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Guangzhou is often still referred to by its colonial name of Canton, from where the name of the Cantonese language and people comes from. The city sits on the lower reaches of the Pearl River, not far upstream from the mouth at the South China Sea, which is flanked on either side by Hong Kong and Macau. Guangzhou is the provincial capital of Guangdong province, with 100 million people the area is one of the most productive in the whole country. The city itself is the third largest in China, with a population of around 12 million.

I didn't have much time in Guangzhou unfortunately, I was really only using it as a stopping point between Macau and Singapore during my trip round there at Spring Festival 2009 (Chinese New Year). I arrived when it was already dark, and had to leave about 7am so didn't get the chance to see very much. I stayed at the very communist sounding Guangdong Victory Hotel on Shamian Island, which actually turned out to be a remarkably good deal.

Pearl River in Guangzhou

View of central Guangzhou or at least part of it, from a bridge over the Pearl River. This is where the bus from Macau dropped me off, I didn't actually really know where I was at the time, and simply looked for the nearest subway station.

View down the Pearl River towards more of the neon-clad structures of the city. Guangzhou didn't feel nearly as new and modern as many other places I've been in China, the city started to develop much earlier than other Chinese places.

River front


The CITIC Plaza at Tianhe square, in one of the many centres of what seemed to be a vast and decentralised city. This was the tallest building in town at the time I visited, although there were two others well on their way to overtaking. And what's that it reminds you of? That's right, the Chinese character "shan" (山) for mountain. What? That wasn't what you were thinking...?

Close up of the CITIC Plaza and its festive neon decorations for Chinese New Year - the Year of the Ox.


Shamian Island

I stayed on Shamian Island, the centre of old colonial Canton, which was once gated off forbidding access to the local Chinese. Here you can find the best examples of old Cantonese architecture in quiet civilised streets.

Just before leaving the following morning I had time for a quick wander around Shamian Island and came across many little statues, including this one in the central axis of Shamian Street.

Shamian Island statues


Much of Guangzhou appeared like this on the way to and from the airport; bright enough colours but largely past its best and overpopulated with concrete elevated freeways and power lines.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2010