A Guide to Visiting Beijing and The Great Wall of China as a Solo Traveller

China’s capital city sometimes gets a bad rep, particularly in terms of overcrowding and pollution but I had such a great experience in Beijing as a solo traveller. There are so many interesting and beautiful places to see and you can visit the incredible Great Wall of China from the city.

I’d say that Beijing (and obviously the Great Wall) are must visits on any trip to China. There was no pollution when I was there and found the city to be clean and not very crowded. It’s such a sprawling city that I felt like there was lots of space, unlike many Asian cities that I’ve visited. In fact, I almost missed that sense of hustle and bustle I’ve come to love in that part of the world!

 

BEIJING
Getting there

Beijing is China’s major transport hub and it’s super easy to fly there from international airports. If you’re travelling to Beijing from within China, I’d highly recommend taking the train; they’re fast, reasonable priced and punctual (unlike internal flights which are more often than not delayed!).

A word of warning if you’re arriving in to Beijing railway station- the taxi queue can be extremely long, so you may want to pre-arrange one or jump on the metro in to the city.

 

Getting around

Beijing is huge and so it is difficult to explore completely on foot. I’d definitely recommend walking around as much as you can but with massive distances to cover, you’ll need to use a taxi or public transport at some point.

Taxis are pretty affordable but can be difficult to flag down. Take extra care on festival days- I tried to get a taxi to the airport during the Autumn Festival and really struggled, as many people were at home with their families and so there weren’t many taxis available.

The metro is really straightforward to use and it’s cheap too. Allow some extra time for getting through security- there are personal and baggage scanners at each station.

 

Where to stay

There are so many accommodation options in Beijing, from super fancy hotels down to budget hostels, but overall, it’s not that cheap, as you’d probably expect in a capital city.

The Wangfujing and Qianmen districts are both centrally-located and ideal for travellers to stay in. I stayed in a couple of different accommodations in Beijing and would really recommend both.

The first was a private room at Peking Station Hostel. The hostel is really nice, with helpful reception staff and a beautiful common area filled with an array of plants. Although it’s located down a bit of a dingy street, it’s a great location; with restaurants and shops close by, plus a major metro station a few minutes’ walk away.

 

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The second was a great boutique hotel, complete with rooftop bar and pool, The Emperor Qianmen. It was quite a lot more expensive but had an amazing location, really cool rooms, a delicious breakfast buffet and a free mini bar!

 

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Booking.com has plenty of options, use this link for £15 off your next stay: https://www.booking.com/s/34_6/rls10090

 

What to see and do

There are many, many things to see and do in Beijing. Lots of the attractions and areas are really spread out, so you’ll need to prioritise unless you’re in the city for an extended length of time.

I spent four days there (with one day visiting the Great Wall) and it was nowhere near enough time to do everything I wanted!

Here are some of the major things to see and do that you may want to add to your itinerary:

 

Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square

The Forbidden City is probably Beijing’s most well-known tourist attraction and it’s a must-see when visiting China’s capital. The former Chinese imperial palace is a magnificent complex made up of 980 buildings spread over 180 acres. It served as an imperial palace for 24 emperors during both the Ming and Qing dynasties.

It’s located in the centre of the city, so is easy to reach by metro, bus or on foot. It can get extremely busy, especially in the mornings. I visited in the early afternoon during September and it was really quiet as all the tour groups that arrive first thing had been and gone. Avoid weekends and Chinese holidays if you can.

Tiananmen, which translates as “Gate of Heavenly Peace”, is known for all the wrong reasons, but it’s worth seeing just to appreciate the scale of this huge city square.

Use metro stations Tiananmen East, Tiananmen West or Qianmen.

 

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Temple of Heaven Park

Constructed during the Ming dynasty in 1420, the Temple of Heaven is an imperial complex that was visited annually by emperors who prayed for good harvests.

The temple itself is insanely beautiful and unique but there’s much more to see on your visit, including a beautiful leafy park.

Again, it’s really easy to reach by public transport; just head to Tiantan Dongmen station.

 

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Summer Palace

Located in north west Beijing, around 15km outside the city centre, is the beautiful Summer Palace. It’s a Unesco World Heritage site made up of gardens, lakes and palaces.

You’ll need to at least 2-3 hours here; half a day would be ideal.

 

Stroll through the Hutongs

Hutongs are narrow streets and alleys common in China, with traditional courtyards on either side. Beijing has many of them and I’d highly recommend spending some time exploring at least one.

Nanluoguxiang is a good choice, it’s lined with cute shops and places to grab food. It’s quite touristy but well worth a visit. You can find a list of other famous Hutongs here.

 

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Wander down Wangfujing Pedestrian Street

One of the most famous shopping streets in Beijing, Wangfujing is lined with international shops and is home to the popular “snack street”, where you can try all manner of street foods.

Get off at Wangfujing metro station, which is on line 1.

 

Visit Lama Temple

Also known as the Yonghe temple, Lama is the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. It’s an active place of worship, where you’ll see many locals praying alongside the hordes of tourists that also visit.

