Should You Do a Guangzhou Layover?


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If you are flying between continents, you might have come across the ultra low cost flights offered by China Southern Airlines in a bid to become a major international player in trans continental flights.  As a family of 5, we couldn’t turn down the good price, although we were a little unsure about what to expect flying with them.  Check it out – find cheap flights through China here.

China Southern is based in Guangzhou, the third largest city in China.  Although it isn’t as well known to foreigners as Beijing or Shanghai, Guangzhou is an interesting city to visit and a good introduction to China.  Having been a commercial city for a thousand years, it offers plenty of history and its moderate climate in southern China is very pleasant.

In this post we will review our experience of flying China Southern, things to do on a Guangzhou layover and tips for making the most of your layover.

Flying China Southern

As budget travelers, we fully embrace budget airlines when flying. However, for long haul flights we much prefer flying with full service airlines.  However with flights from North America to India, via Guangzhou priced at $700 CAD one-way, China Southern was the best option for our family.

Our experience on China Southern was what we expected.  It definitely wasn’t to the standard of flying an airline like Cathay Pacific long haul, but it was perfectly fine.  The aircraft was modern and well equipped and the staff spoke enough English to communicate with.  The food wasn’t very good, but we weren’t expecting it to be.  For the price, we were happy with our trans-Pacific flights and would fly China Southern again.

Why Schedule a Guangzhou Layover

When we are flying long distances with kids, we try to break up the journey with a layover.  It also gives us the advantage of visiting a new destination, often at no additional cost.

In the case of China Southern, we were flying from Los Angeles to New Delhi and the cost of the flight was the same if we went continuously through Guangzhou or if we had a 3-day layover.  Since China offers the 72-hour visa-free stay, it was a no brainer for us.  You should know that you will have to jump through a number of hoops to use this visa, so be prepared.  We have a full post on how to use the China 72-hour visa-free stay coming soon.

We had never been to China and our 3-day stay allowed us to get a little taste of what a longer trip to China would be like.

While Guangzhou isn’t a city many foreigners are familiar with, it offers a good amount of things to do including historic and cultural sites.

What to Do in Guangzhou

Wander Beijing RoadGuangzhou layover

The Beijing district is the centre and birthplace of Guangzhou and since we were staying in this area, it was the first place we explored.  This busy pedestrian road attracts large crowds to its restaurants and shops, especially in the evening.  This is a great place to see modern China, but you can also appreciate its historic past here.  Along the pedestrian road, there are preserved sections of ancient roads from the 11th to 14th century Song and Yuan dynasties.

The Beijing Road district is a great place to sample Chinese fare, from street side vendors to traditional dim sum joints and even international cuisines.

Explore Yuexiu Park

Yuexiu Park is the largest park in Guangzhou and the sheer amount of green space in a Chinese city surprised us.  You can access the park from many different sides, but you will immediately notice how well utilized the park is.  Each time we visited, we saw seniors ballroom dancing, children playing, various exercise happening from tai chi to jogging, musicians playing, intense games being played and more.

One of the main sites in the park is the Five Rams statute, which has become the symbol of Guangzhou.  There are many gardens, lakes, and children’s play areas, to explore in this massive green space in the centre of the city.

Take a Pearl River Cruise

The Pearl River is the third largest river in China and runs through Guangzhou.  Taking a Pearl River cruise is a great way to see the historic and modern parts of the city, including the famous Canton Tower.  You can do boat tours throughout the day, but an evening tour shows the city all lit up.

There are a few different wharfs with tours in Guangzhou.  You can find information about them and tour times at this site.  I would recommend buying your tickets earlier in the day because they often sell out.  We went on a 7:30 pm cruise from Tianzi Wharf at the end of Beijing Road.  We paid 70 yuan/person (including kids) – $14 CAD/person.

Visit Shamian IslandShamian Island

Shamian Island lies in the Pearl River in the centre of Guangzhou and has an interesting history.  Half was given to France and half to Britain as concessions in the 19th century, giving it a colonial feel.  The island is small and walkable with tree-lined, quiet pedestrian streets.  While we were there, there were teens shooting a dance video, two elderly men playing instruments attracted a crowd and lots of locals enjoying this peaceful island.

