Nanning isn’t a tourist city. It doesn’t have the cultural heritage of Beijing, or the glitz and glam of Shanghai. Most travelers pass through on their way to Vietnam. It takes two or three days to process a Vietnamese visa; if you find yourself waiting around in Nanning, you might wonder what there is to do.
Leaving the tourist circuit can have its advantages. Backpackers often bemoan the commoditization of travel, wishing for a more “authentic” experience. Authenticity is usually imagined to involve picturesque vistas and old women with toothless smiles. But the truth is, today’s “real China” is urban.
Nanning at night. Photo: Flickr
Nanning has managed to become one of southern China’s major hubs without the boon of a tourist economy. Meanwhile, it has retained its particularly Chinese personality: controlled chaos. Nanning is a humid soup of parks, trees, friendly locals and masses of mopeds. Here’s what to do if you find yourself in the Green City for two days:
The first thing you’ll probably want to do is stop by the Vietnamese Consulate. The consulate recently moved, so don’t trust your guidebook (For locations look below) if it was published before 2011. Visas to Vietnam cost 380 RMB, or 480 RMB for 24-hour processing.
As you emerge from the consulate, you’ll find yourself near Five Elephant Square. This elliptical plaza is the heart of Nanning’s financial district. Guangxi’s tallest building – the Diwang International Commerce Center – towers at the far end. Since Guangxi has been a largely agricultural province, the display of new wealth is a source of pride. It’s worth taking some time to wander and observe the city’s nouveau riche; businessmen on phones and society wives mincing past with their designer name shopping bags.
Across Minzu Dadao, the air conditioning of the Nanning Bookstore beckons. Unless your grasp of Chinese is excellent, head up to the 4th floor. The store carries a limited selection of English-language classics; I noticed Kant’s classic A Critique of Pure Reason and a few popular novels interspersed.
Rice noodles are the most common snack in the city, usually served in a soupy broth with bits of green onion, meat, and chilies or minced garlic. A bowl should run you no more than 5 RMB. For lunch, head downtown along Minzu Dadao and look for the ubiquitous signs that read: 米粉.
Chaoyang Lu (朝阳路), Nanning’s central shopping street, teems with activity. From Li-Ning sportswear to Converse high-tops, the street caters to Nanning’s new-found appetite for consumption. Brave the crowds and you’ll find yourself drawn into the frenetic energy.
Nanning people love to eat al fresco. The best food – and people-watching – can be found on Zhongshan Lu. This pedestrian lane houses a vibrant street dining culture. Alligator on a stick? 5 RMB. Not your thing? Try Pigeon, mussels, juicy ribs or jackfruit? The key to the whole experience is to meander, picking up bits and pieces of dinner as you walk. A mess of wires run overhead, and the sit-down restaurants often look a little dingy. Don’t be put off; the dives with the plastic stools often serve tastier kabobs than the well-lit, clean-swept restaurants.
Alligator anyone? Photo: Flickr
If you’re in town over the weekend, treat yourself to brunch the next morning at Just For You (为了你). On Sundays from 11:00, this Western cafe serves a brunch buffet for 38 RMB. After brunch, wander through Nanhu Park (南湖公园). This lovely stretch of green borders Nanhu Lake. People fly kites, roller skate, dance, and walk in the botanical gardens.
Although Han culture dominates Chinese society, minority groups have a strong presence in Nanning, notably the Zhuang people, whose language mingles with Mandarin on street signs and in conversation. To learn more about minority culture, spend the afternoon at the Guangxi Provincial Museum. Archeological artifacts showcase the development of the region’s minority groups and their integration into Han culture. Behind the museum, paths meander through a shady garden and replicas of minority-style homes. If Nanning hasn’t quite satisfied your desire for the “authentic,” don’t miss the garden bridge, which evokes fairy-tale China.
You’ll leave Nanning from Langdong Bus Station, outside of town (琅东客运站). The bus ride to Hanoi takes about eight hours, give or take two hours at the border. You can depart safe in the knowledge that you have seen the “real” modern China.
1) Vietnamese Consulate (越南领事官)View In Map
Add: Yahang Wealth Center, 55 Guijing Xiang, 27th floor, Qingxiu District, Nanning
Tel: 0771 551 0560 or 0771 551 0561
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri, 08:30 – 12:00, 14:30 – 18:00
Price: 380 or 480 RMB
2) Nanning Bookstore (南宁书店) View In Map
Add: 98-1 Minzu Dadao, Qingxiu District, Nanning
Tel: 0771 552 9806
Opening Hours: Daily 09:30 – 22:00
Price: 20 – 100 RMB for English language books
3) Zhongshan Lu（中山路） View In Map
Add: At the south corner of Minzu Dadao and Chaoyang Lu, Qingxiu District, Nanning
Opening Hours: 18:00 – 05:00
Price: Around 30 RMB for a meal
4) Just For You (为了你) View In Map
Add: 33 Business Street, in the Sunshine 100 Plaza, 61 Minzu Dadao, Qingxiu District, Nanning
Opening Hours: 10:00 – 23:00
Price: 30 – 60 RMB
5) Guangxi Provincial Museum (广西省博物馆)View In Map
Add: 34 Minzu Dadao, Qingxiu District, Nanning
Tel: 0771 284 7055
Opening Hours: Tues – Sun, 09:00 – 17:00
6) Nanhu Park (南湖公园) View In Map
Add: Shuangyong Lu, between Minzu Dadao and Jiaoyu Lu
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Keywords: city guide Nanning what to do in Nanning Vietnam trip Nanning activities Nanning
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