Josh Zhu has held the title of Chief Concierge at Mandarin Oriental in Guangzhou since 2015. Guangzhou (广州; Gwóngjāu in Cantonese, Guǎngzhōu in Mandarin, Canton in English) is a sprawling, port city northwest of Hong Kong on the Pearl River, in southern China. Home to 12 million people, it’s China’s third biggest city, after Beijing and Shanghai, and it’s both ancient and flashy – flaunting avant-garde architecture, such as Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House. With recommendations including the curiously named ‘chicken cookies’ as souvenirs, Josh offers us a wealth of ways to enjoy his home town. Let’s join him in the capital of the Guangdong province, the metropolis by the water…
Favourite locale when enjoying a day off
My favourite location during my day off is a neighbourhood called Dongshan, which is one of the old districts in town. Walking around in the old streets either on a rainy or sunny day is always my best form of relaxation.
Where he takes his own guests when they visit
As I tell guests, the city is divided into two areas, in terms of city development and the lifestyle of different generations of citizens. For the most modern part with high-speed development, I would show my guests around in Zhujiang New Town. Here you can see the dynamic side of Guangzhou: skyscrapers with luxury brands, bars and restaurants with parties day and night, and of course, the most luxurious hotels with excellent service are also here. But in the old downtown, such as Dongshan and Liwan, we enjoy relaxing moments with fantastic Dim Sum and street foods.
It’s a rainy day but we want to explore, what we should do
Even if it’s a rainy day, the Guangdong Museum, consisting of four floors and presenting the geography, local history, and daily life of citizens and culture is, I believe, the best choice for at least five hours of indoor experience. It is located in the Zhujiang New Town, Tianhe District: a huge, underground shopping mall with plenty of dining options is located just around the corner.
Recommended night-time entertainment
One of the MUST-do forms of night-time entertainment is the circus in Chimelong. It has been operating for more than 17 years and almost every day, it has been fully booked. Meanwhile the French restaurant at Canton Tower, called Lutece, is also an option if you desire high-quality food. The Lutece offers extraordinary views of the city from Canton Tower which makes the dining experience remarkable. Of course, one of the first Michelin-recommended restaurants, Jiang by Chef Fei, is the best place to experience Cantonese delight in town for dinner, and it is located inside the Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou.
Key phrases visitors should learn
I suggest visitors to learn the Cantonese phrase: “唔该” (mm goi), meaning Excuse me if you use it before asking a question, but also means Thank you or Please when it is used at the end of a sentence. Thus, no matter what you may need, you can never go wrong by saying 唔该. The official language is Mandarin, but Cantonese is the mother tongue of the locals.
Where to find the best shopping and souvenirs
Guangzhou is a place for shopping – wholesale and retail. The best wholesale area for almost everything is Zhan Xi Road. It is located near the Guangzhou Railway Station. There are markets selling leather bags, fashionable clothing, watches and even shoes. I think the Chicken Cookies should be the best souvenirs representing Guangzhou. A small replica of Canton Tower should be a nice souvenir for your travel collection.
A child-friendly thing to do or place to go
For families travelling to the city, I would recommend the Chimelong Safari – especially if the kids like to spend time with animals. It’s about a 30-minute drive from downtown, but it is worth visiting.
Best kept secret or favourite hidden treasure
I always prepare a day-tour plan for anyone asking for the most typical experience in town. Have a Dim Sum breakfast at Panxi Restaurant from the early morning, then walk along the Lai Chi Wan Bay to the Cantonese Opera Museum. If lucky enough, you should be able to enjoy a good show before noon. Within a 10-minute walking distance is the Shangxia Jiu Road, a place with shopping options and street foods all around. Or maybe have a cup of coffee on Shamian Island, a 10-minute drive away. The architecture on the island is a mix of East and West. Spending an afternoon on this island gives one an opportunity to escape their normal daily lives.
The best way to get to the airport
The Baiyun International Airport is the only airport in Guangzhou. It is about a 60-minute drive from town. The subway and taxis are the methods of transportation used to get to and from the airport but I suggest travellers with luggage take a taxi rather than the subway since, during rush hours, the subway can get extremely crowded to get on.
Best time of the year to visit
I like the short autumn, around November to early December, but for guests who come for leisure, I also recommend the long summer, from June to August. It’s usually rainy in spring and summer, while typhoons come around June.
Anything else we should know when visiting
As the last tip, I suggest guests consult the Concierge, especially a member of Les Clef d’Or, more often and keep their contact info for any emergency. Guangzhou is a city with tonnes of information and secret tips for each offering. Concierges are key to creating hotel guests’ best city experiences.
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