Same but different

Hong Kong is part of China, but it’s not. It’s a ‘special administrative zone’ of China (as are Taiwan and Macau, I think). The Chinese from the mainland need a visa to get here, we British don’t need a visa but having left the mainland we’d need another Chinese visa if I wanted to go back. Hong Kong has its own currency, the Phooey, which subdivides into 100 MMJs (mild mannered janitors). Or something like that. It’s a globalized city, lots of Chinese but lots of other Asians, Europeans and Americans too. A sky-scraper skyline that rivals New York, with cultural diversity and prices to match. If you’ve been to a big western city and you’ve been to mainland China then you probably don’t need to spend time in Hong Kong, there’s not too much new for you to see.

After Hong Kong we came to Macau, a mixture of Lisbon (Portuguese influence), Las Vegas (mega-casinos) and China. Architecture, signs and food are a mixture of Portuguese and Chinese (although few people speak Portuguese). The city is dominated by casinos – step inside the new Venetian and you could easily be in the Vegas original. Local population 450 thousand, visitors last year 22 million, and the casino market is only just getting going – serving an international clientele who jet in from Asia for the weekend as well as the growing Chinese wealthy middle class.

Goodbye China, we’ll be in Thailand in 6 hours.

We heard that China was a difficult place for independent travel. I can well believe it was, but things have changed. Buying train tickets was slightly bothersome, and things are changing so quickly that the Lonely Planet published in March 20o7 is already well out of date (actually I think it’s at least their poor research and slow publishing process that’s the real problem – try a Rough Guide instead). Other than that we found China fairly easy, very friendly and very safe. Get here before the crowds (ie. before the 2008 Beijing Olympics).

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