Catch a flavour of the Kaiping Diaolou from this video – details on how to get here below!
Guangdong province is well known for being one of the more industrialised and urbanised areas of China. It’s not the most touristy of all Chinese provinces, by a long shot – but did you know that a few hours west of Guangzhou (which is just a couple of hours north of Hong Kong) are some beautiful and fascinating towers that make a great day trip.
The “diaolou” or watchtowers were built from the Ming dynasty until recently – with many built in the 1920s and 1930s by overseas Chinese who built these structures near their ancestral homes.
There are said to be about 1800 diaolou in and around Guangdong province, with most clustered around the town of Kaiping. They were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 (Details here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1112).
<Getting from Hong Kong to Guangzhou – link coming later>
<Getting from Guangzhou to Kaiping>
We drove from Guangzhou, with a friend. This made the trip very simple and easy. It’s possible to do this trip by public transport, it seems (details later) – but driving yourelf, hiring a car/driver or joining a tour might be the best option.
I have plans to revisit the area by bicycle in the future. Watch this space for further details.
We drove from Guangzhou and stayed in Kaiping, at the Pantower hotel. It turned out to be a great choice – mainly down to the huge swimming pool and decent rooms. (There didn’t seem to be that many other choices available!)
Here are the main diaolou clusters that you can visit in the area. More details to follow!
Yinglong Lou (迎龙楼), located in the village of Sanmenli (Chikan township), was built by the Guan (关族) lineage during the Jiajing era of the Ming dynasty (1522-1566). As the oldest preserved diaolou in Kaiping, it retains the primitive model of a watchtower with traditional square structure and is not influenced by western architectural styles.
Jinjiangli Diaolou Cluster (锦江里雕楼群), situated behind Jinjiangli Village (Xiangang Township) of the Huang (黄) family, includes three exquisite diaolous: Ruishi Lou, Shengfeng Lou, and Jinjiang Lou.
Ruishi Diaolou, constructed in 1921, has nine floors and is the tallest diaolou in Kaiping. It features a Byzantine style roof and a Roman dome.
Majianglong Diaolou cluster (马降龙雕楼群) is spread across five villages (Baihe township) in a bamboo forest: Yong’an and Nan’an Villages of the Huang (黄) family; Hedong, Qinglin, and Longjiang Villages of the Guan (关) family. Tianlu Lou (Tower of Heavenly Success), located in Yong’an Village, was built in 1922 and is seven storey tall plus a roof top floor.
Zilicun Diaolou Cluster (自力村雕楼群), located in Zilicun Village (Tangkou township), includes nine diaolous, the largest number among the four Kaiping villages designated by UNESCO. They feature the fusion of Chinese and various Western architectural styles and rise up surrealistically over the rice paddy fields.
Fangshi Denglou – Built in 1920 after contributions from villagers, this denglou is five stories high. It is referred to as the “Light Tower” because of an enormous searchlight with a brightness much like that of a lighthouse.
Li Garden, in Beiyi Xiang, was constructed in 1936 by Mr. Xie Weili, a Chinese emigrant to the United States.
Bianchouzhu Lou (The Leaning Tower), located in Nanxing Village (南兴村) in Xiangang township, was constructed in 1903. It has seven floors and overlooks a pond.
The nearby town of Chikan is one of the more well-preserved and atmospheric towns in the region. It’s great to wander the streets of the old town there (scenes for several Chinese movies, apparently!) – and grab some food/drink and enjoy the bustle!