As budget travelers on a recent trip to Guangzhou, China, my wife and I were quite confused when we arrived at the train station in the city. It is one of the largest cities in the country and although we do not usually make reservations before the time when we walk back, this time the absence of hotels of any kind around the large central station made us reach the directory.
Shamian Island, on the Pearl River right in the middle of town, seemed like a good place to find a cheap hotel, and when we arrived by taxi, we were immediately glad to be here. This island is small, perhaps a quarter of a square mile, located right on the river bank and is a small oasis of silence in this bustling city. Believe it or not, my first impression was from Savannah, Georgia, in the USA! Much of the architecture has been colonial since the days when the United Kingdom and the French used it as a commercial outpost. The old buildings are generally in good shape and have wide streets and beautiful tall trees that give peace to the whole island. This is a great place to walk.
We toured a few cheap hotels but stayed at Guangdong Shamian Hotel, a relatively cheap hotel that had a few rough edges but very friendly and helpful staff. I would recommend it for the large rooms and the great location.
At night, the coastline of Shamian Island comes alive with open-air restaurants right on the Pearl River, and you can sit and watch the boat move along the river and enjoy the impressive views of the city. Prices here are a bit higher than other parts of Guangzhou, but it was a decent thrill and we really enjoyed our seafood dinner.
Interesting about Shamian Island is the amount of Westerners you see walking around pushing strollers carrying small babies, who are obviously Chinese. It turns out that Guangzhou is a hub for Americans who want to adopt orphaned Chinese babies, and since the US Consulate is located on the island, most people stay at the White Swan Hotel nearby.
Shamian Island is a very good base from which to explore Guangzhou, China, and although the hotels there cannot be included in the budget category, we certainly managed to find good options for cheap hotels in Guangzhou on the quiet island, right in the middle of one from the largest cities in China.