TRAVELING TO CHINA OVER SEVEN SEAS

Part one

Starting off to China over seven seas

My first attempt to visit China converted to traveling to China over seven seas! The flight to the Far East was divided into three parts – from Belgrade to Abu Dhabi, then from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta and from Jakarta to Hong Kong and finally by coach to Shenzhen, China. At the time, the tickets were much cheaper than those for China directly. The estimated travel time was 21 hours. If you score a good ticket, you will travel at best for 15 hours. But, that was just the plan, the karma of my trip was completely different!

Landing the first airport

The first airport I landed was Abu Dhabi. Everything was unfamiliar to me and since the transfer time was short, I had to concentrate and follow the signs. It’s a well-organized airport and I got to the gate on time. I realized that I would enjoy a nice walk through its attractive shopping area but, that I left for some other occasion. Three months later, I was there again and I highly recommend you not to miss the chance to buy something. Have a look on https://www.abudhabiairport.ae/en/shop-dine-and-unwind/shop/pure-gold

As I somehow reached Jakarta and was already on the plane for 15 hours, the airport staff surprised me by the unpleasant surprise. Boarding the next flight had already started and I missed this one! They greeted me nicely and announced that for the next 6 hours I could stay at either the hotel or the lounge. I chose the lounge where there was a rich buffet table. At the moment I thought that even though I felt tired, maybe I was trying to go see Jakarta. But, this situation was new to me. My luggage was huge and I had no idea about the visa regime. So the thought of spending time at the airport seemed to me to be the best. Going to a hotel in such a short time was futile!

The first hint of Asia on my way to China over seven seas

Soekarno Hatta, Jakarta International Airport is extremely retro and, unlike many, the complete ambiance is the 1980s style. In many ways, it reminded me of the Moscow Hotel in Belgrade. For me, these were the good old days! Aunts in borosans (locally made comfortable shoes) with a neatly folded cloth over their hand-formed the backbone of the hospitality staff at the hotel and served the casual and deliberate passers-by very kindly. As a reminder that this is still happening in 2014, there was wifi and the ability to relax in an armchair with a laptop on my knees. You could fall asleep if you feel tired and self-suggestive enough.

The kind servant of the small body and the smiley face took my passport. He went to do whatever it took to board me on the next flight. The other one took me to the aforementioned lounge with a buffet table. I curiously approached the elaborated table and stuffed the plate with everything. Food in this part of the globe always starts with rice or pasta. The rest are many additions in the form of very spicy meat or vegetables. Then I settled into my worm armchair. While I was eating delicious and fragrant food I watched the situation in the salon…Totally silly trip! At that moment, I realized that I was about 6000 km from my own country! Alone as part of a big children’s puzzle trying to push it into place. Everything around me was full of differences. Races, ways of dress, behavior, smell!

Napping, internet surfing, and brainstorming

Since I called home and said what happened, I lost my attention and I fell asleep. Distracted by the impressions and subconscious images of my vivid recent days, my dream quickly betrayed me. So, I spent the rest of my time listening to music and read some details about my potential new home. Shenzhen in southeast China on the border with Hong Kong! The internet pictures of my future residence completely amazed me by the scenes! Glittering advertisements reflecting on the surface of the river on which the city lies! imposing buildings that stand out in height or size, population corresponding to one and a half in Serbia! I was wondering if these were just great photos or a really realistic sight? Slowly I realized that my “traveling China over seven seas” is happening for real!

One step forward, two steps back

Although it didn’t seem possible, it had been four and a half hours since I arrived in Jakarta and again a small, kind man appeared in front of me. In his humble English, with a strong accent, he invited me to board: “Madam, please follow me, I take you to your plane …”. That’s when I found out the intriguing information – so I’m not going directly to Hong Kong! There was no connection, so they took me on a plane to Kuala Lumpur, and from Kuala Lumpur, I have to fly to Hong Kong.

Will my traveling to China over seven seas ever end?

