10 September, 2010

Diaolou Days: Adventures in Kaiping

10 September, 2010

Guest blogger Kate is back, and this time she’s not writing about her hair! She’s telling us all about her trip to the little-known Kaiping, four hours north of Hong Kong…

Around four hours from Hong Kong by bus, the little-known Kaiping in Guangdong Province makes a great weekend break without breaking the bank. Picking up at 7pm on a Friday night from the bus station on the lower level of the Shun Tak Centre, (Macau Ferry Terminal), you board a comfortable, air conditioned coach that whisks you to Shenzhen Bay border crossing within the hour. After clearing immigration, you re-board a second bus for your onward journey to Kaiping. This sounds like hassle, but actually is very straightforward and the journey goes pretty quickly. Return bus tickets cost HK$250 and are available from the Shun Tak Centre or your local travel agent.  You must obtain a China visa in advance as these are not available at the border.

The 4-star Helen Bergh Hotel (above) is a short taxi ride away from the bus station and is a great base for exploring the area.  With large, clean and modern rooms, rainfall showers, separate bath tubs and large balconies, this is a welcome oasis from the sticky summer weather. Also welcome is the enormous outdoor swimming pool, which allows for some serious lounging opportunities after a hard days sightseeing.  A double room costs from RMB 250 per night, and includes breakfast and a welcome fruit basket, which is a nice touch for such a reasonably priced hotel.

Kaiping’s attraction is its Diaolous, a type of fortified tower built mainly by wealthy families at the turn of the last century. There are around 1800 of these UNESCO World Heritage Sights dotted around a number of picturesque and peaceful villages set in lush green countryside. Many are still furnished with beautiful original Chinese antiques, tiles, and traditional kitchens and provide a fascinating insight into village living. Wear comfortable shoes, as the towers are tall and steep – some up to 9 stories high! There is a small charge for viewing the Diaolous, and an advance ticket is available via the hotel for around RMB 100 per person.

The best way to see the villages is to hire a driver for the day. A minibus for 10 people costs around RMB 600 for the day and is easily arranged by hotel reception, although it is advisable to book ahead.

Nightlife is a little thin on the ground in Kaiping, however if you’re feeling adventurous and in good voice, check out the Phoenix Class Club, a behemoth of a karaoke venue. Here, you can order up some drinks and channel your inner Lady Gaga in a private karaoke room, which seats up to around 15 people.  Prices vary according to numbers, but RMB 100 bought 3 bottles of wine, so expect a cheaper night out than the Soho standard!

The return bus leaves Kaiping at 4.30pm on Sunday and will have you comfortably back home in HK by around 8.30pm. Ensure that you check the bus station for the return journey as there are two and not all buses will call at both. If in doubt, hotel staff are happy to help you with this.

Overall, Kaiping is a great weekend break from HK, being convenient, reasonably priced and offering a combination of culture and relaxation.  It also allows you to experience a different side of China to the shopping frenzy of Shenzhen or the bright lights of Shanghai, and reminds you that the country just to the north of us is a hugely diverse and exciting place.

Kate is a Hong Kong based lifestyle writer and you can contact her at farrkj@gmail.com.

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