5 days itinerary of Shantou, Chaozhou and Meizhou

If you’re into history and food, these destinations may be of interest to you. I took advantage of a Jetstar promo and bought return tickets to Jieyang/Shantou for only $64. Here’s my itinerary:

Day 1
Jieyang airport is about half an hour from Chaozhou, an hour away from Shantou and two hours from Meizhou. You may actually start your trip from any of the three cities. For me, Shantou seems to be the logical place to start. The Jetstar flight timing is such that by the time you’re checked into your hotel, it’s almost time for dinner.

Fuyuan is the place to be for Teochew dishes.

Air-conditioned and hygienic
The signature dish, braised pork (隆江猪手). Marinated through and through and so delicious.
Raw crabs. Rich and creamy.
Large chunks of goose liver
The porridge is thicker than the Singapore version and it is better. Superior rice grains for sure.
Vegetables are always served in huge portions in China, and always very fresh
Pu Ning (普宁) bean curd. Deep fried and tastes very good when taken with the accompanying chives dipping.
The restaurant is huge, but you should still be there early to avoid queuing

After dinner, we took a long stroll towards Xiao Wu rice rolls (小吴肠粉), stopping by Suning mall along the way.

Opens 7+ pm to 4am
Some people are out off by the shirtless chefs
The pork, seafood and eggs is the more popular option and it is loaded with fillings
Seems quite easily put together but very tasty

Day 2
The Shantou old city area is worth spending half a day to check out. Various traditional food outlets are littered throughout this area.

First stop, Laomagong (老妈宫) dumplings. It is named after the temple across the street, which is near the centre of the old city area.

Hidden in a small alley but well marked
It is different from the Hokkien style dumplings we are used to. It is mostly savoury but also has red bean paste embedded, and served with sauce. Tastes good.
Besides dumplings they sell a few other items
Just around the corner, Aixi noodles
It is similar to the Fuzhou noodles but with much less Tahini. You can also choose Kway Teow.
Comes with soup as a set
What the old city looks like and it is in Chinese baroque style
Restoration underway and I think they may have gone a little too far in the “correction” done
I hope they retain the present looks. I even prefer retaining the plants growing on the roof
The center of old city, cslled little garden (小公园)
Iconic octogonal windoes

To relieve the stomach from too much food, we visited the Shantou development museum, which is free admission and interesting enough. Still quite stuffed but had to proceed with lunch, at Fuhecheng (福合埕), just to check it off the list.

Beef is a specialty of Shantou and Chaozhou
The beef ball was very springy and juicy
The original outlet, and they have outlets all over Shantou
There is a sense of serenity around here
Another age old store near the center specializing in all types of Kueh (粿)
No room for these
Quite a wide variety
The old buildings look sturdy and well ornamented
This is called almond and sesame tea, though it is obviously not tea. A little too starchy but delicious nevertheless.
Quite a few shops selling this but this one is one of the oldest, and it is air-conditioned!
Before dinner, we had a go at this dessert place famous for bean curd
On the left, cylinder shaped Tangyuan (glutinous rice dumplings) with filling that is called 鸭母捻, and bean curd on the right. There is a sticky feel to the bean curd and it is quite special.
The seaside corridor near People’s park
Shantou is full of seafood stalls called Da Pai Dang, and Cai Ji is a well known one that has been upgraded into a restaurant.
A small fish that is said to be popular in Shantou
A very interesting signature dish at Cai Ji, pumpkin in coconut milk. Also has yam cubes. It is like Bo Bo Cha Cha.
So good we finished it despite being very full

Day 3
There are frequent buses to Chaozhou, although it is somewhat annoying that the bus spends half an hour picking up passengers in Shantou before actually starting on the journey to Chaozhou. It is also possible to take a train to Chaozhou and the trip takes only half an hour (vs more than an hour by bus), but you may have trouble finding a taxi when you arrive! In fact, this was the biggest problem we faced when in Chaozhou. The taxis don’t go by meter and you have to haggle over the price. More importantly, you may not even be able to find a taxi when you need one!

Other than this very distasteful tourist trap of being swindled every time you need to get around, Chaozhou is a pleasant place to be, despite being very touristic.