Gorge on Dim Sumdim sum china

Our family loves dim sum so we were eager to taste some authentic dim sum.  We stumbled upon Dian Dou De and had a fantastic meal.  There was no English menu, but a kind server was able to pull up their English menu online on her phone for us to order from.  We were the only foreigners there, which was buzzing with Cantonese families.

As vegetarians, it was a bit tricky to order things that were truly veg.  For example the “Leek Dumplings” had pork in them as well.  The kids enjoyed preparing the tea in the traditional way.  We paid 250 yuan for 9 dishes.

Canton TowerPearl River cruise

The Canton Tower lies on the south bank of the Pearl River and is the symbol of Guangzhou.  For a brief time, it was the tallest tower in the world when it was built in 2010 at 604 m. There are quite a few ways to experience the Tower, including an observatory, a bubble tram and sky drop amusement ride.  Unfortunately, prices are steep for these experiences so we settled for seeing the Tower from the river on our Pearl Cruise.

Ticket packages range from 150-300 yuan/adult ($30-60 CAD), with kids under 1.5 m being half price.

Chen Clan Academy

The Chen Clan Academy was built by the Chen family as a place to stay while they prepared for imperial examinations in Guangzhou.  It is very well preserved and a great example of traditional architecture.  The temple is now the site of the Museum of Guangdong Folk Arts and Crafts with some wonderful cultural crafts, including incredible ivory carvings.  Ticket price is 10 yuan/person ($2 CAD).

Temple of the Six Banyan TreesGuangzhou layover

The multi-tiered pagoda is stunning and the temple complex is a peaceful respite from the city.  You can purchase a simple meal at the temple, but we were too intimidated to give it a try.

Tips For a Layover in ChinaGuangzhou free stopover

Since we would only be in China for a few days we didn’t do much planning in advance.  We knew there would be a significant language barrier and we knew we wouldn’t be able to post our selfies to Facebook or Instagram, but that wouldn’t be a big deal.  What we didn’t realize was how many of our regular travel practices didn’t work in China.

If you are planning on visiting China, even for a short layover, here are some tips that will help you enjoy your stay.

  • Research which ATMs will work with a foreign card. We found Bank of China and ICBC worked best.  Credit cards are not frequently accepted.
  • Use a VPN. It was fine to live without social media, but we didn’t realize we would not be able to search or use Google maps.  We were able to use Mapquest with limited success and Baidu (Chinese search tool).  This website has a good breakdown of what VPNs do, if you aren’t familiar.
  • If possible, print out maps showing your hotel location, how to get there and other landmarks you would like to visit.
  • Download Google Translate for Chinese – it will come in very useful when you don’t have WiFi
  • Download the MRT map
  • Stop by the Tourism office on Beijing Pedestrian Road and pick up some very helpful brochures that will help you get around.
  • Be prepared on arrival in China with printed documents to apply for your 72-hour visa-free stay (printed copies of your hotel in China, onward itinerary and visa for your next country).

Where to Stay in Guangzhou

Boman Holiday Apartment – good location very close to Beijing Road, these large apartments were perfect for our family of 5.  They are clean and modern and I loved having a washing machine! This isn’t really a hotel, but a large apartment building with many small hotels operating out of it.  Click here to check pricing.

Shangri La Hotel Guangzhou – best luxury property in Guangzhou with consistent good reviews. Excellent rooms, amenities and service. Click here to check the latest prices.

The Westin Guangzhou – another great luxury property offering 5 star accommodation.  Spacious rooms, good views, although the location is better suited to business travellers.  Click here to check the latest prices.

Getting Around Guangzhou

We took a taxi from the airport to the Beijing Road area for 150 yuan ($30 CAD) for our family.

The Guangzhou metro is surprisingly easy to use and a very cheap way to get around at 2 yuan/person (40 cents CAD).  There is English signage and the colour-coded lines are simple to navigate.  The biggest challenge is figuring out which exit to take to get to where you are going.

Our Verdict

We were really happy with our decision to have a 3-day layover in Guangzhou.  It broke up our journey to India and allowed us to experience China for the first time.  Although Guangzhou doesn’t have the Chinese headliner sights that we are familiar with, there is lots of cultural and historical things to do.

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Guangzhou Layover3 days in Guangzhou

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