When I travelled to Africa, I found the root of human in the early stage. When I travelled to the western world, I saw how glorious historical civilisation were in the past. When I travelled within South East Asia, I saw what development potential means, but when I travelled to China, I saw how the future would be. China has developed so drastically and dramatically at a rapid pace in the recent years. It has been ages since I last visited the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area China (中国粤港澳大湾区) in the Pearl River Delta, GuangDong province in 2008, and I figure out it wouldn’t be the same, and it did!
All thanks to MGTO, Macao Government Tourism Office, for throwing me this challenge to visit all the 11 cities under the new China Greater Bay Area city cluster concept (中国粤港澳大湾区) . I was given an opportunity to see China again in 2019. The “Greater Bay Area” refers to the Chinese government’s scheme to promote multi-destination tourism to the foreigners by linking the cities of Macao, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Huizhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing (澳门，香港，广州，深圳，珠海，佛山，惠州，东莞，中山，江门，肇庆) into an integrated economic and business hub. The Greater Bay Area has a high potential to grow into one of the most important metropolitan areas in the world, rivaling city clusters formed around United States’ San Francisco Bay Area, New York Bay Area and Japan’s Tokyo Bay Area.
Photo extracted from: https://www.scmp.com/infographics/article/2088829/chinas-greater-bay-area-integration-scheme
The Seamless Travel Via China’s High Speed Rail (中国高铁) & HZMB (Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge 港珠澳大桥)
Travelling around the 11 cities in the Greater Bay Area within two weeks may seems like an impossible task in the past. With the China High Speed Rail, it makes everything possible and easy as its vastly link up, not just within the Greater Bay Area, but the entire China as well. Travelling between the cities used to take hours, but with the high speed trains, it reduces to only minutes. For international travellers, good news, it is now seamless and ease of travelling, especially within the Greater Bay Area. You are now able to purchase train tickets in advance via online or mobile apps, but it comes with an additional booking fee if you are a foreigner, who do not have a China ID or mobile phone number.
In the past, flying into Macao was not easy as there were no daily flights and the flight timings were limited. Today, with the launch of the HZMB (Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge), I can easily choose from the plenty of flights to fly to Hong Kong, and from Hong Kong airport it only takes approximately an hour to cross into Macao. The HZMB (Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge) is the longest sea crossing and open sea fixed link in the world. The 55 kilometres bridge took 8 years and costs almost USD$19 billion to build. It is considered as one of the megastructures that the Chinese are very proud of today.
So, let’s travel and explore to see what the Greater Bay Area cities can offer!
Macao: East Meet West, Experience Macao (中西文化，感受澳门)
Macao is no stranger to many especially those who enjoy gambling. The Vegas of Asia, that’s basically what I knew about Macao and the general impression I had of Macao since my last visit in 1995, besides the famous Portuguese egg tarts and the Ruins of St.Paul’s landmark, and shopping at the Senado Square. I thought that pretty much sums up what the small little city that can offer.
I would say Macao has changed tremendously. Well, expected right? I have witnessed the Macao before and after the reunification with China, and I am impressed and proud of Macao today. This small city, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China has so much to offer. Since 1557 the Portuguese settlement till the end of colonial rule in 1999, Macao has a strong mix of East and West cultures. There are a lot of evidences of their culture from the amazing landmarks and architectures such as Chapel of Our Lady of Penha, a very beautiful and instagrammable church with not many visits, the Guia Chapel that offers a spectacular view of the city, and hop over to a charming little local town of Coloane Village to see the St.Francis Xavier Church that’s filled with mixed Macanese (Asian & Portuguese mixed) character. If history is what you are gunning for, Fortaleza do Monte shows the traces of the historical past of Macao. Don’t forget to check out the casual Portuguese and Macanese eateries line at the Parque Eanes Square. I didn’t know the Macanese cuisine can taste so good.
Besides being heavily influenced by the Portuguese, Macao also show many traces left behind during the China, Qing Dynasty. I personally love the Mandarin’s House, a historic residential complex that shows how an upper class lived during the Qing Dynasty. You can also visit the place where Macao got its name from, A-Ma Temple, a temple that was built in 1488 to worship the Sea Goddess, and now is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Don’t miss out the Happiness Street, ironically the former Macanese red light district is now a small street with bustling old charm. The well-maintained old houses with colourful restaurants and shops, is the place where James Bond had a scene here in Skyfall!
