Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Using Verizon in China

One of the quandaries when traveling over to China is what to do about a Cell Phone while in country. At my last job we had an AT&T International rate plan and our Palm phones worked most places and we had data, etc... Now that I am independently owned and operated that kind of plush plan seems a little spendy.

Here in Wyoming we are fairly limited our choice of cell providers. Verizon is the big dog in the game, Union is the "local" option, and AT&T is sketchy at best. No other carrier is even present.

The end result of all this is that because we spend 48+ weeks of our year in the good ole USA we pick our provider based on Domestic capabilities, vs. International. This does create the potential for HUGE charges when traveling in China. Below are some key suggestions for avoiding some of the bigger pitfalls.

1. TURN OFF ALL DATA. I mean ALL. Background, browsing, hotspot, you name it. A data plan for 25MB is about $40, with a $1 per MB charge for all over. No plan at all? It is $20 per MB! Imagine, downloading 1 picture from a friend, $30. Call your Help Line to find out the best way to make sure all data is off.
2. Enable roaming. For most Verizon phones this means calling in to your phones Setup and activating. It adds about $4 a month, but your phone is a brick without it.
3. Minimize calls - Even with all the roaming set up correctly it is still $2 per minute to talk to US. That adds up quick.

OK, ways to stay in communication without racking up a huge phone bill.

1. SKYPE - assuming your hotel has internet (which most do) and you have a device that can access it (Laptop, tablet, etc...) using SKYPE to chat and call is the most cost effective way to talk. Chat/video chat? Free, PC to phone? $.02 per minute (compare to $2 from Verizon, which is 100X more expensive)
2. Get the people you are visiting to help you get a "Chinese" cell phone (or a SIM card for your phone, if it can take one). This is especially useful for in-country calls, given that many Chinese phones cannot call International, rendering your US phone number useless.
3. TXT Messages - at .50 outbound and .05 inbound these are great on the fly ways to communicate with people both in and out of China.

Talk to your provider about the best options for your destination country, the phones you have, and what your needs are. I have also used some of the International Rental Phones available in the US market and I say skip it. Using the above techniques and some common sense you'll be OK without it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tian Tan Buddah Part 2

While looking through my blog history I found that my most visited popular post was regarding my visit to the Tian Tan Buddah in Hong Kong. That being said I am posting a few more pictures that I took during my last visit there.

The first is a shot from the top of the Ngong Ping tram. From the tram it is about a 10 minute walk to the base of the steps, then another 5-10 minutes climb depending on your fitness level. The second shows one of the surrounding statues. Each is about 12 feet high and is offering Buddah something, in this case a lotus I believe. If you are ever in Hong Kong this trip is worth 4 hours of your day, I promise!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

China by Train

Getting around China has become so much easier in the last 5 years. There has been a huge Government backed push to expand high-speed rail to every major city. The train pictured above is the "fastest" train in the world. Even though Europe has some trains that have set speed records, this train actually runs a schedule at the incredible speed of 349 KPH (or 217 MPH). this train runs from Guangzhou to Wuhan, with 6 schedule stops in between (including Changsha South, which is where we got off)

The price for a ticket is about 335 RMB ($50 US), so you don't see a lot of locals on the train, but compared to a 3-4 hour car ride, or a $250 plane ticket this is truly the way to travel.

There is a local Chinese saying that says "If you have the time you take the plane, if you have the money you take the train". This refers to the airline delays that China is famous for, and the expense/convenience of the extensive train network.

In 2 years they plan to have a Shanghai-Kunming train running, which will make it possible to traverse the majority of the Country in about 5 hours. Can't wait to take it next time we are there.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Guangzhou (广州), Part 1 - getting there

Getting to Guangzhou is fairly easy. As host to the Canton Fair, China's largest trade fair (and therefore one of the worlds largest) this city has some great transportation options and sees a lot of international business travel.

Note: US Citizens require a Visa for entry in to China. Single-entry, short-stay Visas may be applied for at the border, or in Hong Kong, but it is better to get your Visa before traveling. I recommend using ZVS and applying at least 45 days in advance

For ease of travel, I recommend going to Hong Kong first, enjoying some of the sites there, then heading inland.

Already in Hong Kong? Getting to Guangzhou couldn't be easier. Here are 3 options, listed in order of ease:

1. From Hung Hom MTR station buy a ticket on the Express ($190 HKG, Cash only!).

There are twelve trains daily between the two cities. Travel time is around two hours. There is 1 stop along the way (Dong Guan).

