The Pearl River: Guangzhou’s Trade Past and Present

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5 Days
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Guangzhou
Guangzhou
About this Journey

Travel through time while remaining in the present by following the opaque waters of the Pearl River as they wend peacefully through the heart of China’s third-largest metropolis, Guangzhou.

As water is to life, the Pearl River is to Guangzhou. It was here that the bows of foreign ships pushed to rest against sandy shores and that the smoking war-time cannon balls finally settled on a silty floor.

It is here that local fishermen throw in their hooks hoping to catch a dinner-worthy fish while upstream millions of shipping containers embark on journeys to the farthest reaches of the globe.

The river is the heart of the city, shaping around it an array of different livelihoods, each of which provide a new understanding of the city and its people, if only you know where to look.

What we love
  • Stepping behind the curtain to see inside a factory that makes bags for some of the world’s leading brands
  • Cycling through the canal-lined neighborhoods of Changzhou Island
  • Learning kung fu from a master in a hidden inner-city studio
Where you're going
Guangzhou Map
Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive in Guangzhou

First Stop: Guangzhou

Rising up over the lazy Pearl River rests Guangzhou, a sprawling port city northwest of Hong Kong. As China’s third-largest city and the capital of Guangdong province, this southern city is a booming metropolis where a colorful patchwork of cutting-edge architecture and colonial-era buildings line the narrow, verdant streets. However, Guangzhou’s impressive population belies the city’s way of life, with much of the megacity still humming along at a pleasantly relaxed pace. Culturally diverse and gastronomically rich, there is no shortage of atmospheric streets to wander or plates of dim sum to devour.

Arrive: Guangzhou

Upon arriving in Guangzhou, your local WildChina guide will meet you in the arrivals hall with your private vehicle on standby ready to take you to your hotel for check in.

Bingsheng Mansion (Michelin Star Restaurant)

End the day in style, with the best Cantonese food Guangzhou has to offer. And, if you don’t take our word for it, take Michelin’s – they’ve awarded Bingsheng Manshion a Michelin Star. “Bingsheng Mansion’s main dining room and its 32 private rooms exude an understated glamour. Championing innovative and refined Cantonese fare, it serves hand-crafted dim sum at lunch, such as sachima with olive nuts, which is rarely seen these days. Special char siu uses pork belly that is marinated overnight and grilled till crisp. Other must-try items include stir-fried flat rice noodles with sliced beef, signature pineapple buns and roasted juicy goose.”

Day 2Guangzhou: Life in the Metropolis

Your guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel at 9:00 am to start the day.

Donghaochong Canal and Greenway

Carving a viridescent path through the heart of the old city, the Donghaochong Greenway is part of a celebrated urban renewal plan that has transformed this part of Guangzhou with kilometers of tree-lined bike paths and footpaths beloved of residents. It defies belief that until 2009, the crown jewel of the project – an elegantly landscaped, crystalline waterway now popular with swimming locals – was a fetid, sewage filled canal running beneath an inner-city expressway. So take to the verdant paths and witness, first hand, one of the great urban success stories of contemporary China.

Ou Ancestral Hall

The architecture of the ancestral hall nestled between humdrum residential blocks on Fangcao Street is less extravagant than its more ornate and better known, Chen-clan counterpart across town, but these quiet, watchful eaves have lived a fascinating array of lives. Constructed in the 1880s, the building underwent various transformations during the tumultuous 20th century. It served as a school, a printing factory, and a restaurant before the family, with the financial backing of their relatives from the USA, diligently restored it, returning the the ancestral hall to its former glory as a shining example of Guangzhou’s Lingnan architecture. Today, the hall has resumed something of its original purpose – serving as a community hub, where local residents get together, drink tea and play music.

Private Kung Fu Demonstration

Many famous kung fu masters have roots in Guangdong: the “Ten Tigers of Canton”, said to be the best fighters in all of Canton during the Qing dynasty; Wong Fei Hung and Ip Man, renowned martial artists from nearby Foshan city, a place now dubbed “the capital of Chinese kung fu”. In fact, the world-famous 1970s film star and martial arts sensation, Bruce Lee, has an ancestral home right here in Guangzhou, just a few blocks away. Today, however, the kung fu story is yours. Step in to a hidden inner-city studio and explore the foundations and movements of kung fu as an acclaimed master shares the secrets of this renowned martial art.

Local Market Stroll

Guangzhou does many things better than other major Chinese cities (including, some would argue, food), but if there’s one area in which this metropolis truly excels it is markets. In one way or another vendors add color and charisma to nearly every Canton street, from labyrinthine underground electronics malls to meandering alleyways of antiques and jade, all with sounds and smells, sights and sensations as intoxicating as each other. Soak up the city’s character at this cluster of street-side stalls with a snack of something local or a sip of traditional Guangzhou tea.

