China (+HK, Macau)

In China I first visited Hong Kong and Macau, as places where cultures mix fascinate me (I also wanted to see China's "one country, two systems" principle in action). Former British and Portuguese colonies respectively, Hong Kong and Macau are currently China's two Special Administrative Regions (SAR) which retain their capitalist economic and political systems, having their own governments, multi-party elections, legal systems, police forces, currencies and separate customs territories.

Hong Kong was fantastic, a really vibrant, dynamic and colorful place that was a delight to explore. The obvious first destination is Victoria Peak, accessible by funicular. At night, Victoria Harbour seen from the Peak is out of this world, with all the skyscrapers and lights. Just amazing. By day, Hong Kong is a great place to explore, take in the culture, stop in random shops, cafes and restaurants and take countless pictures (start with Central, the heart of Hong Kong island). Everything you need to see is easily accessible by Metro.

The Tsim Sha Tsui promenade and its Avenue of (Hong Kong film) Stars is a great place to check out Victoria Harbour. On Lantau Island I saw the Tian Tan Buddha, the 34 metre tall bronze statue accessible by an enjoyable cable car ride and located in a splendid mountain area. On Kowloon Island I visited the HK Science Museum which hosted an interesting exhibit on China's space program and the HK Space Museum which was a bit dated and in need of upgrading.

Macau, the most densely populated region in the world (about 22,000 persons per sqkm), was different and I can't really say it was as enjoyable as Hong Kong. There were some interesting sights for sure, but the place's main attraction was clear: Macau is currently the world's top Casino Market, larger than Las Vegas in the US. The Casinos were indeed huge and the light shows and everything provided some good photo opportunities. The territory's main tourist spot, the Macau Peninsula, had some interesting sights, including the ruins of the 16th century St. Paul's Cathedral, the Grand Prix Museum and the Macau Tower. The influence of Portugese culture and the billingual signs in Chinese and Portugese were pretty cool, but there's nothing more to do in Macau after one day unless gambling is your thing. One interesting thing to note is that banknotes in both Hong Kong and Macau are issued by commercial banks and not by the central monetary authority; thus, you'll see different types of notes in circulation which is kind of cool.

I also visited Shanghai on a separate trip to get a taste of "mainland" China. As expected, Shanghai was just mindblowing with its fabulous skyscrapers and infrastructure, cool people, culture and food, excellent shopping and some nicely preserved traditional places. The home of skyscrapers is Pudong, which features Shanghai Tower - the world's second tallest building at 632 metres with fantastic views all around and the world's fastest elevator (at 18 m/s). You can also enjoy the nearby Shanghai World Financial Center (492m), Jin Mao Tower (383m) and the scifi-looking Oriental Pearl Tower. All of these look even more impressive at night. Another cool piece of technology is the Shanghai Maglev Train, the fastest commercial hi-speed electric train in the world with a maximum operational speed of 431km/h.

Shanghai is a shopping paradise with countless malls and shopping centres. A good place to start is the pedestrian East Nanjing Road (which is a sight in itself at night with all the neon signs and people enjoying a walk). Another cool place for a walk is The Bund for nice buildings and great views of Pudong. I also loved Tianzifang and its nice little alleys full of shops, cafes and restaurants.

Two enjoyable places with a more traditional feel were Qibao ancient water town and Yuyuan Gardens, while Xintiandi is a modern quarter that was also delightful to explore. The legendary Shanghai smog will be present, but it was nowhere near as bad as I expected it to be; China's pollution reduction measures in major cities seem to be working.

Shanghai also features some nice temples. I visited Jing'an and Jade Buddha temples and was impressed. The Science and Technology Museum features some exhibits on China's space program as well as a very cool section dedicated to robots (the space exhibits would benefit from an update, though). The Natural History Museum hosted in an impressive building is very cool as well. I also visited the Shanghai Aerospace Enthusiasts Center (which includes Mao Zedong's airplane!) as well as the former Shanghai residence of Mao Zedong (all explanations in Chinese, though). A trip to Shanghai Disney Resort is lots of fun, as you can imagine.

There's lots more stuff to do in Shanghai. A traditional acrobatics show at the Oriental Charm theater was absolutely mind-blowing (and included an unbelievable show of five motorcycles in a globe of death). M1NT Club is one of the trendiest clubs in Shanghai where you'll find cool people and a vibrant atmosphere. Finally, don't miss a traditional (and incredibly relaxing) foot massage at one of the many spas.

- China entry on Wikipedia
- China entry on Wikivoyage
- Hong Kong entry on Wikipedia
- Hong Kong entry on Wikivoyage
- Macau entry on Wikipedia
- Macau entry on Wikivoyage

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