• The only English Guide to South China: Nanning Guangzhou ShenZhen!

    Hi folks! This post comes to fill a gap, after our experience of spending too much time and finding too little info about South China in English online. And we are bilingual for Pete's sake!

    South China is really breathtaking. So for the non-Chinese speaking folks out there, hope this guide makes it easier and more tempting to visit China.

    First things first... Google is not your best friend when it comes to China. 百度 Baidu is (or was... Since we are back from China)! For our Chinese friends, please proceed to use Baidu to search for attractions/tips/blogs, there is so much info out there. I think that Mel is at least a 8/10 fluent in Chinese so this tip is definitely helpful for her. However, for everyone else with Div's level of fluency, please keep on reading :) 

    Well, now that we got that out of the way, back to our wholesome English guide to South China. To embark on your trip to China, please do yourself a favour and download ALL these apps. They were essential to our survival in China.

    1.  Transport/Apps

    Apps (Chinese call it *read with me, letter by letter* A P P, not app):

    VPNs: FreeVPN/ Express VPN / Ultimate VPN

    10/10 recommend FreeVPN because there is no need for sign-up. Download and instant usage!! However total free premium usage is only for 4 days; thereafter you gotta watch ads in exchange for 30 mins to an hour of use, which is fine! Easy peasy and no fuss.

    Express VPN seems to be a hot favourite online but you need to register prior to using and unless you pay for the monthly fee, it only has a 7 day free trial. However, it is rumoured that you can download Netflix shows using Express VPN. We couldn't... but if you are able to do so, please let us know!!

    For Div however, she was unable to use FreeVPN after the 4 days free trial, and relied on Ultimate VPN which was great too because there was no need for sign-up. I think VPN is selective, depends on the phone or the IP address so better download more VPN apps just in case.

    Taxi: 滴滴出行 Di Di Chu Xing
    Hands-down DiDi (the Chinese version of Uber or Grab) was a life saver! It is such a foreigner-friendly app! They have the app in English and they accept foreign credit cards (saving our, literally, poor asses in China). Furthermore, conversing with the Chinese drivers were made easier with in-app auto translation. Also, with the past DiDi incidents of ladies meeting shady drivers, the app is very focused on safety and we had great experiences using the app.

    Taking a didi to the Jiu Qu Wan Hot Spring Resort

    Personally, I even found DiDi to be better than Grab/Uber, with the in app emergency notifications that you could click if anything were to go awry.

    We have not tried hailing cabs from the street but we heard that the prices are quite competitive, so there are definitely alternative options!

    Navigation: 高德地图 gao de di tu Amap/ 百度地图 bai du di tu Baidu maps
    Amap was great! It was THE navigation tool we relied on throughout our China trip. Unfortunately, this app is completely in Mandarin so here are some (very) basic tips on how to use the app.

    Copy the Chinese address over from Google/ (or from our itinerary) and paste it in the top bar. Then click the blue button below to navigate from your current location. Though some parts are quite easily distinguishable (such as the colour of the metro line), we acknowledge that it might still be tough to actually use the app for someone who can't read mandarin.

    Note that a lot of places in China are not well mapped out in Google maps, like our hotel in Guangzhou was nowhere to be found in Google maps, and the Detian waterfalls too seemed to have multiple locations, so always double check on Amap or Baidu maps pre-trip, just to be sure!

    Payments: 支付宝 zhi fu bao Alipay/ 微信 wei xin WeChat Pay
    China is far more superior in its cashless society. Yup, it is way more advanced in that aspect than Singapore, and we stand by our statement. Almost all, do not carry cash on themselves. We had so many encounters with locals and we were always in awe with the cashless generation in China. From "I have not been carrying cash for 3 years..." to "Don't worry about your safety here! Nobody gets robbed or pick pocketed here because nobody even carries cash around anymore." This phenomenon extends to even the countryside and even among the elderly.  Just so amazing!!!

    Back to the topic, the main 2 payment apps are Alipay and WeChat Pay. However, you need to be a Chinese resident to use those apps. Foreign/International Credit Cards are unable to link up, unfortunately. :-( So please bring enough cash.

    We faced the problem of insufficient cash when we realised our Singapore credit cards could not be used other than at big hotel establishments. Your best chance of international credit card would be those with UnionPay... but even then, no guarantees. *Cries when I recall all of our failed attempts to pay for stuff using our international credit cards*

    Communication: 微信 wei xin WeChat
    WeChat is THE communication app. It's our whatsapp/telegram/viber/kakao talk, etc. Locals found it hard to believe the world doesn't use WeChat. Frankly, I can't believe all of us aren't using it either. (Actually a lot of the WeChat functions aren't available to non-Chinese citizens *refers to point on payments above*) The conversation with bewildered Chinese after they realise nobody really uses WeChat outside China always ends with us admitting that the other apps can't match up to WeChat. #truth

    So please download it! They have the basic English version. The Chinese can use WeChat to do almost EVERYTHING - Book air/train/bus tickets, make payments, make appointments, etc on top of communication. We on the other hand use it to add and follow our newly-made Chinese friends.

