A day in Guangzhou

The city famous for the trade fair every two years, attended by retailers from across the globe.  It is so popular that changes are made to the standard visa to get into the country at that time.

Picture credit: ShaMianRen 28 March 2006

In summer, the city streets swelter under the humidity and your skin feels as though it’s gently steaming.  So much so that the author felt a need to pour her bottle of water over her head whilst there earlier this year, to the surprise and amusement of the local bystanders.

Here are a few of what we considered to be essential places to visit in Guangzhou.

Guangzhou Pearl Market

Don’t ask us how to get there, speak to the taxi driver.  Any one will do as they all know where the market is.  Once you are there, be sure not to get lost!  Getting lost is pretty easy as the market is situated in a multi-storey building with the stalls located along rabbit-warren style corridors.  There is so much to see and buy here at a very reasonable price that unless you keep careful track of time you could easily find that you have spent the entire day there.

Most of the pearls are not fresh water pearls and some are of good quality, at a fraction of the price back home.  Drive a hard bargain, because if you’re a Westerner, there is a big invisible dollar sign above your head as far as the vendors are concerned.

Chen Family Temple

This is a must-see for Chinese architecture lovers.  Built in the 1890s, it is a fascinating and beautiful collection of courtyards, sculptures and historic items on display.  There is a nominal entrance fee which includes a ticket that also serves as a postcard with free postage within the borders of China.

There are several little shops selling jewellery (though at less favourable prices than at the Pearl Market), Chinese porcelain, small jade and wooden carvings and other quirky items such as a frog that turns gold when boiling water is poured over it.  The golden frog is available at several different touristy spots in China.

The very attentive ladies at the tea shop that sells porcelain will also obligingly give you a cup of steaming jasmine tea, which is surprisingly refreshing on a hot day in Guangzhou.

Guangzhou trade fair

If your visit is business for the trade fair, then you already know what its all about.  A useful tip that we discovered quite by accident is to trawl the street markets on the final day of the fair.  Why?  Because what was only available as bulk previously, now becomes available to you as a regular customer rather than a retail customer.  So, we bought several purses each at a very good price, whereas the day before we would have had to buy a minimum of 100!  When you’re only buying for yourself, one hundred purses would be rather to many.

Insider hints for Guangzhou

Taxis.  Our best tip for travelling in Guangzhou would be regarding the taxis.  If you can at all avoid it, do not be in a position where you have to take a taxi between 4 and 6pm.  The reason is that there is a change-over of the shift and you can wave all you like, not one will stop.  There are private cars that though that operate ‘under the radar’ as taxis during this time.  They are not registered and are risky as their driving, believe it or not, is even worse than that of the regular taxis.

Heat.  The heat can be really oppressive.  Always carry a bottle of water with you.  Sunscreen is also advisable, though you won’t see much sun as there is an ever-present smog blanketing the city.

Bargaining.  In China there are always (broadly-speaking) three prices: highest is for Westerners, next is for the Chinese public.  The best prices are reserved for people connected with the vendor, with the degree of connectedness determining the final price.  It is expected that you will bargain, irrespective of which group you belong to.  If you have a Chinese friend with you, get him or her to bargain in your behalf.  (But remember that your driver or tour guide is not your “friend” when it comes to bargaining!)

Guangzhou is a vibrant city with lots on offer to shopaholics.  There are many different cuisines to sample, pretty much anything that your palate desires, be it Peking Duck or Irish fare at the Paddy Field (an Irish-themed pub in Guangzhou frequented by foreigners).

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