Grabbed some Kueh before leaving Shantou. The chives and green bean ones are savoury while the dark red one is red bean.
Paifang street, the successful tourist magnet that all the neighbouring cities are trying to emulate
The traditional businesses, like this noodle shop, on Paifang street are slowly taken over by new enterprises.
Hanshanglou (韩上楼) is the biggest dim sum place in Chaozhou
The harkao is good. Overall, don’t expect Hong Kong kind of standard here. Price is reasonable.
The alleys around this old city area is fun to explore
Old city gate that is wide enough for a car to pass through
Ghangji bridge is beautiful and functional at the same time
Supposedly an ancient bridge but it is completely newly designed
The section of the bridge that is made up of boats
The boats are removed every day at 5pm
Ghangji gate, the old city gate
Huliangquan is a century old snack place along Paifang street
Popiah is called 春饼. They also sell other Teochew specialties like fermented beans biscuits.
Traditional way of making Popiah skin
The Popiah filling is green beans. May not work for everyone but I do like green beans.
This was totally unplanned for but the billboard grabbed my attention. Braised goose. Just around the corner from Hurongquan, built into the new East Sea Hotel that is still under renovation.
This was very good! And cheap too (80 Yuan)
The restoration effort is slowly progressing into all the alleys of the old city
Good thing they are preserving this ornamented wall
The streets are quite neat and they remind me of Japan
The old houses definitely look better than the modern ones
Fruit juice shops like this one is all over Chaozhou and Shantou
The fresh fruits are sprinkled with 甘草 which is a type of herb. You can choose to eat the fruits as is or blend them into juice. They add a lot of sugar to the blended drink so you might want to tell them to hold back on the sugar.
Another Chaozhou specialty, fish dumplings
They serve soup in the evening
You can taste the fish in the fish ball. A meaty feel which I like rather than the bouncy and starchy fish balls that’s been “improvised” to save cost.
Final food item to check off the list for the day – oyster omelette
Very thin and crispy. Thumbs up. I would say this is better than the ones in Singapore and Taiwan which are more starchy.
Even the locals come and walk about Paifang street at night. The shops stay open till around 10.

Day 4
You could say this was the day when everything went wrong. My plan was to take a train to Meizhou. There was conflicting information on the train schedule and it turned out the 11am train I was hoping to take was no longer available since years ago. Lesson learnt: the train schedule that is actually available for booking online (via ctrip website for example) is accurate.

Kway Chap for breakfast inside the courtyard of an old house.
This was truly tasty. The rice starch was thick and smooth.
The surrounding will keep you occupied before your food is served

It’s unfortunate that Chaozhou and Meizhou are not well connected. There is only a single train trip per day at 530pm and two bus trips at 915 and 3pm respectively. The situation will be much improved when the high speed rail link is launched later this year (2019). If you’re interested to go to Meizhou, you might want to hold off your travel plans until the high speed rail is operational. It departs from the high speed rail station near Jieyang Chaoshan airport.

Anyway, I decided to catch a bus to Jieyang and transit to another bus for Meizhou. Little did I know, there was a detour from the usual 2 hours route from Jieyang to Meizhou due to road closure, and the journey became 4.5 hours! Anyway, this was still the best outcome possible, being able to arrive at Meizhou around 6pm. If I took the 3pm bus from Chaozhou or the 530pm train, I would have arrived at 8pm! It was raining the whole day anyway, and I may not have been able to do much anyway if I arrived at the planned timing 1pm.

Headed for a Hakka meal right away. Food from a factory assembly line restaurant like this one is so-so as expected.
The Hakka noodles here (腌面) is said to be among the top ten in Meizhou (a commercially motivated listing so take it with a pinch of salt), but it was bland. The texture was good though. If you didn’t know, 腌面 is THE Hakka dish.
Abacus seeds (算盘子). It is more chewy than the ones we are accustomed to in Malaysia and Singapore. You can see that it looks translucent.

