Nihao and welcome to Guangzhou! We’ll make your first moments as blissful as possible as you adapt to the exotic sights, sounds and smells of China and on your arrival your guide will meet you and escort you into Guangzhou, your first stop on your tailor-made tour of China.
En route into the city you will visit the Canton Tower (formerly known as the Guangzhou TV Astronomical and Sightseeing Tower) to begin your examination of China’s unique architecture from a futuristic angle. The tower, including the antenna, stands at 600-meters tall and for two years was listed as the tallest tower in the world before the completion of the CN Tower in Canada. The Canton Tower contains a museum, gardens, a shopping centre and a rooftop observatory which is currently the highest and largest observation deck in the world.
Foreign nations have been trading in Guangzhou since the Tang Dynasty (618-907). During that period the city was the principal southern port of the country and thus an important region for the silk export industry. Persian and Arab merchants were especially numerous in the region and even established their own mosques. Portuguese merchants arrived in the region in the 16th century and the Dutch, British, French and North Americans followed in the 17th and 18th centuries, further expanding the port’s importance.
The tea and silk trades were most common commodities in the area; however it was the introduction of opium by the British that sparked major tension between China and the West. In was these ‘Opium Wars’ which led to the island of Hong Kong being ceded to the British, and various concessions to be granted to Western powers in various Chinese cities.
Next you will be guided to a pleasant park on Shamian Island, a sandbank island and an ancient Anglo-French concession that sits on the banks of the Pearl River. This park on Shamian Island (which translates as ‘sandy surface’) is a place that locals come to meet and indulge in their daily exercise routines, such as Qigong, and Tai Chi, under the shelter of the centuries-old banyan trees.
After observing the unique exercises you will then exit the park and embark on a bike ride to discover the well-preserved colonial architecture that typifies this quarter, most notably the Roman Catholic Our Lady of Lourdes Church, which was built by the French in 1892. The tranquil neighborhood is a striking contrast from its days as a concession, and still contains reminders of the period, especially in the colonial architecture that remains.
Once you cross the large avenue that separates the sandbank island from the rest of the city, you will enter the ancient quarter that was once home to the legendary Qingping Market, where rodents, owls, dogs, and cats were once for sale, but which was shut in part due to the SARS epidemic. Although the market is now closed, you can still find an abundance of small market stalls selling a variety of traditional medicines such as ginseng root and rare mushrooms in a labyrinth of small alleyways which emit a pleasing culmination of aromas set to the tune of clinking mah-jong tiles.
You’ll continue to a lesser-visited part of the city, where you’ll feel the energy of enthusiastic clothes vendors who passionately draw attention to their products, calling out to customers and clapping their hands. The street theatre continues to Longjin covered market, a fresh meat and fish market which is surrounded by fruit stalls.
Your guided bike ride will then lead you to the Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family (also known as the Chen Clan Academy). The temple was built at the beginning of the 19th century by the inhabitants of 72 villages in the region, united by a clan system representative of the region as a whole. The temple compound hosts a vast collection of Southern Chinese architecture, complete with ornate sculptures and paintings.
This temple visit will provide you with an opportunity to learn about ancestor worship, a fundamental practice in Chinese culture even in the modern day. Close to the values of Confucianism, this practice consists of maintaining a link with the afterlife by making offerings of food, burning paper money and incense, and ‘sweeping the tombs’ on Tomb Sweeping Day (Qingmingjie).
Once your guided bike tour has finished, you will have the remainder of the day to spend at your own leisure.
Optional: You may take the opportunity to try some local dim sum at a recommended restaurant. Dim sum is a style of Cantonese cuisine comprising small steamed savoury or sweet dishes and is eaten in a similar fashion to Spanish tapas.