City Guide

Guangzhou 2010

31 Oct 2010

Chinese Medicine Market

Guangzhou is a sprawling city - some have called it the Los Angeles of the East. Sometimes you can hoof it. Most of the time, the Metro, which is both fast and cheap, is your best bet, especially for longer journeys. Taxis and buses can often get stuck in traffic.

Our trip starts along the city’s Western flank at the bustling Chinese medicine market, where sidewalks are piled high with all manner of dried herbs, ginseng, tortoise shells, reptiles, mushrooms and various animals parts – plus a few entire animals, not all of which are dead.

Essentially a wholesale market, the Chinese medicine market doesn’t turn retailer customers away. You will see them rubbing shoulders with workers unloading trucks and sorting through all manner of pungent substances.

One of 17 traditional Chinese medicine markets in the country, the market does a thriving CNY2 billion (US$299.7 million) worth of business each year, accounting for fully one fourth of the national total. Housed in attractive two story stucco buildings that were built in the early 20th century, it recently underwent a much needed face lift.

A short walk along Liuersan Road from Huangsha Station on the Guangzhou Metro’s Line 1, the historic market runs for several blocks along Liuersan Road and Qingping Road, spilling onto neighbouring side streets.

Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street

When your nostrils have had their fill of exotic scents, wander westward down any of tree lined side streets. Within about 15 minutes, you will find yourself on the longest stretch of Western influenced heritage architecture to have survived in Guangzhou.

Following China’s defeat in the Opium War, Western influences in Guangzhou grew stronger, and this was especially evident in the city’s architecture. While much of it has fallen victim to the wrecker’s ball in recent years, Shangxiajiu Street was identified several years back as worthy of preservation. It has now been given its second face lift. Facades have been repainted, pavements have been re-laid, and new street furniture has been installed.

The buildings are mostly two to four story shop houses. While they are essentially Western in style, most of them incorporate strong Chinese cultural elements with images from Chinese mythology in the form of wall engravings or Chinese style latticework . Most of them have attractive stained glass windows on the upper floors.

The pedestrianised section of the street runs 800m and is lined with roughly 250 shops and stalls selling everything from sports shoes and casual wear to antiques and designer knockoffs. Hugely popular with locals, the mall also attracts a fair number of ambulant performers and craftsmen as well as numerous hawkers selling all manner of freshly prepared delicacies.

Sun Yat-sen Memorial

Revered on both sides of the Taiwan Straits as the Father of Modern China, Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) led a series of rebellions against the Qing Dynasty. On October 10, 1911 he succeeded, and this led to the establishment of the Republic of China on January 1 the following year. Schools, hospitals, streets, parks, archways and memorials are named after him all over Greater China and also in Chinatowns around the world.

Sun was a native of Guangdong province so it is only fitting that what is arguably the most beautiful monument named after him of all – and without doubt, the provincial capital’s most imposing traditional Chinese structure – is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial. Set amid spacious gardens, the octagonal-shaped building features a vaulted roof covered in cobalt blue porcelain tiles. Inside is a functioning theatre, with both movies and live performances held on weekends.

To get there from Shangxiajiu Street, head for Changshou Station and board Line 1 in the direction of Guangzhou East Railway Station. Get off at Gongyuanqian Station and transfer to Line 2, heading for the same terminus. Get off at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Station. 259 Dongfeng Middle Road. Open from 8am-6pm.

Museum of the western Han Dynasty, Mausoleum of the Hanyue King

During a construction project in 1983, workers stumbled across the tomb of the second king of the Southern Yue, Zhao Mo, who was grandson of General Zhao Tuo, a key figure in Chinese history – and a local hero because he brought the region around Guangzhou under unified rule. Dating back 2,100 years, the tomb was carefully excavated. Then a 14,000sqm museum was constructed on top of it.

The tomb is the largest and oldest to be discovered in Southern China. It is also the only one to have been built of stone. The walls are covered in coloured murals.

The museum is divided into two parts. The first is the tomb itself., and the highlight of a visit to the site is descending into the tomb of Emperor Wen. The second, which is housed in a modern three story building of red sandstone, has a fascinating array of exhibits, mostly relics discovered in the tomb. Altogether, 1,000 artifacts are on display, including a collection of 200 ancient ceramic pillows from the Tang to the Yuan dynasties.

To get there from the Sun Yat-sen Memoral, take Line 1, continuing in the direction of Guangzhou East Railway Station. Get off at Yuexiu Park Station, which is the very next stop. 867 Jiefang North Road, Guangzhou. Open from 9am-5pm.


Yuexiu Park

With only four hours to spend in Guangzhou, you could easily spend all four of them in Yuexiu Park on Jiefang North Road. At 821sq km, it is the city’s green lung. Not only the biggest, it is also one of the city’s oldest urban respites.

With venues for boating, fishing, swimming, body building, ping pong and hiking, there are any number of activities you can take part in. But people watching is surely the most rewarding. In the evening, you might stumble across a crowd of Chinese opera enthusiasts practising their craft. If your visit coincides with a weekend, you will come across fan dancers, taichi practitioners, and ballroom dancers letting their hair down with total abandon.

At the heart of the park is Beixu Lake, whose banks are lined with statues based on Chinese idioms and fables. A statue of the Five Ram – considered by many to be the city’s symbol – takes pride of place atop the highest of the park’s five peaks.

Other highlights include the Graveyard of Emperor Shaowu, the Qianyi Pottery Garden, the Guangdong Arts Gallery, and the Round Tower. But the most important is Zhenhai Tower, which was built more than 600 years ago. It contains a stone tablet dating back nearly 2,000 years.


Canton Tower

Our tour ends at Canton Tower, the world’s second tallest free-standing structure. Designed by acclaimed Dutch architects Mark Hemel and Barbara Kuit, it rises majestically over the Pearl River, overlooking Zhujiang New Town, Guangzhou’s spanking new central business district, which is home to a new convention and exhibition centre, five star hotels such as the Grand Hyatt and The Ritz-Carlton, office towers, museums, and other cultural venues.

Low or high-speed double-decker elevators will take you to a 180m long open-air skywalk at the waist of the tower.

If you are up to the challenge, you can climb from here by way of outdoor staircase to another open air observation deck at just over 450m. The faint of heart can continue their way upward by lift.

In addition to the TV and radio transmission facilities and the observation decks are a two-story revolving restaurant, food courts, several teahouses set in gardens, computer gaming arcades, shops and 4D cinemas. There is also a 16-car ferris wheel around the rim, transporting passengers horizontally rather than vertically.

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