Guangzhou Get­aways

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This sprawl­ing south­ern port city on the Pearl River doesn’t shy away from ar­chi­tec­tural grandeur. It is home to avant­garde ar­chi­tec­ture such as Zaha Ha­did’s peb­ble-like Guangzhou Opera House; the carved boxshaped Guang­dong Mu­seum; the 600-me­tre-tall Can­ton TV Tower, re­sem­bling a thin hour­glass; and the world’s high­est cir­cu­lar build­ing, which looks like a tra­di­tional cop­per coin.

There are ob­vi­ous day trip des­ti­na­tions nearby, Hong Kong, Ma­cau, and Shen­zhen among them. But if you need a break from high-rises and neon, there are other ar­chi­tec­tural al­ter­na­tives on your doorstep.

Driv­ing south­west from Guangzhou for 140 kilo­me­ters, you’ll start to no­tice you’re be­ing watched. Spread over four vil­lages in Kaip­ing County are a stag­ger­ing col­lec­tion of 1,800 watch­tow­ers, or diaolou, some dat­ing back to the 16th cen­tury, oth­ers built more re­cently in the 1900s, funded by money sent from over­seas em­i­grants from the re­gion. These for­ti­fied, mul­ti­sto­ried struc­tures show off a com­plex and flam­boy­ant fu­sion of Chi­nese and Western struc­tur- al and dec­o­ra­tive forms, with baroque, clas­si­cal, and gothic in­flu­ences. Four vil­lages have been given World Her­itage sta­tus for their well-pre­served build­ings.

While it was fa­mous for its ce­ram­ics dur­ing the Ming dy­nasty, Foshan’s main draw­card to­day is as the an­ces­tral home of mar­tial arts mas­ter Bruce Lee. Just 35 kilo­me­ters south­west of Guangzhou, the city was the birth­place of Ip Man, Lee’s teacher, who de­vel­oped the Wing Chun style of kung fu. You can visit the home where Lee’s fa­ther was born, on the out­skirts of town in Shang vil­lage, and tour a mu­seum ded­i­cated to the star, show­cas­ing more than 1,000 items from his ca­reer, in­clud­ing pho­tos and cos­tumes. You can also ad­mire the largest statue of Lee any­where in the world, stand­ing proud at 18.8 me­ters tall.

China’s other scenic West Lake can be found in Huizhou— it’s only 120 kilo­me­ters east of Guangzhou, but it’s a trop­i­cal world away from the sprawl­ing metropo­lis. The lake aside, there are wet­lands with mi­gra­tory birds, ex­pan­sive parks, moun­tains dot­ted with Taoist tem­ples, and a sur­pris­ing num­ber of beaches. And 190 kilo­me­ters north (a 50-minute bul­let­train ride), you’ll find Shaoguan, home to the mum­mi­fied re­mains of the sixth Zen Bud­dhist pa­tri­arch Huineng, not to men­tion some rather phal­lic rock for­ma­tions (be sure to take an oblig­a­tory shot of Mount Danxia). Shaoguan also at­tracts weary city work­ers with its hot springs, and there are a num­ber of pub­lic and pri­vate places to soak in min­eral wa­ter around town—the per­fect end to a day away.

An in­stal­la­tion of kung fu stat­ues in Foshan. Be­low, from left: Mount Danxia; a diaolou tower in Kaip­ing.

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