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Kaiping, A UNESCO Site You Must See

1086163052Breathtakingly original architecture

Kaiping an area a mere 3 hours from the Shenzhen metropolis that you know and love, but it couldn’t be more different. They are completely two sides of the Guangdong coin. What makes these small villages worth visiting is there mind blowing architecture, in fact it’s so special it was awarded UNESCO heritage status. The only place in Guangdong to receive such an accolade.

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Beautifully preserved

What makes these villages so unique and special is the architecture and specifically the watch towers. These are a hodgepodge of architectural styles taking influences from India, Europe, USA, Middle East and so on. During the 1900-1920s many of the local Chinese would move to America for work. While there they would earn money and some would even set up successful businesses. But on their travels they would encounter and see many different styles of buildings from wherever they were at the time, usually North America, and those designs would be mimicked back in their hometown village. Some even sent postcards with pictures to be copied! These towers were typically 6 floors or so with each floor housing a different family. The rooftop would have served as a watch tower because of the bandits and pirates that roamed the area with impunity during this time.

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Unique Kaiping Watch Tower

 

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This was a watch tower and a family home

Each village has unique watch tower to explore, with the interior providing a snapshot to life a hundred years ago or so. Although antiquated now, the signs of wealth are on display to see. Most are open to visit upon purchase of a ticket, but some need an extra payment to the proprietor, likely a descendant of the original builders. The rest of the buildings are more of a traditional style but still beautiful in their own right. Fantastically preserved these are a visual feast and a dose of well needed culture. These villages are still semi occupied so you will see the residents going about their business not giving you a second glance, a real slower pace of life compared to the huge cities you may be used to seeing in China. There are 2 villages nearby each other with unique styles and both should be visited.

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Watch towers dot the countryside

Li Garden

Li garden is another nearby site in this area. While not a village itself, and not UNESCO listed it’s still well worth your time. It’s a large sprawling garden which several ‘mansions’ occupying the land.

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Li Garden mansion

The original builder and owner moved to USA, became a very successful business man and used his wealth and power to build this ode to himself. With 3 wives and numerous children he certainly did not do things in half measures. The garden grounds are beautiful, with ornate architectural pieces, abundant natural beauty and a large pond to relax by, this is a great pick me up for a weary soul or anyone who needs a breath of fresh air. You can meander around the green grounds and take it all in. You’ll even see a large bronze statue of the man himself, relaxing in front of his mansion.

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Watching over his garden

 

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Exquisitely peaceful surroundings

The final stop is usually Chikan Town. However this is sadly scheduled for demolition and is no longer open to the public. It’s a pity because the buildings are charming and stylish. I managed to sneak through a gap for a look around, however it’s not permitted so, so do so at your own risk. This town will be unrecognizable in a few years time. Progress it may well be, but in my opinion losing it’s charm completely.

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Chikan Town will soon be unrecognizable

 

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Original architecture will wow you

Want to go?

 

There are numerous ways to explore the Kaiping watch towers. Biking the green way is one method, but the signs are not always easy to see and some Cantonese may be required to talk to the locals.

Shuttle buses run between the villages however the schedule is hard to determine and they seem to run on their own time.  The above two options will require some search engine research yourself.

 

You can take a taxi from Shenzhen which will cost around RMB 800.

You can take a train from Guangzhou South or Guangzhou East to Kaiping station also.  Trains can be found on on Trains

You can also take a 2-3 hour bus from Shajing/Bao’an/Luohu or Xixiang coach terminal and then take a taxi (RMB 50-80)

Another option is an organized trip from an tour guide.  I suggest China Tea Leaves

This is stress free, convenient and good value. You can enjoy the experience without worrying about planning.

For more information about Shenzhen you can contact me directly or keep following the Shenzhen Party official WeChat account for more weekly articles.

 

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