White Swan Hotel, which first opened in 1983 in Guangzhou, is one of the most recognised five-star luxury hotels in China. With the investment from the late Hong Kong businessman Henry Fok, it was also the first hotel in Guangzhou that was designed, constructed and managed all by Chinese. Over the years, this luxury hotel has hosted many heads of states, including Queen Elizabeth II and former US President George W. Bush.
The hotel was closed for a three-year renovation before reopening to the public in July 2015. In 2016, White Swan Hotel became the first hotel in China to become a member of the “Worldhotels Luxury” collection of the independent hotel alliance group, Worldhotels.
Where is it?
The hotel is located on the southern bank of Shamian, a sandbank island located in the southwest of Guangzhou city. Shamian was a former concession established and divided by France and the UK in the 19th century. Today, there are still many heritage buildings remaining on the island.
If traffic permits, it’s a 40-minute car ride from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, or a 35-minute drive from Guangzhou South Railway Station, the northern terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. The nearest metro station is Huangsha Station on Line 1 and Line 6, from which is a 5-minute walk to the hotel.
What’s it like?
If you take a private car or taxi to the hotel, you’ll arrive at the large entrance at Level 2 where the hotel’s lobby is located. Upon entering the lobby, you’ll be immediately greeted by a large ship made of jade. The reception area is located on the right-hand side, and the lobby lounge and a three-storey high wine tower can be found on the left-hand side.
Behind the large jade ship is the hotel’s centrepiece “Homeland Water”. This iconic “Homeland Water” feature consists of a man-made waterfall, a koi pond, rare stone rockery and a hexagonal-shaped pavilion perched at the top of the waterfall, but the red bridge is no longer open to guests.
This is a popular photo spot not only for hotel guests, but also for local residents, as it has become a symbol for the hotel. When I talked to some staff members at the hotel, they told me that nearly every Guangzhou resident has a picture of themselves in front of this signature waterfall. Most guests want to take a picture of the whole feature from the platform of the staircase linking Level 1 and 2, but guests can walk downstairs to Level 1 for a closer shot of the waterfall.
White Swan Hotel has a total of 520 guestrooms and suites, whose sizes range from 30 to 90 sqm. There are four room types: Standard Room, Deluxe Room, Club Deluxe Room and Club Premier Suite.
I was staying at Room 2207, a 60-sqm Deluxe Room with views overlooking the Pearl River and outfitted with a king-sized bed.
As soon as I entered the room, the gauze and the blackout curtain raised up automatically. Natural sunlight in the afternoon lit the room immediately. Not long after I got to my room, a concierge staff member helped deliver my luggage to my room and gave me a map of the Shamian Island with transport information.
Immediately behind the room door on the left is the room’s work area, where there is a long work table. Large closets and a luggage rack can also be found here.
Dilmah tea bags and Nescafé instant coffee packets can be found on the left hand side of the long table. The mini bar refrigerator, hidden in the drawer beneath, was fully stocked with some beverages (including soft drinks, juice, beer as well as soda, tonic and sparkling water) and snacks (chocolate bar, potato chips, cornflakes and peanuts) for a fee.
There’s an iPad beside the tea bags, which can be used to control the lighting and air-conditioning in the room. Guests can also read more information about the hotel or write feedback. There’s a control panel behind the iPad where you can find sockets and two USB plugs – one of them is used to charge the iPad, but you can always unplug its USB cable and plug yours instead.
When I stayed at the hotel in mid-September, there was a notice on the table informing guests that the hotel would stop providing several disposable items as requested by the Tourism Administration of Guangzhou Municipality, including toothbrush, comb, bath rub, shaving razor, nail file and shoe shiner, though guests could still request them from the hotel.
I totally forgot about this before the trip and as a result, I didn’t bring my own toothbrush and toothpaste. So I dialed the service hotline to ask for a new dental kit, which was delivered to my room within three minutes.
The bedroom area is separated from the work area with wood paneling. The king-sized bed is placed opposite a large window, which not only affords a panoramic view overlooking the Pearl River, but also offers ample natural light in the daytime. It was quite comfortable lying on the long sofa while enjoying the river views in the afternoon, especially because I was staying on a higher floor (Level 22).
There are two nightstands on both sides of the bed with panels controlling the gauze, blackout curtain and lighting. A socket can be found in the drawer of both nightstands, but there are no USB plugs available on the bedside. So I used one of the USB plugs on the work table instead.
The bathroom area is spacious, with dual sinks, a dressing table, a bathtub and a standing shower. The bathtub is beside a large window so you can also enjoy the river view while taking a bath, though it actually took some time to fill the bathtub when I used it.
Food and beverage
There are seven dining options in the hotel.
River Café on Level 1 is the hotel’s all-day eatery where an international buffet is served for breakfast (6:30am-10:30am), lunch (12pm-2:30pm) and dinner (6pm-9:30pm). For breakfast, there were a variety of options. At the live cooking noodle station during breakfast, guests can choose from a selection of side dishes, including wonton, fish skin dumplings, meat balls and vegetables. If lucky enough, you may get a good seat beside the koi pond facing the iconic waterfall.