Walking in disbelief behind my assigned companion, I tried to calculate when I would get to Hong Kong. I realized that I would be able to boast the story that in about 30 hours I was able to visit five Asian airports! So my “visiting China the first time” was potentially postponed for another 15 hours. Now, lost in huge time differences, after waiting in line for boarding, I found myself in a crowded plane to Kuala Lumpur.

Flight to another airport was nowhere near as comfortable as the previous two. As I listened for the third time to the captain’s greetings and directions for leaving the plane in 4-5 languages, I slowly fell into a coma. While closing my eyes, I noticed that my companion was some strange hippie creature who had decided to lift his legs into the seats and put them under his butt. For sure, not thinking much about the rules of good behavior and the smell of his socks of dubious color…

P.S. While you are waiting for the “Traveling to China over seven seas” second part, have a look at some tips and tricks about traveling to China solo for the first time: http://www.natasakuzele.com/china-shenzhen-the-first-time-going-solo/

Next time: Hong Kong finally!

SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS-SINGAPORE ‘S FIRST UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Singapore-Botanic-Gardens clock

Singapore Botanic Gardens

Singapore Botanic Gardens, the incredible, monumental site of nature. The Gardens received an inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the World Heritage Committee on 4 July 2015. This year it’s celebrating 160 years of astonishing history. Once you visit it, you’ll desire to come back again. If you walk just five minutes from the hustle of Orchard street in the right direction you will find it. Considering the size and variety of spices you need a month of everyday visits to experience its natural treasures. But, if you have a limited amount of time, here is some advice to organize your visit the best way.

As a solo traveler, there are two possible ways to do it. You could either enter Singapore Botanic Gardens and wander around led by your instincts or book yourself a tour with volunteer guides. If you wish to explore a specific part of the gardens, you should choose these tours. Whatever decision you make, take at least half of a day to spend there. This amount of time is enough just for feeling the joy of being connected with nature. You will only scratch the surface of this magnificent park.

Four garden cores and two additional benefits

Singapore Botanic Gardens has four unities and two distinct parts:

  1. Tanglin Garden – presents the heritage core of the garden with ancient favorites
  2. Central – a part which gathers all tourists at some point
  3. Bukit Timah – an educational unit where you will discover a variety of charms
  4. Tyersall Gallop – created in 2017 by opening the Learning forest which is integrated with huge and impressive rain forest

The benefits:

  • Heritage trees – contains thousands of years old trees
  • Sculptures – donated artworks to give style and elegance to this preserved nature

Each of these unities has its specific species. They tell a different story about their unique origins. You can find everywhere maps and written guides in order to navigate around. Everything is nicely connecting for you to have an endless walk losing a sense of time. However, if you like to follow the exact pats, there is a free map to download in advance: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/-/media/sbg/documents/sbg-map-jul-2019-full-res.jpg?la=en&hash=96E39B0B71A2444EDD2F98B1E7685D99ED85D31B

Treats you shouldn’t miss

If you are a botanic junkie you can book a tour called The ethnobotany of the jackfruit tree family. It is fascinating to know that the jackfruit tree is the largest in the world. The fruit its self can weight over 50kg and you can find it in Singapore markets. A tour is open for tourists from 15th December till 15th March every year.

For instance, I enjoyed Swan Lake which you can discover starting from Tanglin Entrance. If you feel the peace, as I do, simply watching the surface of the lake and dancing shadows reflecting the shapes around it, follow the path. See the swans at their elegance and appreciate the moment! You’ll be charmed for sure:-).

Swan Lake at Singapore Botanic Gardens

In addition, there are a lot of happenings in this wonderland. Every month you can see exhibitions, concerts, educational events or workshops. To feed your curiosity, visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens Library or Singapore Herbarium online.

How to get to Singapore Botanic Gardens and what’s the ticket price

You can reach Singapore Botanic gardens in three ways:

  • Use buses no. 174 and 174e starting from Old Hill St Police Station to Opp Singapore Botanic gardens and pay only 1-3$. Then you walk for about 15 min.
  • Take a taxi for a small price of 6-8$.
  • And the healthiest way, go for a walk which takes 1hour and 10 min.

