Guangdong is a massive province and there’s more to it than just the slick commercial buzz of Shenzhen, or the multicultural hub of ancient Canton. We’ve listed some places that can be done as easy daytrips from the provincial capital, no more than three hours from Guangzhou. If you’re fast you might be able to nail all three in a weekend, but that would probably defeat the object of ‘getting away from it all’ and the frenetic pace of Guangzhou.
1) Foshan (佛山)
Not many Westerners will have heard of Foshan, but its name is highly significant in China, being one of the country’s oldest pottery towns. It was also the birthplace and stamping ground of real-life Martial Arts hero, Wong Fei-hung (黄飞鸿) who has entered the Guinness Book of Records as the man with the highest number of movies made about him (118 at the last count!). Jet Li fans will know him as the protagonist of the ‘Once Upon a Time in China’ series of films, which are hugely popular in China. So if you are a fan of either pottery or martial arts, then you have come to the right place.
The Nanfeng Ancient Kilns in the industrial centre of town can be visited, and reportedly the furnaces have not gone out since they were first opened in the 1500s. Surrounding the two huge brick kilns are dozens of smaller handicraft shops selling freshly glazed pottery and other ceramic artifacts. Prices here are already low due to the proximity of their birthplace, but you can always try haggling. It’s a good place to pick up Chinese tea sets, and the staff are friendly and will help you choose if you’re struggling.
Wong Fei-hung has a whole museum dedicated to him, the Foshan Wong Fei-hung History and Legacy Museum and provides plenty of black and white photos, and shows a list of every single film that was made about him (as well as the Guinness World Record certificate!) although many of the exhibits lack English signs.
There are frequent buses to Foshan from Guangzhou (45 minutes, 14 RMB) or there are less frequent trains that take 30 minutes (12 RMB). If you want the luxury of your own taxi, it should cost around 80 RMB.
1) Zhaoqing (肇庆)
If you’ve ever been to Guilin or Yangshuo, you’ll be familiar with the karst limestone peaks that jut up from the earth and clutter the horizon. What you probably didn’t know is they also exist elsewhere in China, and Zhaoqing harbours the Cantonese version—albeit on a miniature scale. They make up an area known as Qixing Yan, or Seven Star Peaks, because as you can very well guess… there’re seven of them! They’re located in the Seven Star Park, and once you get there you can rent a tuk-tuk to drive you around to see the various craggy limestone formations (walking it would take too long). Many of the peaks ostensibly resemble different oddities and are named accordingly e.g. ‘Reclining Woman’, ‘Turtle Rock’ and ‘Fairy Cave’. It’s rather euphemistic, as for most ‘Blob of Limestone’ and ‘Craggy Rock’ would do perfectly, but the park itself is a beautiful, tranquil place to spend an afternoon on a nice day.
Also in town is the Chongxi Pagoda which you can scale. It was damaged by the Cultural Revolution but has since been restored. There’s also a sizeable mosque in town which is open to visitors and features pretty mosaics in turquoise and white tiles. During the Qing dynasty, Zhaoqing was a strategic port town on the Xijiang river, and was walled. Much of the walls have since turned to dust, but some sections still remain and can be seen. On the south-west side is ‘Cloud Draped Tower’, a fine fort of red brick and wood, and it’s possible to climb the tower and get a lofty view over Zhaoqing.
Dinghu Shan (鼎湖山)
Dinghu Shan is a protected nature reserve in the northeast of Zhaoqing city. It’s a 20 min bus ride from Duanzhou Silu (or there are plenty of taxis who will take you). There are mountains, waterfalls and butterflies everywhere here! Dinghu Shan feels more isolated than other parts of Guangdong and thus there’s some terrific natural scenery to gawk at. The best way of taking it all in is simply by following the mountain trail that takes you on a convoluted course around the area. You’ll pass by a giant ‘ding’ on a summit (an ancient iron vessel with three or four legs), reported to be the biggest in the world. It’s massive and if you’re feeling athletic you can pay 10 RMB to toss a little red bag inside, which allegedly will bring you good luck. From there the trail goes past myriad waterfalls and ends up on Butterfly Island (via a short stint on a ferry boat), which as you may have guessed, has a butterfly reserve with hundreds of brightly-coloured butterflies flitting about. There are some absolutely huge ‘bird-eater’ butterflies here, some of the biggest in the world, so it’s well worth a visit.
Getting to Zhaoqing from Guangzhou takes about 90 minutes by bus and should cost you 30 RMB.
1) Zhuhai (珠海)
The name Zhuhai means ‘Pearl of the Sea’ which is quite fitting for such a pretty little coastal town. Zhuhai’s proximity to Macau may raise alarm bells in some people’s ears, but you can rest assured that none of Zhuhai’s quaint charm has been tainted by the gaudy bright lights and multitudinous gambling dens that characterise the old Portuguese colony across the Pearl River. Zhuhai itself is a Special Economic Zone so has reaped some of the economic rewards, but is no way near as extravagant as Macau (thankfully!)
You can start off your Zhuhai adventure by boning up on the city’s history at the Zhuhai City Museum in Jida, the centre of town. There are a bunch of exhibits that depict Zhuhai’s history and some cool reports of jostles with the ‘Foreign Devils’ during the Opium Wars. Some examples of cannons and other weapons of the period are on display. The landscaped museum gardens are a lovely place to relax if you get tired of the history lesson. Just north of the City Museum is the Revolutionary Martyr’s Memorial, a sombre statue on the edge of Xiangshan Park that is dedicated to the lives and memories of those who were killed by Japanese forces during World War II. You’ll probably need cheering up after that so you can head over to the bay near Haibin Park to see the lovely Zhuhai Fisher Girl, a statue of a girl raising aloft a giant pearl, symbolising the city. It’s slightly reminiscent of Denmark’s The Little Mermaid statue, but not (yet) quite as iconic.
For those who fear the temptation of casinos may be too strong to resist, you can take a boat cruise around the Macau peninsula, and see most of the city from the sea (it’s tiny!). Boats leave regularly from Gongbei Wharf and travel as far as Friendship Bridge.
From Zhuhai, it’s also quite convenient to make the pilgrimage to the small village of Cuiheng, the site where in 1866 China’s revolutionary hero Dr Sun Yat-sen was born and raised. Known in China as Sun Zhongshan, there is not one city in the entire country that doesn’t have a Zhongshan Lu or a Zhongshan Park. He even had a style of clothing named after him—The Zhongshan Suit—those navy blue suits you see so many old people wearing. So if you visit the Dr Sun Yat-sen Residence Memorial Museum, you will see why he was so instrumental in the founding of the People’s Republic (and where he got his hot fashion sense from!).
To get to Cuiheng, ride bus 10 from Zhuhai’s bus station to the terminus, then change to bus 12. Alternatively you could just pay for a taxi the whole way, but it’ll cost you about 100 RMB. There are plenty of regular buses from Guangzhou (every 20 mins) to Zhuhai. The journey takes just over 2 and a half hours, and will set you back around 75 RMB.
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Keywords: Foshan ancient kilns Zhaoqing Seven Stars Park daytrips in Guangdong daytrips from Guangzhou
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