The hotel is home to three Chinese restaurants: Jade River (see the picture above) is a one-Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant serving authentic Cantonese cuisine. Lunch is served from 11:30am to 3pm on weekdays, while guests can choose to have a traditional Cantonese brunch known as “yum cha” (8am-3pm) on weekends. However, if you would like to experience the Cantonese brunch on weekdays, you can visit Hongtu Hall for dim sum delicacies (7am-2:30pm). Jade River also offers à la carte dinner every day from 5:30pm to 10pm.
Flavors of China, another Chinese restaurant in the hotel, features cuisines from other parts of China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan and Shandong, for lunch (11:30am-3pm) and dinner (5:30pm-10pm).
For western cuisine, there’s Silk Road Grill that specialises in Mediterranean cuisine and other Western specialities.
Other F&B options include The Deli Shop, which is a patisserie; and a lobby lounge for afternoon tea (2:30pm-5pm) and drinks (11am-1am).
Guests staying at a Club Deluxe Room or Club Premier Suite (on Levels 23-26) have access to the Club Lounge, the hotel’s executive lounge on Level 3.
At 650 sqm, the Club Lounge is quite spacious. It is divided into three major functional spaces: a dining area, a reading area with books and magazines available to read onsite, and a business area. The large floor-to-ceiling windows allow guests to enjoy the colonial style architecture on the Shamian Island while staying at the executive lounge.
Major business facilities at Club Lounge include four work desks equipped with desktop computers for individual guests, as well as a 14-seater boardroom that guests can book in advance for complimentary two-hour use. There’s a printer and a photocopy machine that guests can pay to use as well. What’s more, paid secretarial services (RMB100/US$14 per hour), and even translation and interpretation services, are also available upon request in advance.
The leisure facilities are located outside of the hotel’s main building. Guests who want to use the leisure facilities need to walk through a lush garden to get there.
The outdoor swimming pool, open daily from 7am to 11pm, is located beside the hotel’s private pier at the northern bank of the Pearl River, so guests can also enjoy a good river view while swimming in the pool. There’s also an information board showing current temperature, water temperature, as well as index of UV (ultraviolet), pH and residual chlorine.
A dual-storey, 24-hour fitness centre is located inside the building right next to the swimming pool. In addition to a range of fitness equipment, the fitness centre is equipped with a yoga room, showers, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, as well as a relaxing room and an open-air terrace.
There’s also a spa located on Level 4 in the hotel’s main building, which is open daily from 11am to 12am. In addition, there are some retail shops on Level 1.
Special ferry service during Canton Fair
Particularly, White Swan Hotel offers a special complimentary ferry service for hotel guests on a daily basis during the Canton Fair, which is also known as the China Import and Export Fair and is held twice a year (mid-April to early May, and from mid-October to early November). White Swan Hotel is the only hotel in Guangzhou that offers this kind of special ferry transfer service for Canton Fair.
The ferry departs from the hotel’s private pier at 8:30am and heads to the Canton Fair Complex in Pazhou. During the 45-minute ferry trip, passengers can also have a buffet breakfast on the ferry while enjoying the views along the Pearl River. For those whose room rates do not include breakfast, they can pay for the onboard breakfast for RMB198 plus an additional 15 per cent service charge (US$32.2 in total).
The return ferry leaves the complex at 5:40pm, and passengers may need to show their room keys before boarding. On the return trip, drinks are available for a fee.
Meeting and event facilities
White Swan Hotel has over 2,500 sqm of meeting and conference facilities, including the 770-sqm Hongtu Hall, the 630-sqm pillar-less Grand Ballroom on Level 4, as well as several function rooms whose sizes vary from 30 to 200 sqm.
Growing up in a city near Guangzhou, I had heard about White Swan Hotel when I was a child, though I had no idea how luxurious it was until my very first stay recently. The refurbished hotel looks modern and stylish, while it still conserves some delicate touches of local Cantonese culture, like the “Homeland Water” feature that reflects the native design of traditional Cantonese gardens, and the Manchuria windows (with coloured glass) in Jade River, which you can still see in many historic buildings in Guangdong Province.
While most guests are likely to be impressed by the expansive view of the Pearl River from their guestroom or the range of dining and wellness options at the hotel, what also surprised me during my stay was the extensive facilities and services that are available for business travellers, such as the business amenities and services in the Club Lounge and the ferry service available during Canton Fair. I believe having these facilities will help meet the demands of guests who need to work during their stay.
- Best for… expansive views of the Pearl River and the complimentary ferry service during the Canton Fair
- Don’t miss... taking a picture in front of the iconic “Homeland Water” feature in the lobby
- Price Internet rates for a Deluxe Room with river view and a king-sized bed in late-October start from RMB3,000 (US$425), tax not included
- Contact No. 1, Shamian South Street, Guangzhou 510133, China; +86 20 8188 6968; whiteswanhotel.com