Singapore Botanic Gardens are open every day from 5:00 – 24:00 and guess what! Above all, the entrance is free of charge! So, you may have a magical day for just a few dollars. There are four entrances:

  1. First of all Tanglin Entrance
  2. Another one is Tyersall Gallop Entrance
  3. Also, you may use Nassim Entrance
  4. Finally, there is Bukit Timah Entrance

Things you are not allowed to do in Singapore Botanic Gardens

These are some rules that you should follow when entering Singapore Botanic Gardens which are part of Singapore’s Government’s strong will to preserve this beautiful island-city state. In short:

  • Do not smoke in the Gardens
  • Never light a fire or barbeque
  • Please do not pluck the plants
  • Avoid damaging the park’s property
  • You cannot use motorized vehicles
  • Do not ride a bicycle, skateboard or scooter
  • Do not feed the birds
  • No fishing

More details about this topic https://www.nparks.gov.sg/sbg/visit-us/visitor-services

However, if you want to read more about Singapore, please visit http://www.natasakuzele.com/singapore-the-pearl-of-asia-in-three-days/

SANTA CLAUS’S VILLAGE – ROVANIEMI, LAPLAND

Santa Claus’s Village near Rovaniemi in Lapland! Every summer in August and during the New Year festivities in December, I cannot resist remembering visiting it. That was one of the most beautiful trips I have had in my life! The group of us enthusiastic mountaineers went for an adventure to Finland! Yes, it happened in August but it smelled like December!

A fairy tale – SANTA CLAUS’S VILLAGE

Reindeer in Santa Claus’s Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland

What a peace for soul and body! Cherished and preserved nature embraced the fairy Santa Claus’s village and that aroused the feeling of naÏvety and innocence which unexpectedly cast a childish spell on us ( https://santaclausvillage.info ). I can clearly recall the excitement that came over us and lasted at least forty eight hours. During that time we behaved as all children in the world do, hinted by the idea that Santa Claus was somewhere in our vicinity! We sneaked through Santa Claus park.

While entering and getting out of huts we were completely fascinated by the atmosphere, objects and by special mood prevailing the tourists and people who worked for Santa Claus, dressed as dwarfs. August suddenly became December! Picturesque huts were filled with scents and things from those stories about the tireless Santa who sails in his sledge all over the world and fulfill children’s dreams. Is there at least one child who has not imagined Rudolf, the reindeer with the red nose and his horned companions easily fulfilling Santa Klaus’s mission?!

Breaking news – “Santa Claus is coming to town”

Somewhere during our adventurous crawling in all directions, we caught unexpected news. Santa Claus had come to his office! If we at that time had a sort of a steady note in our behaving and in fact were occupied with buying souvenirs for our families, friends and ourselves, all these activities disappeared after this “unbelievable” news had reached us. Behaving like children on excursions, we separated in smaller groups and went through the moments of enthusiasm and fascination enjoying everything on our trip through Scandinavia. Completely delighted I rushed to find members of my group hoping to find them in the huts nearby.

Looking for Santa – mission impossible

Santa Claus’s village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland

I came across my two companions, shared the precious news about Santa and then we tried together to find the others from our group and His office. We supposed that it should be somewhere in the center of the village. There was the biggest hut erecting in the middle of Santa Claus’s village and very soon we noted that the news about the coming of Santa Claus “to work” was spreading as the light speed.

A lot of other companions were standing in front of that hut and we had hoped to be the first, avoid jostling and assure ourselves that the idol of our dreams was really there…And something else, quite magic! We could get some photos with him! However, while we were delighted squeezing in that crowd around “that holy place”, some of our companions had already managed to enter the hut! They immortalized their longlasting dreams. And then, suddenly – darkening! So long dreamed meeting and touching Santa Klaus disappeared. Santa Claus finished being taken photographed with his fans who entered their second childhood and sneered out through the back door.