As a non-gambler, it was still fascinating and entertaining to be in the Cotai Area. I would say it is the Vegas strip in Macao, and I highly recommend to stay in this area, I was so impressed and entertained by the extravagant theme hotels. Every hotels have different things to offer, be it the FREE cable car rides at the Wynn Palace, trick your friends into believing that you are in Europe by taking photos at The Venetian (like in Venice), The Parisian (with Eiffel Tower). Honestly, walking the strip and checking out the amazing hotels were my favourite evening past time to exhaust my left over energy before going to bed. If you are staying at The Galaxy Macao, don’t forget to use the fancy water theme park, The Grand Resort Deck. For non hotel guest, you can also buy an entry to access the water theme park.
You MUST NOT miss “The House of Dancing Water” at the City of Dreams. I was blown away by the production scale of the show, with over 80 gymnasts, circus artists, dancers, divers, actors, and motorcyclists were all featured in the show. This is indeed the best show I ever watched in my life! When you thought you are watching an aquatic performance, then suddenly the stage pulls off to a motorbike GP performance. The show is housed in a purpose-built theatre designed with many breakthroughs including a stage pool that holds a record-breaking 3.7 million gallons of water, equivalent to 5 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This state-of-the-art theatre provides the setting for an epic love story and spectacular journey through time, showcasing dazzling costumes, special effects and record breaking acts never seen before in any theatre. The show is a must-see experience you’ll want to relive over and over again. Amazing is an understatement, so be sure to catch it!
Zhuhai: Entertaining & Romantic Zhuhai (阖家娱乐，浪漫珠海)
With just a mere 15 minutes crossing of the Macao border by foot, I was able to reach mainland China, Zhuhai, the neighbour of Macao. When I stepped into Zhuhai, I immediately felt a change in pace compared to Hong Kong and Macao which are the busier cities. The pace in Zhuhai was smoothing and slower. Known as the romantic city, you can easily take a nice breezy stroll along the Lovers’ Road and see the beautiful Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, or take a cable car to the Mt.Jingshan Park and see the amazing cityscape of Zhuhai.
If you are travelling in a group or with families, don’t miss the chance to stay at least a night in the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom and check out the penguins’ kingdom and the spectacular whale shark. You should also make a point to watch the evening Chimelong Water Electro-Music Show, which is the best performance show in Zhuhai. A spectacular nightly show featuring flyboarding, pyro jet skis and pyro water skiers all choreographed to music, lights, flames, laser, fountains, video mapping and fireworks. Trust me, you won’t regret this! Until now, I still can’t believe what I watched in Chimelong. If you have additional nights in the city, you can also check out the nostalgic Chimelong International Circus performance as well.
Zhongshan: Cultural & Historical Zhongshan (历史文化，源远中山)
A 23 minutes train ride from Zhuhai, will take you to the cultural and historical city of Zhongshan. A prefecture-city that was the birthplace of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, often known as Sun Zhongshan, the first president who played an instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty during the Xinhai Revolution. Today you could visit the home place of this great historical figure in China at Cuiheng Village. Learn about the Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s history at the Sun Yat Sen’s Residence Memorial Museum, or take some nostalgic instagrammable photos at the Zhongshan Movie Set, modelled after places that Dr. Sun had visited in the past.
I would say the Zhan Garden is my favourite place in Zhongshan, a private mansion that was designed and built by a filial son, Mr Huang Yuan Xin for his beloved mother to stay. This Suzhou-Hangzhou style mansion and garden took 5 years to build and was completed in 1998. After his mother passed away, Mr Huang opened up his mansion for tourists to visit. What touches me was the backstory of this mansion and Mr Huang’s subsequent efforts to covert the entire mansion to be fused with educational features to share the values on filial piety, such as the 24 filial exemplars, a classic text of Confucius filial piety written by Guo Jujing during the Yuan dynasty.
