Touring in Guangzhou: Don’t do it

While on the long train ride to Guangzhou, we discovered that apparently going there was a mistake. Almost every Chinese person we told we were going there looked confused and asked why. The next thing they said was to watch out for scammers, pickpockets and muggers. Great.

Well, it turned out that Guangzhou wasn’t really as bad as people made it sound, it just wasn’t much of a tourist city compared to Xi’an. It took us about an hour to get to the hostel because our driver got lost. Then the hostel staff had lost our reservation. So basically by the time our accommodation was all settled, we were already hating Guangzhou.

The dinner of pigeon did wonders to cheer us up, although I didn’t partake of it. Southern Chinese food is really amazing and tasty, and we’ve loved pretty much every meal we’ve had here.

The next day we decided to book our tickets out of Guangzhou. Despite having told us the day before that they could help us get tickets, the front desk staff acted like this was a completely crazy request and gave us vague directions to a ticket office somewhere else. It took us a while, but eventually we found it and got our tickets to get out of town.

Then we went touristing.

First we went to a park our Lonely Planet recommended. It wasn’t anything amazing, I mean, it was a park. But we did manage to entertain ourselves by renting a really janky paddle boat and boating around the lake. For the most part it was peaceful and nice, though some people in a motorboat ploughed into us at one point.

The highlight of the day was really amazing museum that I encourage those who end up in Guangzhou to go see.The museum is built around an excavated tomb of an emperor from around 200 BC, and you can actually walk around inside his tomb. I can’t imagine many museums in America letting you walk around inside an artifact like that, so I found it really neat. Each room of the tomb had a little sign telling you what was stored there. In one of the rooms, they found several sacrificial victims.

The museum also has a huge collection of artifacts found inside the tomb, four large rooms of artifacts, in fact. It was a little hard to believe that all the artifacts actually came from inside the tomb, since it’s pretty small, but apparently they did. One of the coolest things was the jade burial suit the dead emperor was wearing. There was also a lot of beautiful jewelery and some very large and impressive musical instruments. You could also see the remains of one of the concubines and the emperor himself. Be warned, it looked like some dirt with bits of rock in it, arranged into a vaguely human shape. Actually, I think they have part of his jaw preserved, which Jeff immediately noted has “the best teeth I’ve seen so far in China.” Like father, like son.

There were also many other rooms of artifacts from elsewhere, but since we came right near closing time, we didn’t see much aside from the dead emperor’s stuff. The museum itself is actually pretty interesting, since you wouldn’t really notice it from the street. It’s built right into a block of apartments but once you’re inside, it’s pretty huge.

After breezing through the museum, we met a friend of a friend for dinner at a vegetarian restaurant. He didn’t really seem to understand the concept of everything having mock meat, but dinner was pretty good nonetheless. The restaurant was right next to a Buddhist temple, and inside it was decorated like a forest.

Notice the mock tree in the background.

The next day we decided to go look around the old colonial section of town. Back during the Qing dynasty, the French and English were allowed to set up a small outpost on an island in the river that runs through Guangzhou. Today, the island has many preserved mansions and parks from that era, and sounded like a nice way to start the day.

Once we found the island, we were a little confused by the signage.

Apparently what our guide book didn’t tell us was that the island is in a parallel universe where you can be five places at once.

Since the island was really small, we just wandered around it without a concrete plan. A long park runs down the middle of the island, so we decided to take a stroll through it. It was quite lovely, if a little obviously English in style. We even saw a couple taking wedding photos there.

We were only charmed for about one minute, because then we saw this:

Then ten minutes later we saw this:

I guess that’s where all the wedding dress catalogs do their shoots. Maybe because it’s the only area in Guangzhou that’s free to get into and doesn’t look like poop.

Afterward, we wandered back to the subway through a Chinese medicine market. I was actually rather upset by it since we saw several very real looking tiger paws and thousands and thousands of needlessly killed animals, many of which are protected species. Jeff found it really interesting and exciting however, since it’s a little taste of “real” China, depending on how you define that.

Later we discovered what Guangzhou does best — being creepy, and shopping. On our way to the pedestrian shopping street, a really creepy and likely crazy man starting stalking us. He was walking about twenty feet in front of us and every few seconds would turn around and wave or beckon at us and say “hello!” or “come on….” Very creeped out, we ducked into a store once when he wasnt looking and managed to shake him. At any rate, shopping in Guangzhou is really good. Everything there is really cheap because there are a lot of clothing factories close by. For example, a pair of shoes that cost 50 kuai in Beijing cost 15 kuai in Guangzhou. After shopping we had to run back to our hostel, grab our things and get the heck out of dodge.

I guess our guidebook’s “sites” section could be revised in this way:

Guangzhou doesn’t have much for tourists to do. You’re best off to just stay one or two days, and spend the day doing two things. Get up in the morning. Eat some Cantonese baked goods. Go shopping. Eat Cantonese seafood. Go shopping. Go to Cantonese dinner. Go shopping. Repeat.