Day 5
My original plan for the day was to visit the neighbouring small town called Songkou as well as the Nanyanfei tea plantation (雁南飞茶园) and Qiaoxi Hakka village (桥溪古韵). Instead, I moved the itinerary I had planned for the day before to the present day, and thankfully it worked even better this way.

Youluo street (油罗街) is the logical place to start the food tour of old town. It’s tragic that they destroyed the original facade of the old town and installed a completely homogeneous and uninspiring new facade. No soul. They got it all wrong here in Meizhou, unlike Shantou and Chaozhou.
The name of the street comes from the trade of selling fried snack items. Fried balls of pumpkin and yam being prepared.
A snack that would be familiar to Malaysians – Gaizaipeng.
Came to this little eatery by chance and the food was delicious
炒粄皮 is like Kway Teow, just slightly thicker. Full of Wok Hey.
This was the best 腌面. Texture and taste were superb. It’s true, as they say, that the best 腌面 is found in the little shops in the little alleys littered around Meizhou.
三及第汤 which is a combination of pork, liver and intestines.
Thick layer of oil and pork lard for the noodles
What the old town really looks like
Hidden in this quiet alley is a specialty glutinous rice balls shop Rongji 荣记
38 years selling just glutinous rice balls, amazing
The soup has pomelo skin
Not like any glutinous rice balls I have ever tasted. Super smooth and has a special caramel sweetness. The plain ones were actually the best.
Meizhou is quickly destroying all things they deem old and ugly
This corner of the old town is full of Clay pot rice restaurants
So fragrant you don’t need a lot of meat go with the rice
Donghu street is slated to undergo the “upgrading”, a pity
Already so full after all the food but must eat here
Take your pick, chair or bench seating
Got to try 梅菜扣肉 (pork belly with pickled vegetables), arguably the most famous Hakka dish
Huge plate of steamed fish belly. I really love Hakka steamed fish. It does not have much gravy like Hong Kong style steamed fish. The two dishes came up to only 56 Yuan, unbelievable!
Took a stroll towards the Hakka museum after lunch and came across this algae filled pond.
Traditional house
Pond adds aesthetics
Renjinglu, the former residence of Wang Zunxian
Once a consul general to Singapore, and later he represented the Chinese in San Francisco
The museum has many well presented exhibits like this fire dragon
The link bridge to the Hakka museum
The museum is very well put together
Model of a 围龙屋
Malaysians will be familiar with this figure
Singaporeans will know him
Figurine that captures a heartbreaking moment so well
1Q84 takes their coffee seriously. A good place to chill after the museum visit.
The typical look of a cafe in this region
Having seen a 围龙屋 in the museum, I chanced upon information about a restaurant housed in a 围龙屋 and promptly decided to go there. 万秋楼 is undergoing extensive restoration but was still open.
It was a mansion of a rich man, and does not look anything like the model shown in the museum
Dining in the courtyard
Had to try this dish 娘酒鸡. The chicken was too tough. The sweet gravy takes a bit of getting used to but is good.

Day 6
The plan for the day was to buy Hakka goodies and to have the final meal in Meizhou. The 1230pm bus arrived slightly ahead of the scheduled 230pm at Jieyang airport. Given we had more than 2 hours before the check-in counters open, we decided to explore the neighbouring villages. There isn’t any public transport at all, so we took a taxi to save some effort (the nearest village 孙畔村 is actually within walking distance). The fare had to be higher (20 Yuan) because the taxis usually take people into Shantou and Chaozhou instead of the nearby areas.

Meizhou neighborhood is abuzz with people shopping for groceries
Wuhua (五华) is most well known for Yong Tau Fu (stuffed bean curd) and I had to try them. This restaurant sandwiched between the other two supposedly does not “slaughter” customers, though I’m not so sure if that were true in the end. Prices were reasonable I think.
Bean curd wrap
Yong Tau Fu made with fresh bean curd, done in the most original style. Honestly speaking, I was too full from breakfast to be able to tell if it was really good.
Hakka style steamed fish. Had to have it one last time.

We knew we would arrive at the airport too early, so I did research and found out there were villages in the vicinity of the airport worth checking out.

