Monday, September 08, 2014

Wuhan travel series: From Hong Kong to Wuhan

This post is my guide to traveling to Wuhan, China from Hong Kong
Links to the other three posts are at the end of this one.

We traveled for adoption from August 14-28th, 2014

I have only been to China once, and on this trip we were given a choice between Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong as an entry point. I highly recommend Hong Kong, but keep in mind this is the advice of a one-trip novice. Hong Kong is a nice soft entry into China and it’s relatively close to Wuhan. We liked the Hotel Icon (actually in Kowloon, across the bay from downtown Hong Kong) and found the location perfect. It’s right by the train/metro station and sits in an interesting, walkable neighborhood with plenty of restaurants, people-watching and shopping.

Here’s a couple of posts about our stay in Hong Kong.

As we debated which city to see on our way into mainland, the pollution and extreme crowds we heard about in Beijing were deal breakers for us, as were the extra hours of travel to Wuhan. Plus, our plane tickets from the Seattle were thousands cheaper to Hong Kong than the other options. I’ve heard, however, that some of the historical sites in Beijing are second to none (Great Wall, etc.) and they are working to remedy some of the pollution woes. It also probably depends a lot on the time of year you travel. We were there in the heat of summer, mid-August.

Hong Kong (Kowloon) Neighborhood
I heartily recommend the bullet trains in China. We took the train from Hong Kong, connecting through Guangzhou to Wuhan. It was about $260 for two first class tickets in August 2014.  You must use a ticket broker to get you the tickets. There are lots of them, but we used to send somebody in person to the station with a copy of our passports. Tickets are available to purchase 18 days before your travel date. Once in China, you do need to leave extra time to pick up the actual tickets at the station.

The train from Hong Kong to Guagnzhou. 
If you are used to traveling and have some experience with crowded cities and busy stations in developing countries, you will have no trouble doing the same. If you’re nervous about traveling, but want the experience of the train, you may want to look into getting a shuttle or taxi once in Guangzhou from the Metro to the main train station. The Metro-to-Railway transfer point is extremely crowded and a bit of a hike. The station for the Wuhan-bound bullet trains in Guangzhou is Guangzhou Nan (Guangzhou South).

Snack box on the train from Guangzhou to Wuhan
At Guangzhou Nan Station, the ticketing lines are actually outside the ground-level floor. I’m sorry I don’t remember which exit, but there is an “Inquiries” booth to help you. You can just show them the receipt from the ticket broker and they’ll point you in the direction for the ticket lines. The day we went, we picked the one ticket line out of 30 that was MUCH shorter than all the others and they did help us. Whether it was technically the correct line or not I’ll never know.

As a side note, we found over and over that people in China were keen to help us find things. If you look confused and friendly, you can usually approach any shop keeper or non-busy person on the street with your questions. Keep your English simple and enunciate clearly. Avoid contractions if you can (Can you please help me? Instead of “Couldja point me the direction of..”), and always use “Please” and “Thank You” in addition to learning those words in Chinese. If you run into a rude person or somebody too busy to help, please don’t add them to some running list in your head knocking the “way people are” in China. Imagine how a non-English speaking confused person would be treated in any of your own country’s largest cities. Would every person take the time to help them? Unlikely. Also, crazy people and jerks seem to be sprinkled evenly over the face of the earth. Try not to use run-ins with them to color your perception of a place or its culture.

This kind of running around and finding stuff while rolling suitcases and looking foreign can stress some people out. Be honest about your comfort level, and go with what you can handle. We don’t mind a bit of standing out while wandering around, and find that avoiding the touristy things gives us a more interesting experience. You may not like that, and that’s cool, too. Especially if you’re traveling for adoption, do not feel pressure to make this a challenging trip on more levels than you can handle.  It’s totally okay to skip some of the “real” experiences and focus on keeping things simple if you need that, no matter how many blogs you have found recommending this or that. I would say if you’re traveling for adoption with a spouse, the comfort level of the more conservative one sets the bar. If you’re traveling for fun or adventure, you can aim for more of a compromise.

We really enjoyed the train ride and I highly recommend taking it. (Post with pictures here.) If you are on an adoption trip, you should probably only take this train before you pick up your child. You can also take it back to Guangzhou, but once you have a kid with you the shorter travel time of plane travel may make it a better choice. We were annoyed that our agency really discouraged us returning by train but it turns out they knew what they were talking about. Our agency also booked us with a group of families and fantastic guide so traveling together was both fun and bonding. 

I'll tell you a secret: I am not so much a group person or even maybe a people person (it's a flaw and I own it), especially when it comes to travel. However! Traveling with a toddler/preschooler who is losing their mind, afraid, over stimulated, screaming, or possibly puking is hard. Doing it with a group that truly understands and sympathizes it can be slightly less difficult, and having a guide who can speak to your child in their mother tongue can be priceless. Camaraderie does count under that kind of stress. I loved our group and once we joined them I realized I didn’t want to separate from them on the way back to Guangzhou after all.

When you arrive in Wuhan, you can just take the metro to the Wuhan Poly (this is the hotel we were in with Holt International- more on that in the next post). Only one metro line goes to the rail station, and the rail station is the final stop there anyway, so you don’t have to worry which metro to board. For the Wuhan Poly Hotel, you want the stop for Hongshan Square.

Find a metro ticket machine and you can just press the stop you want (Hongshan Square is near the middle of the tangle of lines). All the machines we saw all over China were touch screens and often had English directions, making them easy to use. Then touch the number of tickets (on the right side of the screen, watch for the amount owed to multiply an you’ll know you found the right button), and when you have it right, enter payment. Keep in mind most of the machines only take 5 or 10 Yuan bills or coins. If you need to break a bill or combine a pile of 1 Yuan bills, you can wordlessly hand it to the yellow Customer Service kiosk person and they will give you back what you need. That confused us for a few minutes- we thought our machine must be broken!

Exit the train at Hongshan Square, getting ready near the door to get all your luggage off in time before the doors try to close on you. A friend of ours had his arm pinched- these doors WILL shut on you. Announcements are in English and Mandarin, and some trains have a lighted real-time location display, and all maps have Roman letters in addition to Chinese so it’s pretty easy to get where you’re going. For the Poly Hotel, after getting out at Hongshan Square follow the exit signs for Exit A2.

When you emerge at street level at Exit A2, walk straight about 20 feet and you’ll see a little security kiosk box. Just a few feet past it on the left is an alley street heading in to the middle of the block. This street leads directly into the Wuhan Poly parking lot. Note: even if it seems deserted, DO NOT WALK DOWN THE MIDDLE OF IT. Pedestrians NEVER have the right-of-way in China, even in parking lots. Stay well to the side and keep your eyes peeled for cars.

You have arrived at your air-conditioned destination! Welcome to the Wuhan Poly. The staff was very kind to us.

The rest of my Wuhan travel series:

From Hong Kong to Wuhan

The Wuhan Poly Hotel and Getting to Carrefour

Food and Shopping Near Hongshan Square

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