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Guide to Visiting Guangzhou For Business Or Leisure Travel

Updated on April 1, 2016

Guangzhou - Trading Center of China

Guangzhou, the 3rd largest city in China is located in the southeastern part, has a population of 12 million people. This ancient city having its roots going back to 200 BC has been an important trading port. Old Buddhist temples to colonial charms of the rustic Shamian island to ultra modern Zhu Jiang New town, Guangzhou offers an eclectic mix of old and new. Its proximity to Hongkong, well developed wholesale trading centers and excellent infrastructure makes it an ideal entry point for business traveler to China.

It is a leading economic and manufacturing regions and key city of the Pearl River Delta region. It is also host of largest biannual Chinese trade fairs commonly known as Canton fair held at Pazhou, outskirts of Guangzhou city.

Guangzhou is divided into ten districts. Among them, Yuexiu (越秀 Yuèxiù) and Tian He(天河 Tiānhé) are the center of the business and commerce.

Guangzhou has a subtropical climate so summers (June-August) are hot and humid with temperatures soaring up to 35 degree centigrade while winters are mild never going below freezing point. The rainy season is in the month of July and August but May and June also get a fair share of rain. Do plan on packing light cotton or linen suits except for winters. Best time to visit Guangzhou is between November to March.


Guangzhou at night
Guangzhou at night | Source

Tips for first time traveler to Guangzhou

  • Those visiting Canton fair should try to book a hotel in advance. Canton fair is held twice a year in April and October.
  • Avoid coming during traditional Chinese holiday seasons that is Chinese New Year, Labor week (First week of May) and Golden week (First week of October) as most of the offices are closed.
  • Most of businesspersons prefer to ditch necktie unless attending for conferences, seminars, trade fairs or similar formal business meetings.
  • Many websites including Twitter, Facebook and up to an extent google (advanced mail features, google docs) will not work in China without using VPN services.

Iconic Guangzhou TV tower

Guangzhou TV tower as seen from 70th floor coffee shop of the Four Seasons Hotel.  Tower is lit up with colorful lights every day between 7 to 8 pm
Guangzhou TV tower as seen from 70th floor coffee shop of the Four Seasons Hotel. Tower is lit up with colorful lights every day between 7 to 8 pm | Source

Chinese Visa. Do I Need One?

With exception of Hongkong and Macau, one needs a valid visa to enter any part of China. Visa can be obtained by applying to the Chinese Embassy in your country. If there is no Embassy in your country you can also apply to Chinese Embassy located in a country near you.

Documents needed:

  1. Valid passport having expiry date more than six months
  2. A letter of invitation from the company inviting you (for business visa only)
  3. 2 photographs (size 50 x 50 mm) with white background
  4. Visa fee (US$ 130 for US citizen, others US$ 30)

Travel visa is easier to get than business visa. It generally takes less than a week to obtain visa. Business visa is generally granted for 3 months to one year period with a maximum stay of 30 days per entry period.

If you need to stay for over 30 days you can extend your Chinese visa in China by visiting local Public Security Bureau office. Documents needed and extension periods depends where you apply. In general, smaller cities may involve less paperwork and give extension next day whereas cities like Beijing and Shanghai may be more strict. Visa extension is generally granted for one month and there is no additional fee.

Chinese Visa Fees

Notice at the Chinese Embassy in Thailand.  US citizen pay lot more for Chinese visa
Notice at the Chinese Embassy in Thailand. US citizen pay lot more for Chinese visa | Source

Coming form Hong Kong via Train

Hung Hom station offers direct train connections to Guangzhou
Hung Hom station offers direct train connections to Guangzhou | Source
Crossing LoWo border by footbridge
Crossing LoWo border by footbridge | Source

How to get to Guangzhou

Most of the visitors choose to come directly to Guangzhou via flight or come via Hong Kong.

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (广州白云国际机场) offers regular commercial flight service to major international and domestic destination. However many people prefer to come via Hong Kong because of the availability of cheap international flight tickets.

Guangzhou is well connected with other cities in China so one can find a suitable Train/Air/Bus connection to suit individual needs.

Visitors coming from Hong Kong have one of the following Choices:

There is direct bus service from Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) to Gunagzhou. Typical fare is HK 250 one way offered by many companies located at ground level of the terminal 2 building. They all offer similar service so choose one with earlier departure time.

There is also a once a day ferry service from HKIA to Nan Sha port near Guangzhou but I never used it. In addition, there are regular ferry service from China Hong Kong City Terminal or Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal located at the Shun Tak Center, Central in Hong Kong. Here you can get a ferry to Lian Hua Shan, Panyu and Nan Sha port all a bit far from Guangzhou so be prepared for additional taxi/bus ride upon arrival.

Another practical way is to take cross boarder train from Hung Hom station to Guangzhou East station. The train service is regular at hourly interval and the ticket price is HK$ 190 per adult.

You can also take west line KCR local train (every 5 minutes from the Hong Ham station) to Lo Wu cross border via a footbridge and take a bus or train from the other side in Shenzhen to Guangzhou. I do not recommend first time traveler try it.