Caught a glimpse of an old village near the airport from the bus. There are quite a few.
孙畔村 is the village nearest to the airport. Looks deserted. People are slowly moving out of these dwellings to modern ones.
Picture perfect. Authentic, unlike the famous mural in Penang.
Finally managed to try Chwee Kueh at the airport. Did not get to try them while at Chaozhou because the shops selling them don’t open early in the morning.
The Chwee Kueh is not as good as the ones in Singapore. These were tougher, much more oily and salty.

The Teochew connection

Having been to Swatow and Teochew, i discovered that a lot of the food that many identify as “Singaporean” are actually Teochew. Here are the proof:

Chwee Kway
Continue reading The Teochew connection

The cheapest way to access Google, WhatsApp and Facebook on a trip to China

The easiest way, and actually still relatively inexpensive way to go about this is to use a local SIM card with data roaming activated. I say it is relatively inexpensive because it cost only $8 for 1GB of data over a week if you use a Starhub prepaid card, and I think it is wise to do so. Forget about buying any other types of prepaid SIM card, or worse, renting a WiFi sharing device. M1 data passport is also very expensive ($25) in comparison.

Continue reading The cheapest way to access Google, WhatsApp and Facebook on a trip to China

Venture to Northeastern China – Harbin, Changchun and Shenyang

Autumn turns out to be a good time to be in Northeastern China. The weather is cool, and the colour of leaves in shades of red, orange and yellow are breathtaking.

Harbin was especially mind blowing. They are obsessed about cleanliness! There is an army of cleaners tending the streets endlessly. Owing to Russian influence, the architecture is quite a bit more interesting than the generally drab ones built all over China during the 70s through 2000s.

Shenyang, in Liaoning province, is where people queue up to board transportation vehicles (and I have witnessed the same in Dalian a decade ago), something not emulated in other provinces. Their driving habits are horrendous though.

Continue reading Venture to Northeastern China – Harbin, Changchun and Shenyang

Tour of my ancestral land – Part 3 – Fuqing and Fuzhou

The only clue I had when searching for my grandfather’s hometown was my surname. As the Chinese proverb goes, that sounds like searching for a needle in the ocean bed, right? Fortunately, in the olden days, Chinese families, those with the same surname, stick closely together. An entire village would consist of families of the same descent. And so, just by searching using my surname, I managed to find two villages in Fuqing where people with the same surname as mine lived.

To be honest, i felt that my chances were pretty low on actually hitting the jackpot, but it would be good enough for me just to get a feel of the place. Continue reading Tour of my ancestral land – Part 3 – Fuqing and Fuzhou

Tour of my ancestral land – Part 2 – Dapu and Tulou

While my dad is from Fuqing, my mum is Hakka. Specifically, from Dapu 大埔. I didn’t plan for it initially, but after checking the map, i discovered that Dapu is not too far from the Tulou area. Well, afterall, the Tulou are built by the Hakkas. So, i decided to add on an itinerary to check out Dapu, even though my mum wasn’t so keen.

Dapu is located in Guangdong province, just bordering Fujian. Just so that we could do some sightseeing (because there isn’t much to see in and around Dapu, other than ancient dwellings which does not interest my mum again), i chose to visit the terraced paddy fields of Pingshan (坪山梯田).

Enroute to Pingshan, we passed by Pinghe (平和), and they are famous for Pomelo (蜜柚). I have not seen Pomelo, or anything at all for that matter, grown in such a scale. Continue reading Tour of my ancestral land – Part 2 – Dapu and Tulou

Tour of my ancestral land – Part 1 – Xiamen

For a long time, I had in mind to bring my father to his father’s birthplace. It finally came to pass. My grandfather came from Fuqing, Fujian. Since then, none among my relatives have gone back to visit, so nobody has an idea what the place is like. Not sure about you, but I find it intriguing to get a glimpse of how my ancestors lived.

When I chanced upon a cheap flight (S$280) to Xiamen, without second thoughts, I went ahead to book. If one keeps procrastinating, it will never happen.

Here are some tips on organizing a free-and-easy trip in China: Continue reading Tour of my ancestral land – Part 1 – Xiamen

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.

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

Continue reading Pearl River Delta Trip Report Card Part 1