People’s Park

There are many People’s Parks throughout China, but few are as intriguing or inviting as the one languishing in the heart of old Guangzhou. Stretching banyans and manicured verges of green create an oasis of shade in a city that can be ferociously hot in summer, while paved walkways are punctuated with statues to modernist writers, feminist warriors and even a Mao-era dissident. So step betwixt the gaudy yellow pillars that flank the entrance and relish the respite from the beautiful chaos of the city beyond with some refreshments. Experience a genuine sense of belonging as you engage in a myriad of captivating local activities, including playing ‘jianzi’ (feather hackysack), dancing, singing, and some thrilling card and board games.

Shamian Island

An important port for Guangzhou’s foreign trade until the mid 19th century, Shamian Island was embanked in 1859 and divided between the French and British as a concession. Trading companies and merchants built stone mansions that are, today, considered some of the most well-preserved Western European-style building complexes in China. Learn the history behind the Gothic, Baroque, and Necolassical styles we’ll come across when we stroll down the streets lined with bars and cafes with views over the Pearl River.

Old Qingping Market

Delve into Guangdong’s unique food culture as we explore the food stalls at Old Qingping Market. Old Qingping is the city’s largest open-air market and is visited by tens of thousands of locals each day. Here, you will truly get to feel the pulse of local life and Cantonese market culture. Be sure to keep an eye out for interesting finds while exploring Old Qingping, because the market is also known for its assortment of traditional Chinese medicines.

Enning Road

Enning Road and its surrounding area is considered by many to be the most beautiful representation of old Guangzhou. The arcade-style buildings that slot together to line the roads are steeped deep into the city’s history, both inside and out. Amidst the regal buildings, stop to explore three not-to-be-missed places. First, a school where acrobatics meet piety – a lion dance academy. Second, a locale where culture and music combine – a Cantonese Opera museum. And third, an unassuming shuttered-building, the ancestral home of one of the world’s most famous Chinese martial artists and actors – Bruce Lee.

Your guide will return you to your hotel at the end of the day (around 7:00 pm).

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 3Guangzhou: The Maritime Silk Road

 

Your guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel at 9:00 am to start the day.

Huangpu Ancient Port and Village

The Huangpu Ancient Port and Village is a tribute to times past, the whole area now a museum of the history of these parts. During the Canton System, a period of “one port trade” in China from 1757–1842, when all maritime trade in and out of the country was limited to Canton, many foreign ships docked here to load and unload their wares. Stroll the lanes of this open-air museum, hearing tales of the maritime Silk Road and imagining the faces of weary seafarers from afar, finally setting boots on this welcome soil after months adrift at sea.

Guangzhou on a Bike

China has the most bicycles of any country on this planet with some reports touting over 500 billion bicycles across the nation, outnumbering cars 10 to 1. So, when in China, why not join the locals and see a bit of the country from behind the handlebars! Your WildChina bicycle and hemet will be waiting, ready for you to mount and start pedaling to connect the pursing activities for today!

*For those concerned about the safety of cycling in a busy metropolis, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Safety is our number one concern. Our routes have been very carefully mapped out, following alleyways, greenways, parks and small streets. The far majority of our routes stay away from traffic and all steer clear of large roads. Guides keep the little traffic we meet at bay and carry emergency medical and bike repair kits at all times.

Ferry to Changzhou Island

Board the ferry to Changzhou Island, but don’t get too comfortable, as the whole ride only takes a total of 10 minutes.

Changzhou Island

Changzhou Island, happily marooned by the Pearl River delta, is known by another name in English – Dane Island. The name is an eponymous one, dubbed during the Canton System era for the Danish sailors who spent time here. Some of these sailors never left, and today, the remains of a 400 year-old cemetery still stand, though the rains of time have dissolved many of the grave markings to a state of illegibility.

Weave through the present and past of Changzhou Island, exploring the canaled neighborhood known as the “Venice of Guangzhou”, discovering the remains of a hidden fortress, learning about military history at the Huangpu Military Academy and embarking on a short hike to the island’s highest point for panoramic views over it all.

Your guide will return you to your hotel at the end of the day (around 5:00 pm).

Meals included: breakfast and lunch

Day 4Guangzhou: Industrial Powerhouse

Your guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel at 9:00 am to start the day.

Shiling District

Guangzhou’s city center is aptly named, “Pearl River New Town”, and “new” is precisely what it is. From the shimmering waters reflecting the Zaha Hadid-designed Opera House to the top of the 530-meter CTF Finance Center (the 8th tallest building in the world), there is almost nothing that doesn’t shine with the sparkle of novelty. A mere hour drive north, however, and the landscape quickly changes. Sparkling skyscrapers fade into towering apartment complexes which eventually give way to industrial takeover. It is here that the humming life of Shiling District takes form, the epitome of Chinese industry, and for many, a side of China so far off the tourist track, that it exists only in the eyes of those who live, breathe and work here. So, step forth off the beaten path and explore another side of China, one that fuels much of the world’s wants and needs.

