Guangzhou Art MuseumDistance from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport: 28.2mi / 45.4km
Guangzhou has a number of thinly disguised propaganda venues posing as museums, but this is not one of them. In fact this is a thoroughly new generation of attraction that is a world away from the Peasant Movement Institute and the Mausoleum of the Revolutionary Martyrs. Among the nine permanent galleries, four are dedicated to local artists from the Cantonese school of painting called Ling-nan that first emerged in the late 1800s. Look for exquisite scrolls featuring rural scenes and pastel blossoms. Another gallery contains a first-class collection of Tibetan thangkas (religious icon tapestries) donated by a Hong Kong collector. Take a break by the relaxing fish ponds where huge schools of brightly colored koi carp vie for your attention.
Guangzhou Railway Station
Guangzhou Railway StationDistance from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport: 20mi / 32.2km
Here is a rare chance to see what China is undoubtedly most famous for: its enormous population. While other tourist highlights such as Tian’an Men Square are usually devoid of life, here is a large public square that perpetually teems with humanity. Certainly one of the best opportunities to visualize what a population of 1.6 billion really looks like. At Chinese New Year, this square is awash with more than 100,000 people a day, and ticket queues stretch kilometers away into the suburbs. Even at the nonpeak times, being in this area is like being outside the stadium doors as a rock concert finishes and the audience pours out. The area has a bad reputation for crime but this is rather undeserved, especially compared to the new East Station and the central business district of Tian He, where gangs of pickpockets roam openly and arrogant motorists make the simple act of crossing the road one of the most high-risk events of your entire holiday. Here at the old station, there are at least 18 kinds of uniformed security as well as patrol cars ranging from converted golf carts to oversize SUVs. Business people from all over the province and much of the rest of the country converge here at the vast wholesale clothing markets nearby. Simply find a vantage point and look on in awe, as immense flows of human traffic surge endlessly by.
Haizhu Square Wholesale MarketDistance from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport: 24.0mi / 38.5km
What was once a stronghold of revolutionary fervor (as can be seen from the rifle-thrusting monument in the center of the roundabout) has succumbed entirely to the forces of the free market and is now one of the most colorful markets in Asia, a vast area that stretches from Haizhu Square almost as far down as Shamian Island. Apart from the usual toys, furnishings, and electronics, this is a great place to find many of those souvenirs found in tourist shops around the rest of the country, but here at wholesale prices. A short walk to west along Yide Lu brings you to even more markets, with vast areas specializing in stationery, toys, and even dried foods. It is a shame that most people stop off in Guangzhou at the beginning of their trip into China as this is the ultimate shopping stop and would be much more suitable on the return journey.
HuadiwanDistance from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport: 25.0mi / 40.23km
Few tourists venture south of the river, but those who do are always impressed with Huadiwan in the Fangcun District. As you emerge from the subway, head for the furniture stores that feature carving and carpentry from all over the country. This soon transforms into specialist aquaria stores, then more conventional pet stores and across the road into the bird market. This merges towards the main road with a horticultural section that includes exquisite bonsai trees (known locally as penjing, the original Chinese name), and a large number of stores featuring “viewing stones,” oddly shaped rocks and stones that often resemble dragons, deities, and wild animals.
Shamian IslandDistance from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport: 24.7mi / 39.7km
Forced to relinquish a permanent trading base to the hated barbarians (us) at the end of the First Opium War in 1841, the Guangzhou authorities probably snickered as they palmed off a sandbar to the British and French. Perhaps they snickered less when it was promptly bunded (made secure with artificial embankments); was provided with proper streets, drainage, and imposing buildings; and became home to a prosperous foreign enclave with everything from tennis courts to a yacht club. The rest of Guangzhou lacked even properly surfaced roads well into the 20th century. Resentment from the local authorities manifested itself in dictatorial regulations, restricting traders solely to the island (barely half the size it is today and resulting in the word “cantonment”) and forbidding wives or families. There was a death penalty for anybody attempting to learn Chinese, and the only time that the foreigners were allowed to leave the island was by rowboat to visit the notorious flower boats upriver, lucrative sidelines for the same Cantonese merchants that monopolized the vast opium networks that quickly brought China to its knees.
Shamian still retains some of its former grandeur in the mansions which were the foreign residences, business premises, banks, and consulates. The mansions were taken over by dozens of families after 1949, but they were recently restored in many cases to former splendor, with each major building labeled as to its former purpose. Now partly pedestrianized, its broader boulevards are like long thin gardens with a lot of topiary. A line of bars and cafes on the southwest side with views over the Pearl River serves modern expats. Dozens of small businesses close to the modern White Swan Hotel aim to entrap those on organized tours who wander out of the hotel by themselves and think they are being brave. Souvenir stalls, tailoring stores, and teahouses all have inflated prices, and all offer “special discounts” to those with children — the U.S. consulate on the island is the one specializing in adoption matters, and adoptive parents fan out from here to collect their new daughters (almost always daughters) and return to do the paperwork. One or two of the old mansions are roofless and boarded up, but others are open as restaurants, shops, or hotels.