It’s a beautiful temple but I did find that the crowds of people put me off a little!

The nearest metro station is Yonghegong.

 

Attend a tea ceremony

Tea is an important part of Chinese culture and tradition, with locals spending hours enjoying the drink at teahouses around the country.

There are many different teahouses to choose from but it can be tricky to enjoy the experience as a solo traveller, as these are social places where groups of people congregate and share large pots of tea.

I visited Alice’s Tea House in the Qianmen district after seeing reviews online and I loved it.

Alice is from the Fujian province in China, which is known for tea, and has studied China’s favourite drink to an extremely high level. She runs small tea ceremonies, that cost around £4 per person. I had a one on one ceremony and we tried several different teas and Alice passed on lots of her knowledge to me.

You can also buy the teas and pots if you like; I left with Pu’er and Lychee tea, both of which were unique and delicious.

I just turned up and was lucky to find Alice there, but I think it’s recommended that you email beforehand to ensure availability. There are loads of details on Trip Advisor.

Alice’s Tea House was one of the highlights of my time in Beijing and I’d urge you to check it out if you love tea!

 

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Explore the Qianmen District

Qianmen, which translates as “front gate”, is one Beijing’s most popular tourist destinations. Qianmen Street is a pedestrian street with gorgeous architecture, lined with shops and restaurants.

The area around the main street is bustling and has a really nice vibe. The buildings look lovely at night, I’d recommend experiencing the area after dark if you can.

You can reach the area by heading to Qianmen metro station.

 

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Where to eat and drink

Finding good places to eat was the part I found most challenging about visiting China. With lack of English and not as many reviews online as for other countries, it can be difficult to track down the best places to eat. Here are a couple of recommendations of what dishes to eat and where you can try them:

 

Try some Peking duck

Providing you’re a meat eater, you should definitely try Peking Duck when in Beijing, it’s so tasty. There are loads of places to try this famous dish; I went to Sijimifu. There are several branches dotted around the city, I visited the one close to Wangfujing street. The service was quite slow but the duck was delicious and the atmosphere was great. I ordered half a duck and struggled to finish it.

Quanjude is possibly the most famous place to eat duck and is renowned; here’s an article detailing plenty of other places too.

 

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Enjoy some street food 

As mentioned already, you can grab street food within the Hutongs and on snack street off Wangfujing. Meat on a stick is popular, as is fruit. There are plenty of teas and sweet snacks such as fresh fruit ice lollies and pretty ice creams to help you cool down in warm weather too.

 

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Have a drink with some fellow travellers

If like me, you’re craving Western style or vegetarian food (it’s really difficult to find meat free dishes in China!), head to Long Table in the Qianmen district.

It’s full of backpackers from all around the world, serves a yummy veggie burger and lots of alcoholic drinks to enjoy with your new companions.

 

To be quite honest, I didn’t manage to find many great restaurants in Beijing and I went for sushi a couple of times, as I was craving veggie and fish dishes. I’m not a huge meat eater, so did struggle after a while. In one restaurant, I ordered braised aubergine and it arrived mixed with minced pork even though there was no mention of this on the menu!

As I’m not much help in this department, The Beijinger website has lots of great suggestions, check it out here.

 

Tips and advice for solo travellers in Beijing
  • Beijing felt really safe as a female solo traveller, even at night. As with anywhere, use common sense and you should be fine.
  • Make sure that you’ve always got plenty of cash; it’s really difficult to find banks that accept international cards, otherwise you might find yourself short and unable to draw out money.

 

VISITING THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA

Known as one of the wonders of the world, any trip to China should include a trip to the incredible Great Wall.

The original purpose of the Great Wall was to protect the Chinese Empire from the Mongolians and other invaders. Most the wall that remains was built during the Ming dynasty and it took over 2,000 year to construct fully.

It’s over 6000km long with many sections in varying states of repair. It would take around 18 months to walk the full wall, madness!

 

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There are a number of different sections, all in varying states of repair, and the most famous parts are all easily reached from Beijing.

Badaling and Mutianyu are two sections widely visited by tourists, as they’re well restored. This means big crowds and sometimes a less than authentic experience.

I visited the Jinshanling section of the wall and would highly recommend it! Although it’s mostly well-restored, there aren’t too many people there. It’s relatively challenging to hike but not too bad if you have a reasonable level of fitness.

I joined the tour run through Peking Station hostel and it was incredible- the guide was great and there was a lovely mix of travellers from all over the world. It was also really affordable, with transport to and from the Wall included.

Although you can reach the wall by public transport, I’d highly recommend joining a group tour if you’re a solo traveller. I met some lovely people and they made the experience even better. We all enjoyed a beer together on the Wall at the end of the hike, which was really cool!

 

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You can book tours from most hotels and hostels but be aware that sometimes you are also taken to shops, restaurants etc in return for commission, which can be unwanted. Research the tour you’ll be taking before you book or think about booking through a site like Viator, where you can read reviews. This is the tour I went on, although I booked directly through the hostel.

