The more you travel the world the more you begin to appreciate the comforts that come with it. We’ve all been there right? Those cosy nights where you find yourself catching up on kip in a crowded airport, mostly with everyone tucked up on back packs and make shift pillows on the hard, cold and grotty floor space available. Most people I know have a passionate dislike for those environments. Funny thing is, I kind of love them!
So what the devil is there to love about the hazards of cheap travel you ask? It’s the adventure of course! First up and foremost you save plenty of money by moving about on the cheap. What’s more you tend to find yourself surrounded by like minded people. Over the past 15 years or so of regular adventures I have met the most sublime people through staying in cheap and nasty hostels, buying food from Tesco instead of fine dining or, as mentioned previously, those nights where you find yourself bunkered down on the chilly floors of airports.
My trip this time around began by booking a dirt cheap return airfare with Southern China Airways. For less than $1,300 AU I was able to secure my passage to London and back, comforted by the knowledge that the journey itself would most definitely fall into the interesting category.
Despite the confined cabin space I found Southern China Airways to be smashingly brilliant value for money. The food was far more enjoyable than I expected despite reading some horrendous reviews online. The staff were always on hand to assist with any needs that required attention and even the mid-flight exercise video displays were sublime!
As you can see by the image above, China Southern Airways take great delight in making sure all passengers are aware of how good their flight attendants legs are. I kid you not, this stretching video lasted for an eternity. Somewhere around the halfway mark we were treated too a wide shot that included the flight attendants in all their glory!
The surreal side of these never ending stretches was the fact that almost all the Chinese nationals on board followed suit with their own chorus of stretching. It was almost as if I was watching a Michael Jackson flash dance!
Stretching aside our enforced stopover in Guangzhou, located on the Pearl river some 75 miles north-northwest of Hong Kong was indeed an interesting affair.
Upon arriving we were all held in a passenger holding bay for over an hour whilst staff decided which hotel we would be placed in for the night. Eventually a somewhat stressed man arrived and took us on what seemed to be a never ending walking tour of Guangzhou airport. It seemed to us that this funny little fellow with zero English speaking skills had about as much knowledge on where we would be staying as we did ourselves!
By the end of our fifteenth lap of the arrivals hall we were led out onto the chilly street and all 40 of us were loaded onto a small passenger bus that could only hold 25 of us at best. This, however did not deter our Chinese hosts of fitting us all in together. The only plus side of our confined space was that we were no longer sucking in the thick wall of Chinese pollution that greets foreigners on a daily basis.
An hour later we arrived at our hotel for the night, a tasty looking pad in downtown Guangzhou that made us feel like extras in a mid 1980’s martial arts b-grade extravaganza! I adore this side of travel. Whilst our American friends bemoaned the poor service they were receiving the majority of the group made the most of it and, once checked in we set out to explore the dirty side of Guangzhou, a city loaded with the best cheap and nasty side streets China can offer.
I would have loved to have captured some images of these most colourful sights however we were all strongly advised to leave our cameras, phones and other valuables in our rooms. And who was I to argue such stern advice from the people who knew the area well? Still, despite all the shady punters about we all arrived back in one piece a short time later with no real lusty ambitions of returning to downtown Guangzhou any time soon.
Our hotel rooms were pleasant enough regardless of the fact every room reeked of cigarette smoke! The beds were like concrete slabs and the following mornings breakfast looked very much like it had been re-heated only a dozen times or so. It’s all part of the charm that comes with budget travel so I say embrace it.
Once back on the plane for our thirteen hour haul into London I made the promise to myself that there will be more in depth exploration of China in the coming year or two. I love the shady side that China has to offer. China is most definitely a country, that, from my first few short visits has bestowed the belief that you truly have to get your hands dirty to truly enjoy.
As for Southern China Airways? Will I fly with them again? Of course I shall. Budget travel is explicitly why I love exploring. Who needs five star hotels and chain store shopping when you can enjoy travel so much more by doing it the gritty way. You see more, meet amazing people and learn so much more about yourself from doing things the hard way.