If you have a weekend afternoon free and you want to get out of the downtown hustle and bustle of Guangzhou
without traveling too far, Shamian Island (沙面岛) is a reliable bet for a pleasant atmosphere, good food, and an all around relaxing visit.
Shamian Island was a very important port for Guangzhou’s foreign trade during the rule of the Song and Qing Dynasties, and for several centuries this tiny patch of land was the only place in China that any foreigner was permitted to live. As such, you will find a great deal of 18th century European and American-style architecture. The island also became a strategic point, and the location of some conflict, during the Opium Wars. During this time the territory was divided into two parts, the French concession and the British concession. The differences in architecture and cultural legacy remain to this day.
Although it is not exactly laden down with landmarks, Shamian Island is a great place to stroll around and unwind. The gardens that stretch down the main boulevard are a great place to wander and take in the sites of the island, and they’re especially popular for wedding photos. But the architecture is unique and really quite beautiful, and there are at least a couple sites worth hunting down. One of the first that you are likely to find is the French Catholic church, (露德圣母堂) located at 14 Shamian Dajie. Completed in 1892, this building was recently renovated as a cultural artifact and is one of the oldest foreign structures in China that is still standing.
Another site worthy of note is the Art 64# art gallery. Located at 64 Shamian Dajie, this small art venue, in the basement of a local store complex, houses a number of abstract and thought provoking pieces. They also have a number of bilingual art books that are available to read so, if you are looking for a nice atmosphere to escape the hot sun for a little while, Art 64# gallery is a great place to stop.
Lastly, the Qing Ping Herbal Medicine Market (清平中药市场) is absolutely worth a visit if you have any interest in traditional Chinese medicine. Located just north of Shamian Island, this modern day apothecary is packed with herbal specialists who are looking to sell all manner of mushrooms, roots, and as many different forms of tea you can imagine. There are also quite a number of esoteric remedies you’ll probably need a guide to figure out (such as scorpion tail and snake skin) those who have a weak stomach might want to avoid the meat and seafood sections of this market as the smell can be quite overwhelming.
For such a small island, Shamian is host to a decent number of restaurants that specialize in food not very common in Guangzhou. The oddly named Thai Zhen Cow Bridge (泰珍牛桥餐馆) located at 54 Shamian Beijie is a well known Thai restaurant that specializes in complementary sauces. Their salads and seafood selections are very good and reasonably priced (30-60 RMB). The Dining Club, located at 39 Shamian Bejie, is a slightly smaller venue that specializes in food from Shanghai and Suzhou. You won’t find anything particularly special here, but you get a lot of food for your money and the service is pretty snappy. Lastly, located at 1 Shamian Beijie, is Station One a new German restaurant that has a number of fine imported beers on tap. Their menu is a bit higher priced, but the food comes in satisfyingly large portions – you’ll find trying to order is a mouthful enough with entrées like Kartoffelslat and Thuringer Rostbrat. If you’re looking for a good meal and some beer to go with it, Station One is definitely the place to start.
The cheapest and easiest way to Shamian Island is by taxi. Any taxi driver should know the way, as it is a popular destination and not very expensive to get to, but if you would rather use public transport take Metro line 1 to the Huangsha stop. Leave the station through exit D and make your way over the overpass and you will find yourself on the small yet rather unique island.
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