It’s that time of year and the Canton Fair is here! And sure, the company’s sending you there to source another shoe supplier, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your Guangzhou trip. When you’re not doing business in Guangzhou, there’s plenty to enjoy along the city’s tree-lined boulevards, from historical sites to delicious Cantonese dining.
Whatever the reason for your trip, don’t forget to plan ahead. Book a cheap Guangzhou flight, pick out the right hotel in Guangzhou and check out what to do when you’re not working the aisles of the China’s biggest trade fair….
Guangzhou (a.k.a. Canton) has long been a center of China’s trade with the rest of the world. Until the mid-19th century, the Qing Dynasty kept trade with Europe limited not only to the city, but to a single merchant guild referred to by Westerners as “the Cohong.” Even after the Treaty of Nanjing, which ended the Opium Wars and forced China to open additional ports to European trade, old Canton continued to be a key trading hub as one of the five Treaty Ports established by the treaty.
Today, the massive China Import and Export Fair, more commonly known as Canton Fair, occurs twice yearly, in spring and autumn at the Canton Fair Complex. This year marks the 110th Canton Fair, 54 years after the first Canton Fair took place in the spring of 1957 and since then $900 billion has been made in business transactions, according to China Daily. What began as the China Export Commodities Fair, meant to increase sales of Chinese products with the rest of the world, has become the most important trade fair in China. It was the later introduction of an import exhibition that gave the Chinese trade fair its current name.
Cantonese food is one of the eight main divisions of Chinese food, and one many Westerners are familiar with—the large number of immigrants from Guangdong Province has made Cantonese cuisine one of China’s greatest exports. Though the food shares some similarities with its Americanized counterpart found in restaurants like Panda Express, do not be fooled: it is a whole different beast. A word of warning to travelers with food allergies in China: The cuisine found in Guangdong, as in Hong Kong and many other southern parts of China, commonly contains peanut oil, so watch out. Eating dishes that aren’t fried may be an alternative, but be sure to communicate with your server (try using a card describing your allergy in Chinese or use a helpful smartphone app, like China Menu). Unlike the heavy flavors of northern Chinese food Cantonese cuisine tend to be more subtle. And unlike the spicy fare in Sichuan, the Cantonese prefer to let the main ingredients do the talking, rather than the spices. Dishes are often boiled or stir-fried, and a number of largely sweet sauces accompany many of them. One of the most well-known Cantonese treats is dim sum—a variety of small portioned food, often served via food cart. Good as a snack or for breakfast, lunch or whenever, dim sum stalls can be found in fine restaurants and little corner spots around the city.
What to do in Guangzhou
Once you’ve taken care of business and are ready to relax and enjoy Guangzhou, a city full of culture and history awaits you. Luckily, the city is Guangzhou tourist spots. To go back to the old days of trade in Guangzhou, head to Shamian Island, where the French and British placed their Treaty Port settlements not far from the old “Thirteen Factories” where they were once forced to trade. The island has gone through a number of renovations, and, with limited traffic, makes for a lovely stroll among the restored colonial buildings including the two main churches, the British Our Lady of Lourdes and the French Christ Church Shamian. North of Shamian Island in Liwan district, the Xiguan Residences tell the Chinese half of the Guangzhou trade story. These homes were built by successful Cantonese merchants during the Qing Dynasty. Scattered about the district and in various states of repair (or disrepair), the courtyard homes are more for the traveler looking to explore a bit. Try walking south from the Metro Line 1 Changshou Lu Station along Baohua Lu.
Traveling farther back in time, you’d be remiss to skip one of the best preserved ancient tombs in China, the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. This roughly 2,000 year old tomb is accompanied by a museum displaying the artifacts found within, as well as some from another excavation site discovered while building a mall not far away. The king in the tomb ruled over the semi-Sinetic Nanyue Kingdom that stretched across parts of Guangdong, Guangxi and Vietnam, and was considered the first imperial dynasty of Vietnam. The king’s burial suit, made of plates of jade sewn together, is one of the highlights of the museum. While the tomb itself was damaged when the roof partially collapsed and caused flooding in part of the tomb, it’s still in great condition considering its age and the harshness of Guangzhou’s climate. Paintings on the walls are still visible, though faded, and tourists are able to explore the tomb, meant to be the king’s abode in the next life.
Come back to the beginning of the 20th century, and Guangzhou was a hotbed of political activity. The man considered the father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, was based out of the city during some of his efforts to modernize China. Though he was forced to flee, the Nationalist government under Sun (and later, Chiang Kai-shek), based itself out of Guangzhou as they began the Northern Expedition—an effort to unite a China fractured by areas of control carved out by competing warlords under a single banner. The Sun Yat-sen Memorial was built on the site of the former presidential palace. The beautiful blue-tiled building is worth exploring and periodically features live musical performances in its large auditorium. The memorial is situated in Yuexiu Park, the largest green space in Guangzhou. When you’ve finished touring the memorial, take some time to enjoy a boat ride, hunt for the famous Five Goats statue or check out the ancient Zhenhai Tower. These are just some of the things to do in Guangzhou; visit our Guangzhou travel guide for more!