China: Hong Kong, Guangzhou & Shanghai

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An eight-day journey from Hong Kong to Shanghai

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” said the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. This eight-day itinerary features the highlights of one of the world’s most fascinating and complex destinations.

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Day 1-3: Hong Kong

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Hong Kong may be a mere dot on the map, but it possesses the urban swagger and multiple-choice consumer options of a major international city. In the space of a day, it is possible to shop in world-class stores, eat the best Cantonese food in the world, visit an outlying island, hike along remote rural trails and round it off with a nightcap view of the world’s most stunning harbor.

Begin day one along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade watching the tai chi and sword-play practitioners. Cross the harbor by the Star Ferry and trundle up to Victoria Peak by the venerable (and near-vertical) tram, originally built to take bewhiskered British colonials up to their cool, in-the clouds mansions. Have a drink or early lunch at the Peak Lookout or Café Deco.

Back at sea level, browse Hong Kong’s amazing collection of tony malls, including the Landmark and International Finance Centre, linked by a chain of air-conditioned walkways. Have a gander at locally owned Lane Crawford which stocks the crème-de-la-crème of high-end clothing and homeware. For more affordable goods – such as fans, bracelets and baubles – try The Lanes, where stalls are arranged higgledy piggledy along a cobbled slope. Keep going uphill to Soho, a vibrant area where scores of old low-rise buildings have been converted. Watch the world go by while having a cocktail at Staunton’s Wine Bar and Café before checking out the restaurant options nearby, choosing from Thai, Indian, Italian, Nepali, Cantonese, Japanese or French.

Start day two by zooming to the top of the city’s highest building, the International Commerce Centre. Its Sky 100 observation deck puts Hong Kong in perspective. Take a good look towards the west, as later in the day you will be heading off on a ferry to Lamma Island, a laid-back island which can be walked across in a couple of hours. Another out-of-town excursion option is Sai Kung, a fishing village with an international flavor and al fresco restaurants. It also has a superb Gary Player-designed public golf course, where tee times must be booked well in advance.

Kick off the third day at Ocean Park, the local theme park, where visitors can be entertained by the endearing interactions of the giant pandas. A half-hour cab ride away is Shek O, a village with a Mediterranean feel (including clean beaches), and the hugely popular Shek O Thai restaurant. Head back to Central for one last Star Ferry ride, and have a farewell dinner at Guofulou serving modern takes on Cantonese classics.

Day 4-6: Guangzhou

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The day dawns with the Hong Kong-Guangzhou train ride, passing through the area where the China manufacturing miracle all began, back in the early 1980s, ultimately transforming the country into the world’s second-largest economy. The fruits of that new prosperity can be seen in the Zaha Hadid-designed Guangzhou Opera House, the Guangdong Museum and the Guangzhou New Library. In the evening, book a cruise along the Pearl River, the trade waterway now flanked by dazzling neon towers. Try Jade Garden for classic Cantonese cuisine.

Devote the second day to exploring the tranquility of Shamian Island, which was once a treaty port operated by the British and French. Admire the 19th-century colonial architecture, including the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Say goodbye to Guangzhou before flying north to the increasingly affluent port of Shanghai.

Day 7-8: Shanghai

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Begin at the Bund, the city’s elegant riverside promenade. From dawn onwards, it is a hive of energetic activity. Take a tour of the French Concession with its 1920s mansions and tree-lined streets, stopping for lunch at the elegant Sasha’s.

Browse the fascinating Dongtai Road Antiques Market, a shrine to Chinese kitsch - such as arm-waving cats, Chairman Mao watches and beaded slippers. Before dinner, take a wander around Xintiandi, a collection of former merchants’ homes that have been transformed into quirky restaurants, bars and boutiques. Yè Shanghai is a great spot for authentic regional food.

On day two, get up early to avoid the crowds queuing to be whizzed to the top of the pink-colored Oriental Pearl TV tower. Head out to the art district, Moganshan, to view a dazzling array of contemporary art displayed in converted factory buildings. Another cultural must is the Shanghai Museum. Have dinner at M on the Bund, the city’s first freestanding western restaurant.

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