FOR travelers like myself who are used to a packed itinerary, Zhuhai is somewhat of a challenge. Sitting on the mouth of the Pearl River, the coastal city is conveniently located and is often a gateway to neighboring Macau and Hong Kong.
At first glance, the city doesn’t offer a lot of sights, but once you get used to its laid-back vibe, there’s a lot of to be discovered and explored. It is a place to forget your hectic pace of life, and to get intoxicated by the spring breeze, the savory seafood, clear ocean and more. Shanghai Daily takes you on a relaxed, two-day trip through this coastal gem.
10am Lovers’ Road
Take a stroll along Qinglu Road, or Lovers’ Road, parallel to Zhuhai’s coastline. Here you can enjoy some of the best views of the coastal city. The 28-kilometer-long road links Zhuhai’s major sites, such as the Shijing Hill Park, the Coastal Park and the landmark Statue of Fisher Girl. Carved by a Chinese sculptor, the statue shows a fishing girl holding up a pearl, which is widely recognized as the symbol of Zhuhai City.
Take a moment to relax and enjoy the soothing sea breeze under the coconut trees that line the boulevard. If the weather is good, you’ll be able to see the island of Macau across the sea, as well as the bridge that connects Zhuhai with Macau and Hong Kong.
About 20 minutes’ walk from the statue is a three-door memorial archway, where a bridge leads to an islet called Yeli. Here, you will find men and women who love to fish, and who have set up their poles and angles in the hopes of a good catch of fish, crab and shrimp. If you have some extra time, walk along the bridge to the islet. The sea shell-shaped Zhuhai Opera House is already taking shape, and in front of it, De Yue Fang, a popular restaurant among locals and tourists, serves Cantonese seafood and dim sum in a four-story Chinese-style cruise liner.
You can also rent a bike or tandem to Yeli islet, or you can take Bus No. 9 that commutes along Lovers’ Road for part of the route.
12pm Oxfood Street
Head to Oxfood Street for lunch. The short street is filled with cafes, restaurants, bakeries and boutiques, making for a lively atmosphere and a great option for a simple meal or a coffee break.
On weekends or during festivals, chances are you will bump into some food or fair market, or live music and dance.
2pm Old town of Tangjiawan
Travel up north along the coastline to Tangjiawan old town. At first glance, it may seem no different from other towns or villages in Zhuhai, but when you start exploring the area, a stretch of old houses with charcoal walls and stone planks present themselves. Dating back some 150 years, the old local dwellings are quite quaint and simple, even a bit shabby on the exterior. Yet the exquisite relief decoration above the doors bear witness of a more glorious past.
What lured me there is the original residence of Tang Shaoyi, the first Prime Minister of the Republic of China. Born in the town, Tang donated his private garden to the people. It is now named Gongle Garden, and is a favored haunt for morning exercises.
Traces of Tang embracing Western lifestyle that greatly influenced him when studying in the United States can be found in the remaining structure of the large garden. Surrounded by lush green, you will find a huge vacant ground that used to be a tennis court, and, farther on, a five-story tower for messaging pigeons to rest. Each story has archways for pigeons to fly in and out.
The garden’s highlight is the observatory. On the second floor of the building is a cylindrical astronomical observatory. With the help of a sextant, stargazers can look up into the starry sky and try to make out the Great Dipper or Orion.
Coming out of the garden, I suggest you spend some time in the town around Shanfang Road. The best season to visit is in winter and spring when fuchsia Bougainvillea, a local flower, is in full bloom. A number of old houses there have been turned into cafes, restaurants, tea houses and youth hostels, which has reinvigorated this tranquil town. Small restaurants serving simple yet savory local dishes are hidden among the lanes. Try roasted chicken, braised duck and taro stew at He Ji Cai Guan. Hidden on a slope opposite Tang’s old residence, the restaurant is always packed with diners, so I recommend making a reservation. Don’t miss out on chaguo, a variety of local snacks that are often served with tea.
