Travel China on a BUDGET! (Guangzhou Edition)

Guangzhou is more than just food. Travel around this vital port city for under $400!

13 min read
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Travel Writing Contest

The following itinerary is written by a finalist of our writing contest, Jing Ting.

Introduction

When I told my friends that I’m going to Guangzhou for a short getaway, the most frequent comment I get is “Why do you want to go to Guangzhou? It’s so boring, what is there to do there?”

A vibrant port city vital to the Chinese economy, Guangzhou is often overlooked as a travel destination by many travellers. Whether you are a history buff, a nature lover or an ultimate foodie, Guangzhou has something for everyone.

3 Day Itinerary

As I was doing up my itinerary, I realised there is so much to do in Guangzhou that 3 days seem a tad short! Nonetheless, I focused on some main attractions and managed to travel around Guangzhou under $400 (not including air tickets).

The Essentials

Duration

Depending on the time you have and your travel style, I think 3 – 5 days would be the ideal amount of time required to experience the best of what Guangzhou has to offer. This includes the Baiyun Mountains and its surrounding attractions, the Guangzhou Museum and the Pearl River.

Getting Around Guangzhou

It is easy to get around the city by public transport, which we did throughout the entire trip. Most people take the Guangzhou Metro, a well-connected and efficient system with 14 lines. The metro runs through most tourist attractions, and each ride costs 3-5 yuan depending on the distance.

If you plan to travel a lot via public transport, you may want to consider getting a prepaid metro card “Yang Cheng Tong”, which works similarly to the EZ-Link card in Singapore.

It saves you the trouble of getting a one-time pass every time you take the train, and you get 5% off metro rides as well (none on buses). The pass can be purchased at all 7-eleven stores as well as metro ticket centres located within stations.

Each card costs 70 yuan (about $14) and comes with 50 yuan stored value. While the 20yuan deposit is refundable, you can only do so at selected metro stations with Yang Cheng Tong service centres.

Given that a lot of the attractions were within walking distance from one another, we figured we would do most of our travelling on foot, and got one-time passes when we need to take the train.

If you intend to travel by taxi, always ensure that the meter is turned on. You can also download DiDi ChuXing, which is a ride-sharing app that works similarly to Grab/Uber.

Read Also: 6 Days Guide to Osaka, Japan (Budget Edition)

Payment

Most stores around China accept WeChat Pay and Alipay, but you need a Chinese bank account in order to open a WeChat/Alipay wallet. If you intend to pay by card, not many merchants accept Visa/Mastercard/Amex.

Most of the merchants accept only UnionPay, so take note of that. Otherwise, cash is still widely accepted, so you can always pay by cash.

Day 1

Shamian Island

Be momentarily transported to Europe as you start your journey in Shamian Island surrounded by European Gothic-style buildings. Shamian Island played an important role as a trading port between China and the world during the Ming Dynasty. After the opium war, the island became a concession to Britain and France until 1946.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

European Gothic-style buildings along Shamian Island

As a result, walking around the island you will notice many buildings still bearing the name of foreign embassies, banks and country clubs. Of course, a lot of these buildings have ceased to be functional; Shamian is now a heritage site preserved for tourism.

Nonetheless, spending an afternoon walking around the island can have a surprisingly calming effect.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

There’s also a Starbucks café nestled in a western-style building within the island. I’ve read that the ambience is great for chilling out over coffee, so if you have time or want a different Starbucks experience, this could be something to consider as well.

Getting there:

Go to Huangsha station via Metro Line 1/6. It takes about 5 to 10 minutes to walk to the island from the station.

Entrance Fee:

Free.

Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

Shangxiajiu is the perfect place to go if you’re looking to eat some good food or buy random knick-knacks as souvenirs. As the name suggests, Shangxiajiu is a pedestrian street made up of 2 smaller streets, Shangjiu and Xiajiu.

Stores of all sorts line both sides of the streets, including clothing stores and many famous eateries.

As we weren’t feeling very hungry (after snacking non-stop on the go), we decided to get some Cheong fun (which are Cantonese rice noodle rolls that sometimes come with fillings) from the famous Yin Ji Cheong Fun (银记肠粉) chain.

Fun fact: they’ve just opened a store in Singapore, although I have not tried it yet.

They are famous for their Cheong fun, which can be topped with different fillings as you desire, from char siew to prawns to vegetables.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

I ordered the char siew Cheong fun, which tasted amazing. The “skin” was smooth and silky, and the sauce tastes just nice (not too salty). They sell all sorts of congee as well, in case you’re looking for something more substantial to go with your cheong fun.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

After dinner, we continued walking and window shopping along Shangxiajiu.

Before returning back to our accommodation, we decided to head for dessert at Nanxin Milk Desserts Expert (南信牛奶专家). Most people go there for their milk pudding, or 双皮奶, but they serve other traditional Cantonese desserts such as sesame paste as well. 

Cr: Nancy Low

Most desserts come with both hot and cold options.

