· Travel

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
It's time for reflection and I am almost overwhelmed with the thanks I need to give to family, friends, clients, and fellow travel professionals for supporting both myself and our business this past year. J5Travel continues to expand and we wouldn't have managed this without the amazing number of referrals that you give us. This has been the lifeblood of our rapid growth and we can't thank you all enough.
We are also truly thankful for the career we now enjoy that enables Helen and I to pursue our fierce passion for exploring, and through which we aim to inspire our clients by sharing our experiences.

We finished our China travels last week, ending in Hong Kong, and apart from the few days rain on our river cruise, this was a trip that far exceeded expectations. We have learned that pre-conceptions about a destination are often completely wrong, no matter how much research you complete beforehand and that you should never assume.

TOP 5 - Xi'an to Hong Kong

1. Guilin

We flew south from Xi'an to Guilin, a city and region famous for its jagged limestone karst hills and mountains, some 30,000 of them. Founded in the first century BC, the city itself sits astride the Li River (above) and was a fairly relaxed counterpoint to the larger cities we had visited so far on the trip. Bike paths and walking trails (below) along the river are beautifully landscaped, and this was the cleanest city we encountered in China, with no sign of the air pollution that can appear elsewhere.

2. Bamboo Raft (above & below)
About 45 minutes south east of Guilin our local guide dropped us off for the most peaceful hour and a half of our whole trip, and that includes the 13 hours of noise-cancelling headphones on our longhaul flight. We drifted down the Yulong River with these wondrous, misty mini-mountains lining our route. The complete basic nature of the boat, simply large bamboo trunks roped together, with 2 seats strapped to it, and a local boatman punting you along, just added to the connection with the surroundings we made this morning.
And yes, your feet will get very wet, especially when sliding down the 5 or 6 weirs on the way.

3. Yangshuo
Yangshuo is the city and county southeast of Guilin where the most spectacular mountain views are to be found. The photo (above) is taken from near the peak of Xianggong Mountain. The 400 step climb was well worth the effort, even on a misty day. As our Facebook followers may have seen in a little competition we ran this week, this region is also one of the world's prime kumquat producing areas (below), and you see the slightly bizarre sight of entire mountain slopes covered in plastic sheeting, which is protecting the ripening crops at this time of year.

4. Kowloon, Hong Kong
With our flight home booked from Hong Kong, we hopped there for our last couple of nights of the trip. A city I have visited several times, it still surprises me every time how crazy, new skyscrapers are still able to be built in one of the most densely populated cities on the planet. We decided to explore the backstreets of Kowloon with a local, and this led to yet more new discoveries. For instance, we did not know that the mainly Cantonese cuisine here has many restaurants purely devoted to dessert soup (below left), and had also not realized that barbecued goose (below right) is more popular than duck here.

5. Friends
It could not be more appropriate in Thanksgiving Week, that through a series of coincidences we were able enjoy an evening in Hong Kong with my two best mates from High School. One out there on business, the other celebrating a milestone birthday with his wife. Happy birthday Sian. I am so, so grateful for their friendship over the last 40 years. We have laughed a lot and cried a lot (Ro we miss you, and drank our usual toast). Traveling with friends is always incredibly fun. There is something special about being able to share amazing travel experiences with those you love and can always be relaxed around. For instance, the very refined dinner photo above turned in to the evening below - a complete riot in a Filipino Karaoke Band club. Wonderful fun, but something that probably would not have happened if this had been a family trip.
I am probably going to get in to a lot of trouble for including that last photo, so to my wife -
I am very, very thankful for your ability to forgive.

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