While Beijing is all about power and influence, and Shanghai shimmers in a garb of bling, the people of Guangzhou shy away from flaunting. With grittiness and humility running through the veins of these Cantonese people, here is why this Southern Chinese city should be on your bucket list. By Bayar Jain
Duality is a fact of life; a fact that amplifies in the bustling city of Guangzhou. Located in the Guangdong Province of Southern China, this huge metropolis combines the old and new, offering sights and attractions for everyone to enjoy. On one end while the city hums at a pleasant pace, on the other end towering 21st-century modernities dress the architectural landmarks all throughout. Pockets of colonial-era heritage weave seamlessly with urban landscapes, while bursts of colourful blossoming trees welcome you in every corner. When a city has so many things to offer, as a tourist, narrowing down on a few places to explore can be a daunting task. So, here we are with a specially curated itinerary for your next vacation to the City of Rams.
1. Meander through the Shamian Island
Serving as a hangover of the city’s colonial past, Shamian Island once served as a home to trading companies from Britain, the United States, France, Holland, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Japan along the waterfront. Despite its tumultuous past replete with drug lords and raids, the island has transformed into a tranquil tourist attraction. Tree-lined pedestrian roads will take you through English style architecture, eventually meandering its way towards a more French one. Victorian houses, cathedrals, al fresco river sidebars, and restaurants are sure to enthral you.
2. Pay a visit to the Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family
Also known as the Chen Clan Academy, the Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family is a must-visit for history buffs. Dating back to 1888, this timeless treasure is a compound-complex consisting of nine halls, six courtyards and nineteen buildings connected by corridors, all separated by walls from the outside world. Here, you’re sure to get an insight into typical Cantonese architecture. Wood, stone, brick, clay, and ceramic carvings decorate the complex, while colourful paintings add to the beauty. While here, make it a point to stop by at the Juxian Hall. Once a place for the Chen Clan to assemble, the hall features an exquisitely carved wooden folding screen; a true representation of the city’s marvellous craftsmanship.
3. Hike up Baiyun Mountain
Consisting of more than 30 peaks, Guangzhou’s Baiyun mountain is the perfect vantage point to get a panoramic view of the city. Despite the bird parks, beautifully landscaped gardens, summits and well-paved paths in the vicinity, the mountain is famous for its veil-like clouds rising during the late spring and autumn. It’s no guesses why this place literally translates to “White Cloud Mountain”!
4. Marvel at the Sacred Heart Cathedral
There are only four whole stone Gothic cathedrals in the world, one of which is the glorious Sacred Heart Cathedral of Guangzhou. Also known as the Shishi Catholic Church, this 130-year-old holy site is often dubbed as the Notre Dame of the East. On entering the church, you will be greeted with two lines of pillars dividing the central part, and colourful reflections of the mosaic stained glass windows. High arches and spires, coupled with the spacious and high inner sanctuary make the building even more beautiful and solemn. The most striking feature, however, is the Chinese elements interspersed throughout this otherwise dominantly Gothic structure. The church roof outlet is in the shape of a Chinese lion, and wide-style wood carvings are engraved on the door. In fact, the construction of the church itself makes use of a traditional Chinese method! Instead of relying on cement, the structure is made using a mixture of sticky rice and oil.
5. Pose alongside the Statue of Five Goats in Yuexiu Park
Guangzhou is a city of many nicknames, one of which is the City of Goats. The Statue of Five Goats in Yuexiu Park is partly to blame for this obscure label. Legend has it that the city was once barren, despite hard work by the locals. Fearing a famine, people believe that on day five of the situation, immortals in five-colour garments came riding on five rams, playing their legendary music. The rams held sheaves of rice in their mouths. These immortals left the sheaves of rice for the local people, gave blessings to the city and left. The rams, however, turned into stone, giving rise to the city’s rather strange nickname. Then again, it gave another photo-op for us tourists, so who are we to complain?
6. Pamper your inner shopaholic at the Beijing Road
Just because you’re not in the country’s capital doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of it! As you walk down Guangzhou’s Beijing road, the red lanterns overhead cast a shadow in a some of the beautiful lanes. Once the sun sets, it is these same lanterns that completely transform the look and feel of the shopping district. There is a wide range of stores available, from a large modern-style department store to stores selling the latest fashions, to jewellery, knick-knacks, and even leather goodies. While you haggle for a cheaper price, you’ll find your voice drowning in the blaring street music. Amid this chaos, do make it a point to stop by at the well preserved ancient stone roads of Song and Yuan Dynasties dating back to the 11th to 14th centuries.
7. Get a new perspective at the Canton Tower
Rising up to 600 meters, the Canton Tower was once one of the tallest buildings in the world. The most striking feature of the building is its resemblance to a ‘slim waist’. This implies that the structure of the building gradually shrinks towards the midsection before bursting again outwards as one goes higher up. Apart from this shape, however, is its LED lighting. The tower is lit through an LED system, which is integrated into the body of the tower. This lighting is controllable and allows for colour changes and animations across the entire tower.