Crossing to Main Land

Everyday thousands of commuters go to mainland China via Lowu port.
Everyday thousands of commuters go to mainland China via Lowu port. | Source

Hong Kong Airport to Honghom for Mainland China Transfer

Public Transport in Guangzhou

Taxies in Guangzhou are plenty and available any time of the day except during evening peak hours. All taxis in Guangzhou are equipped with electronic fare meters. The flag down is RMB 10 for the first 2.6 kilometers and thereafter 1 RMB for every 200 meters. The passenger is required to pay all toll charges.

Guangzhou, especially after Asian games, has developed a decent subway network covering the entire city with 8 lines. Operation hours from 6 am to 11:30 pm. The fare varies with distance starting from 2 RMB to 14 RMB.

The metro map is color coded and easy to decipher. There are signs and announcement in English inside the metro. You can buy tickets from ticket vending machine located inside the station or use an integrated transport smart card know as Yang Cheng Tong. It is similar to MetroCard in New York or Oyster Card in London and can be used in any public transport as well in stores like 7-11

Tips for surviving Guangzhou taxi ride

  1. Most of driver cannot speak any English so print out address written in Chinese beforehand.
  2. Fake notes are common in China so check before taking them. One easy way to check Mao’s collar printed on every currency note. If it has a dotted texture and color can be rubbed on paper chances are it is a genuine bill.
  3. Take fare receipt as they are helpful in tracing the taxi if in case you left behind your belongings. Common taxi help line number is 96900
  4. I use HiGuangzhou Taxi, a free app for Apple devices which I find very useful because it can show address in Chinese, English and Pin Yin for many popular places in Guangzhou.

Pearl River Cruise

Pearl River Cruise
Pearl River Cruise | Source

Places to Visit in Guangzhou in a Day

While as a business traveler may not have enough time to explore as regular tourist however there are some things that you can see if you have a few hours to spare.

Bai Yun Mountain

This iconic tourist spot is known as 'the first peak under the southern sky', is about 382 meters (417 yards) high, located in the middle of the city offering spectacular view of the whole city. There is a cable ride available to top of the mountain (RMB 40) in addition to the golf cart.

Pearl river cruise.

An evening river cruise is an interesting way to explore the sights of the city. Tickets can be bought at wharf located on Yan Jiang Road. Price varies with duration of trip typically starting at RMB 70. No advance purchase is necessary.

Sha Mian Island

Those who want to explore city’s colonial past may visit the Sha Mian Island. It is located in Li Wan district of Guangzhou having several old buildings designed in Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical style. There are several cafes and restaurant offering decent meal.

Sha Mian Island
Sha Mian Island | Source

Garden Hotel, Guangzhou

Garden hotel located in Huan Shi road is a favorite with visiting businessmen.
Garden hotel located in Huan Shi road is a favorite with visiting businessmen. | Source

ZhuJiang CBD

New Town
New Town | Source
IFC builing
IFC builing | Source
The Garden Hotel
The Garden Hotel | Source
German restaurant with micro brewery in Tai Ko Hui Shopping Mall
German restaurant with micro brewery in Tai Ko Hui Shopping Mall | Source

Where to Stay and Eat in Guangzhou

Most of the foreigners like to stay in two major areas due to proximity of hotels, western style restaurants and easy availability of public transport. I have, based on my personal experience, selected a few places to eat and drink keeping in mind quality of food and drinks, ability of staff to understand English and service quality. I am not affiliated with any of them and the visitor is encouraged to try out several other restaurants located in the vicinity.

Zhu Jiang New Town

It is the newly developed central business district of Guangzhou housing swanky offices, consulates and important government buildings. Luxury hotels like Four Seasons and Grand Hyatt in located in this area. Places to eat and drink:

  • Macawley's Irish Pub 16 Hua Chang Road, Metro Line 5 exit: Wu Yan Cun
  • Tomatoes Pizzeria Hua Jiu Road
  • Tavern Sports Bar Hua 108 Hua Jiu Road
  • German Restaurant in Tai Ko Hui shopping mall

Huan Shi East Road

The Huan Shi east road has been popular with foreigners for a long time mainly for choice of western style restaurants and easy access to the transport system. The majority of expatriates preferred to live in its vicinity.

Huan Shi Road area has many hotels for travelers to suit a wide variety of budgets. The Garden Hotel and Best Western Bai Yun (located bang opposite to Garden Hotel) is most popular among business traveler. Other notable hotels are Holiday Inn City Center and Crown Plaza.

It is also possible to find a self service apartment using airbnb (signup with link will save you $20) or similar booking site. Places to eat and drink:

  • Tayiro Japanese Restaurant. Central Plaza, 34-38 Hua Le Lu Chinese:华乐路广怡大厦
  • People's Cafe Jian Shi 5 Road, Chinese: 越秀区建设五马路35号大院1号1楼
  • The Paddy Field Irish Bar 38 Hua Le Lu Chinese:华乐路广怡大厦
  • The Italian Restaurant 360号 Huanshi East Road offers buffet dinner for RMB 128

Shopping streets in Guangzhou

Beijing Road - Pedestrian shopping street
Beijing Road - Pedestrian shopping street | Source

Shopping in Guangzhou

While business travelers spend more time in visiting factories and wholesale markets in Guangzhou however city has some unique Asian style walking street markets frequented by visitors and local alike

Beijing Road pedestrian shopping street

It is believed that this road existed for over a thousand years. Well preserved ancient stone roads of Song and Yuan Dynasties from 11th to 14th centuries were dug out while renovating the street and it is on display in the middle of the road.

