Week 6 was a crazy week that saw us hit 4 countries in a week! We said goodbye to Mexico, a brief hello to Los Angeles, our first glimpse of China, before ending up in India. You can read last week’s update here.
I have never had a burning desire to go to China and it has never really come up as a destination when we are planning our travels. I have always felt like we should see China to experience the world’s most populous country, but it never really captured me as a destination. When we decided to fly to India via China and we heard about the 72-hour visa-free transit, it seemed like a good opportunity to test China out.
While I am glad we did, it didn’t leave me with an overwhelming urge to go back for a longer visit. It is probably the hardest country we have travelled in and we were completely unprepared for how different it was. I can understand why so many people visit China as part of a tour because we found independent travel quite difficult.
We knew there would be significant language barriers and we knew we couldn’t access social media, but we were completely unprepared for the challenges of travelling in China. Since we were only visiting for a short stay, we didn’t put the research in ahead of time that would have helped us. For example, we should have sorted out a VPN so that we could access the many banned internet sites, should have researched how to use foreign bank cards, looked into how to search the internet in China and how to use a mapping app. China completely disrupted our normal travel flow and it took us ages to get up and running. We relied on paper maps and obscure approved websites like Mapquest and Yahoo Answers. It also made us realize how dependent we are on Google when we travel.
3 Days in Guangzhou
We were a little worried to fly one of the Chinese airlines as we had heard mixed reviews about the quality and service. However, the price was almost half of what the other airlines cost and at 5 tickets, it was too much to resist. So we booked our tickets on China Southern and decided to take advantage of a free stopover in Guangzhou.
Before we booked these tickets, I wouldn’t have even been able to located Guangzou on a map. After some research, I discovered that it is China’s third largest city and the twin city of Shenzhen, the Silicon Valley of China.
Once we checked into our flight, we discovered that the 72-hour visa-free transit policy required lots of paperwork. We had to show so many documents and that was before we landed in Guangzhou and had to wait 3 hours while they processed our information. In an upcoming post we will walk you through how to be prepared for the 72-hour visa-free transit stay.
My friend Aleney from Boys Eats World had just been to Guangzhou and I relied heavily on her informative post. Coming from Mexico, it was quite chilly and we dug out the layers we hadn’t worn in weeks.
My favourite thing to do during our stay was wander the many green spaces (something that surprised me) and see all the activity in the parks. There were elderly people doing ballroom dancing, older men playing card games, children running around with their parents and so much more.
Eating was really difficult as we didn’t encounter any English menus, and we had the added challenge of attempting to order vegetarian food. Our best meal was at a great dim sum restaurant where we had a friendly waitress who showed us their online English menu. Gavin loved learning how to prepare tea properly and never let our cups empty.
Although Guangzhou certainly has a smog problem, I found China much cleaner than I expected. The pedestrian Beijing Road was a fun place to get caught up in the crowds and it was interesting to see the excavated road that had been there for over 1,000 years.
Other activities we did in Guangzhou were a boat cruise down the Pearl River where buildings compete for the most interesting lights. The Canton Tower is the world’s tallest television tower and was a pretty sight all lit up. We also spent some time on Shamian Island, which was divided into French and British concessions. Today the European historical buildings attract residents to this peaceful island in the middle of the city.
Getting around Guangzhou was surprisingly easy thanks to the 13-line metro that they only started to build 25 years ago. It is clean, modern, has English signage and only cost 40 cents to ride.
Welcome to India
Our first 24-hours in India wasn’t so great. Even though we consider ourselves pretty savvy travelers and had been to India before, we managed to get scammed three times our first day. It definitely had us wondering why we had left Mexico! Everyone wants to know how we got scammed.
Scam #1 – we booked a hotel near the Delhi airport for our first night. They picked us up, took us to a different hotel around the corner, that was dilapidated. At first they said it was the same hotel (had two names), then they said our original hotel/room was damaged. Bologna!
Scam #2 – went to train station to try to book tickets and of course had trouble finding the foreigner ticket booking office. Very sincere man told us it had moved to the India Tourism office and “helped” us get a tuk-tuk there, that then tried to take us to god knows where, before we called them on it because we were using Google maps.
Scam #3 – got another tuk-tuk to take us back to train station and he dropped us off at the rear of the station, a km from the entrance.
Welcome to India where you have to constantly be on guard and question anyone that appears helpful or friendly. Thankfully after this we have had no problem, although of course we are very careful.
Agra: the Taj Mahal and Our Lovely Homestay
We thought we would start off our time in India with the main attraction, the Taj Mahal. It was seriously even more gorgeous than I ever expected. When you first catch sight of it, it just glistens in pure perfection. While there were lots of people there, we somehow managed to get lots of lovely unobstructed photos.
We also visited the Red Fort, one of the many forts and palaces we would be visiting in India.
What made our stay in Agra so special was the wonderful homestay we booked, Sai Homestay. We had stayed in lots of homestays on our first visit to India and Sai Homestay was one of our favourites. The whole multi-generational family was so welcoming. Simi cooked us the best homemade Indian food, they gave us great recommendations and booked us honest tuk-tuks, and we purchased beautiful Indian clothes made by Simi. The kids had fun doting on the little girl of the house, Myra and we had great conversations with Jai, the brother who was visiting from Niagara Falls. I am so thankful I booked Sai Homestay; it was the perfect beginning of our trip in India. We truly felt like we made friends and are so thankful to be welcomed into their home.
Home stays in India offer the best of both worlds. You have your own private space (usually it is on a separate floor or building), but it allows for a wonderful cultural experience as you learn about a country’s food, culture and ways of life in a way that a hotel does not allow.
Where We Stayed this Week
Boman Holiday Apartments, Guangzhou, China – great location with lots of nearby attractions and even had a metro station in the bottom of the building. It is more an Airbnb, but had a lot of space for all of us and great views from the 26th floor. We even had a washing machine, although had to be creative about drying. Click here to check the latest prices.
Delhi, near airport – definitely won’t mention where we stayed, but would caution you to be careful booking hotels in Mahipalpur.
Sai Homestay, Agra, India – basic room with 2 bedrooms, but what made it so special was the family hosting us – great meals, and a great way to see the real India. Location is a short tuk-tuk ride from the Taj. Click here to check the latest prices.
Travel Costs this Week
It helped that this week only included 6 days because we flew across the international date line and skipped March 9th.
Our costs in China were higher as we stayed at a mid-range hotel. Travel costs in India are noticeably a lot cheaper and we hope to bring down our average travel costs in the time we are here.
Total Cost = $976 CAD ($139 CAD/day)
Accommodation = $365
Food & Drinks = $347
Transportation = $114
Entertainment = $149
I am still a week behind with my updates, but in week 7 we continue our journey in India. We move into the state of Rajasthan and visit Jaipur and Udaipur.