Halfway along Guangdong’s (广东, gŭangdōng) 800km coastline, rivers from all over the province and beyond disgorge themselves into the South China Sea, through the tropically fertile Pearl River Delta, one of China’s most densely cultivated and developed areas. Perched right at the delta’s northern apex and adjacent to both Hong Kong and Macau, the provincial capital Guangzhou (广州, guăngzhōu) provides many travellers with their first taste of mainland China. It’s not everyone’s favourite city, but once you’ve found your bearings among the busy roads and packed shopping districts, Guangzhou’s world-famous food merits a stop, as does an assortment of museums, parks and monuments. The Pearl River Delta has a few patches of green and some history to pick up in passing, but it would be futile to pretend the area’s focus is anything other than industry and commerce – as demonstrated by the city of Shenzhen (深圳, shēnzhèn) where China’s “economic miracle” took its first baby steps.
Farther afield, the rest of the province is more picturesque. There are Buddhist temples and Stone Age relics around Shaoguan (韶关, sháoguān), up north by the Hunan and Jiangxi borders. Over in the east near Fujian, the ancient town of Chaozhou (潮州, cháozhōu) has well-preserved Ming architecture peppered amongst a warren of narrow streets, while nearby Meizhou (梅州, méizhōu) is a useful stepping stone to the ethnic Hakka heartland, set in the surrounding hills. The highlight of the region, though, lies to the east in the form of the fantastical towers around the town of Kaiping (开平, kāipíng), recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Not far away, Zhaoqing (肇庆, zhàoqìng) sports pleasant, formalized lakes and hilly landscapes, while those heading towards Hainan need to aim for the ferry port of Hai’an (海安, hăi’ān), down in Guangdong’s southwestern extremities.
Guangdong has a generous quantity of rail and road traffic, and getting around is none too difficult, though often requires some advance preparation. Rail lines run north through Shaoguan and up into Hunan and central China, east to Meizhou, Shantou and Fujian, and west through Zhaoqing to Zhanjiang and Guangxi. River travel was, until recently, a highlight of the province, though the only easy excursions left are the fast hydrofoils between the Pearl River Delta towns and Hong Kong, and a day-cruise from the northern town of Qingyuan to some riverside temples. As for the climate, summers can be sweltering across the province, with typhoons along the coast, while winter temperatures get decidedly nippy up in the northern ranges – though it’s more likely to be miserably wet than to snow, except around the highest mountain peaks.