Hiking the Great Wall was undoubtedly one of my best experiences so far; it was completely breathtaking and even better than I imagined it would be. The views were out of this world.

 

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A few tips for visiting the Jinshanling section of the Wall:

  • Make sure that you’re wearing shoes with really good grip! Even in my brand new trainers, I found it difficult to get a good grip on some of the steeper parts of the wall.
  • Take drinks and snacks with you for sustenance. There are sellers along the wall where you can buy snacks and drinks but of course the prices are inflated.
  • Beware of engaging with the sellers walking the wall if you don’t want to buy souvenirs or be ripped off. A lovely old lady helped pull me up a particularly steep part of the wall and seemed to be genuinely enjoying chatting to me. Then she tried to sell me t-shirts for crazy high prices and wouldn’t leave me alone until the guys I was with pulled me away from her grip. When we got back to the bus, some other people on the tour has bought two t-shirts for about a quarter of the price the lady was trying to charge me for one!
  • Go to toilet before you hike the wall, there are some pretty decent toilets at the start and end points. Avoid using the toilets when you stop at a services en route to the Wall, the ones we stopped at were quite frankly the most disgusting place I’ve ever been to.

 

China is a fascinating country but can be difficult for travellers to navigate. If it’s your first visit, you may want to check out my guide for first-time visitors, which is packed full of tips and tricks to make your tip as smooth as possible. You can read it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 2019 Travel Plans

Happy new year/ feliz año nuevo!

As is now tradition, I like to kick-start the year by writing a post about my upcoming travels. I love having a nosey at other people’s travel plans post, and writing my own makes me super excited for the upcoming year, so I hope you don’t mind me indulging myself by writing this.

Basel, Switzerland

I like to have a trip booked for January if possible; not only does it mean I can start the year as I mean to go on, it also helps banish those post- Christmas blues!

This year, I’m heading to Basel in Switzerland on a short solo weekend trip. I’ve never visited Switzerland before so am super excited to wander and explore. Basel is also known as a bit of an art hot spot too, and as you may know, I’ve developed a bit of a late love for art since my trip to Stockholm in 2017. Read more about that here.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on a solo city break and I’m really looking forward to starting the year off with a mini adventure.

 

 

BaselPhoto credit: VVNincic, Flikr

 

Canada and Iceland

One of my closest friends recently relocated to Toronto to Canada and of course as soon as she did, I made plans to visit her! I’ve never been to Canada before and it’s been high on the list for a while, so this provided me with the perfect reason to book that flight.

I’ll be spending around four days/five nights in Toronto and the same again in Montreal. I did consider fitting in another city but I decided I want the trip to be at a slower pace, where I can really take my time to explore. In Toronto I’ll stay with my friend and in Montreal, I plan to book a small apartment as my base.

When I came to book my trip a few weeks ago, I realised that flying with Icelandair was the best way to get to Canada from Manchester, and that I could add on a free stopover in Iceland. Win win!

Iceland’s got a reputation for being mega expensive, so it’s great that I’m essentially flying there for free! I’ll be there for 2 days and nights, including my birthday. It’ll be the first time I’ve ever spent my birthday alone but I’m actually really looking forward to it!

The plan is to stay in Reykjavik and to do the main tourist things- the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon, as well as exploring the city a little.

 

TorontoPhoto credit: Nick Harris, Flikr

 

Seljalandsfoss waterfall - Iceland - Travel photographyPhoto credit: Giuseppe Milo, Flikr

Prague, Czech Republic

On the first May bank holiday, I’m heading off on my second city break of the year; this time to Prague with a couple of friends.

Prague’s been on my to- visit list for years and I’ve never quite got round to booking it, so I’m really pleased that’s finally happening in 2019.

Exact plans are to be confirmed but I can imagine there will be plenty of sightseeing, eating and drinking!

 

PraguePhoto credit: Pedro Szekely, Flikr

 

The Algarve, Portugal

I’m at the age now where my friends are starting to get married and with that means hen dos! In June I’m jetting off to The Algarve to celebrate a lovely friend’s hen do. Unlikely that they’ll be much sightseeing haha, so it’s just as well I’ve already visited this part of Portugal!

I’m really looking forward to some relaxation and plenty of wine in the sunshine, with a great bunch of ladies.

 

AlgarvePhoto credit: Michaela Loheit, Flikr

Japan

After Portugal, I don’t have any more trips booked yet but there are a few plans taking shape. The first is a trip to Japan to visit my uncle, who lives in Tokyo, in Autumn.

I’ll be going with my Grandma, aka one of my favourite people on this earth, and I’m ridiculously excited at the prospect.

I visited Tokyo back when I was much younger, and I’m really looking forward to going back to the Land of the Rising sun now that I’ve got more of an appreciation for culture and Sushi!

We’ll probably head to a couple of other cities beside Tokyo but we don’t have any set-in stone plans just yet.

 

JapanPhoto credit: Bernard Spragg, Flikr

Exploring the UK

I tend to overlook taking trips within the UK, as I’m always keen to seek out new cultures. In 2019, I want to change that and to explore more of my home nation; there’s so many places I haven’t been to or would love to explore further.

