Planning a Trip
Guangzhou's New Baiyun International Airport (CAN) has been in operation since August 5, 2004, but is barely in Guangzhou anymore. It's way out in the sticks, in a white-tiled cluster called Hua Du, 28km (17 miles) away from Haizhu Square, the center of Guangzhou City. Don't be surprised if your taxi driver asks for the ridiculous sum of ¥150 ($20/£9.75) just to get out of town. If you are arriving later than 10pm, taxis are particularly bad about not wanting to run on the meter and charging exorbitant amounts.
Fortunately, there are plenty of regular airport buses to dozens of locations within the city. Seven main bus routes traverse Guangzhou but nos. 1 and 2 will probably satisfy the short-term visitor. No. 1 goes to the old station and no. 2 goes through Tian He and past the big hotels on Huanshi Lu. Fares range from ¥10 ($1.30/65p) to ¥30 ($3.90/£1.95) by distance. There are direct buses heading for Zhuhai at ¥80 ($10/£5.20) per person, running approximately every 2 1/2 hours. The last bus leaves at about 8:30pm. For more information, contact the Baiyun Port Bus Service (tel. 020/3129-8077; http://newsgd.com/specials/airportguide/airportqna/200407300080.htm). The no. 3 metro line connecting the airport with the city might be open when you read this; then again, this is China.
Tip: For those heading to Hong Kong from elsewhere in China, it's often considerably cheaper to fly here or (even better) to Shenzhen instead, and then take a bus, train, or boat.
Guangzhou is also connected internationally to more than 70 domestic cities and over 20 international cities. Direct international flights are to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, Bangkok, Osaka and Hong Kong Amsterdam, Bangkok, Fukuoka, Jakarta, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Osaka, Phnom Penh, Seoul, Singapore, Sydney, and Tokyo.
Since March 2007, passengers who pass directly through the territory of China on an international service or stay in Guangzhou less than 24 hours do not need a visa. They must however have a connecting flight and a booked seat.
As elsewhere, tickets are best bought from agents rather than directly from airlines. CITS (tel. 020/8669-0179 air tickets, or 020/8666-4661 train tickets; Mon-Fri 8:30am-6:30pm, Sat-Sun 9am-5pm) to the right of the main railway station as you face it, is unusually helpful, with some English spoken. Air ticket prices can be bargained down. For general airport inquiries in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English, call tel. 020/360-66999.
Most trains arrive at the main railway station Guangzhou Huochezhan (known locally as Lao Zhan, the old station 159, Huanshi Xi Lu, Guangzhou; tel. 020/613-57222), which has services from Beijing Xi, Chengdu, Xi'an, Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Chongqing, Lanzhou, Wenzhou, and many more cities. There are a few services to Shenzhen. For information, call tel. 020/6135-7412 or 020/6135-8952. There's an information counter toward the right-hand end of the railway station as you face it, open from 5am to midnight. The 24-hour ticket windows are at the far right-hand end. Buy up to 12 days in advance. The 24-hour left-luggage windows are in the middle.
Direct trains from Hong Kong arrive at Guangzhou Dong Zhan (East Station; Linhe Zhong Lu, Tianhe District; tel. 020/6134-6222), which is conveniently at the end of the first metro line (exit D). This station is on the express line from Beijing Xi through Jiujiang with direct trains that continue to Hong Kong on alternate days. There are also direct services to Changchun, Tianjin, Qingdao, Nanchang, and other cities. There are seven train departures a day for Hong Kong between 9:50am and 5:20pm; the trip takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours and costs from HK$190 (US$23/£11). For more information, see www.kcrc.com/eng/services/services/itts_shedule.asp. There's also a very high-speed train service to Shenzhen, with departures every few minutes, some of which cover the 139km (87 miles) in under an hour and drop you right next to the border crossing to Hong Kong at Luo Hu/Lo Wu. (A few slower services run to and from the main railway station.) The railway station has a customer service center (open 5:30am-11:40pm), a number of air ticket agents (some surprisingly competitive), and a counter selling tickets for Shanghai, Taiyuan, Jiujiang, and Beijing Xi (West). The main ticket windows, open from 5:50am to 9:40pm with short breaks, are set back on the right, while the left-luggage office (open 8:30am-6:30pm) has moved to the central concourse. The Hong Kong ticket office (open 7:30am-6pm) is at the far end of the concourse, upstairs on the right. The entrance to Hong Kong trains, via Customs, is just beyond that.
Guangzhou has multiple long-distance bus stations. The Liuhua Chezhan (open 5am-10:30pm) is reached by an underpass across the station forecourt and to the right. It has buses to Shenzhen (15 departures 6am-10:30pm; ¥60/$7.80/£3.90; and a few more expensive services); and to Zhuhai (60 departures 5:45am-10pm; ¥65/$8.50/£4.20). From the far right-hand corner of the station forecourt as you leave it, turn right along Huanshi Xi Lu, and the 24-hour Sheng Qiche Keyun Zhan (Guangdong Provincial Long-distance Bus Station) is a couple of minutes farther on the right. Buses here are generally bound for Hunan, Jiangxi, Fujian, and Guangxi and cities in Guangdong Province. It has services to Shenzhen (¥60/$7.80/£3.90) every 12 minutes from 6:15am to 11pm; to Zhuhai Gong Bei for Macau (¥55/$7.20/£3.60) every 20 minutes from 6:30am to 8:30pm; and to Kaiping (¥45/$5.90/£2.90) every 40 minutes from 6:30am to 7pm. There are also services to Guilin, Nanning, and Beihai. The Shi Qiche Keyun Zhan opposite, over the footbridge, has more departures to the same destinations.