We had the milk pudding and sesame paste, and we must say we certainly weren’t disappointed with the taste! The price range was about 15 to 20 yuan, and the portion was quite substantial. Unfortunately, we were so excited when the food came that we forgot to take pictures of them.

Getting there:

Go to Gongyuanqian station via Metro Line 1/2.

Entrance Fee:

Free.

Read Also: Ultimate Travel Guide to Hong Kong (2019)

Day 2

Baiyun Mountain

Before you think that Guangzhou is all city-like with no natural scenery to speak of, visit Baiyun Mountain, one of the higher mountains in Guangzhou. If you intend to visit, try to set off earlier as it takes a while to travel to the mountain, which is located outside the main city area.

Furthermore, it gets sunnier and hotter and the place tends to get crowded later in the morning. We set off at around 830 and the journey took one hour, but I would suggest that you set off slightly earlier, as it was already quite crowded by the time we reached.

Baiyun Bridge

You may also want to bring some food along in case you get hungry.

There are a few ways to get up the mountain: on foot, by shuttle bus (which was more like an open-air huge buggy), and by cable car.

Ticket Office

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

We decided to take the cable car one way, which costs 25 yuan and takes us halfway up the mountain.

The cable car ride up!

That way, we save some time and still get to enjoy the scenery as we hike the remaining part. There are a few attractions on the mountain, which you may want to explore if you have time.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

This was what greeted us as we exited the cable car station.

While looking for the path to Moxing Peak, the highest point on the mountain, we stumbled upon the Nine-Dragon Spring. Legend has it that the nine dragon structures around the spring evolved from nine young boys, who filled the springs with water once they evolved into dragons. The spring, however, looks dried up when I was there, probably because it was winter.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

Nine Dragon Spring

Other than getting lost, it was a relatively easy and comfortable hike. Trails were well-paved and the slope was pretty gentle most of the time. Moreover, there were shuttle bus stations along the way in case you got tired and want to complete the journey by bus. That said, there weren’t too many signages along the way, and it can thus be easy to get lost as trails often fork into multiple paths.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

Reaching Moxing Peak!

It would be handy to have an offline map of Baiyun with you. We learnt this the hard way, as we got lost along the way and had no map with us. The signal was also rather weak and thus we couldn’t connect to the online map, and it took us a while to find our way!

Moxing peak is where you can have a panoramic view of Guangzhou city. It was a refreshing change from staying in the city all day.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

Read Also: 10 Days Itinerary for Turkey

Food

There is a Mcdonald’s along the way to Moxing peak, which is great for a quick lunch. There were also stalls selling water and snacks at some rest stops. I don’t recall passing by other restaurants on my way up, however, so if you are not a fast food person you may want to bring some food in.

Getting there:

Getting to Baiyun Mountain is slightly trickier as there are many entrances that you can enter from. The cable car is located at the South Gate, which is also the main gate to the mountains.

Cr: SGbuses.com

There are a few buses that get there, including buses 841 and Tourist Line 1 (旅1). Look for buses that pass by the Yuntai Garden stop.

Entrance Fee:

5 yuan (entrance) + 5 yuan (Moxing peak). The cable car costs 25 yuan for ascending and 20 yuan for descending. There are also other attractions along the way, some of which requires an entrance fee.

Chen Clan Ancestral Hall

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

You may be familiar with Chinese clan associations in Singapore. These clan associations were set up by then Chinese immigrants, and their purpose was to provide a place and community for people who came from their hometown or province.

Similarly, the Chen Clan Academy was set up to provide a temporary resting place for members of the Chen family (of the same surname). The Hall is also known as the Chen Clan Academy, and this is the sign that you will see at the entrance of the hall itself.

According to my guide, this is because in the past, having a clan house is forbidden, and the academy is therefore also set up.

The Hall is now converted to a folk museum and showcases various folk art, including paintings and intricate sculptures.

Getting there:

Metro line 1 goes directly to Chen Clan Academy.

Entrance Fee:

10 yuan. You can also get a guide for 50 yuan (Mandarin-speaking) or 100 yuan (English-speaking).

Beijing Road

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

Wind down at Beijing Road, a shopping haven with many Western outlets such as Nike, H&M and even an IMAX cinema. The buildings light up at night and the atmosphere is great for photo taking.

I went on a Saturday and it was quite crowded, but nonetheless, it was very enjoyable window-shopping and just strolling down the street.

There were many restaurants along the pedestrian street where you can have dinner, including the famous hotpot chain Hai Di Lao. My friend and I went to try the Hai Di Lao in Guangzhou, but the queue was pretty long.

I must say that the service provided is impeccable, and the wait thus didn’t feel long at all. Free snacks and drinks were served in the waiting area, and there were sofas for you to relax in. The food was good too, and a fraction of the price in Singapore!

Getting there:

Go to Gongyuanqian station via Metro Line 1/2.

Entrance Fee:

Free.

