The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou offers all the hustle, bustle, culture and commerce of other major Asian metropolises minus the massive tourist crowds. But that could change as more travelers are lured to the modern port city by affordable flights and a 72-hour visa-free transit policy. Just a two-hour train ride from Hong Kong, Guangzhou is an easy weekend getaway or, in my case, a two-day stopover on my trip from Los Angeles to Malaysia. Come hungry Often touted as the birthplace of dim sum, Guangzhou takes its Cantonese cuisine seriously. Head west to the historic Liwan district to stroll through the shop- and restaurant-lined Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. Pick up a traditional mooncake filled with lotus seed paste at Lianxiang Lou or try the delectable dim sum at the popular Guangzhou Restaurant. Just off the main strip are side streets brimming with tasty food stalls and bustling markets selling fresh produce and traditional remedies such as live scorpions and dried snakes. If like me, you’re overwhelmed by Guangzhou’s copious culinary choices, book a local guide though Eating Adventures Food Tour (http://www. eatingadventures.com), and tackle this foodie’s paradise like a pro. Bird’s-eye view Canton Tower is one of Guangzhou’s top tourist attractions and for good reason. At 1,600 meters, the modern monolith offers panoramic views of the cityscape and winding Pearl River. It also features rotating restaurants and, for thrill-seekers, a 30-meter free fall ride. I opted for the leisurely bubble tram and snapped the stunning sunset views while slowly rotating in a glass pod on a track atop the tower. Culture vulture Craving a creative boost? Head to the Tianhe District for the Redtory Art and Design Factory. This sprawling canning factory-turned-sleepy artists’ village boasts a bevy of contemporary galleries, exhibits and restaurants. Pick up a milk tea from one of the trendy cafes and peruse the small shops of artsy handicrafts, clothing, books and accessories. Redtory is similar to Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, but not yet quite as developed. Still, you can easily lose a few hours in this off-the-beaten path cultural compound. Souvenir shangri-la Cross off your entire shopping list with a visit to OneLink International Plaza. This wholesale mall off of Haizhu Square is a winding, multi-floor maze of toys, home goods, electronics, clothing and accessories. I spent three hours in this shopper’s wonderland and barely scratched its surface
Go underground If you can overcome the language barrier, taxis are affordable and abundant in Guangzhou. But I’d recommend beating the traffic and hopping on the metro. The subway is clean, quiet, air-conditioned and cheap (single ride tokens are 32 US cents and day passes are US$3.15). It’s also easy to navigate with most maps, and the announcements are in English.