This past weekend was the Labor Day holiday in China. We had a long weekend and decided to take a trip up to Shanghai and the Changjiang International Music Festival (more on this later). The first day of our trip was a series of mishaps from start to finish, but the worst of it could have been avoided if we hadn’t planned ahead.
We began our trip crossing the border into Hong Kong at the Shenzhen Bay border. It wasn’t until we had made it through customs and gotten on a bus into Hong Kong that we realized we had forgotten the tickets to the music festival.
We had no choice but to ride the bus to our destination since there were no other stops along the way. After we arrived, Alana took a cab back to the border and then back to our apartment in Shenzhen, then back to the bus stop in Hong Kong. While she was doing this I got lunch and waited for her to return.
It added about an hour to our trip so we decided to take a cab to the airport instead of the bus that we usually take*. We made it to the airport in plenty of time thinking we had successfully averted a major crisis, but this was only the start of our troubles.
As we were waiting for our flight to board I realized that were flying into a different airport than I thought. There are two airports in Shanghai, Hongqiao and Pudong. I had thought we were flying into Hongqiao, located conveniently next to Hongqiao train station.
With this in mind I had booked a train from Hongqiao to Zhenjiang, a small town about two hours from Shanghai where the music festival was being held. However it turned out that we were flying into Pudong, inconveniently located about an hours cab ride from Hongqiao train station.
We were supposed to land in Shanghai at 6:25 pm and our train didn’t leave until 8:32. So we had enough time! Of course then our flight was delayed. There wasn’t any announcement or explanation, just the absence of a plane at our gate. It was plain to see this flight wasn’t going to go so smoothly.
Because of our delay we didn’t get to the airport until around 7:30. We were still holding on to the last bit of desperate hope when we arrived at a long slow moving line at customs. Because even though Hong Kong is “part of China” we still had to go through customs and immigration when leaving Shenzhen to go to the airport in Hong Kong, when leaving the airport to go to Shanghai, and when landing in Shanghai.
Needless to say, by the time we got through there was no way we were going to make it to Hongqiao to get our train. But we still had to get to Zhenjiang because we booked a hotel for that night. So began our search for another means to get to Zhenjiang.
To make a long story short, we went looking for trains and buses, all of which were already sold out for the night. The only option was to take a train the next day. So we booked a train for 8 the next morning and then went to find somewhere to sleep for the night. We ended up getting a nice hotel near the train station for about the same price as the one we had booked in Zhenjiang.
We got up in time to catch our 8:30 am train, and the rest of the trip went swimmingly. By the time we were leaving to head back to Shenzhen the stress and troubles of the first day were nothing more than a distant memory in the back of our minds, diluted by a weekend full of great memories and fun experiences.
So what is the moral of the story? If we hadn’t planned everything in advance we simply would have arrived in Shanghai later than expected to find that there weren’t any trains to Zhenjiang that night. We would have got tickets for the next morning and spent the night in a hotel. The only difference would be that we wouldn’t have booked a hotel and train in advance that we missed and lost money on.
Sometimes if you’re traveling it’s nice to have things booked ahead of time, but other times it pays to just fly by the seat of your pants.
Another important lesson is if you can avoid it, don’t travel in China on public holidays. Transportation sells out in a heartbeat and even simple trips are made much more difficult because all of China’s 1.3 billion citizens are trying to travel at the same time.
And of course the most important lesson is that sometimes when you’re traveling, regardless of how well you have or haven’t planned ahead, things just won’t go the way you’d like them to. But if you keep up a positive attitude, even a problematic trip can turn into a really memorable travel experience.
*Travel Tip: Getting to Hong Kong airport from Nanshan district, Shenzhen – take a bus or cab to the Shenzhen Bay border, once across take the B3x bus to Tuen Mun Town Center (about 12HKD). Get off and cross the pedestrian overpass then down the stairs on your right to the E33 bus to the airport (about 14HKD). If you’re in a rush you could cab from the border for around 300HKD.