Guangzhou is our hometown, in China, and we actually like coming home to it after we travel. It has a good mix of Chinese and Western culture, people, and business. It has plenty of cafes (not just Starbucks), restaurants of many countries, bars, discos (Ngwana says they are the best, in China, but I emphasize that last part), parks with lakes, a river to walk along, a few islands, in the river, good places to shop, and even a mountain. There are museums and a symphony hall.
If you want to pay a high price for accommodations, you can stay in the Garden Hotel, in the center of town (with a Starbucks across the street) at the corner of Huanshi Lu ("lu" means street, in Chinese) and Jian She Liu Ma Lu; the White Swan Hotel (with a Starbucks on the next street north), on Shamian Island (to which foreign traders were restricted in the 1800's); or the China Hotel (owned by Marriott), in the middle of the clothing and leather markets (it has a Starbucks, right in the building) at the corner of Jie Fang Lu and Liu Hua Lu. If you want to be smart, you can stay at the San Mao Hotel (one Mao is one-tenth of one Yuan), near the Garden Hotel, tucked away on a little back street one block to the east; at the Ai Qun Hotel, on Yan Jiang Xi Lu, along the river near Shamian; or at the Dong Yue Hotel, on Heng Fu Lu, just west of the top of Tao Jin Bei Lu (on the north side of the street). The expensive hotels will cost you several thousand Yuan per night, while, the others will have a nice room for ¥200-400, maybe even a suite (a large two-room suite at the Dong Yue was around ¥300-350 per night, last time we checked, and that was during a major holiday season). The Ai Qun, by the way, has an old section and a new section. The new section has more modern decoration and a huge wall-to-wall picture window where you can sit in a comfy chair and enjoy the river views. Those rooms are around ¥400 per night (on weekends). The older section is decorated in an older style (e.g., Victorian chairs) and the windows are not as large, but the prices of those rooms are a little cheaper, around ¥250 per night, and there are larger corner suites at that end of the hotel, on each floor, although we have never priced them. Smaller rooms on the backside of the old section are as inexpensive as ¥150 per night. Both the Garden Hotel and the Ai Qun have revolving restaurants on the top of the building.
If you want to feel secure, wrapped in the illusion of western food, try Lucy's on Shamian or Gail's on Heng Fu Lu, a half a block west of Tao Jin Bei Lu (south side of the street); I get bacon cheeseburgers delivered from Gail's, now and then, when I don't feel like making dinner, but Lucy's has always been truly disappointing for me. Before you get to Gail's, you might want to try Lao Bei Fang, just past the driveway entrance to the building complex where we live, Lu Hu Ge, it's on the second floor and serves Ha'arbing Food.
There are plenty of homemade noodle places run by Muslims from Xin Jiang, which is in the west of China, and you can always tell them from their signs, which are in Chinese and Arabic (I am Italian, so, homemade noodle dinners for ¥5-8 is heaven for me). There are several Hong Xing Seafood Restaurants, one on Heng Fu Lu, just west of Tao Jin Bei Lu (north side of the street adjacent to the Dong Yue Hotel), and one on the river, on Yan Jiang Zhong Lu, just east of Haizhu Square. You can pick fresh seafood from tanks. Our friend, Pierro, is the chef at the Italian Restaurant on Huanshi Lu, just west of Jian She Liu Ma Lu (and the Garden Hotel), and I have eaten there, sometimes, day after day for months on end. The Three Brothers Bistro(Les Trois Gros or San Ren Xing Faguo Canting) is a French restaurant run by a Chinese man, Ken, who trained in France, and it is located in the Tian He (east) part of town on Xin Cheng Nan Jie # 5 (walk south on Tian He Dong Lu from Tian He Bei Lu and make a right at the second little cross street); be sure to say hi to his little Chihuahua, Xiao Hei (means little black) and his Mina bird (he knows several expressions in Chinese) who are stationed outside the kitchen door on the street. Also in the Tian He district is a great Sichuan restaurant, Chuan Guo Yan Yi, at 140-148 Ti Yu Dong Lu, on the 4th floor of Nan Fang Security Building, just south of Tian He Bei Lu (we hear they also have plans to open restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau). If you like Indian, there is Ashoka on Tao Jin Bei Lu and Taste of India, up Tao Jin Lu about a block past where Tao Jin Bei Lu breaks off. Just before you get to Ashoka, there is a cute little "French" restaurant/bar called Cotti on Tao Jin Bei Lu (just after you go through the tunnel under the railroad tracks), and there is a Ha'arbing Restaurant (dumplings, fiddlehead ferns, and hot food), Dong Bei Ren, on the second floor, above it (access on the side street along the railroad tracks): you'll know the entrance when you see the girls with pigtail-braids and the colorful dress of Ha'arbing at the entrance. There is a nice little Vietnamese restaurant on Jian She Heng Ma Lu, just off Jian She Liu Ma Lu. On Beijing Lu, about a half a block south of Grand Buy Department store on the west side of the street is a good Sushi Bar, called Ichi Ban, on a second floor.