6pm Gongbei Port
Gongbei Port is incredibly busy as it links Zhuhai and Macau. The passenger flow traveling between the two cities through Gongbei Port reportedly exceeded 300,000 people on the first day of the Tomb-Sweeping Festival this year. Due to the dense flow of people, Gongbei area is also one of the most prosperous business areas here. There are great options for dining, especially if you want to have a bite of the local cuisine. Popular restaurants serving traditional dim sum and seafood dishes in Gongbei include Jin Yue Xuan and Li Yuan. I am still having day dreams of the grilled oysters at a tiny food stall on Yingbin Road S. The hole-in-the-wall stall is hard to miss, thanks to the long queue outside.
Try a whole package of grilled seafood (one oyster, one abalone and two different scallops) for 37.5 yuan (US$5.8). A dozen oysters will set you back 40 yuan.
9pm Bar Street
Go to Shuiwan Street, aka Bar Street, to finish the day with a good drink in your hand. Here you can find some of the hottest dance floors in town, such as Soho and Muse. There are also less crowded bars, where you can lay back on a cushion and get lost listening to jazz while sipping a glass of Sangria.
10am Chimelong Ocean Kingdom
You could spend a whole day here, or even more. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai is more than just a theme park, with a huge variety of marine animals. Grab a map and plan your day here. Must-sees include the adrenaline-pumping roller-coaster ride at Amazing Amazon, the Walrus Splash at Mt Walrus, dolphin performances, the fireworks show and the huge underwater corridor where blue whale sharks and some 15,000 fish swim around you.
Should your schedule be tight, a 300-yuan easy access will buy you the privilege of priority access to all attractions in the park. The general single admission for adults is 350 yuan, and 245 yuan for children.
6pm Wanzai Seafood Street
After night falls, Wanzai Seafood Street is all hustle and bustle with vendors and diners looking for the freshest seafood. People jostle their way through stalls and buy seafood on one side of the street, then turn to the other side to bring the fresh ingredients to a restaurant to be cooked.
Dongmen peeler crab, shrimps, razor clams, sea urchins and scallops are among the top options. Many oysters here are sourced from nearby Hengqin Island, known for their milky, juicy and tender taste.
A sharp eye and good bargaining skills are required, and a little bit of Cantonese will get you a long way.
If you have more than two days in Zhuhai and are looking for some relaxation by the beach, Dong’ao, Wailingding and Miaowan islands are some of the top destinations. Sojourn a night or two on one of the islands for some fresh air, natural landscape and a laid-back pace of life. Miaowan is praised among campers, while Wailingding has clear water and sand, and not so lofty hills for hiking. Dong’ao is covered in lush vegetation, and frequented by fishermen and scuba divers.
Most people will set aside another one or two days for Macau during their stay in Zhuhai. Once you are already in Zhuhai, getting to Macau couldn’t be easier. Gongbei Port is lined with people waiting to get to Macau from 6:30am to midnight every day. If you stay in Wanzai area or on Hengqin Island, it’s a lot easier to pass through Hengqin Port, which is open 24 hours.
A taxi ride from Wanzai to the port takes no more than 15 minutes. Take the bus to Macau’s Lotus Port, where shuttle buses to various casinos are waiting outside. Remember to take your passport or exit-entry permit.
Where to stay:
A variety of accommodation choices are clustered around Gongbei Port. Hotels along Lovers’ Road are another good option considering the pleasing view of the city’s coastline outside your window.
Also, the Shizimen area, Zhuhai’s new CBD, is gaining popularity thanks to its new shopping mall. The city’s newly built convention and exhibition center is also located there. Sheraton Zhuhai Hotel sits at the core of the CBD, just steps away from the convention center. The hotel has some 550 spacious guest rooms and suites, and MICE venues measuring a total of around 2,000 square meters. The hotel lobby features a Chinese style pavilion inspired by traditional private gardens in ancient times. Sheraton Zhuhai is equipped with a fancy fitness center with a standard swimming pool, a sauna and a steam room. There’s also a swimming pool outdoors with a poolside bar, and a tennis court. It has three restaurants, one of which serves food all day, along with a bakery, offering rich Cantonese, Southwest Asian and local dishes. (1663 Yinwan Rd, Xiangzhou District, Zhuhai; 0756-299-6688)