The street is famous for shopping and food covering an approximately 440 meters with hundreds of stores on both sides of the street. Those stores sell everything from branded clothes and shoes to accessories, general merchandise, jewelry and perfumes. Both local and visitors come every day. This busy commercial street is off limit to vehicular traffic.

Shang Xia Jiu Road shopping street

Shang-Xia-Jiu in Chinese means up-down nine, an interesting name for shopping street. It is similar to Beijing Road but frequented mostly by local Chinese looking for bargain shopping of cloths, handbags and shoes. It is the fist commerce pedestrian street in Guangzhou having elements of Lingnan cultures of architecture, dining, and folk customs.

Shang Xia Jiu Shopping Street

Shang Xia Jiu Shopping Street is a favorite with locals and expats alike
Shang Xia Jiu Shopping Street is a favorite with locals and expats alike | Source

Guangzhou Travel Tips: Internet, Money and Other Essential Stuff

  1. Most of foreign currency can be changed by Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China as they are only authorized bank to deal with foreign exchange transactions. The exchange rate is better for currency like US Dollars or Euro in comparison with less popular currency like Thai Bhat. ATM has a daily withdrawal limit of RMB 2500 per day for international credit cards. Hotels can also change up to USD 300 but may offer unfavorable exchange rate.
  2. It is a good idea to buy a local Guangzhou SIM card even if you are visiting for a couple of days. It is available at 7-11 or similar stores against cash payment of RMB 50. No personal identification is needed for purchase and use of local phone card.
  3. You can reduce international call charges by using cheap international IP call option available on any China Mobile SIM. Simply dial 12593+00+IDD code+Area code+phone number. You can also buy a cheap IP card with prefix 17909 or 17969 from any local store.
  4. It is easy to set up internet connection on the phone or tablet device equipped with local SIM. For China Mobile SIM use access point cmnet and leave the username and password blank. Restart the phone if it does not work in first attempt.
  5. Many hotel lobbies, cafes and all Starbucks offer free Wifi to their customers.
  6. Western TV channels like CNN, BBC, Star Sports are available in hotels only. Major English newspaper China Daily and South China Morning Post are available in 4 or 5 star hotels and major bookstores. Do not expect to buy one with local magazine kiosk.
  7. Western medicines are generally not available so plan to bring in sufficient quantities. In case of emergency you can visit a large public hospital such as Sun Yat-Sen University First Affiliated Hospital (中山一医院) located on Zhongshan 2nd Street. It is better to ask the hotel for assistance in translation as doctors may speak little English. EUR Am International Medical Center in Zhu Jiang New Town (+86 20 3758 5328) is one of the western style clinics where doctors are trained abroad and speak English. Public health care facilities are nowhere near western standards.
  8. In case of loss of passport one should report to the local police with the help of the hotel. You will need to contact your local consulate to arrange for a travel document. Those requiring extensions of visa need to contact Exit and Entry Administration of Guangzhou Public Security Bureau. 1/F, No. 155, South Jiefang Road.

How to check the fake RMB bill?

How to check the fake RMB bill?
How to check the fake RMB bill?

Tourist scams in Guangzhou

Fake 100 RMB bill

Fake currency bill is a big problem faced by Chinese and foreigner alike. You will notice that most shops and individual will check each currency bill before accepting. A quick way to check is to rub your finger over Mao’s jacket. It should have noticeable dotted, grainy texture and color can be rubbed on any surface.

Foreign currency changer near shopping streets

In wholesale market and tourist area near Garden Hotel one may be approached by people offering to change foreign currency. They may offer a better exchange rate but will invariably give you one or more fake RMB bill. Changing the currency with a private person is illegal too so avoid them. Do change currency at the Bank or Hotel only.

Cheap Cell phone, Laptop, 256 GB USB drive

In busy shopping street like Beijing Lu shopping street or Haunshi Road, a foreigner may be approached by hoards of people trying to sell a cheap Rolex or electronics goods (iPhone, 256 GB drive). It is a well known scam so do not be the next victim.

Kids selling Flowers

In many tourist areas such as Peral River Walk, Garden Hotel and its vicinity, Tee Mall have quite a few children selling flowers. They mainly target tourist couples. They will hold you ankle and will not let go unless you buy flowers from them.

Taxi scams

It can be broadly grouped in 3 categories. First is taxi itself may be illegal (found near wholesale markets, train station or airport). Some driver may try to give you fake 50 RMB bill or change your real 100 RMB bill with a fake one with sleight of hand. Some driver will keep their fare meter turned on even before you get in to taxi so do keep a watch on it. Some may take you to wrong address claiming that they did not understand your tone so it is better to ask someone to write down destination address in Chinese.

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