For bar and disco nightlife, there are plenty of bars and discos on and around the area of Jian She Liu Ma Lu (between Huanshi Lu and Dong Feng Lu) and Huanshi Lu (to the west of Jian She Liu Ma Lu). The bars in that area are mainly Westerner bars with some Chinese (beware the hookers). Another bar area in Guangzhou is down by the river on Yan Jiang Xi Lu and the next street north, mostly to the west of Haizhu Square (Jie Fang Lu) but also to the east. The bars down there are mostly Chinese bars and discos. There is also a bar street (says so on a neon sign) across the river from Shamian Island (you can see the sign at night) that also has restaurants, but it is very Chinese, and you might have a hard time, there, if you know no Chinese language at all.
For shopping, go to Friendship Department Store (prices on some things are ok, and some are not), across Huanshi Lu from the Garden Hotel on Tao Jin Lu, and wander around all of the little shops up Tao Jin Lu and Tao Jin Bei Lu from there. In the east end of town on Tian He Lu, there is Grand View Mall and Tian He Mall, a block away from each other, and the computer centers, one more block east from there. Behind those malls, to the south, across Tian He Nan Er Jie and behind the shops on that street are several hidden walking streets with shops and cafes. Or shop at China Mall and its network of underground shops on Zhongshan Lu, just south of the Garden Hotel, across from Martyrs Park (Lie Shi Ling Yuan). West of China Mall, down Zhongshan Lu about a half a mile or so, is Beijing Lu. On Beijing Lu, south of Zhongshan Lu, and the area of Zhongshan Lu around there, is also good shopping, although, again, you have to be careful of prices and quality. On the way to Beijing Lu, just a few blocks before you get there is Wen De Lu, which has some art shops. If you're staying in the south west on Shamian, you might as well also buy overpriced gifts, art, and fake antiques, while you are there. There is a huge teapot on the south side of the river, across from Shamian, in Fang Cun. There is also a huge jade market, north of Shamian, on Bao Hua Lu, on the west side the street, below Chang Shou Lu. You will notice the outdoor stands that are the beginning of the market, but if you follow those stands west, you will find a network of back allies with stands and shops: it's enough to get lost in. Then, after you cross over Duo Bao Lu, which bounds that section of the market on the south, you will find another section, again, to the west of Bao Hua Lu, with more shops and even a Buddhist temple in its midst. If you are shopping for jade be very careful. First of all, there is a lot of fake jade; second, poor quality jade can be treated with acid to make it look better; third, they will try to charge you ten times the real price, if you are a foreigner, so at least look for places that have prices on objects, then, negotiate. If you continue a little further south on Bao Hua Lu, you will also find another shopping area, Xia Jiu Lu, that is closed off to cars, like the Beijing Lu shopping area.
You can rent either a pedal boat or an electric motor boat to tool around the lake in Lu Hu Park, on Lu Hu Lu, a few blocks west on Heng Fu Lu from Tao Jin Bei Lu. There is even a golf course, just beside the park. You can go up Baiyun Mountain, off the east end of Heng Fu Lu. You can walk up, take a cable car, or an open-air minibus. It offers great views from the top, and there is a nice outdoor restaurant on the backside at the top opposite the cable car depot. If you are near the center of town, Martyr's Park is a nice place to walk around with lily and other ponds and a skating rink on the north side. You can also rent little pedal boats, there. In the vicinity of the China Hotel there are two nice parks, Liu Hua Hu Park with lakes to the west and Yue Xiu Park with hills to the east across Jie Fang Lu from the hotel. You can walk along the river walk, stroll around Shamian Island, or take a boat tour of the river from ports east of Haizhu Square. We like to walk across one of the bridges to the south side of the river, too, and stroll along that side. Er Sha Dao is an island in the river near Dong Hu Lu (to the east of Haizhu square). It has an art museum, a symphony hall, and several expensive French restaurants, and it is a really pleasant place to take a walk by the river or to see how the rich people live in low-rise condos, in Guangzhou.
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