THE Chinese New Year celebration has left some hangover feels on me that I began browsing through my photo archives of my travels around China.

The five cities in mainland China that I have gone to, not counting the autonomous territories of Hong Kong and Macau, were all interesting places that left me with great memories and experiences. The first Chinese city I was able to set foot in was Guangzhou, which was a big surprise to me.

Guangzhou is the capital of the Guangdong province and one of the major cities in China next to Beijing and Shanghai. To some, it is often referred to as Canton, home of the globally sought after Cantonese cuisine. Set in the Pearl River, Guangzhou is regarded as the jump off point of the “Maritime Silk Road” because it has always been a key port that opens to foreign traders.

A brush with history

The first stop I visited in Guangzhou was the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. It is shaped as an octagon and can seat more than 3,000 people. Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Republic of China, was instrumental in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and pushing for democracy. He has led an uprising in Guangzhou.

But apart from this part in Chinese history, Guangzhou has been regarded as a vital location even during the early days since the time of the Qin Empire. Before it was known as Canton, the location was once called as Panyu. There are several historical and religious buildings that travelers can explore. Notwithstanding the temples located within and around the city, Guangzhou also has the Gothic Catholic church of the Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Navigating its streets

During the time when I made a trip to Guangzhou, most of the street signs were predominantly in Chinese characters and their English counterparts were not as widespread as in Hong Kong or Macau. Still, getting around the city is manageable with its mass transit network. Buses and taxis are also available that can take you from one point to another. Exploring the city on foot is still the best way to get to know Guangzhou, although it is so huge that one cannot do so in just a day or two. If you want to go beyond Guangzhou, there are trains that can take you to nearby Shenzhen and onward to Hong Kong.

Communing with nature

Guangzhou has many parks within its metropolis. There are pockets of greens and open spaces within the urban setting. Early in the morning, as the mist settles down, the view of the Pearl River is so serene while locals do their tai chi moves by the river banks. The People’s Park, on the other hand, has many art installations, making it a favorite recreation place for locals – young and old – where they spend their day playing their favorite games. If you want to make friends with animals and the very cute panda, just head to the Guangzhou Zoo, also within the city.

But if you prefer to have a majestic view of modern Guangzhou, go to Baiyun Mountain where you are suddenly surrounded by forests as if you are far away from the city. Just at the foot of the mountain are the Yuntai Garden, which is filled with flowers and other interesting sights, and the Nengren Temple, which houses many historic and cultural treasures. Baiyun is accessible by bus and by cable car.

However, what made my Guangzhou trip extra memorable was the great local food I have tasted there. My travel buddy and I ate our meals in local stores, or their version of our “carinderia,” and we immensely enjoyed the sumptuous and affordable food. Three viands and a cup of rice in one meal were only at about P35.

So, if you think Guangzhou is not in your must-visit list, maybe it’s time you consider this as your next destination.


Claire Marie Algarme blogs at Follow her as @firsttimetravel on Twitter and Instagram.

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