Explore 800 Years of History in Guangzhou's Shawan Ancient Town

By Tristin Zhang, August 14, 2017

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Daytripper is a regular column that aims to help people get the most out of their PRD experience by proposing fun excursions that can be made in a single day to explore the local culture and nature of the region.

There was a time, before the Tang dynasty, when the city of Guangzhou was called Panyu. Ironically, today’s Panyu District is not located anywhere near the original old city. Instead, what we now know as ‘Panyu’ was once a stretch of rural farmland dotted with tiny villages – many of which have preserved the same architecture, recipes and way of life that characterized them centuries ago.

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Shawan Ancient Town is one such hamlet, founded nearly 800 years ago during the Southern Song dynasty. Ambling through its warren of lanes paved with large, rectangular stones and walls of oyster shells (cover image) can feel like traveling back in time. 

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Oyster shell walls are unique to the Lingnan region, defined as the lands south of the Nanling Mountains that now include parts of Guangdong, Guangxi and northern Vietnam. Made of a mix of shells, brown sugar, steamed sticky rice and mud, these walls were believed to be fireproof, soundproof and insect-proof. Today, they primarily succeed in jamming the already narrow alleyways with photo-hungry tourists.

Jiangzhuangnai (literally ‘ginger hit milk’), a ginger-flavored milk curd, is a famous dessert and intangible cultural heritage of Guangdong, but few know it originated in Shawan. Order a bowl from the shop in a yellow brick house (you’ll recognize it by the huge star on the exterior). The owner claims his family has been making the gingery-milky dessert for generations and will happily cook some for you on the spot.

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Shawan is tranquil inasmuch as no tourists want to make a racket on quiet alleyways. Spending an afternoon wandering through the heart of the town amongst Taoist temples, ancestral shrines, pagodas, small shops and curious townsfolk is a relaxed getaway indeed.

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Beyond the immediate premises, Chinese restaurants abound; but you don’t want to travel to an ancient Cantonese town only to partake in spicy crayfish. For a wide range of authentic Cantonese dishes at fair prices, try Shawang Wangshi, located on Anning Xi Jie. Dig in and leave full – body and mind.


How to get there: 

Take Line 3 towards Panyu Square and exit at Shiqiao Metro Station. Take a taxi (about 20 minutes) and tell the driver to go to Shawan Guzhen (沙湾古镇). Or, take bus K349 (outside Shiqiao Metro Station Exit D) about 40 minutes and get off three stops later at Shawan Cultural Center (沙湾文化中心).

See listing for Shawan Ancient Town

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