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Travel Guide Asia China Guangdong Guangzhou

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Introduction

The Pearl River at night

The Pearl River at night

© All Rights Reserved BKW

Guangzhou (廣州) is a large industrial city on the banks of the Pearl river with a population of between 8 to 13 million depending on what areas you include. Many overseas Chinese trace their heritage to this city. The city was traditionally known to westerners as Canton during the period of foreign occupation and still has a strong expat community today. Originally settled in the 3rd century BC the city grew in importance over the millenniums. The city is the centre of southern Chinese culture and a major export centre. Even during the height of oppression during communist area this city still had trade shows and export fairs.

Now Guangzhou has grown to be the third largest city in China (behind Beijing and Shanghai) and is a modern city. It is also close to Hong Kong and Macau making it very convenient to or from travel there.

Every year from the second half of April to the first week of May and from the second half of October to the first week of November, the China Import and Export Fair is held in Guangzhou. Travel should be avoided at these periods as hotel rooms become scarce and more expensive. Transport prices also rise.

There is a free monthly english magazine called that's PRD covering the pearl river delta region. It writes about the latest events and things to do. The magazine can be picked up free from many expat locations including Starbucks. It is a valuable resource to get to know the city and places to go for visitors.

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Districts

Although Guangzhou is 15,000 square kilometres, the metro system does a good job connecting the city and its districts.

City Proper

  • Yuexiu (越秀)
  • Liwan (荔湾) has many tourist sights and shopping areas. Also located here is Shamian Island.
  • Haizhu (海珠) is a fast-growing district with many high residential buildings. In the centre by Haizhu square is a very large market selling goods to exported.
  • Tianhe (天河) district was only established in 1980 has become known as the new city centre. The majority of schools and universities are located here along with a newly developed science park. Characterised by modern skyscrapers and the main sports stadium, it has many opportunities for shopping (including the popular Tee Mall). CITIC Plaza is currently the eighth tallest building in the world. Also located here is the Guangzhou East Railway Station (for direct trains to Hong Kong).

Greater Guangzhou

  • Baiyun (白云) The international airport is located here.
  • Huangpu (黄埔)
  • Huadu (花都)
  • Panyu (番禺) is located on the outskirts of Guangzhou. There is a water park and zoo here.
  • Nansha (南沙)
  • Luogang (萝岗区)
  • Zengcheng (增城)
  • Conghua (从化)

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Sights and Activities

Temples

Flower Pagoda at the temple of the 6 Banyun Trees

Flower Pagoda at the temple of the 6 Banyun Trees

© All Rights Reserved BKW

  • Temple of the 6 Bayan trees houses a tall pagoda.
  • Haitong temple

Sights and Activities

  • Night cruise on the Pearl river - See the gregariously luminescent city from the river. Enjoy the breeze and the view from the roof of the boat. Tickets cost RMB40-80 and lasts 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • Shamian Island (沙面岛) was a French and British concession during the 19th century. As such it retains a unique look of colonial China, with trees lining roads and old European-style buildings.
  • Statue of 5 Rams in Yuexiu Park - The Statue of the 5 Rams in Yuexiu park is the symbol of the city of Guangzhou. You will find its likeness on billboards, advertisements, city emblems and many other things associated with the city of Guangzhou. Costs RMB5 to enter.
  • Baiyun (White Cloud) mountain (白云山) offers views of the city. A good place for hikers to visit.
  • Chen Family Ancestral Temple is not really a temple in the traditional sense. Rather it is a large family shrine containing the best example of local 19th century architecture. Ornately decorated and beautiful.
  • Guangzhou Zoo
  • Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall is a large park & theatre dedicated to the father of the Chinese Republic. Also the site for plays and productions.
  • Guangzhou Peasant Movement Institute
  • Museum of the Mausoleum of the King of Southern Yue
  • Guangzhou city museum

Parks

Parks in China are often a hive of activity. There are many opportunities in Guangzhou to go strolling through the parks and witness old people dancing or exercising. Though strangely (to western standards anyway) parks require a small entrance fee, usually RMB1-4.

