Hong Kong has finally got its first taste of high-speed rail, with the opening of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link on 23 September. But that’s not all – the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge opened on 24 October. This introduces a road option for Hongkongers to get to Macao; until now, the only choices were ferry or, for the high rollers, helicopter. These developments more closely integrate the cities of the Greater Bay Area – once commonly called the Pearl River Delta – an economic region encompassing Hong Kong, Macao and nine Guangdong cities. In this megacity, the stakes aren’t just economic; there’s plenty for tourists to see and do, too. We round up the highlights.
City of gastronomy
In November 2017, Macao became the third Chinese region after Chengdu and Shunde to be designated a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO. And it’s no wonder.
Many visitors head to Macao for its Portuguese food. Once ruled by Portugal, Macao is famed for its egg tarts and pork chop buns. Suckling pig, red bean stew with trotter, clams with white wine and duck rice are all found on menus in the city’s many Portuguese restaurants, such as the well-known La Famiglia and Flamingo.
But there’s also Macanese food, a distinct tradition often described as the world’s oldest fusion cuisine. Macanese fare can be traced back to more than 400 years ago, when ingredients and spices brought in by the Portuguese were juxtaposed with local produce to become a cuisine that’s uniquely Macanese. These include stir-fried curry crab and minchi, which is ground meat and potatoes flavoured with molasses and soy sauce, served over rice with a fried egg on top.
Macao is where you can get a serious Chinese food fix, too. For the best dim sum and contemporary Cantonese cuisine, the 8 Restaurant at Grand Lisboa Hotel stands out with its three Michelin stars, which it’s held onto for five straight years.
Getting to Macao
Option 1: A bus from Hong Kong via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge will take about an hour.
Option 2: Take an hour-long ferry from the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal, China Ferry Terminal or HKIA Sky Pier. Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon’s ferry codeshare lets customers book flights together with a ferry ride to Macao.
The beauty queen
It’s a major transport hub in the Greater Bay Area, but there’s another side to Zhongshan – and it’s beautiful. The city is compared to one of China’s prettiest towns in an old saying: ‘The north has Suzhou, the south has Zhongshan.’ To experience a picturesque site, head to Zhan Garden in Beitai Village. Constructed in 1998, the garden is the largest privately owned classical garden in the Lingnan region. The owner built the verdant site with three themed zones as a retirement residence for his mother, and it’s open for all to enjoy. The owner sought out all kinds of old materials throughout China including tiles, bricks, doors and windows for use in its structures, and meticulously built the Huzhou Shan ecological reserve, where plants form a relaxing haven for visitors to unwind among pavilions and lakes.
Meanwhile, film buffs can head to Zhongshan Movie & Television Town, a place that is seen on big and small screens across China. It’s situated next to the former residence of Sun Yat-sen (who is called ‘Zhongshan’ in Chinese), and some of its film sets mimic the revolutionary era and the streets of old Guangzhou. The rest of the complex is divided into zones, each made to look like China, Japan, the UK and the US. The sets used for several successful Chinese TV dramas still stand and, coupled with an exhibition hall, show off the craft of set design. It’s an attraction that combines architecture, design and showbiz.
Getting to Zhongshan
Take the ferry from Hong Kong. It takes 70-90 minutes from the HKIA Sky Pier, China Ferry Terminal and the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal.
Contemporary art hub
China has been building museums in a frenzy, showcasing stunning architecture and often quality collections across the country – and the most impressive one of all is the Sea World Culture and Arts Center in Shenzhen’s Shekou area. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, the 750,000-square-foot exhibition venue is currently the largest art museum in China. Inside, it’s futuristic with its stark white spaces and mirror-clad exhibits in the atrium and, apart from galleries, houses a theatre, restaurant and an observation deck. Equally futuristic is the Museum of Contemporary Art & Planning Exhibition (MOCAPE), an avant-garde gem in the Futian Cultural District that has ambitions to become one of the most influential art institutions in the country.
But the cool kids prefer OCT Loft. Converted from a factory with rusted balustrades, peeling paint, and other architectural features left untouched since the 1980s, this cultural park is at once nostalgic and modern. Contemporary art, design and experimental music sit alongside concept restaurants and bars, making this forward-thinking venue the place to be.
Getting to Shenzhen
Option 1: Take the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. The journey from Hong Kong to Shenzhen’s Futian area takes 14 minutes.
Option 2: Take a ferry to Shenzhen’s Shekou from Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal (one hour), China Ferry Terminal (50 minutes) or the HKIA Sky Pier (30 minutes).
Sure, there’s the shiny Huafa Mall in Zhuhai’s Nanping town to browse all your favourite international brands. But just a 10-minute walk will take you to Beishan Village, where the city slows right down. Standing amid glass-clad skyscrapers, the area’s arty vibe is a welcome escape.
The neighbourhood is home to Beishan Art District, which encompasses Beishan Art Center, a prime hipster hangout. The structure is a beautifully restored, century-old village temple, and within its walls you’ll now find little shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes. The venue frequently hosts events such as art exhibitions and music festivals, the biggest being Beishan Music Festival, a celebration of world music and jazz.
Nearby, the East Meets West Cultural and Creative Industrial Park is a space for music, design, fashion and art exhibitions and performances. Converted from an old residence, the complex includes a Republic-era theatre. The stage is still there, but the airy space has been given a new lease of life as a shop overseen by prominent Xiamen brand Goodone. The company is known for its vintage items and, like much of Beishan, transports visitors back to another era.
Getting to Zhuhai
Option 1: Take the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. A bus ride from Hong Kong to Zhuhai will take about an hour.
Option 2: Take a 70-minute ferry from Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal, China Ferry Terminal or HKIA Sky Pier.
International economic powerhouse
Guangzhou isn’t just known for its food any more. Since the early 1990s, the city has undergone some of the most rapid urban expansion in China, transforming into a glitzy metropolis. The Tianhe central business district has become the largest financial centre in southern China, with the government designating it the economic heart of the Greater Bay Area. At its centre, Zhujiang New Town embodies the grandeur of contemporary Guangzhou, filled with architectural marvels such as the Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid, the Guangdong Museum, the Guangzhou Library, Canton Tower, numerous bank towers and sports venues built for the 2010 Asian Games. For visitors, one of the most attractive developments is TaiKoo Hui, an upscale complex combining offices, shopping, culture and art.
Now, all eyes are on Huadu District. Hailed as ‘Guangzhou’s closest point to the world’, the area is featured prominently in the city’s development plans, with the expanded Baiyun International Airport and Guangzhou North Railway Station its transport hubs. The airport is the largest international aviation hub in southern China, while the railway station is a major transit point for railway and highway networks in the region. For entertainment, the Wanda corporation is constructing a huge indoor skiing resort in Huadu, expected to open in 2019.
Getting to Guangzhou
Option 1: Take the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. The journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou South takes 47 minutes.
Option 2: Cathay Dragon flies to Guangzhou from Hong Kong 14 times a week.