While the rapid modernization of China’s cities has made many of them very same same. Zhaoqing in Guangdong stands out.
China’s Most Beautiful City Zhaoqing 肇庆 is possibly one place in China where I could quite comfortable live. It has almost everythng one wants from a city.
Zhaoqing is quite a surprising city for these parts of China. Not only does it have an interesting old town, but it also has the most incredible landscape right in the heart of the city. Here are a few photos to intice you to read the whole article.
This photo shows a local Cantonese fishing in the part of the Pearl River 珠江 that separates Guangzhou City广州 from Shamian Island 沙面岛。The back-drop is Shamian Island’s imposing colonial architecture. It could almost be Paris.
Zhaoqing; The City with Everything: Within an hour from Guangzhou, Zhaoqing is a fantastic place to spend a few days exploring. It’s a lively city with its own miniature version of Guilin’s famous karst scenery smack- bang in the centre in the form of the Seven Star Crags Scenic Zone; a massive park and lake area.
Moreover, Zhaoqing still preserves some interesting, old downtown areas to wander around and explore the traditional shop-houses, the tiny dwellings built onto the city walls and the occasional riverside pagoda.
Zhaoqing The City with Everything: All is Green
Nearby, China’s first Biosphere Reserve, Dinghushan 鼎湖山, lies on the outskirts of the city. Just an hour away by local bus are the time-forgotten, completely un-spoilt ancientBagua Villages of Licha Cun and Xianggang Cun. Add to all this a great night market with restaurants spilling out into the street, serving excellent Cantonese food and you couldn’t really ask for more. Incidentally, though the city is popular with Chinese visitors, you are unlikely to see another foreigner during your stay.
Seven Star Crags Scenic Zone
In Zhaoqing city, the undisputed main attraction is the Seven Star Crags Scenic Zone, which has been a tourist spot since ancient times. It owes its fame to the Guilin-esque limestone rock formations that shoot out of the huge lakes in the centre of town. There are temples, pavilions and winding paths leading to view points, caves and grottoes all over the park.
Dinghushan: a Tropical Paradise on the Edge of Urbanization: An Urban escape
It’s a beautiful place of towering green hills, gushing waterfalls and clear streams, laced with a sprinkling of peaceful Buddhist temples and home to numerous plant and animal species. However, apart from the awe-inspiring, lush, tropical scenery, one memory will always stick in our minds: that of pigging out on tasty, deep- purple potatoes…
We got to the park by local bus, leaving from downtown Zhaoqing. Though the park’s only 18 km away, the ride took quite a while, as the bus meandered from one densely populated suburb to the next. Even when it finally dropped us off in a quiet, dead-end street, lined with hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops, we still found it hard to believe there could be an important natural reserve near here.
Dinghushan: a Tropical Paradise on the Edge of Urbanization: First Impressions
Our first impressions of China’s “green gem on the Tropic of Cancer” weren’t great: it seemed not so much a tropical biosphere as a tame, suburban tourist trap! Before crossing the turn-style, we had to fork out a hefty 60 Yuan for the entrance tickets. After acquiring an additional 20 Yuan ticket, we hopped on one of the electric carts headed for the Tianhu area. To our dismay, we were charged another 30 Yuan for a very short boat trip across the lake, and access to the main park area.
Bagua Village 八卦村 of Licha Cun 黎槎村 Guangdong Province
Bagua Village of Licha Cun: One of Guangdong’s hidden gems is found only 200 meters from some of the drabbest scenery you are ever likely to see in China.
The road between the attractive town of Zhaoqing and the fascinating Bagua village of Licha Cun 黎槎村 has got to be one of the ugliest in China. Dusty, dirty and lined, almost uninterruptedly, with small ceramic factories, many of them specialize in manufacturing toilet bowls of all shapes and sizes. These thrones, destined for backsides of China’s growing urbanized middle class, are haphazardly displayed along the side of the road making the traveler wonder if the world is just one big toilet.
Yet, the ugliness is deceptive. Turn 200 meters down any small road leading off the highway and you enter a rural world of bucolic charm that has hardly changed for centuries. The turn off to the Bagua Village of Licha Cun is just one such example.
Bagua 八卦 The Octagonal Shape of Licha Cun
“The bagua: 八卦; literally: “eight symbols”) are eight trigrams used in Taoist Cosmology to represent the fundamental principles of reality, seen as a range of eight interrelated concepts. Each consists of three lines, each line either “broken” or “unbroken,” representing Yin or Yang, respectively. Due to their tripartite structure, they are often referred to as “trigrams” in English.” WikiPedia
With a history tracing back more than 700 years, the Village of Licha Cun has been built exactly according to the octagonal symbol of Bagua, a design that converts the village into a labyrinth of narrow alleys and makes orientation near impossible. It’s an incredible place.
