The new Canton

Max Veenhuyzen mixes slice-of-life market browsing with gallery-hopping in Guangzhou, a city that exemplifies modern China.

By Max Veenhuyzen
Redtory, Guangzhou, China

Sofitel Guangzhou Sunrich
This hotel in the city's Tianhe financial district is geared for pleasure as well as business. There's an abstract fishpond mural in the lobby and bold splashes of red throughout, but French influences from the Sofitel mothership continue to dominate, with Hermès toiletries, a library of Gallic films and books, and excerpts of French poetry woven into the carpet in each of the 493 rooms. The food direction of its three restaurants comes from Alain Ducasse-trained chef Nicolas Vienne, and guests can borrow wine-tasting kits to enhance their appreciation of the hotel's cellar of international wines. 988 Guangzhou Da Dao Zhong, Tianhe District, +86 20 3883 8888.

The Happy Monk
Locals and expats alike gravitate to lively Jianshe for nightlife. Start the late evening's exploration at the Happy Monk, a high-volume bar dispensing draft beers, wine and cocktails. Join fellow bar-hoppers seeking late-night nourishment from street corner vendors grilling skewers of meat and seafood over coals. 29 Jianshe 5th Rd, +86 20 8376 5597.

Qingping Market
The city's largest market offers an uncensored study of life in China. Roadside vendors keep watch over buckets of live turtles and exotic fish, while butchers pluck live poultry from cages and prepare them for customers. Discs of Pu-erh tea and ornate ceramic teapots are fine souvenirs had for a song. The site's size and bustle is overwhelming, so refuel at one of the many hawkers' stalls dotted in and around the market selling snacks such as grilled squid dusted with cumin and cheong fun rice-noodle rolls steamed à la minute. Tiyun East Rd.

In stark contrast with its former life as Asia's largest canned-food factory in the 1950s, Redtory (pictured above) now celebrates individuality as a recently transformed centre for art and design. The complex comprises galleries showing contemporary Asian art, design shops, restaurants and outdoor markets where vendors sell everything from second-hand cameras to handmade jewellery. 128 Yuancun Si Heng Rd, +86 20 8557 4417.

Yu Yue Heen
From 71 storeys the view is stratospheric, but the focus shifts quickly to the plate. Whether it's the textural thrills of braised sea cucumber and abalone or the remarkable juiciness of its roast goose, Yu Yue Heen upholds Cantonese cooking's reputation for luxe ingredients cooked with reverence. Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou, 5 Zhujiang West Rd.

Shen Ji pigeon shop
Squab is relatively exotic in Australia but it stars on many Cantonese barbecue menus. While this specialist restaurant serves its birds in various ways, Shen Ji's gamy, crisp-skinned roast pigeon proves that simple is often the best. 213 Pantang Rd, +86 20 8173 1339.

Panxi can seat about 3000 diners, yet queues still regularly form outside this historic garden restaurant. And while the waterfalls and greenery are a drawcard, most guests come for the superior dim sum, suckling pig and dumplings shaped like animals. 151 Longjin West Rd.

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  • Author: Max Veenhuyzen