Grown-ups with the heart of a child

And then, as we were not infantile enough, totally infuriated and angry, we started quarreling both with ourselves and with the others. Coming to our knowledge that even some of our group had photographed with Santa Claus, we completely lost our control and started accusing them of betray! ” You should be ashamed of yourselves, we were looking around for you and you cold-bloodedly entered directly His office and got photos with Him without us”… Without paying attention at all to our fury, the happy enjoyed their moments of satisfaction and reproached us their success with irritating smiles.

Oh God! I remember that I was really angry trying to find a reasonable argument for that! But, nothing could make Santa Claus come back, the magic disappeared and as a consulate, we went to Santa Claus’s Post Office. There his faithful dwarfs and fairies took our postcards, put stamps on them with Santa Claus photo and sent them all over the world to true children…

THREE DAYS IN SINGAPORE, THE PEARL OF ASIA

Singapore Changi Airport, first impression

Three days in Singapore, the pearl of Asia, such a wonderful surprise! So bright, so colorful, so welcoming to everyone! The top star among Asian cosmopolitans. Right after you land at the Changi International Airport in Singapore, you will fill a smell of an adventure. If you are just transferring and have some time, take a chance and explore this city on its own, the cherry on the top of Asian airports! Take the inside train and visit this miracle and you will step into a new world. The catch is that if you need a Singapore transit visa, you don’t need it on this train. If your transit time is longer then 5. 5 hours, you have even more possibilities. Check on http://www.changiairport.com/en/airport-guide/transit.html#anchorTET. But, if you can spend three days in Singapore, fasten your seat belts and live the dream!

Accommodation and local restaurants

I took a small but spotless room in the Garni hotel Fragrance, Emerald, for the affordable price of 43 US$ per night. So, for a total of 129S$ for three days, I was in this bustling area full of local restaurants, small shops, and markets. I realized I was right in the heart of Singapore’s unique cultural mixture. Hidden and calm, yet really well connected to the city center by buses and MTR, this location was the right choice. I discovered a local restaurant with a variety of local dishes at low prices and enjoyed incredibly tasty food. Then again, you can do it anywhere in Singapore for a small price. Other accommodation options are hostels with prices from around 15-20US$ per night, depending on the location and room type. Finally, you can find astonishing hotels for a considerable amount of money (prices go up to even 1000US$ per night).

Best way to explore the city amenities

Grab a free city map at the airport and you’ll be equipped to explore the city in three days. Don’t buy in advance tickets and passes for the Singapore amenities. Do that at the spot, it’s even cheaper than you expect. Some magnificent views and shows you can experience for free! Besides the tickets for buses and MTR (available in any of 7 Eleven stores), get the Big Bus Tours pass. For an acceptable price, it allows you exploring Singapore treasures during the day by the hop on and hop off system. Using the three bus lines, green, blue and yellow, you have a chance to observe the amenities and listen to the details in deferent languages. There’re several options with prices from 22US$ – 44US$. It’s the best way of choosing your favorites and then spend the time visiting them. The Classic Big Bus tour pass is forthy eight hours valid, and I loved it.

List for three days

Gardens by the Bay, beautiful park centraly located, offering audiovisual performances
Gardens by the Bay

There is no chance that you can visit everything that this magnificent city can offer you. But here is the list of the things that you should see in these three days in Singapore:

  • Gardens by the Bay, Mesmerising Garden Rahspody Show, an audiovisual spectacle performed every day from 7:45 pm – 8:45 pm
  • Singapore Botanic Gardens (more on https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/singapore-botanic-gardens )
  • Sentosa Island, the perfect spot to spend the day and enjoy various activities; sunbathing and swimming or kayaking on several beaches, S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa Merlion, Mega Zip, Mega Bounce, etc.
  • China Town, especially the 1827 Sri Mariamman Temple and the ornate Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum.
  • Marina Sands Bay Singapore observation deck with a fabulous view of the Singapore panorama.
  • Arab Street and Haji Lane, Singapore

Nightlife in Singapore

Birthday party on the top of Marina Bay Sands, luxury hotel
Party time in Singapore in Marina Bay Sands

Clarke Quay and Riverside

Do you like to spend time in coffee bars and restaurants? The best choice is The Clarke Quay and the riverside; Vivid nightlife, full of locals and foreigners, will get you into the mood for one big international party! You may treat yourself with cocktails and other alcoholic beverages and also tasty and colorful local and international dishes. Try the famous Singapore crab! It’s a bit expensive but worths every penny. Several night clubs like Attica, Zouk, Canvas Night Club, and Shuffle Bistro Bar offer fun and relaxation depending on your mood.

