Shantou

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.

 

When to go

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.

Visa requirements

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.

Money

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.

Transport

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.

Health and safety tips

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.

Emergency details

Singapore Embassy:

The nearest Singapore Consulate is in Xiamen (tel: (86) 592 268 4691). There is also a consulate in Guangzhou (tel: (86) 20 3891 2345).


Police:

Dial 110 in an emergency. The main police station, known as the Public Security Bureau, is at 88 Huanghe Lu, near People's Square.

Basic greetings
English Cantonese
Hello Neih hou
How are you? Neih hou ma?
Fine, thanks Hou hou do jeh
Goodbye Joi gin
Excuse-me! (to get attention) Ching mahn!
Thank you Do jeh
Yes Haih
No M haih
OK Hou
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?
Help! Gau mehng!

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Chen Cihong Memorial Home

Qianmei Village

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

Tashan Park

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

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

2 Waima Lu

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

20 Haibin Lu

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.

Shop

Jinsha Pedestrian Shopping Street

Jinsha Street

Jinsha Pedestrian Shopping Street is home to Shantou's popular night market, which gets going from 5pm onwards. Northeast of People's Square and just south of Jinsha Park, it features hundreds of stalls selling clothes and all manner of gadgets and trinkets. It's also a great place to snack on yummy Teochew street food, like steamed and fried rice cakes and baked oysters.

Budget $

Nanguo Shopping Mall

Changping Lu

The largest shopping mall in eastern Guangdong Province, Nanguo Shopping Mall sprawls across a huge area of Shantou's central business district. You could spend days window shopping here. A warren of boutiques selling both mid-range and high-end clothing brands, it's also home to supermarkets, cinemas and many restaurants and fast food outlets.

Budget $$$

Tongrentang

Huanggang Lu

Tongrentang is China's most famous purveyor of traditional chinese medicines and this is the Shantou branch. The store was founded in Beijing back in 1669 and was once the purveyor of herbs and potions to the Qing dynasty emperors. Traditional chinese medicine doctors are on hand for consultations and they claim to be able to cure anything.

Budget $$

Yuhua Department Store

45 Zhongshan Lu

Yuhua Department Store is the place to head for daily necessities, whether it's shoes, jeans, sports gear or household items. Centrally-located south of Zhongshan Park, it's a shopping staple for local people.

Budget $$



Dine

Chaozhou Restaurant

2 Changping Lu

Chaozhou is a fine spot to sample Teochew dishes, and less pricey than other options. Seafood aplenty here, but also local meat faves like beef pellets, where the beef is mashed and then spiced with everything from salt and pepper, to fish sauce and sesame oil. Get here early, as they're done serving by 9pm.

Budget $

Donghai Restaurant

123 Changping Road

Deservedly over-subscribed, Donghai Jiujia is a classic Shantou restaurant serving top-notch Teochew cuisine. Come here for meat dishes like steamed goose, where the bird is stewed in spices, garlic, ginger and wine. Also fine for hotpots and steamed chicken in a fermented bean sauce.

Budget $$

LA Music Café

5 Rongjiang Lu

A favourite with both expats and locals for its reasonably-priced, nicely-presented western dishes, LA Music Café manages to be both low-key and popular. There's live music some nights, friendly staff and a decent selection of wine. During the day, it makes for a great coffee stop. Free Wi-fi too.

Budget $$

Lianhua Vegetarian Restaurant

33 Haibin Lu

Excellent for inexpensive but tasty vegetarian dishes (a speciality of Teochew cuisine), Lianhua Vegetarian Restaurant is a long-standing Shantou institution. Try the pumpkin stuffed with taro: a Shantou favourite. But all the dishes are good here and the staff will help you pick the ones you want.

Budget $

Xin MeiYuan Dajiulou

Huashan Bei Lu

Xin MeiYuan Dajiulou is top-ranked by Shantou residents for its super-fresh, straight-from-the-sea selection of fish, crab and shrimp dishes. This is the place to try local specialities like steamed abalone and boiled white eel. It's worth booking ahead here, especially if you want a private room.

Budget $$$

Stay

Bestay Hotel Express

1F, Building 37, Jintaizhuang North Area, Changping Dong Lu

The Bestay Express Hotel remains Shantou's best budget option. Modern rooms, if on the small side, with the more expensive ones coming with bigger windows than the cheapies. They charge for Wi-fi access and it's a few miles east of the city centre, but they do take credit cards. Book ahead as it fills up quick.

Budget $

Golden Gulf Hotel

96 Jinsha Dong Lu

A ten minute drive from the train station, the Golden Gulf Hotel has been around a while but still maintains a decent standard. Large rooms, good internet access and pleasant, efficient staff. It's close to shopping malls, and there are restaurants, bars and tea houses to sample the prized local Gongfu tea nearby as well.

Budget $$

Jin Guan Hotel

6 Rongjiang Lu

Centrally-located and close to restaurants and shopping areas, the Jin Guan Hotel is a very solid, reasonably-priced option. The rooms are spacious and well-kept, there's free Wi-fi and an on-site sauna. They can also recommend reliable taxi drivers if you're touring outside Shantou. Breakfast is normally included in the price.

Budget $$

Regency Hotel

Jinsha Dong Lu

The Regency Hotel is the closest to a five-star hotel you'll find in Shantou. There's an outdoor pool, tennis courts and some of the rooms are huge. All come with free Wi-fi. Best of all are the many restaurants serving Teochew, Cantonese and Japanese food. But it's very much a Chinese-style place and wouldn't rate five stars in the West.

Budget $$$

Shantou Junhua Haiyi Hotel

97 Jinsha Dong Lu

Recently refurbished and re-named, the Shantou Junhua Haiyi Hotel is a significant step up in style from most of the other hotels in Shantou. Big and breezy rooms come with free Wi-fi and the bathrooms are modern. There's an indoor pool and gym too. It's well-located for restaurants and bars as well.

Budget $$$





Chinese New Year

January, February

As in every city in China, Chinese New Year is the biggest event of the year in Shantou. Expect fireworks galore and lots of frenetic fun.


Dragon Boat Festival

May, June

With its prime location by the Dagang and Rong Rivers, Shantou is a great spot to watch Dragon Boat racing during the Dragon Boat Festival. Lots of zongzi (sticky rice dumplings) get eaten too.


Lantern Festival

January, February

Marking the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations, the Lantern Festival in Shantou is unique because of the local tradition of making lotus lanterns: beautiful lights made out of the lotus flower.


Culture

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.

Places to visit:
the colonial quarter.