A booming port in the past, Shantou – one of Guangdong Province’s historical gems – is now a key toy manufacturing centre.
Shantou is one of Guangdong Province’s historical gems. It’s all the more intriguing because it sees far fewer visitors than Guangzhou, its bigger, brasher neighbour down the coast, or Xiamen across the nearby border with Fujian Province. But Shantou boasts an equally fascinating history as one of China’s original treaty ports that opened for trade with the West in the mid-19th century.↵For almost 100 years, Shantou was a booming port second only in importance to Guangzhou. By the 1930’s, it was the third-largest port in all China. The crumbling colonial quarter of Shantou is an evocative, if melancholy, reminder of that past and you’re likely to be the only foreigner wandering the still atmospheric streets. That alone ensures you’ll get plenty of attention from the friendly and inquisitive locals.
Currently a key toy manufacturing centre, Shantou is also renowned for producing more than its fair share of high-profile entrepreneurs. Both Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man, and Huang Guangyu, the wealthiest man in mainland China, hail from here.
Most of Shantou’s five million-odd residents speak Teochew, a dialect sometimes known as Chaozhou. Shantou’s coveted status as one of the first places in China to open to foreign trade ensured that many of those Teochew speakers emigrated abroad. Singapore and Malaysia especially have significant Teochew-speaking populations, so a visit here is very much about coming home.
October to December is the best time to visit, with the typhoon season over and the heat and humidity more bearable than in the intensely hot summer months. But spring is also pleasant.
Singaporean citizens can visit China for a period of 15 days without a visa, while most other nationalities require a visa in advance. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket.
China's currency is the yuan (Y), also known as renminbi, or colloquially as kuai. ATM's that accept foreign bank cards are plentiful across Shantou. Credit cards can be used at high-end hotels and restaurants. Everywhere else, it is best to carry cash.
The closest airport is Jieyang Chaoshan Airport, which is 29km (18 miles) from Shantou. Buses run hourly from the airport to Shantou's central bus station between 7.30am and 7.30pm. A ticket is Y20. A taxi to the airport from Shantou costs around Y70-90, although you may struggle to find a driver willing to use his meter. Within Shantou, local buses cost Y1-2. Taxi fares start at Y7-9. Motorised tricycles are more commonly used by the locals for short hops, but you'll need to negotiate the price with the driver first.
Shantou is a very safe city by international standards with violent crime against foreigners extremely rare. But take care of wallets and purses on buses and in crowded areas. Avoid using unlicensed taxis. Don't drink the tap water.
|How are you?||Neih hou ma?|
|Fine, thanks||Hou hou do jeh|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Ching mahn!|
|Thank you||Do jeh|
|What's your name?||Neih giu mat yeh meng?|
|My name is…||Ngoh giu…|
|Nice to meet you||Hou gou hing gin dou neih|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Neih yauh mouh jyu chaak Facebook/Twitter?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Mohng ba hai bin douh?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Ngoh hai bin douh ho yih wandou dik si?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Fo che jaahm/ba si jaahm hai bin douh?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Yat jeung heui…ge daan chihng/seung chihng fei|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Auh mouh yat/leuhng go yahn ge fohnggaan?|
|When's check out?||Gei dim teui fong?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Neih ho m ho yih gaai siuh yat gaan hou ge chaan teng/jau ba?|
|A table for two, please||M goi bei leuhng yahn ge toi ngoh|
|A menu, please||M goi neih bei choi paai ngoh|
|The bill, please||M goi maaih daan|
|Where's the toilet?||Sai sau gaan hai bin douh?|
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Chen Cihong Memorial Home
The Chen Cihong Memorial Home is a vast mansion built by a local businessman who made his fortune in Thailand. The complex has a staggering 500-plus rooms and halls, as well as terraces and pavilions. The architecture is a stunning mix of western and Asian styles, and the complex has some fine souvenir shops. There are also calligraphy and Chaozhou opera exhibitions. The mansion is 16 miles north of the city centre. Take bus 103 from the east of People's Square.
Cultural Revolution Museum
Shantou's Cultural Revolution Museum is the only museum in China both to honour the victims of the Cultural Revolution and to highlight what went on during one of the country's darkest periods in the 1960s and 70s. It's heartbreaking and fascinating in equal measure. It's perhaps no coincidence that the museum is inconveniently located at the top of a hill in Tashan Park fifteen miles north of the city centre. Take bus 102 from outside the long-distance bus station and then be prepared to walk uphill through the park.
Nan'ao Island National Forest Park
Nan'ao Island National Forest Park is home to the best beach in the Shantou area, traditional fishing villages and fine seafood restaurants. It makes for a pleasant day trip. A couple of miles off the coast of Shantou, it was also one of the last places in China to be captured by the Red Army, holding out until March 1950. Ferries leave hourly from the Chenghai Pier in eastern Shantou and cost Y30. You'll need to arrange transport to get around the island. Expect to pay around Y250 to hire a car for the day.
Shantou Customs Museum
The Shantou Customs Museum offers a fantastic insight into Shantou's past as a treaty port. Appropriately located close to the Rang River where boats from far-off Europe once docked, the museum details how Shantou was forcibly opened by the western colonial powers during the opium wars. Equally absorbing is the section on the work of the modern-day customs officials and their keen confiscation of drugs, pornography and pirate DVDs.
Stone Fort Park
Stone Fort Park, also known as Shipaotai Park, sits to the east of People's Square and was constructed in 1879 as a coastal defence fort. 18 cannons are dotted around and, intriguingly, the five metre-thick walls were made out of rice, sugar and seashells. It's a good spot for river views.
Exploring Shantou’s former colonial quarter is the principal reason to visit the city. The buildings are an intriguing mix of western and southern Chinese styles, a reflection of Shantou’s status as a treaty port which opened for trade with the West in 1858. Until 1949, and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Shantou was one of the most vibrant cities on the mainland. Now, many of the oldest buildings are fading away due to neglect, or being demolished to make way for new structures.
Known as the old city, the colonial quarter is a tight mesh of streets to the east of People’s Square and bordering the Dagang River. Part of the charm of exploring the area is that the old city has yet to be fully incorporated into modern Shantou. Begin your walk at the eastern end of Shengping Lu and strike west towards the river, before cutting back on Anping Lu and nearby Guoping Lu.
The old city once housed the British and American consulates, the offices of the trading companies and the homes of both the foreigners and overseas Chinese who came here for business. The blend of neo-classical western and Chinese architecture has resulted in some extraordinary buildings. Many are four or five-storey structures, now chopped into apartments, others more modest two-storey dwellings. Most remain very photogenic, despite being dilapidated.
the colonial quarter.