There is another place I would recommend to visit as it is kind of unusual – Hong Bo Cheng (红博城), a magnificent ancient complex that was for built for mahogany furniture trades and businesses. You must be puzzled why I would recommend such a place? What many people do not know is that Hong Bo Cheng is a tourist spot in itself, within the complex there is a museum with five rare and eye-catching collections, a hotel feature, and many craft workshops such as chopsticks, wooden game box or accessories made from mahogany wood. So besides watching, you can also learn some wood crafting skills. Don’t forget to take an evening stroll around the complex and see the dazzling evening lights. You would probably feel like an emperor walking around his palace. 🙂
Jiangmen: Wellness & Relaxation Jiangmen (休闲养生，悠哉江门)
From Zhongshan, you could take a 15 minutes train ride to bring you back to nature. Blessed with beautiful islands and mountains and also many natural hot springs, Jiangmen certainly has a diverse range of rich natural resources to offer tourists. For beach goers, do check out the charming and quaint Xiachuan Island (Taishan), which is a very peaceful place. I personally love the interaction with the kind and genuine villagers who lead a carefree and slow pace lifestyle on the island.
My personal favourite place to visit in Jiangmen is definitely the Gudou Hot Spring Town. Located at the Gudou valley, this is a spa kingdom that consists of over 60 hot spring pools with different herbal brews for different healing purposes. For example, the mandarin orange spa is good for people who have cough. The lotus, ginkgo, ginger or chrysanthemum brew is good for skin and many more… If you are ready to splurge a bit, do stay at the Royal Spa Hotel inside Gudou Hot Spring and choose either the Tang Palace villa or a Japanese styled villa in the Dongpu Pavillion. They have beautiful private hot spring pool and garden designed to the different themes in the villa.
Foshan: Ancient & Contemporary, Cantonese Heritage Foshan (新旧合一，岭南佛山)
One of my favourite city in The Greater Bay Area is Foshan, a city that is filled with rich Cantonese heritage and character. A visit to Foshan will be incomplete without a visit to the famous Foshan Ancestral Temple, a well-preserved ancient complex that is rich in folk culture, built during the Song Dynasty in 1058. If you are a Chinese Kungfu fanatic like me, I’m sure you would have heard about Foshan Shadowless Kick (佛山无影脚), made famous by folk legend Wong Fei Hung (Huang Fei Hong). Foshan is the capital of Chinese Kungfu and there are museums built in honour of famous martial artists such as the Huang Fei Hong Museum and the Ip Man Museum (Bruce Lee’s master/teacher). Ip Man was the founding father of Wing Chun, a martial arts concept based on traditional Southern Chinese Kungfu style as a form of self-defence, also known as “beautiful springtime”, that requires quick arm movements and strong legs to defeat opponents. Famous Hong Kong martial arts actor such as Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen also practice Wing Chun. If Kungfu is not your thing, you can check out the fascinating Nanfeng Ancient Kiln, a historical traditional kiln that is a big ceramic stove built during the Ming Dynasty. They have pottery demonstrations to teach visitors the ancient art of pottery and ceramic making. Or if you like visiting gardens, you can check out the amazing Liang’s Garden, a traditional private garden that belongs to the Liang’s family. This huge garden compound contains residencies, pagodas, sculptures, lakes, beautiful flowers and scenic trees. Known as one of the famous gardens in Guangdong Province, it is a sight to behold.
After a day of traveling around Foshan, end your day with a visit to Lingnan Tiandi. An impressive historical cluster of residential area and shops constructed during the Qing Dynasty, this charming area is filled with character. A great place to hang out especially with the introduction of new modern cafes, restaurants and bars. So many places to take those insta-worthy photos!
Zhaoqing: Natural Beauty & Charming Zhaoqing (山湖城江，自然肇庆)
Known as the Green Gem of the sub-tropical, Zhaoqing, was an important city in ancient China and home to the green treasures of the mountains that contains many waterfalls, streams, lakes and rivers. Just a 20 minutes high speed train ride away from Foshan, Zhaoqing is the getaway destination to enjoy nature and get away from the city. The Dinghu Mountain, a UNESCO World Heritage site on Man & Natural Biosphere, is a must visit site to see the diverse flora and fauna. Remember to check out the crystal clear waterfall and eat some fresh locally made beancurd before you leave the mountain. If mountain climbing/trekking is too tough for your legs, you can consider taking an easy boat ride from the Xinghu Wetland Park and see another view of beautiful Hangzhou. Remember to take some photos of the rare Red-Crowned Cranes in the Sanctuary.