I’d like to do a weekend somewhere at least every 2-3 months, money permitting. On the list are: Belfast, Edinburgh, Leeds and North Wales so far. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions for great places to explore in the UK!

 

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European city breaks

I’m hoping to fit in another one or two European city breaks, although I’m not sure where to yet. There are just too many great choices! In the mix so far are: Malta, Oslo, Romania and a Christmas market in Germany.

 

MaltaPhoto credit: Berit Watkin, Flikr

 

So, there you have it, they’re my plans for 2019 so far. The second half of the year is definitely still quite open to change; although I’m 98% sure that my trip to Japan will happen! If it doesn’t, I’ll look to go somewhere else in Asia with a group tour, probably the Philippines or Myanmar!

One thing I will say is that I’d definitely like to travel more slowly this year, and make sure that I make time during and after my trips to produce some great blog content.

My little corner of the internet is still so unknown and not read by many but I’d love for 2019 to be the year that I reach a few more people. I’m really passionate about sharing my travel stories, tips and recommendations! I’d also like to encourage more people to travel solo and to embrace completely new cultures.

Here’s to an exciting travel-filled 2019! May you hunt down many pretty tiled walls, eat delicious food and enjoy your adventures…

 

Me

 

Have you been to any of the places I’ve mentioned or do you plan to visit them this year? Where’s on your list for 2019? As always, I’d absolutely love to hear from you 😊

 Please feel free to send over any tips or blog post links for the places I’ve talked about too, I’d love to read them.

 

 

A Round Up of My 2018 Travels

Towards the end of each year, I love taking some time out to reflect on all of my travels and adventures over the past 12 months. Whilst it’s definitely true that I’m always planning my next trip, sometimes it’s nice to sit, pause and appreciate the adventures I’ve already been on, instead of concentrating on the next destination.

2018 has brought with it some personal challenges for me, but it’s also been an exciting year of experiencing new cultures, exploring old favourites and really going for it on the solo travel front.

I’ve ticked off five brand new countries, and returned to three places that I’d already been to and loved. I’ve travelled with family, friends, a boyfriend and solo. My love for Asia has deepened and my hunger for travel has grown ever more intense. I’ve seen my blog traffic increase slowly but steadily. I’ve taken up Spanish lessons.

It’s been a whirlwind in a lot of ways and so it’s time to pause and reflect for a while as the last day of the year draws closer.

 

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February   

My first stop this year was Dublin, Ireland.

I visited on my own, as an extension to a work trip to Northern Ireland. I have to admit that I didn’t fall in love with Dublin, which I was really disappointed about. But I guess we’re not going to love every place we visit; if we did, how would we ever appreciate the amazing places.

I think my mediocre experience might have been down to the trip being solo; I definitely think that Dublin is a city best experienced with friends. Still, there were definitely some highlights. I went to the cinema on my own for the first time ever, I went on a fascinating walking tour and ate the best brunch of my life at Urbanity Coffee.

This trip taught me that hostel dorms are a no for me, particularly for a short weekend break. I booked one to save some money and absolutely hated it! I even cried when I got there.

From then, I decided that unless I could afford/warrant a private or hotel room, I wouldn’t be going on the trip. Yes I felt like a bit of a diva, but there’s no point staying in places that will spoil your trip! I’d feel differently about dorms if I were to travel long-term, but as I don’t have any plans to do that currently, it’s private rooms and hotels for me.

Read more about my trip to Dublin, including lots of tips for solo travellers here.

 

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Next off was another trip close to home; Edinburgh, Scotland for a hen party. I’ll admit that there was little culture or sightseeing involved but it was such a lovely girl’s trip in one of the best cities in the UK.

I’d only ever been to Edinburgh with work before, and still feel like there’s lots for me to see, so I’ll definitely be back!

March

The beginning of Spring brought with it a much-anticipated trip to Morocco, 10 days exploring Marrakech and Essaouira.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you may know that I’m ever so slightly obsessed with Asia, as I love the contrast with home and life in the UK. With that in mind, and although I had a trip to Asia planned for later in the year, I was keen to get in another dose of culture shock, just a little closer to home!

Morocco certainly delivered on that front; even though it’s only a short flight from the UK, it felt quite exotic and going there definitely provided me with the adventure that I was craving. We spent five days each in Marrakech and Essaouira; exploring, eating and having some much-needed down time too.

In hindsight, we didn’t need five days in Marrakech, in fact it felt too long, but I guess I didn’t know that when I planned the trip. At least it felt like we were really able to really explore the Red City and its many great restaurants (food was a definite highlight from the trip!) and rooftops.

Essaouira was my favourite of the two cities; I loved the laid-back vibe and whitewashed Medina. I’d highly recommend a visit if you’re going to Morocco.

My trip to Morocco definitely allowed me to appreciate how great a slower pace of travel can be and it gave me chance to create lots of blog content, which I often find difficult on shorter trips or where I’ve got a detailed itinerary.