There are also direct bus services to Hong Kong airport, picking up at the China Hotel, White Swan, Garden Hotel, International Hotel, Holiday Inn, and other hotels (eight services 5:45am-4:25pm; HK$250/US$33/£16; buses to Guangzhou depart 10:05am-5:15pm from the CTS counter at Hong Kong Airport; call tel. 020/8333-6888, ext. 5384, or 852/2764 9803 in Hong Kong). Buses also run from the Garden Hotel to Hung Hom Station or Prince Edward MTR in Hong Kong; there are 16 departures from 8am to 7:15pm, and the cost is HK$120 ($16/£7.80). There are also services to Macau two to three times daily for HK$53 (US$7/£3.50).
Unfortunately, nearly all of the ferry services to and from Hong Kong have been discontinued, even though the roads become more and more congested every day. Boats no longer depart from Guangzhou, only from some of the satellite towns such as Nansha, Panyu, and Shunde. The Garden Hotel still has shuttles to Nanhai where there is still a boat to Hong Kong that takes about 2 1/2 hours. Shuttle buses leave the Garden Hotel at 9am and 4pm and the cost of the service is ¥170 ($22/£11), ¥180 ($16/£7.80) for first class. Call the Garden Hotel for more information (tel. 020/8333-8989).
Taxi fares are among China's most expensive with a flagfall of ¥7 (90¢/50p) including 2.3km (1 1/4 miles), then ¥2.60 (30¢/15p) per kilometer up to 15km (9 miles), then 50% more. There are no extra nighttime charges, but beware the 5-to-7pm rush hour, which will add significantly to your costs.
The metro is the most convenient way to get through Guangzhou's heavy traffic but due to pathetic political wranglings, it completely misses many key areas of the city, notably the mainly Hong Kong-invested downtown area around the Garden Hotel. Much of the new development has simply been added on to the original lines, with new stations and extensions becoming very confusing. The useful line no. 1 (yellow on maps) runs from Xilang in the Fangcun District in southwest Guangzhou, passes Shamian Island (Huangsha Station) and two or three other major sights, and ends up at Guangzhou East railway station. Line no. 2 (yellow) opened in 2003, runs from Sanyuanli in the Baiyun District to Wanshengwei in the Haizhu District and will eventually reach the current airport. It passes the main railway station and one or two useful hotels. Line 3 (gold) runs from the East Railway Station to Panyu Square; with a branch that runs from Tianhe Bus Station to West Tiyu Road via Gangding. Subway Line 4 (green) runs from Wanshengwei to Huangge including the Daxue Cheng (University Town) Special Section which has only five stops from Wanshengwei to Xinzao. The mayor recently announced that he planned to have a whopping 255km (158 miles) of new lines by 2010.
Tickets cost ¥2 to ¥8 (25¢-$1/10p-50p) according to the distance to be traveled, as shown on a color-coded sign above ticket machines. Stored-value Yang Cheng Tong cards allowing multiple journeys are strangely unavailable from the metro station ticket desks, but can be found at the laundry chain that is always close by. The system runs from around 6am to 11pm. Oddly, the metro stations are fairly well signposted, but the entrances are overly discreet. There are on-board announcements that sometimes resemble English; for example "Please mind the doors" has become "Please take care not to be nipped!" Ordinary buses charge a flat fare of ¥1 (15¢/10p); newer air-conditioned versions charge a flat fare of ¥2 (25¢/15p).
In April 2007, six water buses began to run along the channel of the Pearl River in Guangzhou, supplying residents and tourists with a more convenient transport service. There are four ports along the line: Zhongda Passenger Port, Tianzi Passenger Port, Xidi Passenger Port, and Fangcun Passenger Port. The whole journey only takes 25 minutes; the ticket is ¥1 (15¢/10p) to ¥2 (25¢/15p).
Guangzhou supports several free magazines that tend to be more advertorial than useful information, obtainable from hotel lobbies and expat hangouts. They contain reviews of new restaurants, clubs, and bars (usually paid for), and intermittently accurate listings. That's Guangzhou is marginally better than South China City Talk, but not much since the English owner was pushed out in a very hostile takeover by the Chinese authorities. Guangzhou Today is advertorials from cover to cover.
A locally run agency used to dealing with the needs of foreigners is Xpat Travel Planners, Flat E, 20/F, Regent House, Taojin Lu 50 (tel. 020/8358-6961; firstname.lastname@example.org).
American Express (tel. 020/8331-1311; fax 020/8331-1616) has a branch in the office building of the Guangdong International Hotel. It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. For official tourist information, call tel. 020/8668-7051; for complaints call tel. 020/8667-8043; and for "emergency rescue" (not to worry, that's just the unfortunate Chinese to English translation for "emergency services") call tel. 020/8666-6330.