No visit to Zhaoqing is complete without a visit to the Seven Stars Crags. The natural limestone crags is one of the most scenic locations in the province, also known as little Guilin due to the striking beauty of the mountains and its reflections on the lakes. There are many historic stories, architectures and even traces of Buddhism and Taoism around the Star Lake. Before you call it a day, take in all the sights of the Ancient City Wall of Zhaoqing that was constructed during the Song Dynasty before having your dinner at the magnificent Sky Restaurant at the Pearl Hotel Starlake. Enjoy the 360 degrees rotating dining experience and enjoy the stunning view of mountains, lake, city and river of Zhaoqing.
Guangzhou: Colourful & Extravagant Guangzhou (五彩缤纷，富丽广州)
Old, dusty, and grey are probably the words I have gathered from people about their impression of Guangzhou. But look at my recent experience and the photos of Guangzhou now and you will change your impression about this vibrant city. The Guangzhou today, is one of the most important cities in China and is one of the busiest trading hubs for centuries. Guangzhou has undergone redevelopment to become a marvellous metropolis. Over at Shamian Islands, you can enjoy and walk along the narrow and clean streets that is sprinkled with temples and mosques, see pockets of colonial heritage buildings, or enjoy the traditional dim sum eateries and shop at the distinctive Lingnan styled shophouses. For shoppers, you must not miss a trip to Beijing Street, which is a shoppers paradise filled with international and local brands.
You should also make a stop to see the 21st-century architectural landmark, Canton Tower, which is a slim-waisted and colourful beauty that stands towering over the Pearl River. At the top of the Canton tower, you can challenge yourself and overcome your acrophobia by taking a photo at the skywalk with transparent glass. There is also a cable car ride you can take at the top floor of Canton Tower to enjoy the spectacular 360 degrees view of the mega city. Don’t forget to take a Pearl River Night Cruise after dinner and wrap up your day with a breath-taking and colourful night scenery of Guangzhou.
Huizhou: Classical Beauty & Paradise Huizhou (古色古香，仙境惠州)
Just slightly over an hour journey from Guangzhou, you can visit the ancient and culturally rich city of Huizhou. Huizhou is the cultural centre for many famous multi-talented artists, ancient poets, writers, painters, calligraphers, chefs and pharmacologists. Even statesmen from the Song Dynasty came to visit and create art in Huizhou. One particular statesman, Su Dongpo fell in love with the western side of the city and renamed a lake there to be called West Lake, as he thought it was as beautiful as the Hangzhou’s West Lake. If you want some “me” time to unwind, visit Mount Luofu, it is a sacred and peaceful mountain where the renowned Taoist Ge Hong refined elixirs during the Jin Dynasty. Today you can find many relics of Ge Hong at Mount Luofu such as the “Well of Longevity” where Ge Hong fetched water from, his alchemical kitchen for refining elixirs, as well as the pond he used for washing elixirs. Who knows, you might attain longevity by drinking the sacred water here! If you are looking for a luxurious local place to stay, consider staying at the Qiu Chang Gu Li Luxury Homestay (秋长谷里民宿), it is a luxurious homestay that offers authentic ancient Chinese styled villa but with modernise comfort. The best of both worlds!
Dongguan: Ecological & Uniquely Dongguan (鸟语花香，异彩东莞)
Just a 45 minutes ride away you can travel from one paradise in Huizhou to another paradise in Dongguan. Keyuan is known as one of the Four Great Gardens of the Guangdong province. It is a Lingnan styled garden was built in 1850 during the Qing Dynasty period. Just imagine this is your private garden, your life must be pretty luxurious. If you wish to get away from the bustling streets and human traffic, take a long stroll or bike ride along the 33 kilometres path at the Song Shan Lake Park and enjoy the beautiful lake with ancient temples, bridges and pagodas. Or you could plan for a visit to the Longfeng Villa Video Resort, the largest one stop film and television set in South China, which integrates wedding photography, travel, tourism, dining and entertainment all into one theme park. This theme park consists of several large functional districts, such as a sci-fi area, a children theme park and a wedding photography area with a collection of all wedding customs around China (pretty cool) and many more… There are some European themed sites in the theme park that is so realistic that you won’t believe it is in China. It was all started with people building the structures for their wedding shoots, and now the Chinese utilise it as a theme park for tourists to visit. It was kind of unique and unusual.