    Watch this YouTube video to understand just how powerful WeChat is.

    Free wifi in Guangzhou metro: 花生地铁 hua shen di tie (You need a local number to log in for the first time)

    Google: 百度 bai du

    Recommendations/Yelp/Tripadvisor: 大众点评 da zhong dian ping 

    Facebook: 微博 wei bo

    Transportation (intercity): Trip.com

    I hate to say this but for non-Chinese folks, we gotta use Trip.com. This is really the monopoly for foreigners when it comes to intercity train tickets and Chinese accommodation (as far as we know). Please book your train tickets beforehand, directly on the app. Abandon thoughts of winging it or last-minute booking at the train station in-person. We are speaking from experience - trust us, it was painful. And we speak Chinese. Can you imagine NOT speaking Chinese????? I think it would have made  for more painful memories.So save yourself the trouble and tears and purchase from the app!

    By the way, train tickets purchased online still have to be collected at the station's counter. (Present your phone screen/booking details + passport). The queue for collection is significantly shorter than the queue for purchase.

    App is in English plus it accepts international credit cards. However, they do charge a S$8 booking fee per train booking, which we just bit the bullet and paid.  Other than that, it is a pretty dependable app and is widely recognised.

    2. Accommodations

    靖西 Jing Xi: 圣保罗酒店 sheng bao luo jiu dian Sao Paolo Hotel - S$37.25/room/night
    About 25 minutes by car from the Jing Xi Railway Station (靖西火车站)

    A pretty big and spacious room with a elevated corner that we can drink tea on 

    Basic requirement: Clean toilet (& hotel to help us register with the CN government) 

    南宁 nan ning: eCharm Hotel - S$50/room/night
    About 10 minutes by foot from the Nanning Railway Station (南宁火车站)

    广州 guang zhou: Aloft Hotel Tianhe - S$368/room/3 nights (after a S$150 rebate thank you AMEX)
    About 10 minutes by foot from the Linhexi Metro Station (林和西地铁站), and 15 minutes by foot from the Guangzhou East Railway Station (广州东

    Booking.com and Trip.com are your best friends when it comes to booking accommodations. Both apps are in English and accept international credit card payments. We had a meh experience with Trip.com in terms of accommodation booking. Long story short, it is a requirement by the Chinese government to register every foreign guest in every accommodation. So if you are booking on Airbnb, chances are, you most likely have to go to the police station to register first, for each of your accommodations. Or your host can be a gem and register on your behalf via WeChat. Mel was made to go down to the police station once before, in Beijing, and it took about an hour which is really no fun.

    Now, this is why we have to look out for hotels that are able to register on your behalf online. We went through a bit of hardship booking our JingXi accommodation because it's a relatively rural city with only a handful of hotels that can register guests online. However the hotels that can provide this service was not clearly on the site. We had to go through a few booking/cancellation/refund process on trip.com to get Sao Paolo Hotel. After payment, trip.com alerted us that our hotel with which our initial booking was with could not register foreign guests. While trip.com did not compensate us for the inconvenience, they did refund our initial booking cost and helped us source for hotels that had this additional service of guest registration.

    3. Activities

    Our main aim of going to JingXi was the waterfall and Canyon. If you have followed us long enough on our blog, we are drawn to nature and adventure related activities. These outdoor stuff are the activities we LIVE for. Pictures of these two sites were tempting enough to get us travelling for a full day, just to reach JingXi, the town near the attractions.

    Please do yourself a favour and get a private driver! It really helps saving so much time and provides a lot of convenience as compared to public transport (which can take up to half a day to reach one site).

    Here's the contact we used in Jingxi: Wechat Name - Continental-rock. It costs about 250RMB for a day of journey and we engaged it for 2 days. He is really helpful and provide great suggestions. Great chap to hire if you are keen on exploring.

    德天跨国瀑布景区 De tian kua guo pu bu jing qu Detien Waterfall 

    Entrance fee: 115RMB/pax (S$22.86)
    Time needed: 2.5 hours to cover the whole place + rafting comfortably

    Detien Waterfall was THE attraction we wanted to see. It's the largest transnational waterfall in Asia (it straddles the border of China and Vietnam). It was the reason we were willing to travel for close to a full day to get to. Was it worth it? Absolutely. It's pretty popular among local tourists and yet so untouched in that there were no international tourists (that we could see). We were just about the only 2 foreigners visiting these falls. This was a GEM compared to Kawasan Falls in Cebu.

