Weekend Diversion – Guangzhou
Unlike Shenzhen, which is a totally new planned city which sprang up from nowhere, Guangzhou is mysterious and complex. It is the heart and soul of the Cantonese culture and has many fascinating sites if you are willing to spend the time to explore. My first impressions of the city weren’t promising. It seemed enormous, chaotic and fouled by terrible pollution but I’ve learned to love it. This list of places to visit is by no means exhaustive, but will help you become familiar with China’s 3rd largest city.
Getting there: There are three options for travel from Shenzhen, depending on your itinerary. You can bring your own car and travel on the GuanShen Expressway. This will take around 2 hours to the city’s edge. From here you are at the mercy of the traffic. (If you have a driver, don’t assume he will know his way around. Most Shenzhen drivers are from other provinces. Find a good map with both Chinese and English and plan your trip in advance.) Another option if you are heading to the Tianhe district is to take a direct bus from the Shekou bus station. The cost is 60 RMB with buses leaving hourly that will drop you off in the TianHe Bus Station, Yuangang. The third option, the one-hour express train from Luohu, is the least stressful. The cost is from RMB 80-100. You arrive at Guangzhou’s East Railway station where you can easily connect with the modern Metro for other destinations in the city. Taxis are plentiful and cheap. Try to avoid the green taxis; rumor has it that these cab companies hire inexperienced drivers from outside the city. Guangzhou is very spread out. Don’t try to do it all in one day. Tackle smaller areas over several trips.
Leafy and green, Shamian Island was the place where all foreign traders (primarily British) were encamped following the Opium Wars. For the protection of the traders and to avoid cross cultural contamination, the two bridges that linked the island to the rest of the city were closed every night at 10pm. Now, Shamian is one of the few parts of the city with historic relics from this era. Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church with its cream and white neo-Gothic tower is particularly attractive. If you like modern art, make sure you stop by Gallery 64. Next door, a shop selling handmade crafts supports orphans and Starbucks is a block away. Beside Shamian Island is the famed Qingping Market, a bustling, noisy complex of alleys packed with shops selling traditional Chinese medicines, spices, fruit and vegetables along with a meat market that is NOT for the squeamish! On Dishipu Lu turn right and you will find antiques, jade, Mao memorabilia and other fun junk.
To the North of Shamian you can find the remnant of the old walled city of Guangzhou. This area is worth a full day all by itself. Begin with a visit to the Huaisheng Mosque which dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). This was the first mosque ever built in China and is a still a place of pilgrimage for visiting Muslims. The views from the minaret are lovely. Note: closed to non-Muslims on Fridays. From here one can walk to the Six Banyan Temple and the nearby Bright Filial Piety Temple.
The Six Banyan Temple (aka Liu Rong Si Hua Ta) is one of the most enduring historic landmarks in the city. The famous pagoda rises up 184 feet and looks from the outside as though it has nine stories. In reality it has 17 levels and sadly no banyans! The original temple was built in the 5th Century, but the current construction dates back to the 11th Century. Don’t miss the 1,000 year old statue of Zen master Huineneng and the three statues of Buddha, which weigh 5 tons each. Bright Filial Temple (aka Guangxiao Si) is the oldest Buddhist temple in Guangzhou and one of the most charming. Originally the site of the residence of the Nan Yue Kings, it became a temple in 401 AD. It was rebuilt in 1629 after a fire. Its gilded wooden laughing Buddha is not to be missed.
Many of the world’s largest overseas Chinese communities hale from Guangdong Province and one of the most prominent clans is the Chens. During the late 19th century, local merchant Chens called upon their overseas relatives to help build a temple to honor their ancestors and provide a place for Chens to study for the important provincial exams. Money poured in from all over the world. The result is the magnificent Chen Family Academy Temple. The dominant feature is the huge skillfully carved ridgepole frieze that stretches along the main roof. Inside, there are lovely courtyards and pavilions filled with exquisite Chinese art.
If you have time, take a break and wander through Liuhua Park near the China Marriott Hotel. The pretty serpentine lake, shady trees and flowers make it an ideal spot for people watching.
Guangzhou was the capital of China during the reign of Emperor Wen Di (137—122 BC). You can visit the Tomb of the Southern Yue King. The tomb has been faithfully restored after being discovered in the 1980s during the construction of the China Marriott Hotel. There is a fine museum with excellent English descriptions of the artifacts which include jade armor, gem encrusted swords and crossbows, gold jewelry and much more.
If you crave a little artistic culture of a more modern area, head to Ershi Island in the Panyu district, to see the Guangdong Museum of Art. This major museum regularly hosts the works of painters, sculptors, and other artists from around China and the world. They specialize in important temporary exhibits so check their website for what’s happening.