For information on both cities and my trip, read more here:

How to Spend a Long Weekend in Marrakech

Morocco’s Windy City: Essaouira Travel Guide

Why You Should Stay in a Riad in Marrakech

An Honest Review of My Stay at Essaouira Lodge in Morocco

 

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June

Whilst I’m great at booking trips to far flung places and around Europe, I’m absolutely terrible when it comes to taking the time to explore places within the UK, which is something I want to change in 2019.

My only other UK trip besides Edinburgh in 2019 was a lovely glamping trip that I went on in Yorkshire back in June.

We stayed at Camp Katur in one of their cool Geodomes; essentially a little plastic pod in the forest, complete with double bed; furniture and log burner. It also had its own little kitchen and bathroom, perfect for those like me who don’t really do camping.

Whist I’ll admit that I did miss home comforts by the end of the trip, the setting was wonderful and the Geodome was one of the most unique accommodations I’ve ever stayed in.

Check out more on my glamping adventure here.

 

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July

At the end of July, I left behind the hot UK summer (how good was that fellow Brits?!) and flew to Budapest for a long weekend. I’d visited the city back in November 2013 and it still held the title of my favourite European city, something which I had hoped wouldn’t change following a return visit.

It certainly didn’t- if anything, it just confirmed to me how much I adore the Hungarian capital. I can’t quite put my finger on why I love it so much; I just do. I feel like it’s the same for lots of people that visit Budapest.

My second trip was spent visiting some old favourites and exploring new parts of the city. I also went to the Hungarian Grand Prix, which although not my thing at all, I loved!

It was great to visit during the summer, though at times it did feel a bit too hot! I’m desperate to go back already- I think I’ll try to go during Spring or Autumn on my next trip though, why not see the city in all seasons haha.

After experiencing both summer and winter, I’ve put together an ultimate Budapest itinerary.

 

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September

A year without a trip to Asia is a year wasted in my book, so at the start of September, I headed off to Hong Kong and China for a couple of weeks solo travel.

It was without a doubt the most challenging place I’ve travelled around alone but to be honest, it ended up being a lot more straightforward than I’d expected.

I started my trip in Hong Kong, nipped over to Macau and then travelled to mainland China to visit three of the major cities; Chengdu, Xi’an and Beijing.

It was an amazing trip and I got to see so many amazing sights, not least the Great Wall of China, something that’s been high up on my bucket list for as long as I can remember!

I’m slowly sharing content on my trip (life has got in way since I got back somewhat!) but here are a couple of posts I’ve written in case you want to check them out:

A Guide to Hong Kong and Macau for First-Time Visitors

A Complete Guide to First Time Solo Travel in China

 

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October

In October I went on a trip to the south of Spain with my Grandma, who pretty much lived there for about twenty years, before selling her apartment at the start of this year. It will always hold a special place in my Grandma’s heart and I love visiting with her, as she’s always at her happiest!

We only visited for a few days and it was quite chilled. We explored Malaga and Mijas, had long lunches and relaxed with a few good books. After a difficult couple of months, it was exactly what I needed. It also reminded me that sometimes it’s ok to just travel to get away, as opposed to madly charging around sightseeing and soaking in the local culture.

I developed a bit of a love for Malaga as a city, having only visited briefly once before, I had much more chance to explore this time. I’ve put together a guide to how to spend a day there, you can check it out here.

 

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All in all, 2018 has been an amazing year travel wise. I’d love to hear from you; where have you been, what your favourite travel moment of the year was, and any other stories you have to share. Drop me a line via email, or through Instagram or Twitter.

See you in 2019!

 

 

A Guide to Hong Kong and Macau for First-Time Visitors

HONG KONG

A bustling, high-rise metropolis, Hong Kong is often cited as one of the best cities in the world. And I have to agree with that statement. There is so much to see and do in this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, not to mention that the city has some of the best restaurants and bars that are just crying out to be visited.

Such a busy city can be overwhelming and as Hong Kong is often a place that people visit for only a few days, it is difficult to know where to start when planning a visit.

I’ve put together a comprehensive guide of what to see, do and eat on a first trip to Hong Kong, with lots of useful tips. It doesn’t include absolutely everything, as you’ll never be able to see and do all Hong Kong has to offer unless you’re there for a couple of weeks!

A trip to Hong Kong wouldn’t be complete without a quick trip across to Macau, so I’ve included all the information you’ll need for a day there!

 

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Getting there

Flights to Hong Kong are frequent from all around the world. From the UK, you can fly directly or with one stop on an airline such as Emirates or Qatar Airways, which breaks up what is a long journey.

I flew with Hainan Airlines, China’s top airline, and would highly recommend them for international flights. They received a top rating from Skytrax recently, and I found their product to be almost as good as the top Middle Eastern carriers!

 

Getting from the airport to the city

There are many options when travelling from the airport. Taxi is the most expensive as always but there are several train and bus options, depending on whereabouts in Hong Kong you’ll be staying.