    For an attraction in China, it is not super cheap but totally worth the cost! Waterfall was well-maintained, and not commercialized at all. It was very enjoyable. You can get super close to the waterfall and can even stroll through the different levels of the falls in peace and tranquility. Definitely a 10/10!

    The beauty!!

    Tourist centre from where you purchase the tickets for the falls and  board the bus that takes you to the waterfalls (about a 15 min bus ride away)

    Shuttle bus tix + Entrance tix

    Level Two of the waterfall

    This is the Vietnam side of the waterfall! Amazing, you get to see the Vietnam tourists across the river.

    Paid an additional 30 RMB for the boat ride out to the waterfall

    We got pretty close to the waterfall DO YOU SEE IT 

    广西通灵大崃谷 guang xi tong ling da lai gu Tongling Grand Canyon 

    Entrance fee: 55RMB/pax (S$10.93 student price)
    Time needed: 2.5-3 hours

    Tongling Grand Canyon was our second stop of day 2. We arrived around 2 to 3pm and it was the perfect timing and weather. Tongling Canyon had a ton of steps and you get to see different faces of the Canyon. Of course, the wonder of it lies deep in the Canyon - no guesses for it was another magnificent waterfaaaaall.

    Perks of having your own driver: Dedicated photographer that insist you get a shot at all entrances

    Yes to student tix - Please bring along your student pass/ otherwise have a softcopy on your phone! Works wonders. 

    2nd entrance L O L would put this shot in the photo album ya

    Plenty of steps 

    Different attractions along the way

    We had ALL sorts of colourful lights in the cave

    Mini streams of waterfall along the way

    Magnificent big one further in the Canyon

    Ultra tall 

    They have booths that rent out costume for photo-taking and it's pretty fun! Prices & view differ, the stall we took at had a nice front view of the waterfall. 10RMB for just the rental of the costume. 

    Look at the lady in red.

    Like a true model-in-training, we had good training from the lady boss. Each pose has its Chinese name alrite. 



    For memories' sake

    The waterfall beauties~

    Gotta insert some tourist shot yeah 

    Different views at each turn!! 

    渠洋湖 qu yang hu  Qu Yang Lake 

    Entrance fee: Free! but cost of private boat - 100RMB/boat
    Time needed: 1 hour boat ride
    P/S: Super cold during winter period

    This was definitely not part of our itinerary but that's another perk of having our own private driver - our day 3 itinerary was suggested by him. First stop was Qu Yang Lake! He got in touch with a local for us to drive a boat out for us in the cold. The view was amazing, China's own Ha Long Bay but truth be told, we were freezing to death on the boat so that affected Mel's enjoyment slightly.

    Nevertheless, with more clothes/less cold weather, or in summer, this would totally rock.

    Our own private boat at 11 degrees and probably feeling like 6 degrees brrrrr

    This wasn't enough to keep the cold out

    鹅泉风景区 er quan feng jing qu Equan Lake

    Entrance fee: 25RMB/pax (S$5 - student price)
    Time needed: 2 hours would be a comfortable timing to work with

    Another recommendation courtesy of our private driver. LOVED every moment here! For the outside it looks meh but once you enter, there's a nice flower field + pristine clean water + nice mountains/hills. 3-in-1 at 5 bucks.

    So clear you can see the fish swimming.

    九曲湾温泉度假村  Jiu qu wan wen quan du jia cun Nanning JiuQuWan Hot Spring Resort

    Entrance fee: 198RMB/pax/24 hours (S$19.5 - student price)
    Time needed: Half a day? Whole day 24hours?

    After our intense travelling and hiking at JingXi County area, relaxing at the hot spring was definitely welcomed. Boasting over 20+ hot springs promoting different health benefits/temperature, it was pretty fun soaking in every single one of them and hopping from one to another in the cold. We had the time of our lives.

    They provided bathrobes, towels and slippers and had servers SERVING you hot tea/water when you were soaking in the hot spring.

    The amenties included a sauna, salt room, a nap room (you can sleep overnight there!)/theatre/GYM and yeah you are paying S$19.5 nett. say whaaaaaat?!?!?

    All the amenities are of fine quality, if i may add.

    Snacks so you won't go hungry.

    Chicken herbal soup hot spring. Just like a hotpot yeah 

    Area with 38-40 degrees hotspring (Salted/Tea hotsprings)

    Hotbeds maybe? And cheap masseurs (aka each other) 

    And maybe after your bath you would like to gym? 

