Known to many in the West as ‘Canton’, Guǎngzhōu is the first city most travellers to mainland China visit. Wrapped in a perpetual haze of pink smog and flashing neon lights, the city overwhelms with its energy, colour, and sheer size. Influenced by neighbouring Hong Kong, consumerism has swept up the city in a head-spinning frenzy, but scratch away Guǎngzhōu’s glittery surface and you’ll find a place quite special among China’s major urban centres. It just takes some time to grow on you.
It wasn’t long ago that Guǎngzhōu exemplified the worst of rampant urbanisation: never-ending flyovers, ugly architecture and traffic-clogged streets. In recent years, the city has been given a makeover and its scrubbed-up appearance has given it a cosmopolitan edge. Stodgy concrete apartment blocks are giving way to shiny high rises and shopping plazas. Efforts to relieve traffic congestion have resulted in a clean, modern metro system and tougher traffic laws. Trees and flowers have been planted on roadsides and well-kept gardens and parks add splashes of colour to the contemporary grey landscape.
The city remains as chaotic as ever, but underneath all the glitz and noise there are pockets that still retain their character from earlier years. Many of the elegant churches, villas and mansions on the former foreign enclave of Shamian Island have been restored, and you’ll find hidden among Guǎngzhōu’s back lanes some lovely old residences, temples and gardens that haven’t been touched in generations.
Of course, you can’t talk about Guǎngzhōu without mentioning the food. It’s here that you’ll try Cantonese cuisine cooked at its very best. The city boasts the largest number of restaurants per capita in China; the Cantonese will make certain you won’t leave their city hungry.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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