PICS: Bowled over by the dazzling lights of Guangzhou

By Buhle Mbonambi Time of article published Nov 5, 2019

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“Oh gosh, no!” I said, not to anybody in particular.

A few people turned around to stare at my Charlize Theron moment, as we made our way through the foyer of the VanBurgh Hotel, in Guangzhou, China. I stared right back at them, not apologetic in anyway.

A late night cruise on the Pearl River in Guangzhou City was not what I wanted to do at that moment. I was fed up, exhausted and needed a shower and some sleep. We had been travelling for the better part of the day. And yet I realised that not going would mean I miss out on what could be a great experience.

So off I went, begrudgingly, onto the bus, sunglasses on - even through it was after 8pm. I put my headset on so no one would speak to me. And then I looked up.

A late night cruise on the Pearl River, in Guangzhou City.

You know when someone says they saw the light? That they were gloomy and then, a few minutes later, something changed their mood and they were suddenly filled with hope and longing for life? That’s what happened to me, as the bus hurtled along the streets of Guangzhou, with the city’s many skyscrapers lighting up in different colours. I was bewitched.

Looking back, I wonder why I had been so reluctant to explore the city, especially because I love doing that - when it’s safe. During the five days I spent in Beijing, before venturing to south China, I made sure I hit the streets every evening, exploring my way around the city.

Now, with tiredness at the back of my mind, I was ready to take it all in. And I did.

At just over 2 000km, the Pearl River is the third longest in the country and taking a cruise is the best way to see how beautiful the city is. The buildings are part of the tourist attraction, to draw you in and see a light show so amazing it takes you back to the opening of the Beijing Games, in 2008.

The cruise starts at the White Goose Pool and ends at the Guangzhou Bridge in the east, and Baihedong (White Crane Cave) in the south.

You have the option of having a sit-down dinner or to go upstairs and enjoy seeing the city light up from that vantage point

I am a huge fan of architecture and the buildings in Guangzhou were my favourite things to view during my time in China. It was like seeing diamonds cascading like water down these buildings, so magnificently were they lit up. The lights reflected on the water and the boats created these small ripples, like smudged oil paintings.

It reminded me of my cruise on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, only better.

There were a couple of highlights, like the Zaha Hadid-designed Guangzhou Opera House, which changed colours as we cruised, the Copper Coin building that had me battling to pick my jaw up from the floor and then there was the Canton Tower.

I’d always thought people were exaggerating when they spoke about the tower, but they honestly weren’t. It mesmerises you and you can’t help but be transfixed at its beauty and architectural prowess. And then you get the light display, which forces you to stand still and just stare at it - while also trying to get the perfect selfie with the building in the background.

The colours change across the rainbow and are so vivid, they would have put made Joseph and his Technicolour coat turn green with envy.

The tower is an observation tower with a radio transmitter and it houses revolving restaurants, a food court, an exhibition area, shops and cinemas. It does look great during the daytime, but at night? Oh, it sparkles.

One major regret I have is not being able to go inside those buildings and see them up close.

I’ve always been fascinated with how China has been able to become a massive power player in politics, economics and lifestyle. It’s evident in how its cities have become so cosmopolitan and, at times, you can’t help but feel like a member of the high net worth individuals described in Kevin Kwan’s hit book, Crazy Rich Asians.

Guangzhou’s growth as a major city in China is evident and seeing the many skyscrapers, bedecked in beautiful lighting - the city looks like it’s ready to challenge its big sisters, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

And to think: I nearly missed this beauty because I wanted to sleep. 

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