We wanted to combine our visit to Hong Kong with a trip to the famous sceneries of Guilin, and looking at the air fares quickly realised that traveling by land would save a fair bit of money with the added bonus of getting to see the third largest city in China, as well as to try the famous Chinese bullet trains on the newly opened Guangzhou-Guyiang rail line.
Guangzhou may not be on the bucket list of most family travelers, but we had a great day in the city – and would have been happy to spend a few more days in the area. Especially considering that we had one laryngitis patient, a 15 degree drop in temperatures overnight forced us to spend some of our precious time on shopping for warm clothes, and the dreary weather blocked the views to the famous Canton Tower.
Despite these slight setbacks we dove into the efficient metro system of the city, wearing all the clothes we had with us. Our first stop was the Chen Clan Ancestral house – a beautiful old shrine sandwiched between modern houses. It is right next to a metro stop and super easy to get to.
We then had an ambitious plan to check out the jade market and Shangxia Jiu Lu Pedestrian street. The kids were not having any of it, so after a quick stroll we hopped into a taxi to get lunch and a break at Shamian Island.
Sitting in a taxi through the city is fascinating: this city of 14 million is a never-ending maze of skyscrapers, massive Soviet style apartment blocks (some being demolished to make way for new developments) and a few old buildings squeezed in by all the concrete and neon signs. Shopping centres and Western brands rub shoulders with hole-in-the-wall eateries and workshops. From one corner you can buy goat heads and in the next you have spanking new public buildings representing cutting edge modern architecture.
Shamian Island is a quiet neighborhood that looks more like Paris – it was the concessions area for the foreign powers in the olden times and has been beautifully restored. The wide promenade by the Pearl river is great place to let the kids let off some steam, and there is a small playground near the waterfront.
On the way back to the Huangsha metro shop we passed by a busy medicine market selling stuff like dried seahorses, herbs, and well, variety of things I’ve never seen before.
We really wanted to see the dinosaur skeletons in Guangdong Museum but didn’t know they have last admission an hour before closing time. We then headed over to the Four Seasons nearby in hope of getting a view of the famous Canton Tower in their swanky 100th floor bar. But this really was not our day: we were politely told that kids are not allowed in the bar. They let us have a peek inside but the weather was so bad we could only see clouds – not a great loss then. If you are traveling sans children though, I can only imagine that this is the place to enjoy the views in Guangzhou.
We had planned to treat Guangzhou as only a transit between Hong Kong and Guilin, but I wish we had another day – and better weather and luck to explore the city. We only saw Canton tower from the distance on our way to the train station thanks to the fog, didn’t make it to the museum and only scratched the surface on exploring the old streets in the Liwan district. And shopping, well, never a priority when traveling with kids, but apparently there are bargains to be had in the many wholesale markets in this city built on trade. I am not saying one should start planning a holiday to Guangzhou alone but if I had a chance to stop over again or go on a business trip there, I wouldn’t say no.
Getting around the city is easy: the metro is clean and efficient and the taxis run on meters. Have your hotel write down the places where you want to visit in a day – the drivers don’t speak English.
Getting to Guangzhou from Hong Kong is a breeze. Buy your tickets online, make your way to Hung Hom station, go through security and passport control and get on the train. The train takes about two hours. If you board the train hungry, freshly cooked chicken legs were sold during the journey – apparently tasty since they seemed to be doing a roaring trade.