearl River Delta, via Skypier. You don’t have to clear the Hong Kong immigration, nor pick up your baggage after disembarking from the plane, what convenience! It is a little expensive, but well worth the price.

The eatery nearest the ferry ticketing counter and check in gantry is 一粥面 Super Super Congee and Noodles (quite lame sounding), and the food is quite decent. If you have time after collecting your ferry ticket, this is a good place to do your meal. There is only a 7 eleven store offering snacks at the Skypier dock area.

Wanton noodles set. The noodles is a little soggy, but the wanton was the best i had during the trip.
Wanton noodles set. The noodles is a little soggy, but the wanton was the best i had during the trip. Huge, with large chunks of prawns, and remains intact after taking a bite.
Congee set which comes with 炒皇面. Satisfying.
Congee 艇仔粥 set which comes with stir fried noodles 炒皇面. Satisfying.

The ferry ride was the smoothest one I have had from as far as I can remember. Those I have taken to Macau and Zhuhai previously made me nauseous. Those I have taken to Batam were equally bad.

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There was a small kitchen operating like a hawker stall onboad the ferry, and a 小卖部 (little convenience store). Very quaint.
Huge crane basking in the sun. There were even more unmanned dredging vessels littered all around the entire Pearl River Delta. It was quite a sight. They remind me of the movie Mad Max. Perhaps some of them were actually abandoned, I'm not sure, but anyway, I later found out they dredge sand from the river bed to be used for construction.
Huge crane basking in the setting sun. There were even more unmanned dredging vessels littered all around the entire Pearl River Delta. It was quite a sight. They reminded me of the movie Mad Max. Perhaps some of them were actually abandoned, I’m not sure, but anyway, I later found out they dredge sand from the river bed to be used for construction.

The two ports nearest to where I was planning to visit, Kaiping, was Zhongshan and Zhuhai. I settled for Zhongshan since I have not been there before (although I did visit the Sun Yat Sen memorial). There was no official taxi stand at Zhongshan port, so you do have to haggle with the taxi drivers who tout at the entrance. We managed to reduce the initial price of 150 Yuan down to 60, which was probably still at least 20 Yuan more than if the meter was used, but anyway it was within reason.

Zhongshan is not a congested place, unlike Guangzhou, and it felt more relaxing because of that. I chose to stay near Lihe plaza for easy access to services and food. I needed to get a SIM card so I could contact the driver who will be driving us to the attractions we were going to visit. Anyway, here is what I found out about getting a SIM card in China, and this is relevant to anyone who will be visiting China.

Prepaid data SIM card in China

The 50 Yuan SIM card from China Unicom
50 Yuan SIM card from China Unicom

First of all, you need to know that there is no access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Google services in China, unless you use a foreign SIM card. If these are what you are planning to use with mobile data, then getting a local SIM card is not for you, unless you’re tech savvy enough to know how to configure and use some sort of VPN service (which are mostly not free). If you are an m1 (Singpapore Telco) customer, you can sign up for their data passport service, at S$25 per month plust S$2 activation fee. Or you can get a roaming SIM card. The advantage of the latter is, you get data for both China and Hong Kong, for about S$25 including shipping to your home in Singapore. It is a better deal if you’re going to visit both Hong Kong and other parts of China on the same trip. The other options may be relevant to your needs also. It is not stated on the website whether you get access to Facebook and such with these cards from China Unicom, but i think it is safe to presume that you do.

The most basic local SIM card (i.e. no access to Facebook etc.) costs only 50 Yuan (S$10.40). I got the card from China Unicom (from one of their “Wo” branded shops), which offers the highest compatibility with non-Chinese phones. There is a compulsory one time fee of 6 Yuan for caller number display. This leaves you with 44 Yuan of remainder credit. There is also a monthly rental fee of 6 Yuan, which is waived for 13 months. What this means is, the remainder credit is intact for 13 months. This is pretty advantageous for someone who needs to travel into China frequently, like once every few months, as the SIM card will be usable for quite some time.