Things NOT to DO in Singapore

If you plan to spend three days in Singapore, have in mind that the pearl of Asia also has a “don’t do it” list and here are some tips:

  • If you are a passionate smoker, visiting this city will be a challenge for you! Smoking in Singapore is a chargeable offense in most of the places where you use to do it in other countries all over the world. You are not allowed to smoke almost anywhere, even in your own premises and especially not in public. Anti-Smoking measures in Singapore have a history of progress. During the past twenty years, the authorities gradually extended places and areas where smoking is prohibited. The highlight is- these rules are supported by the citizens of Singapore, and the last one was updated in 2019. – no smoking in Orchard Road, the main shopping area except for limited space around the police stations.
  • Don’t litter in Singapore and pay attention to it!
  • Avoid chewing gum unless it is prescripted to you by your doctor ( it can be a cure :-), especially for scuba divers)
  • Don’t forget to flash in the toilets
  • Don’t watch the porn, even in private

In the end, let me tell you what I enjoyed the most! Eating in an Indian vegan restaurant, coffee in Arab Street and the Mesmerising Garden Rahspody Show! So, go and make your bucket list :-).

CHINA, SHENZHEN, THE FIRST TIME GOING SOLO

Tips and tricks

When visiting China the first time or specifically Shenzhen solo, you need a detailed plan. How surprised I was entering China the first time five years ago! When I crossed the Chinese border and entered Shenzhen, I was literally in a state of shock! At the time, there were no signs in English, no tourist information office, and no one spoke a word of English.  I found a regular taxi and said my destination: KK Mall! Five years later,  I experience odd situations every day. But, before exploring the culture there, please read these essentials! 

 Things You Need to have when entering China 

Visa and passport requirements

  1. If you are visiting China, you need to have a Passport with at least six months’ validity left. Pay attention to the number of free pages for stamps! You may need to exit and enter China many times, depending on the visa type.
  2. The travelers heading to China need to apply for a visa in Chinese diplomatic missions in the country of their residence or the nearest possible one. If you reside in China, you can ask for a visa extension in the Exit and Entry Administrations of the county of the Public Security Bureaus, in this case, Shenzhen. China’s government allows to Holders of standard passport from some countries to stay in China for a specified period without any visa requirement. 
  3. If you want to travel to Hong Kong and Macau, although they are China’s administrative territories, you need to follow their visa regime.

More about on : http://www.natasakuzele.com/?page_id=311&preview=true

Health insurance and vaccination 

You may get typhoid so please check the official recommendation from your government. Buy an excellent health insurance package; it is expensive to get treatment of severe conditions.

Other essential things that you need to do or have before entering China

  • Install the VPN application on your laptop and mobile phone ( possibly Express VPN or Astrill), along with USB containing the full installation package in case your installation gets broken or damaged. Without this, there is no internet connection at all!
  • An amount of local currency (Chinese RMB), an approximate value of fifty US dollars or EU euro to avoid trying to find a rare exchange office or a crowded bank with your luggage. Your bank cards most probably will not be accepted for payments.
  • Have a picture or a printed copy of your accommodation booking with an address in Chinese. People in China generally do not speak foreign languages, even in hotels.
  • Install the WeChat application, the Chinese platform of communication. It will help you connecting with Chinese and foreigners in Shenzhen or China generally, and it includes the English-Chines translating option!
  • Contact details of a Chinese friend or a foreign one who already lives there.
  • An open mind and a lot of patience! After you pass these obstacles, you will have a memorable time in China, especially in Shenzhen 🙂

For more secondary essentials jump to

Seven ways to enter China, Shenzhen and seven border checkpoints

Shenzhen is one of the most visited cities in China, as a commercial, business, and touristic center of Guangdong province. Seven different ways exist to get to the Chinese border in Shenzhen. If starting from Hong Kong International airport going directly to Shenzhen, you can take a ferry, train, coach, or cross- border bus. If starting from other parts of Hong Kong to the Chinese border, you can use MTR, city bus, and taxi.

