Guangzhou, previously Canton, is 75-miles north of Hong Kong. The third largest city in China houses over 15-million – the God of Wealth has attracted 105-million to the whole of Guangdong Province, and expanding fast.
Hundreds-of-thousands arrive with little more than their shirt, hoping to earn enough to send back to their village. Everywhere is busy. Expect to wait for restaurant tables’ and queue for everything. Rapid urbanization has resulted in Guangzhou’s underground railway growing in 16-years to the 9th longest globally.
Before the Tang Dynasty Guangdong was a poor backward region far from the Emperor. Later, Arab traders, Jesuits, and other foreigners flourished there – until 1757 when the only place immigrants could live in China was restricted to tiny Shamian Island on the Pearl River in Guangzhou. Until British drug dealing opened the country after the Opium War.
I believe the birthplace of Cantonese food is the best place in the world to dine. Subtle seasoning ensures the freshness of the food is not masked – and everything is eaten, from chicken feet to dog. All meat is chopped into cubes, bones and all, so easily eaten with chopsticks.
Popular is roast pig, goose, chicken, steamed fish and seafood. Breakfast dim sum is ace – shrimp dumpling, steamed siumai, vermicelli roll and sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. In winter hot pot is fun. Lightly boiling delicacies like live shrimp, mushroom, chicken and tofu dangled in a pot on the table, with lots of cheap beer and tea.
Eateries are everywhere – Guangzhou once boasted a restaurant for every 500-citizens. Stay away from rip-off famous places and gorge yourself at one of the many al fresco pavement cafes. Be like a local: have fun and make a mess!
If you’re yearning for Western, my favorites are the Brazilian BBQ and Sultan Turkish Restaurant near the Garden Hotel, Lucy’s outdoor American diner on Shamian Island; and one of the Japanese Italian chain called Saizeriya, like on Liwan Square. Best area for pubs is around the Hill Bar, close to the Sultan. Happy Hour finishes at 8pm.
Top Tourist Sights
1) Evening Pearl River cruise – now goes close to the dramatic Dutch-designed Canton Tower. Illuminations only on from 7.30pm to 10pm and boats leave about every 20-minutes.
2) Shamian Island retains many colonial buildings and parkland.
3) Pedestrian street in Li Wan & Li Wan Park – great at night.
4) White Cloud Mountain – take the cable car.
5) Guangzhou museum in Yuexiu Park – take the subway there.
6) Six Banyan Tree Temple & Flower Pagoda – over 1,000-years old along Liurong Lu.
If you’re from Hong Kong, the easiest transport is the Through Train from Hung Hom, a 2-hour trip. Or MTR to the Lo Wo border, cross into China, and ride a 120-mph train – five-an-hour and takes about 70-minutes. Guangzhou’s new international airport is only an hour from the city centre by underground train or taxi.
If you arrive by air and have a connecting flight out of China, you can stay visa-free for 48-hours. Otherwise most foreigners need an expensive visa. Easily arranged in Hong Kong, or with much form-filling from your home country.
So if you’re doing South East Asia, don’t miss China, or at least nip into Guangzhou. A couple of nights there and a couple in Hong Kong are the minimum. And if you have longer, I’d highly recommend a few days at Yangshou, near Guilin – Either fly or take the night train from Guangzhou.
I’ve had a place in Guangzhou for over 15-years, so if you have any questions, I’d be pleased to help – Leave a reply.