Sprawling across the heart of the Pearl River Delta, Guangzhou is one of the engines behind China’s recent economic miracle. While the Delta’s hi-tech factories are newcomers, trade and commerce have pulsed through the city’s veins for centuries. Just as modern-day visitors flock here for the biannual Canton Trade Fair, Guangzhou – China’s southern gateway – has been a draw for overseas traders since the first Arabian dhows arrived here in the Tang dynasty.
Despite relentless modernisation, the remnants of this long history and vibrant Cantonese culture lend the city a unique energy, best appreciated by participating in two of the locals’ favourite pastimes – doing business and eating.
Food, glorious food
The Cantonese are renowned as daring diners – one saying has them “eating anything with legs that isn’t a table or chair” – but the Cantonese kitchen has plenty of universal appeal too, with succulent roast meats, delicate seafood dishes and fresh flavours filling Guangzhou’s menus. Each Sunday families pack the city’s restaurants for yum cha, an extended breakfast of delicious dim sum washed down with cups of amber tea. Try Panxi Restaurant (151, Longjin Xi Lu).
Go to market
If you only have time to visit one of Guangzhou’s many marketplaces, head to Qingping Market. Spreading across whole blocks between Xiajiu Lu and the river, this lively market’s wares run the gamut from the everyday to the exotic – think scorpions and plate-sized mushrooms. Those with delicate stomachs ought to steer clear of the meat section, which provides ample evidence to support the Cantonese reputation for adventurous eating.
• Metro: Huangsha
Stroll to Shamian
Once a mid-river sandbar, the 1km-long Shamian Island was leased to Britain and France in 1859. For the next ninety years, the island’s European tenants filled it with graceful villas, churches and solid Victorian office buildings, many of which still stand today. Shamian’s streets, lined with now massive camphor and banyan trees, make an attractive place to relax away from the city rush.
• Metro: Huangsha
Mausoleum of the Nanyue King
Unearthed during construction work in 1983, this 2000-year-old tomb belonged to Zhao Mo, ruler of the Nanyue Kingdom, which once held sway over much of southern China and northern Vietnam. Archaeologists discovered the compact tomb stacked high with gold and other valuables, now housed in a fascinating museum, the highlight being a priceless jade burial suit.
• Metro: Yuexiu Park
History-minded visitors should make time to visit Kaiping, where more than a thousand diaolou – fortified towers built in a flamboyant fusion of architectural styles – lie clustered in the fields surrounding this small town, 120km southwest of Guangzhou. Built in the Qing dynasty using funds sent back by overseas Chinese, the towers provided protection against the bandits that once plagued the region.
• Fly KQ to Guangzhou daily
Sleep – our pick of the city hotels
1 White Swan
A home-grown alternative to Guang-zhou’s growing coterie of international 5-star hotels, the White Swan’s newly renovated rooms are among the best in the city, many with fantastic river views. From US$130. 1 Shamian South Street • Tel: +86 (0)20 8188 6968 • www.whiteswanhotel.com
2 Planet Concept Hotel
Perhaps unsurprisingly the Planet Concept Hotel is the city’s only space-themed hotel, with a range of comfortable and imaginatively decorated rooms located 1km from Guangzhou’s main railway station. From US$65. 58 Zhanqian Road • Tel: +86 (0)20 8666 6612 • www.planethotelguangzhou.com