Shenzhen: Bustling & Vibrant Shenzhen (繁华都市，争艳深圳)
From Dongguan, it takes about 30 minutes to travel to Shenzhen, one of the biggest and well-developed cities in China. Shenzhen is also the country’s first special economic zone. Looking at Shenzhen now you wouldn’t believe that 40 years ago, Shenzhen is just a small fishing village. Within four decades, it has developed into one of the largest technological and manufacturing cities in the world. The Ping An Finance Centre, is currently the 4th tallest building in the world, and is a monumental testament to the success of Shenzhen. Shenzhen is also a culturally diverse city, as many Chinese from other cities/provinces migrated to Shenzhen during its developmental years. You could explore the charming little Gankeng Hakka Town, and immersed yourself in the Hakka culture.
Also do check out the Splendid China Folk Village where you see all the different Chinese cultures and landmarks in one place . A visit to the Splendid China Folk Village is like visiting a live sized encyclopaedia of China’s different cultures at a one stop hub. Don’t forget to catch the glamorous Oriental Dress Show when you visit the Splendid China Folk Village. If time permits, get onto the cruise ship (don’t worry it is a stationary cruise) of the Sea World and check out all the foreign establishments. Don’t be surprise you may find some cuisine that taste like home.
Hong Kong: Cosmopolitan & Authentic Hong Kong (灯火辉煌，地道香港)
I used to travel frequently between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, and it was a treacherous (maybe I was exaggerating, but imagine I was traveling alone everyday) 1.5 hours journey from Luohu Shenzhen to Hong Kong Island. Sometimes the border crossing can take up to 3 hours because of the long queue and human congestion. Today, I am so impressed that the China’s High Speed Rail only took me 15 minutes from the Futian district to West Kowloon in Hong Kong. I love the high tech transportation, brings so much convenience to travellers. Anyway, Hong Kong is so well known that it needs no further introduction, everyone should be quite familiar with this bustling cosmopolitan city. Hong Kong is also dubbed as one of the Four Asian Tigers (economic powerhouse) alongside Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Famous of its dim sum (Cantonese snacks) and visit a local Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong Cafe) is what everyone will do when you visit Hong Kong.
Even though everyone is familiar with Hong Kong, but I think this amazing city still has a lot of different things to offer. Rediscovering Hong Kong like a local will give you a different perspective of this well-known city. Explore the very instagrammable Man Mo Temple, check out the graffiti and street arts, or see the stone wall trees at Forbes Street, Kennedy Town. Your experience will never be the same.
Tired of taking the same old photos from the famous Peak that oversees the entire bustling city of Hong Kong and Victoria Habour? Here is a little tip for my readers, walk a little more on the west side of the commercial spot at The Peak onto Lugard Road. Walk an approximately 20 minutes and you will get a MUCH BETTER VIEW of Hong Kong (very instagrammable spot). Your postcard worthy photos of The Peak will definitely be a good pay off for the calories burnt. Looking for a new experience in Hong Kong? Visit Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Station. The Central Magistracy and the Victoria Prison now allow visitors to tour the rich heritage and historic Central Prison Station. It is a pretty cool and unique experience to be able to see how the Central Prison Station system works and chill out in the restaurants or bars in the compound.
My Take On The China’s Greater Bay Area
Ever since I embarked on this journey and shared my photos of my trip to China, I have received many Facebook and Instagram messages from people around the world saying how impressed they were by China’s development and many interesting tourist spots. Clearly, the cities in the Greater Bay Area has so much to offer. By now you would have seen the uniqueness of each city that I have visited and there is always something for everyone, from bustling metropolis like Macao, Hong Kong, Shenzhen & Guangzhou, culturally rich Foshan and Zhongshan, entertaining themed parks offered by Zhuhai, Dongguan and Jiangmen, to peaceful paradise sites like Zhaoqing, or Huizhou. China has shed its old image and it will keep changing for the better.
The biggest take away is to learn about the Chinese culture, and I am honestly impressed by the ease of travelling within China. A visit to Macao or Hong Kong can be easily coupled with other cities of your choice, and it’s now hassle-free. Giving more options and values to travellers in the Greater Bay Area.
“Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times” – Keith Yuen