After being in China for over a year, Jess and I had never actually made it to southern China until recently. Before heading south, we had seen the 2 biggest cities in China (Shanghai and Beijing), the sub-zero temperatures of Harbin, the impressive scenery of Hangzhou (West Lake), and the Tallest Statue in the World. China has proven to be a vast urban sprawl … a series of under-developed rural areas, over-populated cities, and sprinkled with just enough appeal and history to draw a steady stream of tourism. The Great Wall, Shanghai, and West Lake proved to be some of the places that impressed us the most in China.
Other than that, the China we have come to know is … well, kinda ugly. It’s a vast country full of concrete jungles; connected by endless farming fields and the rural population that has popped up around them. Wildlife and scenery are seldom seen and even less respected; pollution is rampant across the country at a health-concerning level, technological advances seem slow to reach those who would gain the most from them, and the level to which the government has fostered a culture of ignorance, inefficiency, and fear is appalling.
Ah man …. I just took an abrupt turn off the beaten path … This blog is suppose to be optimistic and pro travel! So, let’s wither our way back into the realm of positivity and focus on our recent trip to Southern China.
After finally traveling to the south, Jess and I were impressed by the architecture and landscapes sprawling across a climate more resembling of Vietnam and Thailand than mainland China. The farther south we went the more aesthetically pleasing the country seemed to become. All of a sudden, buildings and houses were more colorful in the countryside brushing past the window, mountains and hills were covered with trees and everything was green, architecture had miraculously evolved beyond the base necessity of a concrete shell, and there was a feeling of culture and identity … I dare say a sense of pride that we had seldom experienced in “mainland” China up to that point (exempting Shanghai perhaps).
Guangzhou is the 3rd largest city in China. There are a few things to do around the city, but overall I would recommend seeing Guangzhou for it’s Southern / Cantonese feel. You only need a couple days to see it and it is an ideal location to stop and see if you are headed somewhere else (ie. if you are on a train from Hong Kong/Macau – Xi’an it would be a good place to stop for a couple nights).
Things to Do in Guangzhou:
1. Pearl River Cruise (Ferry boat tour)
It is an absolute must. If you do one thing in Guangzhou you have to do this. The ferry takes you along the river for a little more than an hour and gives you the chance to see a breathtaking skyline and the enormity of the city.
Do the tour at night and take a camera. Pay a bit extra and buy the VIP ticket on the top floor of the boat (there are 3 ticket options). The top of the boat gives you the opportunity to see everything uninhibited, gets you out of the throngs of Chinese people trying to take your picture rather than look out the window, and also provides a nice breeze if the weather is fair.
On this tour you will also get a spectacular view of the Canton Tower … it really is pretty awesome.
2. Walking Street (… & Foreign Bookstores)
I love bookstores … which is the only reason the Guangzhou Pedestrian Street makes this list. The walking street actually kinda sucks unless you’ve never seen one before; then it’s alright. If you are in China though, save your grand walking tour experience for Shanghai and The Bund.
The street is called Beiling Lu there is a bookstore called UN Bookstore at the very beginning of the street. They have 3 floors and tons of foreign books …. it’s awesome…
3. Sun Yat-Sun Memorial Hall (lame) & Yuexiu Park (better)
I would definitely suggest checking out the Yuexiu Park. It’s pretty fun seeing the old people dance, people fervently playing board games, chess, and hacky sack, etc. … AND there are really cool Banyan Trees everywhere!
Seeing you will be in the neighborhood, Sun Yat-Sen’s Memorial Hall is kinda worth checking out. By “kind of” I mean it is ridiculously boring, entirely in Chinese, and isn’t worth the 5-10RMB to get in. We went there hoping to learn at least a bit about what Sun Yat-Sen did in the South and left not learning anything. It really is an injustice to the guy.