  • Dongshan park has a big lake in the middle.
  • Martys' park has a few monuments to the fallen soldiers of WWII and a small lake where you can hire swan-shaped pedalos.

Shopping

Shopping is plentiful in Guangzhou. Ranging from modern malls selling designer brands to local markets selling export goods to markets selling animals. Haggling is expected in smaller shops and markets while the prices posted in department stores are final.

  • Shopping at the pedestrian only Beijing street ("Lu") - look at the center of the street and you will find archeological digings of the streets history under glass cases. Lined on both sides of the street by Chinese high street stores, Western brands and smaller local shops. Buy anything from clothes to shoes to fake bags here.
  • Shopping at Shangxia Jiu street ("Lu") - a walking street many shops.
  • Haizhu Square ("Guangchang") - take the metro to this stop and go to exit C. There is a very large market selling export goods here. Excellent place to pick up gifts and souvenirs for cheap. Haggling here is not welcome unless buying in bulk.

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Events and Festivals

Guangzhou celebrates the same festivals that are common throughout the rest of China, including:

  • Chinese New Year or Spring Festival
  • Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival

The China Import and Export Fair or Canton Fair occurs twice a year (April-May and October-November). Travel should be avoided at these periods as hotel rooms become scarce and more expensive.

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Weather

Guangzhou is situated near the tropic of Cancer. The temperature rarely reaches 0 °C but during winter can drop to 10 °C. Winter can be deceptively cold given most buildings are not equipped with double glazing or central heating. However during the summer the temperatures can reach 40 °C and the humidity and pollution can be very high. The city experiences monsoon season from April to September.

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Getting There

By Plane

Baiyun International Airport (广州白云国际机场) (IATA: CAN, ICAO: ZGGG) is located quite a distance outside of the city. It's one the biggest airports in China and also one of the fastest growing airports in the world. Flights arrive/depart from this modern airport to many destinations around the world and within China. A long bus or taxi ride (about 1 hour) is required to reach it from the city centre. However taxis and shuttle buses are readily available just outside of the terminal.

By Train

Two train stations are located within the city. The main train station is good for short national travel, while the east train station serves longer national travel and direct trains to Hong Kong (or the border).

12 daily trains to/from Hong Kong (Kowloon) are available on roughly a hourly schedule. The journey takes 2 hours and costs RMB210. Alternatively 16 daily trains to/from Shenzhen are available (1 hour, RMB75). From here the border can be crossed by foot into Lo Wu metro station in Hong Kong or vice versa. Note there is a seperate area to buy tickets to Shenzhen and Hong Kong (Kowloon). Trains are air-conditioned and it is not neccesary to book tickets beforehand.

Be careful to avoid the rush around Chinese New Year as the stations typically will be packed with millions of migrant workers returning home. As this is possibly, for many, their only extended vacation for the entire year this is not an exduration of the word "million". Riots occured here during the 2008 travel season when 500,000 passengers were stranded in Guangzhou.

By Car

Self driven car travel is not recommended in China. If you wish to use this mode of travel it is best to hire a local driver with local knowledge.

By Bus

There are many long-distance bus stations around Guangzhou. Overnight (sleeper) buses may be available for longer journeys. Destinations include Guilin, Yangshuo and Nanning. Bus tickers tend to sell out faster than train tickets so it is recommended to buy tickets up to 3 days in advance.

Many daily shuttle buses operate between Hong Kong and Guangzhou (2.5 hours). Tickets may be purchased at Hong Kong International Airport (Terminal 2).

To go to Macau, get a bus to Zhuhai (3 hours). The bus staion in Zhuhai is just across the road from the Macau border.

By Boat

Several companies offer ferry service from Hong Kong to Guangzhou by going up the Pearl river. However, most travellers perfer the more convienent services of the bus and train companies. The Hong Kong International Airport offers ferry service from the airport SkyPier to Guangzhou.

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Getting Around

By Car

Car rental prices and insurance are quite high in most of China. Most companies will rent cars to people with Chinese drivers licenses. International licenses are not accepted. Also navigation through the busy & chaotic streets can be extremely difficult.

Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. However most drivers only speak Cantonese or Mandarin. This is the most popular way for foreigners to get around, and it is very affordable. The starting charge is ¥10 for the first 2.3 kilometers, or about 1.4 miles. After that is ¥2.6 for each kilometer. No fuel surcharge is added. A 50% surcharge is automatically added when the trip reaches 35 kilometers. A few of them also accepts Yang Cheng Tong as payment, but it is not preferred by the drivers. The taxi hotline is 96900. This comes in handy if you forget your valuables in a taxi. Save your receipt because it contains the taxi's identification number.

By Public Transport

Guangzhou's Metro system opened in 1999 and has been expanding at a breakneck pace ever since. The network covers much of the city center and is growing rapidly outward. The fare ranges from ¥2 to ¥19. Most of the signs and announcements are in Chinese and English. The trains can become extremely crowded during morning and evening rush hours, especially on Line 3. Tickets can be bought from vending machines in the stations. ¥5 and ¥10 Bills or ¥1 coins are accepted. The charge for subways is by distance, unlike some places in the West, where a single fare can cover the cost of an entire trip. You can break up your big bills at the customer service counters. The ticket is a small plastic round token, which you tap over the blue reader at the gate to enter the platform, and at the exit where you insert the token into the slot like a vending machine. Most of these machines do not accept old or torn notes. If needed, tell the officer at the counter where you want to go and he or she will return your note with the requisite fare in coins and the rest in notes. It is easier to use Yang Cheng Tong (see details above). You also receive a 5%-40% discount when the card is used to ride the subway.

The bus system can be somewhat difficult to navigate for travellers not able to read Chinese as there are many different companies that share the same stations. Therefore the signage, routes, times, cost, etc. vary quite significantly. However, they are a fast and inexpensive way to get around town.

The Bus Rapid Transit system went into service in early 2010. It is essentially a long segregated bus lane (not an elevated busway like in Xiamen) running along the Tianhe Road and Zhongshan Avenue corridor towards the eastern suburbs. Some intersections are traversed by bridges and tunnels, which cuts journey times considerably, but other intersections have traffic lights and therefore traffic jams, and crowds can be as dense as in Metro stations but with fewer doors and a narrower standing area compared to Metro trains.

All buses that use the BRT start with a B prefix (B1, B22 etc.), though some without the "B" stop nearby. When reading a bus route (in Chinese) you can see the BRT logo above each BRT station name, like the GZ Metro logo above bus stops that are near Metro stations. The B1 stops at every BRT station, but other B routes use any number of BRT stations (sometimes just one) and use normal roads the rest of the time.

If boarding a BRT bus at a normal (non BRT) bus stop, the normal fare of ¥2 applies, however you can transfer to other BRT routes for free, provided you transfer at a BRT stop. If boarding at a BRT stop, insert ¥2 (coins only) into the entry turnstile to enter the platform area; no payment is required when boarding the bus, and you can board at the rear.

As with normal bus routes, there is almost no English at BRT stations, and only the current station name is in pinyin. Overall it isn't much use to tourists who can't read Chinese.

The ferry is the cheapest way of crossing the Pearl River (Zhujiang). Ferries were very popular in the 1980s and early 90s, carrying tens of thousands of passengers across the river each day. Nowadays its popularity declines substantially, mainly due to the completion of several bridges on the Pearl River and the availability of other modes of public transportation. The river narrows when going through the city center (a little wider than the Thames in central London). It is usually faster and more convenient for people to use the bridges or public transport(metro, bus) to cross the river, rather than wait for the ferries. One ferry route that maintains its popularity plies between Huangsha Pier, situated by the seafood market next to Shamian Island, and the pier at Changdi Road on the Fangcun side. Ferries depart every 10 minutes from 6:00am to 10:00pm. The fare is ¥0.5 for a foot passenger or ¥1 if you bring a bicycle. The fare can be paid in cash (no change given) or by using Yangchengtong Card. There are separate boarding gates for cyclists and pedestrians, and you pay at the boarding gate.