The fee for using data is 1 Yuan for 500MB per day. That’s right, only 1 Yuan (S$0.21). This is only for local usage though. For example, if you bought your SIM card in Shanghai, the tariff of 1 Yuan for 500MB applies only when you are within the Shanghai region. Once you travel out of that region, the tariff becomes 0.3 Yuan per MB. This gives you only 146MB worth of data if you had 44 Yuan credit, which is still enough for a few days’ usage if you merely used messaging apps and did very light surfing. If you know you’re going to be moving about a lot, there is another SIM card costing 70 Yuan that offers better rates for cross region/province data usage.

You need a passport, an address and a phone number for the registration of the SIM card. That’s right, a phone number. How on earth are you going to have a phone number before you own a SIM card? Anyway, just provide the hotel address and phone number, they won’t be bothered. They will also take a photo for the registration. I think a non Chinese speaking person can manage this process. You can probably just hand the person manning the counter 50 Yuan, your passport and a hotel namecard.

I think the SIM cards by China Unicom are very compelling, even when the shipping fee cost more than the SIM card itself. It is likely much cheaper than the data roaming service offered by your mobile service provider.

Having settled the SIM card and calling my rental car driver, we headed to the 58th floor of Hilton Zhongshan Downtown for a little indulgence – Italian food for dinner. The mains were rather pricey, so we opted for pasta and pizza. The food was quite authentic.

Fresh made pasta
Fresh made pasta
True Italian style thin crust Pizza
True Italian style thin crust Pizza

We also checked out the observation deck at the 60th storey. The observation deck was very poorly designed, as the spotlights shone onto the building affects the view much.

Not a lot of lit buildings in Zhongshan, mostly just the same drab buildings found all over China.
Not a lot of lit buildings in Zhongshan, mostly just the same drab buildings found all over China.

The next morning, we headed to our first sightseeing stop, Chikanzhen (赤坎镇). It took about two hours from Zhongshan due to traffic.

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Travel back in time as you walk the streets of Chikanzhen old town. Notice that the street and the shop front aisle are almost level, with just a minimal curb. This has the effect of amplifying the sense of spaciousness along the corridors which are extra wide in the first place.
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Building style that probably became inspiration to buildings in South East Asia (or the other way round)
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Perfect for shooting a group photo..
Like this
like this
One of the bigger restaurants in the food section of the street
One of the bigger restaurants along the section where the eateries are concentrated
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If not for the modern tentage and scooters, you would believe me if i told you this was a scene taken in the 1950s.
Research led me to this restaurant
Research led me to this restaurant. Love the hand painted signboard.
Clay pot rice cooked on a wood fired stove
Clay pot rice cooked on a wood fired stove. How often do you get to eat that? The chef is so skillful at cooking the claypot rice. When served, the rice is perfectly cooked and not at all burnt, as is often the case elsewhere.
The signature dish - 黄鳝饭.
The signature dish 黄鳝饭 (from an eel like fish) is TO DIE FOR. The fish exudes an amazing fragrance.
Three types cured meat (三腊饭), one of the best of its kind I have tasted
Three types cured meat (三腊饭), one of the best of its kind I have tasted.
Soup does well for washing down the rice
Soup does well for washing down the rice

There are more than 10 types of clay pot rice to choose from, and being served in per individual portion, you get to eat more than one type, and still have room for other food.

