Travel guide to Guangzhou, China – China vacations guide

Guangzhou, often known as Canton, is the capital of southern China’s Guangdong Province. Long a major port city and commercial gateway to southern China, it has an extensive history of foreign contact, reaching back to Arab traders of the Tang period, through British merchants of the 19th century and on to today’s multinational participants in the famous biannual Trade Fairs. In turn, Guangzhou and surrounding regions sent the bulk of overseas emigrants in the 19th century to found the Chinatowns of major cities around the world. Cantonese culture has maintained strong distinctions from the rest of China not only in its cosmopolitanism and entrepreneurial spirit, but in its formidably complex dialect and world-famous cuisine.

Guangzhou is nicknamed the “City of Five Rams,” which derives from a legend that it was founded when Five Immortals riding five rams descended to each plan a sheaf of grain there, symbolizing its never-ending prosperity. On firmer historical ground, an administrative city then called Panyu occupied this site by the 3rd century BC, serving as the capital of the Nanyue Kingdom founded in the region by a breakaway commander from the Qin Empire. The recently discovered Nanyue royal tomb of his grandson have yielded some of the most exquisite jade carvings ever produced in China’s 5,000 year long history of jade working. Already by the earlier centuries AD Guangzhou was an important international port and trading center, with merchants and traders from Southeast Asia and as far away as Rome came to buy silk or to sell spices and incense. Guangzhou was part of the “Maritime Silk Road” that linked southern China with Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa. Arab traders introduced Islam into Guangzhou in the 7th century, making it the site of China’s first mosque and founding a Muslim community that survived down to the present day.

Guangzhou’s long-standing commercial and entrepreneurial spirit reemerged after the economic liberalization policies of the 1980’s were put into effect. Along with nearby Special Economic Zones like Shenzhen, Guangzhou took advantage of the financial might and international experience of nearby Hong Kong, along with an inexpensive, migrant labor force from the countryside, to become a leading industrial and manufacturing center for southern China.

Guangzhou is definitely not a city you will fall in love with at first sight. Every corner seems packed with high-rise buildings, elevated highways, overpasses, vehicles, and lots and lots of people – it feels like a city that is about to explode.

Your initial instinct could well be to get out as soon as possible. However, if you overcome this urge and stay longer, you will discover its more personable side.

This 2,200-year-old port city, located on the Pearl River in Guangdong province, is home to 10 million people and is one of China’s economic powerhouses.

But the city’s traditional neighborhoods, mostly in Xiguan area, still moves at a leisurely pace – with elderly folk sitting outdoors playing chess or just indulging in idle chatter; old stores, usually run by generations of the same family, tucked away in the back streets and selling a variety of medicinal herbs and dried seafood; and centuries-old banyan trees, with their numerous aerial roots looking like street sculptures.

A good way to explore what the city and its people are really like is to have a dim sum breakfast at a local restaurant.

In this food-obsessed city, meals are a major source of happiness and determines the pulse of everyday life of the local Cantonese people.

Restaurants in Guangzhou are open for business as early as 6 am and the most popular ones are usually huge, covering several floors, serving about 1,000 people at a time, and full of noise and chaos.

It would be wise to go with a local because the Guangdong dialect, called “bird language” thanks to its minimum nine tones, might fail most Mandarin speakers, let alone foreigners.

As soon as you sit down, a pot of tea is promptly placed on your table. Soon, you will notice servers walking around with trolleys stacked high with bamboo canisters full of steaming hot food, like shrimp dumplings, turnip cake, chicken feet, rice noodle rolls and egg tarts.

Simply point at what you want as the carts pass by and the food will be delivered to your table right away. The portions are usually small, so you can sample a wide variety of dishes at one time.

Of course, dim sum is not the only treat of the city’s bustling food scene. You can tuck into the city’s best fish congee in a food stall with tiny tables and plastic tools, or the best barbecued goose and ribs in a humbly-decorated bistro located just around the corner from the big restaurants.

Guangzhou is not only a paradise for foodies, but also a magnet for businessmen from all over the world.

The city’s annual trade fair, launched in 1957, is the oldest and one of the biggest in China. The city’s trading history dates back to ancient times and recent archaeological finds suggest that the city may have had traded frequently with foreigners more than 2,000 years ago.

Today, commercial activity remains as vigorous as ever. Hundreds of thousands of buyers travel from everywhere – Africa, the Middle East and Europe – and buy anything they reckon they can sell back home, including all sorts of clothes, shoes and handbags.

Shopping areas like Beijing Road and Shangxiajiu in the heart of the city are good places to experience the fast pace of city life and to find hot bargains.

After spending a whole day in the hustle and bustle of commercial Guangzhou, you can head to Shamian, a small island on the Pearl River, for a quiet and peaceful afternoon. Shamian means “sandy surface”, in reference to its historical past when the Guangzhou authorities handed over this area to colonial Britain and France in the 19th century.

Shamian’s colonial heritage is still evident in the old European-styled buildings, gardens and boulevards .

It’s a perfect place for a stroll. And as the sun goes down over the Pearl River, settle down for a cup of coffee at one of the many restaurants or cafes, and take in the beautiful view. (Source: China Daily)


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