With new visas in hand, courtesy of CITS in Hong Kong, we took a taxi from our hotel in Macau to the land border with China. Crossing here requires a long lineup through Macau customs, a long walk through a maze of walkways, another long lineup through China customs, then the realisation that you’ve stepped into a completely different world.
Welcome back to China.
This second leg would take us South to North, picking up a few precious Bucket List items and another month to delve into China’s rich history and see some spectacular scenery. Guangzhou is by no means on the top of traveller’s must-see lists, but being the closest major city to Hong Kong and Macau, it is a perfect way to enter the China mainland.
Chinese New Year was approaching and it is the busiest time of year to travel. Locals all travel out of the city to visit families for the week-long festivities and train travel is ridiculous. Guangzhou Railway Station was just chaos.
Chinese food, as most westerners would taste it back home, is mostly of Cantonese origin and is based in Guangzhou and its province of Guangdong. Guangzhou was for a long time the only mainland trading port for Europeans, and so the cuisine made its way across the oceans as Chinese emigrated to faraway lands. What better place to try the original (and the best)?
Guangzhou is not the prettiest Chinese city, exemplified by the sprawling concrete buildings, highway flyovers and ugly architecture. Yuexiu Park, however, is a pleasant retreat from the relentless air and noise pollution of the city’s traffic-clogged streets. Lots of green trees, wide walking paths, lakes, statues, monuments and other historical buildings.
Legend has it that Guangzhou was founded by five immortals who descended from the sky on rams and saved the city from starvation. Inside the park, the Five Rams Statue stands resolute and a local landmark.
Not far down the road was the excellent Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. An absolute “must-see” in Guangzhou, it is the recently excavated tomb of Zhao Mo, the second King of the 2000 year old Nanyue Kingdom.
The tomb is open to explore, while on display in the mausoleum museum is Zhao Mo’s burial suit, made of thousands of tiny jade tiles, gold jewellery and trinkets, as well as “pillows” (including this Pillow in Shape of Child Holding Lotus Leaf).
On the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang) is the tiny sandbank Shamian Island. Acquired from China as a foreign concession in 1859 after the two Opium Wars, mainly British and French residents were granted permission to build warehouses here. Being such a small island, the British and French established themselves at opposite ends of the island.
A couple of hours walk was all that was necessary to fully explore Shamian Island. Some of the colonial buildings have been restored, making for a strange sensation of being somewhere other than China. The Roman Catholic “Church Of Our Lady of Lourdes”, built by the French in 1892 was a highlight as well as another church and building facades. The French end is arguably better, but locals live amongst the old buildings while some are now restaurants. The gardens and trees all over the place were fairly unkempt and overgrown.
The riverfront makes for a nice walk as you sit by the cafe and gaze across the calm Pearl River at the “real” Guangzhou on the other side.
Visited 18th and 19th January 2014.