Shenzhen is positively overflowing with things to see and do, but sometimes you just need to step back in time, step down in pace and spend a weekend somewhere with the scent of history lurking around every corner. If you’re looking for somewhere new to explore, not too far from Shenzhen but far enough away to feel like you’ve had a break and a taste of something more like the China you had always imagined, perhaps Kaiping 开平 is exactly what you need.
Kaiping is situated in Guangdong and is the ancestral home to many overseas Chinese. It’s most famous for its watchtower, castle-like buildings that are dotted around the surrounding countryside. Cycling along the roads outside this small city, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported smack-bang into some fairytale land. The towers are absolutely beautiful, especially the ones that haven’t been touched for years and are crumbling at the seams. They look so majestic poking out from between the long grass.
These towers are called Diaolou and what I like most about them is their mixture of Western and Eastern elements. Seeing as they were built by overseas Chinese, they have a touch of both worlds, making Kaiping a very special place. The Diaolou were originally built to serve as both housing as well as protection against attacks from bandits. I’m not sure if people still live in some of them, but quite a few make up part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I could have cycled around the villages and in and out of these towers for days.
Here’s my little Kaiping travel guide for anyone who fancies checking this beautiful part of Guangdong out:
HOW TO GET THERE
If you’re travelling to Kaiping from Shenzhen, the easiest way to get there is to take the bus from Zhu Zi Lin bus station in Futian. This bus station is directly above the Zhu Zi Lin mrt station and the buses to Kaiping run every hour. Depending on traffic, the bus should take around 2.5 hours on a good day. We travelled there on a public holiday, so it was closer to 3.5 hours. Once you reach Kaiping bus station, change to a small local bus going to Chikan village. If I remember correctly, you can take bus number 6, otherwise just ask someone in the bus station which bus you can take. There are quite a few tourists who visit Kaiping so I’m sure the locals can point you in the right direction.
Once you reach Chikan, there are a few different stops. Either get off when you first enter the small streets of the village selling food etc, or wait until the stop next to the small river running through the village.
Once there, you can rent bicycles from various shops and stalls that run alongside the river, for about 20-50rmb per day depending on whether you choose an old, rusty number or a more decent mountain bike. Personally, I prefer the rusty ones as they usually have a basket and bell. There are even some fixies floating around these days. Kaiping hipsters!
WHERE TO STAY
We wanted to stay at this hostel – Tribe of Diaomin but unfortunately it was fully booked owing to us travelling there on a public holiday. It’s located right on the river and has a great bar which is quite fun to go to after a full day of cycling and sightseeing. You can also rent bicycles from them. We ended up staying in a very small, local hotel that cost us 100rmb each, per night, for a twin room. This hotel was just called Hotel, so it’s a little hard to find. If you discover that Tribe of Diaomin is fully booked, just ask them to help you get to the other hotel in the village and you should have no problem getting a room there.
WHAT TO SEE
Seeing as Kaiping’s Diaolou are recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you might want to visit ALL the sights. You can actually purchase a special ticket for 180rmb that grants you entry to the 4 main sights, but we just opted to visit 2 of the main sites as we found it more fun cycling and discovering our own unique towers with no other tourists around.
The 4 main sights are:
* Ruishi Diaolou- This is the highest Diaolou in Kaiping and I recommend going here. It’s really nice to walk around in, but try to go either early in the morning or late in the afternoon as this place is very popular.
* Li Garden- I didn’t go here, but it looks beautiful. It was built by Mr Xie Weili in 1936 and the gardens are filled with blooming flowers and plants.
*Fangshi Denglou- This is referred to as the ‘Light Tower’ because it had a really bright searchlight just like the beam of a lighthouse.
* Bianchouzhu Lou- This is located in Nanxing village which is really cool, and because it took a few years to build this tower, it’s actually leaning. It’s ‘The Leaning Tower of Kaiping’.
But, actually what I really recommend you do is rent a bicycle and cycle around wherever you want. The main sites are very well signposted in both Chinese and English and so even if you get off the beaten path, you’ll have no problem finding your way again.
Just explore to your heart’s delight. Kaiping is such an architectural feast!
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK
Chikan village has a lot of delicious food stalls that set up early in the morning and sell food all along the river bank. Try everything! And be sure to buy a freshly-squeezed orange juice from the old man perched at the end of the bridge. It’s so sweet and delicious. Also, you HAVE to go eat dumplings at this little restaurant with a yellow sign, located right next to the river. The couple who run this place are really lovely and the dumplings are yummy. We had them for breakfast, lunch and, um…dinner too. Haha.
Drinks at the Tribe of Diaomin hostel are cheap and refreshing, otherwise just buy some beer at one of the little stores and chill down by the river with a few friends and enjoy the night view of Chikan.
ANY OTHER TIPS?
Cycle, cycle, cycle! Spend time wandering around the Diaolou. If you’re on your bicycle and see something cool, don’t be afraid to hop off and take a closer look. The local people are really friendly and very accommodating towards tourists. Also, explore the village of Chikan. It’s so old, it really feels like something out of an ancient kung fu movie.
Have fun! And if you have any more questions or comments to make, please feel free to email me or post below!