I took the bus after looking up the best route to my hotel on Google Maps and I’d recommend doing that. It’s cheap, straightforward and there are even luggage racks at the front of the bus for you to store your suitcase or backpack.

 

Getting around

Public transport is great in Hong Kong, particularly the underground metro, which is cheap, straightforward to use and heavily air conditioned (much needed for people like me not used to humidity!).

If you’re going to use public transport a few times during your trip, I’d recommend that you get an Octopus card. It’s similar to an Oyster card that you get in London, you buy it for a small fee, top it up and off you go, swiping in and out for each journey.

I purchased mine from a convenience store in a metro station. Journeys cost around 30-50p, depending on distance.

Uber operates in Hong Kong and is really reasonably priced. Traffic can get quite bad but it’s an easy way to get around in off-peak times.

 

Where to stay

There are plenty of accommodation options in Hong Kong, from budget hostels, to boutique hotels to luxury big-name chains.

You will need to choose whether to stay on Hong Kong island or in Kowloon, which are separated by water. Kowloon is on the mainland; Hong Kong island tends to be more expensive to stay in.

Staying in either is fine, Hong Kong is so well connected by public transport that you can get around really easily.

I stayed at the Pentahotel in Kowloon, which I would highly recommend. It’s reasonably priced for Hong Kong, has great rooms, a pretty location and a generally cool vibe.

 

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I also stayed at Ovolo Southside on Hong Kong island, which was also pretty great. It was pricier and is on a relatively busy road but it’s super cool hotel in an old warehouse. You get a free minibar and snacks, plus they have an incredible rooftop bar! It’s also really close to a metro station and not far from Central.

 

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If you’re looking for budget accommodation, a word of warning is to stay away from Chungking Mansions. It’s full of budget places to stay but has a terrible reputation and is super seedy.

Two Monkeys Travel Group has some great hostel suggestions that you can check out.

 

What to see and do in Kowloon and Lantau Island

 

Watch the Symphony of Lights

The Symphony of Lights light and sound show is a great way to kick off your time in Hong Kong.

It happens at 8pm every evening and sees many buildings in Victoria lit up. Head to Tsim Sha Tsui promenade for great views of the show.

 

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Visit Wong Tai Sin temple

Full name Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin, this temple is home to three religions; Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

It’s well worth making the trip, the temple is really beautiful and I loved the fact that it’s such a peaceful spot surrounded by high rise buildings.

 

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Explore the markets

Kowloon is home to some amazing markets, head there to buy all manner of things. Ladies Market and Temple Street Night Market are the two most popular.

 

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Take a trip to the Hong Kong History Museum

Hong Kong has an interesting history and this museum is a great place to learn more about it. Opening hours are quite short; 10am-6pm, and it’s closed on Tuesdays.

 

Ride the Star Ferry

A trip to Hong Kong isn’t complete without riding on the Star Ferry, which costs around 30p each way. It’s a short trip between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island but offers amazing views of the skyline, even on a miserable day.

 

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Take a trip to the Big Buddha

Also known as the Tian Tan Buddha, this is a must-see on Lantau Island. Built in 1993, you’ve no doubt seen photos of this magnificent statue that faces north looking over the Chinese people. Head there on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for amazing views.

 

Relive your childhood at Disneyland

You may not necessarily associate Hong Kong with Mickey Mouse, but there is indeed a Disneyland on Lantau Island!

 

What to see and do on Hong Kong Island

 

Take in the views from Victoria Peak

Heading up to Victoria Peak is probably the most popular thing for tourists to do in Hong Kong, and it’s easy to see why! Even on an extremely rainy and windy day (ahead of a typhoon), it’s an amazing sight.

You can hike up but most people take the ancient funicular up to the top and pay for entrance to the Sky Terrace.

The views over Hong Kong are incredible but as you’d expect. I headed up there just before sunset, and whilst it was busy, it wasn’t packed.

 

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Ride the Mid- Level Escalators

Hong Kong is extremely mountainous, and even within the city, it’s very steep. To make life easier for commuters heading down to central Hong Kong from the Mid-Levels, the world’s longest outdoor escalator system in the world was installed in 1993.

It operates from 6am- 12am, running downwards until 10.30am and then back upwards for the remainder of the day.

It’s now become a tourist attraction given it’s uniqueness and it’s a great way to explore the Mid-Levels, including getting up to Man Mo temple (see below).

 

Visit Man Mo temple

Man Mo temple is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and is dedicated to the gods of literature. It’s small but so atmospheric, well worth a visit.

 

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Stroll through Hong Kong Park

There’s no other way to describe Hong Park than as an oasis in the middle of a hectic city. It’s literally surrounded by huge high-rise buildings!

It’s situated in Central and is a beautiful spot to wander through or to spend some time relaxing. There’s even a nice restaurant and bar if you fancy dining al fresco in a lovely setting.

 

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Relax at a spa

If you’ve travelled in Asia before, particularly in the South East, you’ll know it’s renowned for its cheap massages and great value spas.

Hong Kong is quite a lot more expensive but still really reasonable compared to prices in most Western countries.