Day 3

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

As this was our last day in Guangzhou, we decided to museum-hop to find out more about this city and its past. Our first stop was Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

Sun Yat-Sen was one of the forerunners of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution which overthrew the Qing Dynasty and established a republic. Thus, he is respected by many Chinese, and this hall is a memorial to remember the contributions of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

There is a small garden in front of the exhibition hall that is open to all visitors for free. In the garden is a statue of Sun Yat-Sen.

You need a ticket to get to the exhibition hall, which showcases some of Sun Yat-Sen’s contributions to Guangzhou during the revolution.

There was also an auditorium that is now being used to host performances and important functions

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

Although the auditorium is built at a time when China was still relatively closed-off to the world, its architecture displays a fusion of Chinese and Western elements, because the architect was schooled in the West!

Getting there:

Metro line 2 goes directly to Memorial Hall.

Entrance Fee:

10 yuan (25 yuan for the combined tickets with entrance to Guangzhou Museum and Mausoleum of the Nanyue King)

Guangzhou Museum

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

Because we bought the combo ticket, we gained entrance not just to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, but to Guangzhou Museum and Mausoleum of the Nanyue King as well. This is thus our second stop.

Guangzhou Museum is housed in the Zhenhai Tower, which is nested within Yuexiu Park. The Zhenhai Tower itself was a cultural relic built since the Qing Dynasty.

It is a great place to go if you are interested in finding out more about the culture and history of Guangzhou. As a history buff, this was the place that I most looked forward to during the trip, and it certainly didn’t disappoint!

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

The museum is made up of 5 exhibition halls, one at each level, each corresponding to a certain era. There are free guided tours available daily in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

I recommend the tour as the guide is very knowledgeable about the history of Guangzhou and was engaging, sharing many interesting stories along the way!

Getting there: Metro line 2 goes to Yuexiu Park. The museum is a short walk from the park.

Entrance Fee: 25 yuan for the combined tickets with entrance to Guangzhou Museum and Mausoleum of the Nanyue King

Read Also: Ultimate Travel Guide to Seoul, Korea

Mausoleum of the Nanyue King

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

Our last stop was the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. To be honest, this wasn’t initially part of our itinerary, but since we got the combo ticket, we decided to visit the museum for a short while before going to our next destination.

I’m glad we did, for this has a pretty different concept from the other two museums that we went to. This museum houses numerous artefacts excavated from the tomb of Nanyue King, as well as a replica of the layout of the tomb.

Getting there:

Metro line 2 goes to Yuexiu Park. The museum is a short walk from the park. You can also walk there directly from Guangzhou Museum if you are going there first.

Entrance Fee:

25 yuan for the combined tickets with entrance to Guangzhou Museum and Mausoleum of the Nanyue King

Pearl River

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

We ended our journey with an evening stroll along the Pearl River, which is located in the CBD area. Even though it was a weekend, the place came bursting to life in the evening, and the buildings lighted up with colourful lights.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

The Canton tower, in particular, glowed beautifully. Some people were having a picnic along the river as well. There are a few shopping malls located near the river, so we had dinner in the mall before taking a relaxing stroll.

If you’re feeling it, you can even take a boat tour around the river! As we had to head to the airport soon, we skipped the boat tour and toured with our legs instead.

Food

And of course, Guangzhou is well-known for its food and dim sum! Other than the three food places I mentioned earlier, here are a few eateries that I went to, or heard that are good:

Lian Xiang Lou

This is a dim sum teahouse/restaurant that also sells pastries! There are many outlets within Guangzhou. I went to the outlet located along Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

The outlet has two levels: level one was a restaurant where you can sit down and order proper meal courses, while level two was a teahouse that allows you to share tables and order ala-carte dishes.

Wu Zhan Ji Porridge Restaurant

This is a porridge restaurant that we discovered while walking back to our accommodation. Their porridge tasted really wholesome and yummy, great for breakfast! We ordered a few other dishes such as fried kuay teow and cheong fun to go with the porridge.

Cr: Jing Ting (SingaporeGO!)

Personally, I liked both the porridge and the kuay teow, but felt that the cheong fun doesn’t match up to the one at Yin Ji.

Tao Tao Ju

This was another dim sum restaurant that had really good reviews, but we didn’t have enough time to try it 🙁 There’s an outlet at Shangxiajiu too, I hope to try it the next time I’m there!

Read Also: 3 Days Amsterdam Itinerary under SGD 800

Final Thoughts

There were also other attractions that we didn’t get to visit, such as the mega theme park Chimelong Paradise, as well as the Chimelong Safari Park.

They were a bit out of the way from where I stayed, and given the limited time, I decided to give it a miss this time around.

If you’re an adventure buff, you will definitely enjoy your time at the theme park and safari park!

After spending three days in Guangzhou, I am convinced that Guangzhou had much more to offer than just food and more food. I’ll certainly be going back some time soon to explore some places that I missed out this time.

I hope that this has convinced you to give Guangzhou a chance too! You will not be disappointed by what it has to offer 🙂

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