It just shows how much things have changed in China: according to our rather dated guidebook, the train from Guangzhou to Qingyuan 清远 should have taken around two hours to cover the 80 kilometers between the two cities. Not anymore! It now takes about twenty minutes to whizz you from one place to the other on one of China’s new high- speed trains. And they even feed you breakfast – of sorts – in that time!
It actually takes longer to do the 15- kilometer ride on the underground from Central Guangzhou to the new GuangzhouSouth station 广州南站, than it does to travel to Qingyuan.
Why does one go to Qingyuan?
The answer is mainly to visit the secluded temples of Fei Lai飞来and Fei Xia飞霞that are almost exclusively reached by boat along the Beijiang River.
Rows of historic Qilou buildings and old world charm await the traveler in the Guangdong Village of Chikan
Arriving in Chikan 赤坎
Arrival in Chikan 赤坎 is quite spectacular. firstly, The town’s unique riverine setting, and it’s unbroken line of Qilou style buildings strung out along the entire Tanjiang River front, is one of Southern China’s most impressive sights.
Qilou Arcades: a Dilemma
Secondly, Chikan invites exploration, but at the same time there are the small, appealing restaurants under the Qilou arcades. This poses a dilemma for the traveler; exploration first, or a cold beer; we chose the latter, but both options are great becauseChikan is a place to linger.
What are Qilou Buildings?
Qilou buildings are a construction style that developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century in Guangdong Province. As city streets were widened, Qilou buildings began to spring up and builders began to combine 18th Century Western architectural styles with traditional Cantonese styles.
Qilou Pillared Columns
The most prominent features are the pillared columns that provide shoppers and shopkeepers’ alike with shelter from the merciless sun and the torrential downpours. For example, The upper floors, usually three or four, are characterized by their European influenced wooden shutters or stained glass windows.
Jinjiangli Home to the most beautiful Diaolou building: Last but not least, JinJiangli 锦江里. The village of Jinjiangli is the furthest Diaolou Cluster from Kaiping and is home to what many believe to be the most spectacular Diaolou building: the Ruishilou 瑞石楼.
With its unmistakable Indian Raj design, pillars and colourful decorations, the Ruishilou seems from the distance to be a part of Mughal India dumped in the middle of a classical southern Chinese landcsape; it really is an extraordinary sight as you approach the village and this imperial looking building comes into view, looming over the rice paddies.
However, Jinjiangli is more than just one Diaolou. There are several other splendid examples of Diaolou in the village, as well as some marvellous vernacular buildings.
Majianglong 马降龙: The most beautiful village in China???
Kaiping / Guangdong Province
Majianglong 马降龙 is a must when exploring the Diaolou in the Kaiping region. The local tourist propaganda calls it the most beautiful village in China and one of the 50 places that can’t be missed. Heard that one before? Actually, while I’d take some of the hype with a pinch of salt, Majianglong is undoubtedly very pretty and makes for a fascinating visit.
Majianglong is not one village, but a collection of 5 small hamlets: Yong’an永安, Nan’an 南安, Qinglin庆临, Hedong河东 and Longjiang龙江，linked together by bamboo- shaded stone paths along the shores of the Tanjiang River 潭江.
The buildings in Majianglong are sturdy, grey- brick constructions with beautiful roofs and lovely paintings above and around the doorways, showing scenes from classical China: beautiful maidens, song birds, flower arrangements, etc. The vernacular buildings mostly date from the Qing dynasty, while the Diaolou are early Chinese Republic edifices.
Obviously, the number one activity around here is ‘spot the Diaolou’ (Click here for a definition of a Diaolou). Given that these are rather tall buildings, you’d be surprised how challenging this can be. Many are hidden by the dense vegetation and the tall, swaying bamboo trees, or concealed down blind alleys.
The best way to get your bearings is to climb to theroof of the first Diaolou you track down and from there make a mental map of how to get to the others.
Zili Village Kaiping 自力村碉楼群: The setting of Zili’s Diaolou (Click here for a Diaolou definition) is the embodiment of bucolic China. They appear amidst shimmering green rice fields, dotted with hoe- carrying peasants, dressed as they were when the Diaolou were built a century ago, with the odd water buffalo to put the icing on the pastoral cake.
Zili Village 自力村碉楼群
Zili village is more than just its Diaolou. The village boasts a peculiar mixture of sturdy peasant houses with beautiful eave roofs and delightful alleys.
Zili Village 自力村碉楼群
A couple of those houses on the square near Zili Village 自力村碉楼群 entrance have been converted into an interesting folk museum, showing traditional furniture, farming implements, as well as photos and historical records.
Most of its startling Diaolou lie on the outskirts of the village, as if sprouting out of the rice paddies. To reach them you have to cross a large lily-pond, covered in quivering, plate-sized leaves.