Meet and Greet at BSK Bag Factory

That bag you have from Fila, Zara, Kohls… there’s a good chance that it was designed right here in this very factory. In fact, the BSK Bag Factory has produced over 10 million of the world’s bags (and counting). With the whirring hum of sewing machines as a backdrop, meet your hosts for today, local factory owners Jeroen and Sophie. Sophie is a local, born and raised here, Jeroen a Dutch entrepreneur, and both of them key players in Shiling’s rapid development.

Cantonese Lunch

Sit down and treat yourself to a delectable selection of local Cantonese delicacies, replenishing your energy for the exciting activities that await throughout the day.

Shiling Factory Visits and Neighborhood Exploration

Take a stroll through the manufacturing neighborhood, where factories, wholesale markets, living quarters, and shops intermingle to create a bustling ecosystem that supplies the world with various products. Visit both Jeroen and Sophie’s factories to learn their individual stories, industries and, of course, to see behind the curtain what day-to-day life inside a factory is really like, and the people who live it, from the management to the assembly-line laborer. Explore several different types of factories on this tour, one large factory, one small factory, a handful of tiny workshops, and one enormous wholesale market.

Your guide will return you to your hotel at the end of the day (around 5:00 pm).

Meals included: breakfast and lunch

Day 5Depart Guangzhou

Your Flight Back Home

Your WildChina guide will escort you to the airport and help you check in for your flight home.

Meals included: breakfast

Your Accommodation

LN Hotel Five, Guangzhou

Contemporary Luxury

Presiding over the River Pearl, LN Hotel Five is Guangzhou’s answer to contemporary luxury. A sleek exterior gives way to beautifully crafted, boutique spaces. Relax in the private library or reinvigorate in the rooftop fitness studio. Then watch the sun set over the city from the elegant lounge bar.

Rooms are a harmony of soft colors and clean marble lines. Traditional touches are brought up to date with dramatic black accents. While the city’s lights reflect in mirrored surfaces and the pulsing river below. Designed to balance the senses and soothe the soul, LN Hotel Five is the pitch-perfect retreat. When you’re ready to explore, one of China’s most vibrant cities awaits.

With LN Hotel Five perfectly placed in the heart of the arts district, a journey of cultural discovery is on your doorstep. From high-end boutiques to bustling markets, this sprawling metropolis beats with life.

Days spent unearthing a rich colonial history give way to hedonistic nights in the city’s myriad of restaurants, bars and clubs. LN Hotel Five is the only member of SLH (Small Luxury Hotels of the World) in Guangzhou.

Photos
Details

What’s Included

  • All overland transfers with private chauffeur and in-transport refreshments
  • All admission fees and activity expenses, as noted in the itinerary
  • Meals as noted in the itinerary with complimentary drinking water
  • Ground transportation, including airport transfers
  • Services of an English-speaking WildChina guide
  • Private chauffeur service to and from airport at start and end of your trip

What’s Excluded

  • International and domestic flights, domestic trains, plus relevant taxes
  • Chinese tourist visa, which is required for most foreign passport holders
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • Meals, apart from those included in the itinerary, and alcohol
  • Expenses of a personal nature
  • Excursions and activities not included in the itinerary
  • Discretionary gratuities for guides and drivers
Why WildChina

We’re on the ground with you

Our team of advisors will design every detail of the trip with you through close consultation, then orchestrate your entire journey while on the ground. We’re in the same time zone as you, so we can fulfill requests and handle issues without a hitch. With over 40 staff in China and an expansive network of operational partners across the country, we have the manpower to ensure your journey is safe, reliable and comfortable from beginning to end.

Your trip, your way

Flexibility is our highest-ranking compliment. We pull off journeys for pioneers with a 6-hour layover to Hollywood’s elite, and everywhere in between. Our team regularly pulls off unprecedented logistical feats; nearly any time frame or budget is within our realm. No matter how you wish to experience China, we are here to bring that dream to life.

We embody passion

WildChina guides are carefully handpicked for their knowledge and charisma, then meticulously trained to maintain our exceptional service standards. They are expert storytellers and passionate natives of the regions where they guide, having the perfect combination of local insights and service know-how to bring you seamless once-in-a- lifetime moments all across China.

The little things, the big picture

Supporting inspired local economies allows you to experience the soul of the destination, while also protecting and cultivating China’s artisanal culture. From watching artisans creating their handcrafts, to picking organic vegetables for dinner on a local farm, our tours are designed to showcase and protect China’s heritage, both natural and human.