By Foot

Due to the sheer size of the city, walking is not advisable if you are trying to reach destinations in different districts. However, walking is a great way of exploring individual districts, and treats such as markets, small antiquities shops and local restaurants can be found up almost every little alley. Walking along main roads can be a nightmare - construction work can result in some inconvenient pedestrian diversions. Open manhole covers or sidewalks blocked by huge piles of cement are common. Take caution when crossing roads, even when the light is green, as bicycles and cars routinely expect everyone to move out of their way and drive through blindly. Many major intersections must be crossed using complex underpasses and footbridges. Make sure you have a map with you. It is all too easy to get lost in the rabbit-warren of small streets and alleys, even if some street signs are also in English.

By Bike

Due to the improvement of public transportation and increasing affordability of private cars, bicycles are in sharp decline in Guangzhou. In recent years, the government has been promoting this low-carbon mode of transportation. Over 100 rental outlets are now available along many BRT lines and subway stations. The rental fee is by the hour and up to ¥30 a day. One popular bike route is along the Pearl River on the Haizhu District side. Other dedicated bike lanes are slowly appearing in the city center, including Tianhe District. Yangchengtong Card is accepted in many public rental outlets.

New bikes are available in major hypermarkets from ¥200 for a cheap single-speed to around ¥800 for a 21-speed mountain bike, although quality leaves a lot to be desired. Giant and Merida are the two most common international brands (both are from Taiwan) and whilst a little more expensive (expect to spend over ¥1000 for anything with more than 1 gear), they offer something a little faster and of better quality. Get a decent quality lock too - bike theft is rampant!

Folding bikes are permitted on the subway (but not on buses) and can be carried in the trunk of a taxi at the driver's discretion, but non-folders are not permitted on any form of public transport other than the cross-river ferries. Bicycles are not permitted to cross the river via the Zhujiang Tunnel or Zhujiang suspension bridge, but are permitted to go on the public ferries for ¥1.

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Language

Locals in Guangzhou speak Cantonese as their native language, but due to the large number of migrants from other parts of China, many of whom do not speak Cantonese, Mandarin also serves as the lingua franca. As the Guangzhou dialect of Cantonese is far less influenced by foreign languages than that of Hong Kong, this is a good place to learn the language in its "purest" form. As Mandarin is the official language of mainland China and the medium of instruction in all schools, most younger locals will be bilingual in Cantonese and Mandarin. While Mandarin is sufficient for the average visitor, breaking into the social circles of locals would almost certainly require knowledge of Cantonese.

English is spoken by more people than in the rest of China (save for Beijing and Shanghai), but still not by the majority, so it is a good idea to carry your hotel's business card with you. To save yourself the hassle and agony when asking for directions, have names of your destinations clearly written down in Chinese by the hotel staff before venturing out. That said, many educated younger people will have a basic knowledge of English and staff at hotels as well as bars and restaurants widely visited by foreigners generally speak an acceptable level of English.

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Eat

Cantonese cuisine is well known for its blend of color, fragrance, taste and presentation, and it is ranked among the top four in the country. In particular, dim sum, a delicate pastry, is famous for being simple yet delicious. Local customs, as well as a long history of contact with the West compared to other regions in China, have played a major role in the development and diversity of Cantonese cuisine. "Chinese food" in Western countries is usually Cantonese food, albeit slightly adapted to Western tastes, meaning that many Western visitors will be familiar with Cantonese food to a certain extent.

Authentic Cantonese cuisine is also famous throughout China for another reason - Cantonese people tend to eat absolutely anything. A well-known Chinese joke is that they eat anything that has four legs other than a table, anything that flies other than an airplane, and anything that swims other than a submarine. In addition to that, various internal organs of animals are regularly eaten, such as the liver, kidneys, heart and even brain. This means that Cantonese cuisine is one of, if not the, most adventurous in China due to their expansive use of exotic ingredients, and their extremely broad definition of what is considered edible. This is how Guangzhou earned the distinct name of "Eating in Guangzhou (食在广州)."

Unlike Szechuan food and most other foods across China, Cantonese food tend to preserve the original flavor of the ingredients and is generically not spicy. The taste of Umami was strongly emphasized in the dishes. The soup is also an important part of the Cantonese cuisine. Those Cantonese soups were distinct by having been cooked for an extended period.