I’d recommend Foot Station spa on Lockhart Road for a relaxing foot massage, you’ll certainly need it after all the walking you’ll do in the city.

 

Eating and drinking

Hong Kong is home to some of the best food in the world, from small holes in the wall to luxury restaurants.

You’ll eat so well in the city; there is something for every budget and taste. Here are a few things you may want to eat and drink, with some specific recommendations.

 

Dim Sum

You can’t go to Hong Kong without eating Dim Sum, a style of Chinese cuisine prepared as bite sized portions of foods such as dumplings.

My number one food recommendation for Hong Kong, Tim Ho Wan offers delicious Michelin-starred dim sum for super cheap prices. The pork buns are incredible, as is the steamed egg cake.

There are a number of restaurants. I’d suggest trying one of the branches in Kowloon and avoiding the one in Hong Kong Central Station, as it gets super busy and they’ll be queues.

 

Roast goose

Not a restaurant specific recommendation but one for a type of food. Roast goose is really popular in Hong Kong and can be found at many places across the city.

Kam’s Roost Goose is popular and affordable. Yung Kee is also a great choice, although on the pricey side. Their roast pork is also extremely delicious.

 

Egg Waffles

You’ll find egg waffle stands all around the city and they make a great snack. The top-rated place (and I can support this- delicious) is Lee Keung Kee North Point, and it has various locations around the city.

 

Tea

As you’d probably expect, Hong Kong has some great tea. There are numerous cafes and kiosks dotted around the country where you can grab a delicious iced coffee to cool down as you explore.

 

MACAU
Getting there

Catching a ferry is the easiest and cheapest way to get from Hong Kong to Macau. There are a couple of companies that run ferries- Turbo Jet and Cotai Water Jet.

I travelled with Turbo Jet after booking cheap tickets in advance via Klook (more information at the end of this post).

The journey takes around an hour and will drop you off at the Outer Harbour.

 

Getting around

The casinos in Macau run buses between the ferry terminals and casinos for free. Jump on one at the harbour to get you to the city or to the Cotai Strip.

Once you’re in the main area, you’ll find that everything is pretty walkable.

If you need to travel further afield around the city, you can take advantage of the buses that run between different casinos owned by the same company.

 

Things to see, do and eat

 

Casinos

This is not for everyone but especially if you’ve never been to Las Vegas (like me), it is so interesting to walk around the casinos. There’s a Venetian, Parisian and even one shaped like a giant pineapple!

 

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Ruins of St. Paul’s

The ruins of St Paul’s church are one of Macau’s most famous landmarks. Head there early on in the day, as it gets extremely busy.

 

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Senado Square

Located in the central area of Macau peninsula, Senado Square is listed as a world heritage site. It’s a lovely area filled with old Portuguese style buildings.

 

St. Dominic’s Church

St Dominic’s Church is a striking yellow and green 16th century Baroque-style building, nearby Senado Square.

 

Wander the side streets

Don’t just stick to the main tourist sides, there are lots of cute side streets with gorgeous colonial style buildings, alongside those with a Chinese influence. Wander and take it all in.

 

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A Ma temple

Away from the historical centre, A Ma is the oldest temple in Macau. It’s beautiful and although crowded, a very spiritual and atmospheric place.

The walk down to the temple is enjoyable in itself, with some gorgeous colourful buildings and bright street art along the way.

 

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Eat an egg tart

A trip to Macau isn’t complete without trying a traditional egg tart. They are similar to a Portuguese Pastel de Nata, and are incredibly delicious.

Lord Stow’s is the most famous place for them but there are many bakeries serving them all around the city.

 

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Relax in a trendy café

Somewhat unexpectedly, Macau had some really cool hipster style cafes away from the historical centre, offering delicious food, good coffee and quirky drinks.

After a few hours of exploring, sit down and relax in one whilst people watching.

Terra Coffee House and Padre are two great choices. Try the refreshing iced coffee at Terra, or the delicious fresh blueberry juice at Padre.

 

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Experience the world’s highest bungee jump

If adrenaline s your thing, head to Macau Tower, home to the world’s highest bungee jump at 233 metres.

It’s pricey at around £353 per jump, but it’s pretty cool to be able to say you’ve done it! Let me know if you’re braver than me and take the leap (excuse the pun!).

 

Other useful information

 

Klook

I came across Klook whilst researching for my trip and was so glad I did.

You can book a lot of the things you’ll do in Hong Kong beforehand, for a much cheaper price than if you were to pay on the day.

I booked my ferries to Macau, my peak tram and Sky terrace ticket on the app before my trip. I also bought a local sim card which I picked up at the airport, a god send for getting around easily.

 

Internet access

Unlike mainland China, you’ll be able to access all the websites you would at home.

 

Currency

Hong Kong and Macau have different currencies but you can use Hong Kong Dollars in Macau.

However, you’ll get change in Macau currency, which you can’t use in Hong Kong. Be sure to use up all your Macau money before you head back to Hong Kong.

 

Have you been to Hong Kong or Macau, or are you planning to? Let me know if you have any other tips or recommendations!

