I recently enjoyed a short trip to Kaiping, Guangdong. Famous for its 碉楼 （’diao lou’ meaning ‘watchtowers’).
Bus from Tianhe Coach Terminal. Around 50rmb. Expect a journey time of around 3 hours. From the terminal, you’re best off booking a didi da che to get to the diaolou.
Here’s some highlights:
1. Eat: ‘small pot rice’ 煲仔饭
This stuff is delicious. Meat, vegetables and rice cooked in a clay pot over a wood burning stove. I ate these in a small backstreet in the Chikan Township (赤坎镇) area.
2. See the 碉楼 Diaolou Watchtowers
With towers from as far back as the Ming Dynasty, this is a sight not to be missed. Many of these were built with assistance from overseas Chinese returning to Kaiping, resulting in a varied and eclectic style, fusing Chinese and Western architecture and interior design.
3. Li garden 立园
Stately gardens and beautiful examples of diaolou buildings. As you can see in the photo above, the design was strongly influenced by European buildings. In the 1920’s, Xue Wei Li made his fortune in America. Upon his return to China, he commenced work on the first building in 1926. Ten years later, the Li gardens contained numerous diaolous for his family to live in.
The fusion of western architecture with Southern Chinese design resulted in an astonishing sight to behold. Inside the buildings, you’ll find western toilets and imported marble to make the staircases. Contemporary American plumbing systems alongside traditional Chinese furniture make this a fascinating place to explore.
4. Kaiping at night
Like most Chinese cities, Kaiping stays awake until the early hours. As night falls, the neon lights up the sky, making an impressive view as you walk along the banks of the Tanjiang River.