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Drink

Be sure to pick up the free that's PRD magazine to find the best places to go out.

When it comes to drinks, Guangzhou is one of the best cities in China to knock back a few. With a relatively large population of foreigners here, the city offers a wide variety of nightspots that cater to all tastes.

Tsing Tao and Zhu Jiang are the two major Chinese beer brands that are sold almost everywhere. Both are fairly standard light lagers. Carlsberg is also brewed in Guangzhou, which explains the reasonably large amount of Carlsberg taps in the bars.

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Sleep

Weeks from Mid-April to Early May and Mid-October to Early November (April 15th - May 5th and October 15th - November 5th) coincide with the annual Guangzhou International Trade Fairs. Hotel room rates are unreasonably hiked up anything between 200% and 400%, including hostels! If you're not travelling to see the Trade Fair, you might want to consider visiting some other time.

Budget

Unlike many other big cities in China, Guangzhou has very limited choice of youth hostels. Most hostels in the city are illegally operated and unlicensed, mostly located in residential apartment buildings. The management usually discourages most socializing activity, worrying that any noise may lead to complaints from their neighbors and result in government crackdown.

Upscale

  • White Swan Hotel - exclusive and best hotel in Guangzhou. Located on Shamian Island.

View our map of accommodation in Guangzhou or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Work

Most jobs require Mandarin or Guangdonghua (Cantonese). However like many places around China, it is relatively easy to get a job as an English teacher in a school, university or firm. No prior knowledge of Chinese is required. The employer will usually apply for your work permit.

It is also possible to be a teacher of another foreign language but opportunities are somewhat rarer. French is probably the second most common required teacher.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Wangba (联网) means internet bar in Chinese. Almost every town will have an internet bar or gaming center. The best way to spot an internet bar is to look for the 网(ba) character, which means net, and large digitized images of computer game characters. Often, there will be a sign saying Green Power in English at the entrance. Most gaming centers cost about RMB3 an hour. You prepay at the main desk and are then given a plastic card or a piece of paper. Once you are done you return the card or piece of paper and get reimbursed for the money you didn't spend. Be prepared for a place that might be dingy, basic and messy. Internet bars in China tend to get crowded starting in the late afternoon to the late evenings.

Some hotels provide access from the rooms that may or may not be free; others may provide a wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.
Also, quite a few cafes provide free wireless Internet service. Some cafes, even provide a machine for customer use.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to China is 86. To make an international call from China, the code is 00.

When making international phone calls it is best to buy an IP card. They typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card English-spoken instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper. There is no warning before the card runs out of minutes.

If you already have a GSM 900/1800 cellphone, you can roam onto Chinese networks, but calls will be very expensive (¥12-35/minute is typical). If you're staying for more than a few days, it will usually be cheaper to buy a prepaid Chinese SIM card; this gives you a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of money preloaded. Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will often be happy to offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount. If you need a phone as well, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked" and will work with any SIM card you put in them. China's two big operators are China Mobile and China Unicom. Most SIMs sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom allowing Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan usage as well. There is usually a surcharge of about ¥1/min when roaming outside the province you bought the SIM, and there are some cards that work only in a single province, so check when buying.

Post

China Post (中国邮政) is the official postal service of the People's Republic of China, operated by the State Postal Bureau of the People's Republic of China (website in Chinese only), and has more details about price to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. The Chinese postal service is very good. Remember that in more remote places usually only one post office in a city can handle sending international boxes or letters. Also many times it might be worth having the name of the country you are trying to send to in Chinese characters, because small town people might not know what Estonia is in English. Post offices have a striking green logo and can easily be found everywhere in the cities. They are mostly open every day (including weekends!) from 8:00am to 6:00pm, though small offices might have shorter opening times, while the bigger ones in central and touristic areas are sometimes open during evenings as well.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 23.1270407
  • Longitude: 113.341527

Accommodation in Guangzhou

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Guangzhou searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Guangzhou and areas nearby.

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This is version 79. Last edited at 9:26 on Aug 21, 17 by Utrecht. 79 articles link to this page.

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