How To Experience The Authentic Guangzhou

Guangzhou (广州) has successfully shaped itself into a city of international dimension – a dense, overcrowded, ocean of concrete. Behind the facade of shiny skyscrapers and shopping malls, behind the the wide avenues, there are still parts of Guangzhou where the Cantonese soul of the city still vibrates.

In this article, I will put on your radar a few of these ‘villages in the middle of the city’ where the shiny skyscrapers seem far away and where the heart of city beats.

All these places are easily accessible using Guangzhou subway system.

Enning Street 恩宁路

Home to the guild hall of Cantonese Opera (粤剧) practitioners, the Bahe Academy (八和会馆), the neighborhood that stretches around Enning Street (恩宁街) in Guangzhou urban district of Liwan (荔湾区), in the western part of the city was once a commercial hub in the area known as Xiguan (西关).

Located in the heart of the old Guangzhou, Enning Street still features century-old Lingnan architecture (岭南) and arcade buildings that have withstand any attempt of modernization and urbanization.

Street photographers will enjoy exploring the side streets which are lined with stores that sell anything from rice to live fishes, on-the-street butchery and restaurants.

If you have a short time in Guangzhou and want to experience only one true authentic Cantonese part of the city, you have to come to Enning Street.

Where is it? How to get there?

Enning street is located in Liwan district (荔湾区) in the west of Guangzhou, on the subway line #1, between Changshou Road station (长寿路站) and Huangsha station (黄沙站).

You can also take subway line #6 until Ruyi Fang station (如意坊站) and walk north on Duobao Street (多宝路). Turn left into Changhua Chong (昌华涌) which will lead you into the heart of Enning Street (恩宁路)

Pantang village 泮塘村

Pantang Village (泮塘) is the neighborhood located on the banks of the Lizhi pond (荔枝湾) and behind the Renwei Temple (仁威庙), one of the city’s old Taoist temple.

Among the different ancient villages which have been swallowed up by the fast urbanization of Guangzhou, Pantang village retains a very rural atmosphere.

The morning market is busy, extremely authentic and can easily shock a few Westerners. In addition to the usual live poultry, live fishes, fruits and vegetable, you will find a locals bargaining for snakes, frogs or turtles in green mesh bags.

In the afternoon, the slab-stones narrow alleys are quiet and in the street that link Pantang to the Renwei Temple, you’ll hear the loud chatter of ladies selling incense and dried seafood.

Where is it? How to get there?

Take the subway line #5 to Zhongshan Ba Station (中山八站). Take exit C and walk east on Zhongshan Ba Road (中山八路) until you stumble on paifang (牌坊) – the arched stone gate that marks the entrance of the village.

Xiguan Medicine Market Area 西关药市

Behind Shamian Island, you will another very lively, very authentic web of alleys and lanes around the Xiguan Medicine Markets. It is another very interesting part of town where everything is about traditional herbal medicine. ‘Herbal’ here really means ‘dried anything’, because anything and here I mean any part of an animal or insect living above, on, below ground or in the sea, any herbs can be dried and sold in bulk. Large quantities of teas and herbal teas are sold here as well.

Since we are on the shores of the Pearl River (珠江), you will find a few stores that sell pearls of different shapes and quality, or antique stores where you will anything from bust of Mao Zedong to statues of Buddhas, side by side.

How to get there?

The Xiguan Medicine Market area is located behind Shamian Island (沙面岛). Take the subway line #1 to Huangsha Station (黄沙站) and take exit E. Walk east on Liu’ersan Road (六二三路). After the Guangzhou City Chinese Medicine Hospital (广州市中医医院), turn left on Qingping Street (清平路). That’s were the exploration starts.

Shipai village 石牌村

Shipai village is situated in the heart of the shiny new Guangzhou, in the eastern part of the city, near the Taikoo Place (太酷汇), one of the city’s most exclusive high-end mall and behind the digital city (数码城) of Gangding (岗顶), where you’ll find all your electronics, fake or not.

If you look at a satellite map of Shipai village (on Google Earth), it looks like a dense patchwork of blue, brown and grey cubes with no discernible streets. On the terrain, penetrating the maze of lanes that meander in the middle of the concrete buildings, so close to each other that they block the sun completely, feels like entering a Chongqing Mansion-like futuristic urban jungle.

Locals find everything they need at the corner of the street : cheap food stalls, fruits and vegetable, wet market, hairdressers, you name it. Shipai village is a small town within the city with its own microcosm. It is also the best place near the skyscrapers of downtown Guangzhou to get lost and discover the underbelly of the city.

Where is it? How to get there?

Shipai village is located in Guangzhou’s eastern urban district of Tianhe (天河). Take subway line 3 and exit in Gangding station (岗顶站). Take exit C or D. Shipai village (石牌村) is located behind the digital city of Gangding (岗顶数码城).

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