Just like with transportation, you have seven different border crossings for different parts of Shenzhen :

  1. Shekou ferry terminal
  2. Shenzhen Bay checkpoint
  3. Futian checkpoint
  4. Luohu checkpoint
  5. Futian Huangang checkpoint
  6. Wenjindu checkpoint
  7. Shatouijao checkpoint

For detailed information about border crossings jump to http://english.sz.gov.cn/

You can also enter Shenzhen (China) from Macau, using a ferry for Shenzhen Shekou port or Shenzhen Baoan Airport. Check on https://www.turbojet.com.hk/en/

If you are traveling from other parts of China to Shenzhen check options on https://chinatour.net/train/ and http://eng.szairport.com/

Booking accommodation tips

Let me emphasize things you need to know when you book a hostel, hotel, or apartment. Before you determine the type of accommodation, do some research about the following:

What do you want to do or to see?

Shenzhen is a big modern city offering you a variety of things to see and do. There are at least twenty prominent museums, several theme parks, green parks beside every corner, plenty of hiking destinations, Buddhist temples, two famous beaches, restaurants, night clubs and other exciting places to visit. These beautiful places you can reach using eight MTR lines and hundreds of buses. Thirteen million people live in Shenzhen, so when deciding the area and the dates for booking accommodation, choose wisely. During the holidays and weekends, the Chinese like traveling, walking in parks, visiting family, friends, eat in restaurants. In real life, that can cause enormously crowded metro stations and long lines for boarding the train or bus. If you are coming as a tourist, check the holidays’ calendar and pick carefully.

Budisth temple in Shenzhen , China

Accommodation costs

Choosing the accommodation, you can get the best value for the money. If you prefer a hostel, read reviews from other foreigners. Chinese people fill comfortable in small spaces, and they do not mind crowding. If you are coming from “the western world,” it can be a challenge. Rooms can be tiny, often without windows and toilets have halls instead of toilet seats. In hostels, an average bad in a dormitory is 10-15 US$ per night per person. If young, try the capsule 🙂 It is fun, and you will spend time mingling with people!

An average hotel offers a price of 30 US$ per night per person. In a branded hotel, the price per night can be up to 250 US$. If you rent an apartment, the amount varies from 200US$ per month up to 2000US$, depending on the position, size, and length.

Food and drink prices

Dumplings and chicken in China

Shenzhen dishes are a part of the Cantonese kitchen. At breakfast time, go to the streets, try food that locals eat. A lot of pastry options, boiled tea eggs, flatbreads, small sandwiches, and sweet drinks. For lunch or dinner, try roasted duck, noodle soup with vegetables, hot-pot and dumplings. If you are adventurer, try some exotics, like barbequed grasshoppers, cockroaches or scorpions:-) Yeah, I know what you mean, but live wild, you only have one chance! The street food dish costs from 2-3 US$  and up to 30US$ in a restaurant. Try other Asian plates like Korean Ramen and Japanese sushi and  Muslim dishes with fresh noodles made right in front of you! Sadly, the western fast-food restaurants like Mc Donalds’ or Burger King are present and widespread.

China is unknown for alcohol spirits. Though, you should taste the renowned Baijiu that has a minimum of 30% of alcohol and some sweet rice vine. Chinese drink tea, thousands of different types. But, I learned from the early days, “the holly drink” is HOT WATER.

In the end, I need to say: China is a strange country, full of surprises and cultural turbulences but it is certainly worth to see it because it will leave you speechless,  regardless of your experiences!