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Stuffed tofu (豆腐角) or commonly known as Yong Tau Fu in our part of the world, cooked in lard over wood fired stove. The fish and meat paste is so tasty, and I dare say it bests Yong Tau Fu from Malaysia.
Simply WOW
Simply WOW
I'm usually not a fan of internal organs, but I gave this 牛杂 (mixed beef parts) a try, since it is a specialty food here. There was not a hint of raw beef taste, and I was able to eat even the intestines. There was no overpowering use of spice, just a subtle fragrance that blends so well with the beef parts.
I’m usually not a fan of internal organs, but I gave this 牛杂 (mixed beef parts) a try, since it is a specialty food here. There was not a hint of raw beef taste, and I was able to eat even the intestines. There was no overpowering use of spice, just a subtle fragrance that blends well with the beef parts.
A view that can keep you occupied when having your meal
A view to keep you occupied when having your meal
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Other than the very short section selling food, the rest of the streets were eerily quiet
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Just adding ornaments to the top of the building and around the windows does so much to improve the aesthetics
CRT TVs are still worth repairing in this part of the world
CRT TVs are still worth repairing in this part of the world
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The builders probably didn’t foresee that the buildings would actually stand the test of time
Bee hives, with bees thrown in and sold as a complete package
Bee hives, with bees thrown in and sold as a complete package
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Age only adds to the charm
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The river promenade is lined with vendors selling local specialties. They don’t tout the way vendors at tourist attractions typically do, which made us feel more compelled to buy from them
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The second step in making orange peel (陈皮), the first step being to de-skin. In this case, the skin is as valuable, if not more, than the flesh of the fruit. The processed orange peel is actually quite tasty and supposedly good for clearing throat.

Zili village is a 10 minutes drive away from Chikanzhen. It is one among three villages being developed as tourist attractions for showcasing Diaolou (碉楼). You can actually see Diaolou all around the region, but the most characteristic ones are probably found within the three. Anyway, if you have seen one, you probably got a feel of them all.

Zili village
Zili village
A fortress like building near the car park that is not part of the Zili village designated attraction
A castle like tower near the car park that is not part of the Zili village designated attraction
Peking dog - fusion of Western and Chinese style
Peking dog (at least that’s what it looks like to me) – fusion of Western and Chinese styles
The colour ages well
The colour ages well
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The iron grills and panes certainly look secure
Bamboo is a popular choice for the garden
Bamboo is a popular choice
The lower levels usually have a very plain facade, but the balcony makes up for it
The lower levels usually have a very plain facade, but the balcony makes up for it
Nice front porch
Nice front porch
Big fat hen
Big fat hen
The roof tops provide a nice recreational space
The roof tops provide a nice recreational space
A rather elaborate arch
An elaborate arch over the main entrance of a Diaolou
I heard someone playing some sort of traditional plucked instrument from one of these private homes. Coupled with the rustlings of the trees, it was a very atmospheric feel!
I heard someone playing some sort of traditional plucked instrument (i wish i knew what instrument it was) from one of these private homes (out of bounds to visitors). Coupled with the rustlings of the trees, it was a very atmospheric feel.
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I hope the art of making the nice sculpture and painting has been passed down, they look so exquisite.
Growing rice is the main economic activity here
Growing rice is the main economic activity here
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The bricks are different from those found in Beijing Hutongs
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The houses are laid out in an orderly fashion, which is an amazing feat for a village.
That's probably enough chicken for two month's supply
That’s probably enough chicken for two month’s supply
Preserved vegetables
Preserved vegetables in the making
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Gift of mother nature

After the hour and a half walkabout in the scenic village, we were off on a 3 hours ride to Dongguan to meet a friend. Even though this part of the trip was not for sightseeing, it was just as enlightening. I got to see the ships travelling along the Pearl river. One of these ships might be carrying your Taobao purchased goods. I also saw endless factories, the communities of migrant workers that sprang up to support the manufacturing, the environmental cost of the resultant smog, and more. Despite the jobs and wealth generated by all these activities, one wonders of the perennial question – eat to live, or live to eat?

Crossing the Pearl river
Crossing the Pearl river

Anyway, one of the main goals of this trip was to sample the hairy crab that my better half craves for. Guangzhou or anywhere in the Pearl River Delta is THE cheapest place one can fly to from Singapore to get hold of fresh and inexpensive hairy crab, transported from Zhejiang province. Our friend in Dongguan made the arrangement to buy the hairy crab and had them steamed in a restaurant. Although the hairy crab is also air-flown from China to Singapore, it is not anywhere as fresh as eating them in China.

Hairy crab. Check.
Hairy crab. Check.

To be continued..

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