• Spend the afternoon in a beautifully preserved 800-year-old village
• Walk through mist-shrouded halls and living Taoist temples
• Shop for embroidered qipao dresses and hand-carved incense burners
There are a number of quaint historic villages scattered throughout Guangzhou, but well-preserved Shawan—with its relaxed vibe and notable lack of crowds—make this eight-century-old hamlet our top choice. Dating back to the Song dynasty, Shawan was founded by the He family, whose legacy is honored at the impressive Liu Geng Tang Ancestral Hall (originally constructed in 1275; the current incarnation was erected in 1720). Next door is the Yuxu Palace, a Taoist temple that’s most impressive for the thousands of incense coils smoldering in every nook and cranny, blackening the ceiling and casting the entire scene in a blurry haze.
After lighting your own stick of incense and paying tribute to the He family with curling smoke, step outside and stroll down Shawan’s cobblestoned paths to the village center. At the heart of town, you’ll spot Auntie Zheng’s humble eating room, whose signature dishes include yupi jiao鱼皮角, handcrafted pork-filled dumplings whose ethereal “skins” are made from fish paste. They’re deservedly legendary. Also try the firm scrolls of cooled poached fish skin with vinegar and peanuts, another signature plate.
Across the street and up just a bit to the left is Shawan’s Dairy Queen, where the shuangpi nai 双皮奶, a creamy, lush, milky custard, is a Guangzhou favorite. You’ll find all types of shuangpi nai throughout the city, but here, Ms. Wang (the dairy queen herself) relies on buffalo milk from her own herd. There’s a warm egg-white custard with a lotus-seed topping, or a summer-friendly chilled version with fresh, sweet mango cubes. Other must-orders: the magical ginger infusion (jiangzhuang nai 姜撞奶), and the mati gao 马蹄糕, a square of jellied water chestnut with caramelized sugar.
Across the lane from Shawan’s Dairy Queen you’ll see the famous oyster-shell building, an emblem of this onetime fishing village. Local artisans found oyster shells to be effective insulating material; countless Shawan buildings are covered with them. Up the lane, pop into Bai You Tang for handmade curios, temple trinkets, and carved incense burners, as well as aged orange skins filled with black tea. We love Kin Chi-Pao for its racks of embroidered qipao, traditional Chinese form-fitting dresses with handcrafted silk knot buttons, paired with elaborately painted shoes. (Peek in the backroom workshop where young seamstresses sew the garments stitch by stitch.) After that? By all means keep walking, in any direction you wish. Shawan is an easy place to wander—big enough to explore but almost impossible to lose your way in, which is why it’s one of our favorite spots in Guangzhou.
Shawan Ancient Town (as it’s formally known) is a 45-to-60-minute drive south of Conrad Guangzhou, depending on traffic. Start your visit at Shawan’s west entrance, closest to Liu Geng Tang Ancestral Hall and Yuxu Palace. You’ll get a map with your entry ticket; there are also engraved maps at almost every intersection, and plenty of signage throughout the village. When you’re ready to leave, head to the south entrance at Daxiangyong Lu 大巷涌路 to find a taxi.
LIU GENG TANG ANCESTRAL HALL & YUXU PALACE: Shawan Ancient Village, Panyu district; no phone or website留耕堂和玉虚宫：沙湾古镇内
AUNTIE ZHENG’S FISH DUMPLINGS: 4 Anning Lu Zhi, Shawan Ancient Village, Panyu district; +86-1371-041-3214; no website 针姨鱼皮角：番禺区沙湾古镇安宁路4号
SHAWAN’S DAIRY QUEEN: Anning Zongjie, Shawan Ancient Village, Panyu district; +86-020-3473-2686; no website 奶牛皇后: 番禺区沙湾镇安宁中街金龙楼沙湾奶牛皇后 针姨鱼皮角：沙湾古镇按宁路4号之三
BAI YOU TANG: 14 Huashi Xiang, Shawan Ancient Village, Panyu district; no phone or website柏友堂: 沙湾古镇滑石巷14号
KIN CHI-PAO: 10-12 Anning Lu Sijie Quanzhou Lu, Shawan Ancient Village, Panyu district; +86-020-8411-5688; no website 佰年金慧旗袍馆: 番禺区沙湾古镇安宁西街10-12号