The identikit unit blocks and mousy-brown fields were as mediocre as a dark scrubland. It should have done for an mediocre entrance into China’s Guangdong province. Except it wasn’t. The disturb of being aboard Hong Kong’s initial bullet train, a Vibrant Express, was all about speed, not scenery.
Aerodynamic, radiant white and discriminating to perfection, a pointy-nosed steer had over Hong Kong’s code new West Kowloon station, one of a world’s largest (partly) subterranean stations, on time. Just 48 mins later, we glided, sensitively and uniformly into Guangzhou, a provincial collateral of Guangdong, and China’s third-largest city, home to 14 million people.
Information play in a hire claimed that a Vibrant Express is a latest of 5,000 high-speed trains that work daily opposite China, partial of a country’s record-breaking multi-billion-dollar enlargement of high-speed rail.
Awestruck, and creation unlucky comparisons with a UK’s loose rail network, we had lingered in Hong Kong’s newest hire before environment off. First, we queued to sup during a bend of Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong’s many affordable Michelin-star restaurant. we noted a paper sequence outing as we waited, afterwards my series was called and we was seated. Ten mins later, a bamboo basket of perfumed steamed shrimp dumplings, a pot of tea and a image of tonic medlar and petal cake were delivered – all for £7.70. The dumplings were predictably good, yet a “cake” was high – a flower-flavoured preserve done with medlars and goji berries that delivered innumerable of tastes and textures
The dual women we common my list with told me, between bites of duck feet, that they were streamer home to Beijing by high-speed train.
“Why not fly?” we asked.
“Chinese aeroplanes are mostly behind and a airports are distant from home,” they pronounced in unison.
Their debate would take 10 hours and cost £120 second class; my guidebook, published usually final year, reported that a debate takes 24 hours. That’s how quick a Chinese rail complement is developing. And it’s usually as well, given a likely volume of inbound visitors that will see China turn a world’s series one traveller end by 2030, overtaking France, according to investigate expelled this week.
After a low sum, we took a potion conveyor to a walking “skywalk” on a roof. Wooden walkways lined with high grasses led to views of Hong Kong’s vast Victoria Harbour.
Behind me was Kowloon, a wall of unenlightened grid-like unit blocks with thumping basketball courts, chess players and trees filled with twittering sparrows. I’d usually spent dual nights there, within walking stretch of a new station. we resented a bold waiters (Hong Kong use is mostly bold during best), marvelled during a zen-like tai chi practitioners, and was surprised, during night, to event on a squad of sex fondle hawkers usually off Nathan Road who laid their cosmetic products out subsequent to a quarrel of happening tellers.
Several floors subsequent a rooftop garden, railway passengers were environment off on cross-border trains firm for 44 mainland stations, including Shanghai, Kunming and Guilin. For a ambience of China’s high-speed revolution, and for an easy punch of an mega-city of that we knew little, Guangzhou seemed ideal. A debate there has now been cut in half, to 48 minutes, creation it an easy side outing from Hong Kong (second-class tickets from £23).
West Kowloon itself is impressive, yet not but controversy. Part of a hire is under a control of Chinese military and etiquette officials, permitting for immigration checks before departure. This does not lay good with some locals, who already feel threatened by China’s augmenting control over Hong Kong and a “one country, dual systems” agreement.
But a immigration routine was swift, accessible adequate and easy. On residence a Vibrant Express, smartly dressed stewards upheld by a unadulterated carriage, charity tea in vast potion cups with cork stoppers. The outward universe was inside and close off, like a silenced TV set.
We eased into Guangzhou South. Passengers, faces melded to mobile phones, disembarked, one common army of luggage-bearers, and headed adult a extended staircase. Below, rows of platforms and matching sleet white high-speed trains stretched as distant as a eye could see. As a doors sealed on a Vibrant Express, a group of group set to work, scrubbing a sides of a steer by hand. The throng slim towards a colossal, bright-white confluence that resembled an insanely bustling airfield terminal.
Even but a crowds, Guangzhou South would be disorientating. No ATM worked for me, my phone reported “no signal” and a staff during a information list kindly shook their heads when we asked if they spoke English. Eventually, my phone latched on and we found my (pre-arranged) guide, a well-travelled immature Chinese lady who insisted we call her Jane, even yet her Cantonese name translated beautifully as purple summer.
I favourite Guangzhou on sight. Its streets, once awash with Pearl River Delta traders, now showcase a brew of a outlandishly new and a really old. The architectural star is a show house, designed by Zaha Hadid and sitting in a shade of 400-metre-tall financial buildings. Its boulder-like slab and potion pattern – twice-yearly cleaning costs £550,000, we was told – was desirous by pebbles in a circuitously Pearl River.
Public gardens were filled with picnicking families and a smell of cut grass. Some streets have usually low-rise villas, and a half-empty Metro complement has a dedicated “ladies’ line” for rush hour. A few stairs off Pedestrian Street – one of a categorical selling drags, filled with street-food stalls of stinky tofu, durian and “meat cookies” – a alleyways felt timeless. Dog walkers strolled with their poodles past aged tea shops, washing fluttered in a breeze.
Jane took me to Fen Fang Cafe on Tong Fu Road, where we systematic uninformed sesame and peanut steamed dumplings, and a lighter jellied H2O reddish-brown cake. Little has altered given it non-stop in 1982. When we handed Jane a napkin, she knocked dual fingers on a table. “It’s what we do to contend appreciate we so we don’t have to stop eating,” she said. Guangzhou is a food-focused city.
That night on Shamian Island, bordered by a canal, we was drawn to a usually apparent bar, Lucy’s, with a flickering neon sign. Sitting solo in a garden, with a Tsingtao beer, we couldn’t gaunt on my phone for company, as there’s still no Gmail, Instagram or Twitter in China. we browsed a menu: there were as many manners as drinks. No outward food, no chess, no label games. Strictly no Hong Kong dollars.
Outside, immature holidaying couples popped open suitcases and altered outfits, posing for photographs outward a 19th-cenury mansions, hangovers from when Shamian Island was home to French and British trade concessions. When we checked into my hotel, we followed a receptionist’s finger to a tiny turn camera, and was photographed.
The following day, after visiting a Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, with a penjing (bonsai) trees and folk art, we visited Guangzhou’s scandalous Chinese medicine market, Qingping. It was grimly fascinating. Cardboard boxes of fish beak (swim bladders), scorpions and dusty seahorses stood subsequent to reduction argumentative bags of silken dates, mushrooms a distance of automobile wheels and sacks of walnuts.
From there, Jane led me a brief approach to a prosy statue of a man. Known as a Father of China’s Railroad, Zhan Tianyou (1861-1919) was a arch engineer, obliged for a Peking-Kalgan railway to Inner Mongolia, built between 1905 and 1909, a initial railway assembled in China but unfamiliar assistance.
Today, China’s has around 25,000km of high-speed railway lines, 66% of a world’s total. Despite setbacks with crime and reserve issues, a biggest rail enlargement a universe has ever seen continues to set records, fasten cities and towns, and slicing by mountains, bamboo forests and snowfields. China aims to cover 45,000km by 2030. This medium statue of Zhan Tianyou, on a traffic-snarled dilemma of Guangzhou, stands as a sign of how distant China has come.
• The outing was supposing by Bamboo Travel , that has a tailor-made nine-day debate of Hong Kong and a south of China from £1,895pp, including lapse flights from London with Cathay Pacific, private transfers, BB accommodation, and high-speed steer transport between Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Yangshuo