    THEATRE. SOOO amazing with your own GV Gold Class seating

    Nap room all to ourselves (you can see our excitement)

    We stayed till night and it wasn't enough. Wished we knew about nap room earlier so we could save the cost of one night of accommodation! They have lockers and showers and everything you would need to be self-sufficient! Would definitely go back to Nanning just for this.

    4. Food

    Jing Xi: Street near Sao Paolo Hotel

    Managed by a family of 3. They make amazing food man

    Yummm, grilled oysters and scallops (10RMB for 5)

    Their 肠粉 chang fen - A local breakfast/supper delight (Savoury sauce over flour steamed with eggs veg and meat sooo good)

    chang fen and the fried noodles (savoury and delicious)

    Entrance of Qu Yang Lake

    When you are in 6 degrees weather... This stall is like a life-saver alrite
    They fry it on the spot gosh even now, I am still drooling

    Jian Bing - Fried with red bean or mushroom or veg

    We ordered stick after stick, jian bing after jian bing and it was super affordable! 

    This is Mel's favourite, the one with salted vegetables and chives

    They have fried duck leg as well. Though we very much prefer the veg version, lighter taste and def easier to munch on 

    Nanning - 中山路美食街 Zhong San Lu Mei Shi Jie

    Opened only during weekend nights, this street was bustling with people. This was also introduced by our local friend whom we met at the hot spring. It was packed with people at 8-10pm but the food were so amazing, reminded me of Taiwan food streets.

    Right off the pan, this tofu was seasoned with spices and spring onions

    Lovely dumpling. One whole cup cost us 10RMB - Worth!

    Their oysters are topped with garlic, chilli and seasoning, making it so savoury 


    小杨生煎包 Xiao Yang Sheng Jian Bao

    You can see our excitement in the blury-ness of this photo.

    Vegetarian restaurant at 大佛古寺 da fu gu si Buddhist Temple near Beijing Lu

    This was one of the best meals in Guangzhou.

    We love tofu.

    5. Shopping

    白马大厦 bai ma da sha BaiMa Fashion. Our rating: 2/10.

    Great for wholesale shopping, and if you are willing to rummage within bags for good buys.

    天马女人街 tian ma nu ren jie Tian Ma Women's Street. Our rating: 4.5/10
    Slightly better for accessories, or shoes (max size for women shoes in China seems to be a EUR39).

    下九商业步行街 Shang xia jiu shang ye bu xing jie Shangxiajiu Commercial Pedestrian Street

    Our rating: 6.5/10 Great shopping, great food, all out a decent place to spend an evening.

    Just as the night was winding down.

    Was eyeing this the whole trip, but meh.. only the first mouthfull was good. I give it a 1/10.

    Fruits from the street vendors at shang xia jiu was AMAZING.
    RMB10 for the above was a real STEAL.

    金马服装市 jin ma fu zhuang shi. Our rating: 9/10
    Start here and venture down along the street for terrific buys. Depending on the time of the year, we visited in winter so there were so many choices of coats, and winter wear at whole sale prices. Mel says the prices here are much better than taobao and, apparently, this is where they ship out their taobao goods from!

    Just look at the amount of merch moving in and out of the shops!

    Don't worry even though it was winter we did our fair share of shopping as well heh.

    We could snag bags like this for 50-60 RMB and up.

    公园前地铁站 gong yuan qian di tie zhan Gongyuanqian Metro Station

    GYQ is a great base in Guangzhou - with a mall nearby, manicure and pedicure services at one of the exits, tons of food options, and a stone's throw away from Beijing Lu, one of the central tourist areas of guangzhou. There is also quite a fair bit of shopping to be done at the malls and at the various exits of GYQ.

    We gotsa have our veges.

    Underground shopping street at GYQ.

    Many manicure shops here, with manicures ranging from RMB28 and up for Gel, and pedicures from RMB 35 and up. Ask for discounts and a loyalty card, some of the will give you the loyalty discount for free even if its your first time!


    东门步行街 dong men bu xing jie Dongmen Pedestrian Street

    Dongmen is a huge mall, boasting shopping in the pedestrian streets on the lower levels, a huge food court on the middle floors, affordable manicure pedicure hair stylists, and an entire floor dedicated to making spectacles. We spent  the whole one day we had in ShenZhen in Dongmen and couldn't be happier about the pampering on our last day of the trip.

    Shopping on B1.

    4F - the floor dedicated only to spectacles.

    Highly recommend this shop - they have glasses with the latest and most in-style frames for as cheap as RMB180, and if you have a higher degree they recommend you top up RMB50 for a thinner lens. Some frames are slightly more expensive, but most of them sell at that rate. Very reasonable, and extremely helpful staff who will take out all the models they have for you to make a sound choice.

    We hope this has been a comprehensive English guide to South China, for more information, check out our 8D8N Itinerary at the link here!

    Until next time
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