14 Unique Things to See and Do in Vietnam

Vietnam is easily my favourite country so far, but until recently, had you asked me for the reason, I wouldn’t have been able to put my finger on exactly why.

Yes, it’s beautiful. It has a fascinating history. Some of the best food in the world. And the people are wonderful. But the same can be said of plenty of other countries I’ve visited.

I spent some time thinking about exactly why it is my favourite and I decided that it’s because there are so many unique things to see and do. Each place I visited during my trip had different things to offer and it almost felt like I visited more than one country as I travelled around.

 

Here’s my list of some of the unique things you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Vietnam:

1. Stay on a junk boat in Halong Bay

With thousands of limestone karsts rising up from the water, Halong Bay is one of the most popular places to visit in Vietnam, and it’s not difficult to see why.

Stay for a couple of nights on a traditional junk boat, it’s an experience like no other. Be sure to hike up to the viewpoint on Ti Top island for breathtaking views over the bay and to grab a kayak to steer your own way through the waters.

 

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2. Visit the Imperial City in Hue 

A walled palace within the Citadel, Hue’s Imperial City is stunning. Get a local guide and spend an afternoon wandering around the complex and learning all about the history of Hue and the palace, which was finished being built in 1832.

 

 

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3. Stroll around Ngoc Son Lake in Hanoi

Asian cities seem to have plenty of outdoor spaces for exercise and Hanoi is no exception.

Take an early morning stroll around the beautiful Ngoc Son Lake and see scores of elderly people practising tai chi, a Chinese martial art.

 

 

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4. Drink a Vietnamese coffee

You probably don’t associate Vietnam with great coffee, but it certainly is the place to be if you’re looking for something different to your usual latte.

Traditional Vietnamese coffee is served with condensed milk and is delicious. Grab an iced version to cool you down.

The other type of coffee drunk is egg coffee, which is also very tasty.

 

5. Get a dress or suit tailored in Hoi An

Now, you can technically do this anywhere in the world but it’ll cost you. Hoi An is renowned for it’s cheap but impressive tailoring.

Do a little research before choosing a shop and embrace the experience, I felt like a real VIP being measured up and having my dress fitted.

I’d recommend Yaly Couture, one of the bigger and more popular operations in town.

 

6. Drive the Hai Van Pass

A mountain pass around 20km long running between Hoi An/Danang and Hue, Hai Van is a beautiful spectacle with amazing views over the coast.

Take an organised motorbike ride for the best views, but be warned that the pass is closed off in adverse weather.

 

7. See a Water Puppet Show

Dating back to the 11th century, be sure to see this unique take on Asian puppet tradition, where puppeteers perform with wooden puppets in a pool, along to Vietnamese music.

Silly, strange but definitely a unique and worthwhile experience. See a show in Hanoi, where it’s most popular, although you can do so in Ho Chi Minh City too.

 

8. Take a cyclo ride

A three wheeled bicycle taxi, a cyclo can be a great way to get around and see the city.Bear in mind that the traffic in Vietnam is crazy, so this isn’t for the faint-hearted, especially if you’re doing so in Ho Chi Minh City.

Join a tour which stops off at some of the city’s highlights rather than jumping in a random one and paying a fare, as you’ll probably be ripped off.

 

 

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9. Ride on the back of a motorbike

Again something that you can do anywhere but it’s a truly a unique experience on Vietnam’s crazy roads.

Join a tour with a company like Hue Adventure Tours to really experience local life and to make sure you’re in safe hands.

 

10. Enjoy the magic of Hoi An Old Town

There is something about Hoi An that is just magical. Probably something to do with the hundreds of colourful lanterns that adorn the old town.

Take a leisurely stroll around at night but don’t forget to purchase your ticket for the old town at one of the kiosks on the edge it, otherwise you may find yourself in trouble if this is checked.

 

 

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11. Visit a local market

Visting a local market is an interesting, albeit slightly shocking experience. Expect to see the weird, wonderful and upsetting whilst getting a real taste of local life.

 

12. Eat your way around a city on a street food tour

Sorry another one that you can do in most cities but there is definitely no other food in the world like Vietnam. It is so fresh, light and delicious.

Join a Hanoi Street Food Tour to try a number of delicious dishes at street food places that you wouldn’t choose from the look of them alone. You’ll eat different regional specialities.

 

 

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13. Crawl through tunnels used in the Vietnam war

A large network of connecting underground tunnels, visiting Cu Chi gives you a tiny taste of what it was like in the Vietnam war. Communist troops Viet Kong built networks of tunnels in order to combat South Vietnamese and American armies that were much better equipped.

Take the opportunity to crawl through one of the cramped tunnels and imagine what it was like for the people living and fighting in these all those years ago.

 

14. Drink the world’s cheapest fresh beer

Bia hoi is a popular fresh draught beer served around northern Vietnam in small bars and on street corners. It costs about 30p and must be the cheapest beer from around the world.

Finish your day of exploring by grabbing a cold one, sitting on a low plastic stool and watching the world go by!