This will drop you at Guangzhou East (Guangzhoudong) station. From here you can take a taxi to your hotel, or walk if it is located in the area (Lilac, Westin, and many others are less than 5 minutes walk away)

2. Have some money left on your Octopus Card? Take the MTR to Lo Wu station, walk across the border (clearing customs) in to Shenzhen China, then take the express train from here to Guangzhou East. This will not save you much money, and cost a lot of time, but your call.

3. There is also a Ferry service running from Hong Kong to various Mainland China ports. I have used this service to get to Zhuhai, Zhongshan, and Panyu, but never with the intent of getting to downtown Guangzhou. Panyu is a southern suburb of Guangzhou and once there you can take a bus or taxi to your destination. I would only recommend this method if you needed to visit someone in Panyu first, and they could help you arrange to get in to downtown.

Don't want to go thru Hong Kong? Here is option 4

Fly there - The Baiyun International Airport (CAN) has flights directly from many major cities in the Pacific Rim, but I have found that getting there from the US is more difficult. You can take a connection in Narita (Japan) or Incheon (Korea) or even Hong Kong, but with the added time, connections, and my biased preference for Honk Kong I recommend flying in to Hong Kong, staying the night, and traveling in from there there. If you do fly in, be aware that the airport is a good 30-45 minutes away from any of the major downtown area.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - What to do while in Guangzhou

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hong Kong, a true International City

To me, there is no more international city than Hong Kong.

First, HKG is a destination for just about every major country in the world. While in the airport you will hear 20 different languages being spoken. The MTR (their Subway system) has everything in Cantonese as well as English, and I know they have a huge French, Spanish, African and Indian populations.

Getting around is simple. The MTR covers about 70% of the City, while cheap taxis and an extensive bus system cover the rest. Get an Octopus Card at any MTR station, load it with about $200 HK (@ $27 US) and you can travel all over without having to use cash. Note: Taxis do not accept the Octopus). Have a little money left over on it when you leave? McDonalds, Starbucks, 7-11, etc... also accept the card for payment.

Things to see? The Victoria Peak is a must, followed by the Ngong Ping 360 up to the Big Buddah. Walking Nathan Street aka The Golden Mile is also very high on the list. Below is my perfect day in Hong Kong:

(staying on the Kowloon side)
7 AM: Leave your hotel for walk along the Avenue of Stars, HKG equivalent of the Hollywood area with all the stars handprints
8 AM: Catch the Star Ferry crossing Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong island
8:30: Walk the 7 uphill blocks (or take a taxi for $10 HK) to the base of the Peak Tram
9:00 take the Peak Tram, one of the longest steel cable trolleys
Spend the rest of the morning enjoying the views of HKG from The Peak.
12:00 Eat lunch at one of the excellent restaurants at The Peak
1:00: Take Taxi from Peak down to Central MTR station. You could ride the Tram back down but it takes longer and is more expensive. Plus, taking a taxi down the winding mountain road really gives these drivers a chance to shine (not for the weak of stomach)
1:30 Take MTR to Tung Chung Station Exit B and walk 5 minutes to the Tung Chung Cable Car Terminal.
2:00 Buy tickets on Ngong Ping tram, ride to top, spend rest of afternoon walking around the Giant Buddah
5:00 Take MTR to Tsim Tsa Tsui Station (pronounced Chim Cha Choy).
6:00 Have Fish and Chips and a Guinness at Murphy's Irish Pub on Nathan Road
7:00 Walk Nathan Road looking for great deals on souvenirs. Note: you will be offered hundreds of Copy Watch and Hand Bags. I suggest you decline.
10:00 Head to Knutsford Terrace for drinks and dessert. It's just a short walk up Nathan Road (look for the Red street signs, these indicate visitor areas). Have a Vodka in the Ice Bar, listen to the Chinese Mariachi band in the Mexican Restaurant, or enjoy some Tapas and wine in the Spanish Restaurant. Keep an eye out for elevators with signs on them, there are bars and clubs all the way up to the 6th floor here.

2 AM get some sleep.

Did I miss a ton of HK stuff? You bet, Lan Kwai Fang, Stanley/Aberdeen, Lei Yu Moon. But these will have to wait until another day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A new post

Stumbled upon my old Blog by accident, and I found the timing funny as I am getting ready for another trip to Asia. I will be visiting Honk Kong, Guangzhou, Hanan, Quanzhou, Fuzhou, Ninghai, Ningbo, Hangzhou, Weihai, and Beijing. I am impressed that I have had 26 visitors this month, and I haven't posted in 3 years. I will throw some more stuff on here shortly and see if the visitors come pouring in :)

See you in 3 weeks, when I get back from my trip around China.