Second only to the Yangzi in importance as an industrial channel, the oily grey Pearl River (珠江, zhūjiāng) originates in eastern Yunnan province and forms one of China’s busiest waterways, continually active with ferries and barges loaded down with coal and stone. Its name derives from a legend about a monk who lost a glowing pearl in its waters, and although it shone on the riverbed night after night, nobody was ever able to recover it.
Evening cruises depart daily between 7.20pm and 9.20pm from Xidi Wharf (西堤码头, xīdī mătóu), roughly opposite the Customs House on Yanjiang Lu, or 1km east at the more popular Tianzi Wharf (天字码头, tiānzì mǎtóu), which has more luxurious and expensive boats – ticket offices line the waterfront. These cruises last 75–90min and prices start at ¥48, or ¥98 including dinner. You can sit back and watch the lights of the city slip slowly past your table, with fine views of Guangzhou’s busy waterfront, flanked by ever-higher buildings and dominated by coloured lights from the Canton Tower, China’s tallest structure. The route also takes you past the White Swan on Shamian Island, back under Renmin Bridge, past Haizhu Bridge and then down to the grand Guangzhou suspension bridge at the far end of Er Sha Island.