Travelling on a Shoe String Budget
China is a wonderful country and there are countless places of natural beauty to visit. There are waterways, metropolises, forests and coasts to explore and as an English teacher, you have countless opportunities to visit all of these sights and you can do it all on a relatively shoe string budget. In comparison to Europe, the price of a train ticket is next to nothing when considering the comfort is just as good and the journeys are far longer. For example, during the first school holiday a couple of teachers and myself took a train to Shanghai. It consisted of a seven hour journey from Fuzhou South Train Station to Shanghai Hongqiao and was a snip at just 256 RMB. Converted in to pounds it was £25.60. Now, I can understand that at face value it doesn’t represent outstanding business as it is just one way, but when I was twenty years old, a six and a half hour train journey to my university from my home town cost over twice this amount at £60. Then you have to consider that this was a journey to one of the fastest growing and biggest international cities in the world.
A Visit to Shanghai
Whilst in Shanghai we were allowed to travel through on the metro for as little as 10RMB one way, another far cheaper journey than its European counterparts and you realise how cheap it is to see this vast country. The hostel was as little as 40 RMB for a nights sleep. Shanghai is a huge city and getting around can be a little bit of an adventure but taking a wrong turn in a taxi or on the metro isn’t really going to dent your funds of exploration. It is a beautiful city from what we saw in our three days there, but I think it is possibly just that. The river bank is the most famous landmark there, but aside from that, there isn’t a great deal to see or to do. We scaled the Pearl of Shanghai Tower – I say we, but I had to leave after the second highest bauble because I have a rapidly growing fear of heights and something I wasn’t wishing to deal with hungover.
Onwards to Suzhou & Hangzhou
From Shanghai we took another train to Suzhou, with its beautiful Venice-esque waterways and canals. We were helped on our way by a friendly couple of Chinese locals as our expressions probably merited intervention by someone. At just about 30 mins from Shanghai it is well worth a visit and it’s a shame we couldn’t stay here for longer as it was very peaceful and relaxed.
From here we travelled back towards Fuzhou, stopping off at Hangzhou. Hangzhou is famous for having a giant lake called XiHu. This had some relevance to ourselves as the council of Fuzhou built their own man-made lake based on this original, but giving it the same name. The Hangzhou version is far grander and attracts a great deal of tourists every year to its pretty little café’s and tea rooms that line the banks.
Apart from this Fuzhou is situated so that you can even travel all the way to Hong Kong for as little as 400 RMB one way by bus. Although consisting of a ten hour sleeper coach, you can book in on a Sunday night, squeeze in to a bed and arrive on the Monday morning looking slightly dishevelled. It’s ridiculously cheap. Once in Hong Kong things can be slightly more expensive given that you have to convert everything in to Hong Kong dollars, but it is well worth the journey to experience another of the great cities of the world.
A School Trip to Meizhou
The most recent of the school trips saw us all pack off and make a day trip to Matsu Island, situated off the coast of Meizhou. It is about a two hour bus ride and, although it was paid for by the school, probably wouldn’t have cost more that 50 RMB to get there. We boarded the bus at about 8am, arrived on the island for brunch at about 11am and from there were able to sample the sights of a truly splendid island. The beaches were golden, the sea was blue and the sun was shining a positively grand 29 degrees Celsius. A Skype with my relatives after this trip confirmed the temperature back home was a rather chilly 10 oC. How I did smile.
Plans for the Future
This weekend a few of us will be taking the short trip to Xiamen, about an hour and a half on the train down the coast. It is famed for its areas of natural beauty as well as being the most prosperous area in Fujian province as one of the richest areas in China. The train for two hours is going to be roughly 40 RMB. If you can handle your money correctly and don’t go crazy on western food – the one thing that seems to cost a lot – then you can make these little trips every weekend you want, seeing something different every time. The only problem is travelling further afield. Shanghai is only seven hours away by train but to get to Beijing for example could take twice as long, so flying might be a real option, but if you are comfortable enough sleeping on a train and digging in a little, it really can be a fun and enjoyable experience. After Xiamen, Beijing, Xi’an and Guangzhou are all on my list of places to visit. Not to mention the fact that Taiwan is directly opposite of Fuzhou and only a ferry ride away. Long may cheap travel continue!