Also in the Panyu District is the quirky Chime Long Xiangjiang Safari Park. It is home to over 20,000 animals including giant pandas, polar bears and koalas to name but a few and it prides itself on its large collection of African and Asian species. Kids and grownups will love the white-tigers, orangutans, Asia elephants, sun bears, golden monkeys, chimpanzees, pygmy hippos and giraffes. You can walk around or ride a tram through the grounds which include three impressive open plains sections; the Asian Plains, Predatory zone and African Savannah. The park has signs in Chinese and English and its restaurants cater to both eastern and western tastes.
Guangzhou is also a great place for bargain hunters. There are many specialty markets to explore, including the enormous Pearl Market, the Jade Market and ShangXiaJiu Shopping Street, and the Xiguan Antique Street with its crowded alley ways selling porcelain and other bric-a-brac.
Guangzhou is also famous for its military and revolutionary history of the 20th century. I haven’t had a chance to explore this personally, but I am told the highlights include the Mausoleum of the 72 Martyrs (Huanghua Gang Qishi’er Lieshi Mu), Memorial Gardens for the Martyrs (Lieshi Lingyuan), Peasant Movement Institute (Nonmin Yundong Jianxi Suo), and the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (Sun Zhongshan Jinina Tang).
If you have the time, why not spend the weekend exploring? There are plenty of 5 star hotel options available. On Shamian Island, the venerable White Swan Hotel is a long time favorite. In the Tianhe District check out the oh so comfortable Westin Hotel or, for a big splurge, the über luxe Ritz Carlton Guangzhou. The Panyu District has the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel right next to the new Exhibition Center (and little else) but my whimsical choice would be to stay at the Chime Long in the heart of the Safari Park.
Good luck in your explorations!
- Art64 Gallery 画廊,Liwan District / Shamian Island, 64 Shamian DaJie : 沙面大街64号, Tel : 8121 5176
- Shamian Island 沙面岛, Northern bank of Bai E Tan (White Swan Pond), Liwan District 荔湾区珠江白鹅潭北岸
- Shamian Catholic Church Our Lady of Lourdes 露德圣母堂, 14 Shamian Da Jie, Shamian Island, Liwan District 荔湾区沙面岛沙面大街14号
- Huaisheng (Guangta) Mosque怀圣(光塔）清真寺, 56 Guangta Lu. Yuexiu District 越秀区光塔路56号
- Liurong Temple (Six Banyan Temple) 六榕寺,87 Liurong Lu, Yuexiu District越秀区六榕路87号 Tel : 8339 2843
- Bright Filial Piety Temple (Guangxiao Si) 光孝寺,109 Guangxiao Lu, Yuexiu District越秀区光孝路109号. Tel : 8108 7421
- Chen Family Academy / Temple (Chen Jia Si) 陈家祠,No. 7 Zhongshen Qi Lu, 中山七路恩龙 里 7 号 Tel. 8181 4371
- Southern Yue Tomb (Nan Yue Wang Mu) & Museum西汉南越 王墓博物馆 867 Jiefang Bei Lu 解放北 路 867 号
- Guangdong Museum of Art,38 Yanyu Road, Er-sha Island, Guangzhou广东广州市二沙岛烟雨路38号 Tel：020－87351468 http://www.gdmoa.org/en_canguan/
- Chimelong Xiangjiang Safari Park .Ying Bin Lu Dashi Town, Panyu Guangzhou, 长隆野生动物乐园，广州番禺迎宾路 Open: 9am-11pm, Tel: 020 8478 3333 www.chimelong.com
- QingPing Market 清平市场, Dishipu Lu & Daihe Lu清平路
- Pearl Market (all kinds of jewelry), Liwan Plaza, 荔湾广场ChangShou Road & 9 Dexing Lu长寿路荔弯德星路9号
- Xiguan Antique Street (西关 古玩城 ) near Liwan Park荔湾湖公园
- Jade Street 玉器工艺街ChangShou Lu 长寿路and Wenchang Lu, 文昌路
- Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street (metro 1 Chang Shou Lu) 上下九商业步行街
- White Swan Hotel 广州白天鹅宾馆 No.1 Southern Street, Shamian Island, Guangzhou Tel: 020-81886968
- Westin Hotel, 广州天誉威斯汀酒店, 6 Lin He Zhong Lu, Tian He District, Guangzhou,林和中路 6 号, 天河区 · 广州, 广东省 Tel: 020 2886 6868
- Shangri-La Hotel, 广州香格里拉大酒店, No. 1 Hui Zhan Dong Road, Hai Zhu District, Guangzhou广州市海珠区会展东路1号Tel.020 8917 8888
- Chime Long Hotel Yingbin Road, PanYu District, Guangzhou, Tel: 020 8478 6838 www.chimelonghotel.com