Kaiping (开平; Kāipíng) is a county of about 700,000, west of the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong Province in China. It falls under the administration of Jiangmen perfecture and is known for its watchtower dwellings built by overseas Chinese in a mixure of western and eastern style. Kaiping city (about 300,000) is located on the Tanjiang river, 140 kilometres (87 mi) away from Guangzhou, on the eastern edge of the county, which is shaped like a big question mark (see map in pink).
From Guangzhou it is easiest to take a bus from Fangcun bus station (芳村汽车站) at Kengkou Metro Station. The ride takes about 2 hours and should cost ¥57. Trains are also available from Guangzhou South railway station to Kaiping South railway station since July 2018.
From Hong Kong, you can take a 'limousine' bus from Portland street (on your left when you exit Prince Edward metro station on exit C2). As of January 2010, these comfy buses leave at 8:30, 14:00, 15:30 and 19:00. You will pass through Shenzhen border station, where you need to get off the bus and walk across customs with your luggage (save time by asking the bus attendant for the health form you have to submit there, so you can fill it out in advance). Total journey to Yicizhan should take about 4 hours and cost ¥130.
From Macau, take the border crossing to Zhuhai and then find a bus station around 100m to the right along the main road after you exit the border control building. The ride to Kaiping should take a little more than 2 hours and cost ¥70.
From Zhanjiang, take the daily bus at 14:00 in around 3 hours to Kaipings central bus terminal at the intersection of Xijao Rd and Musha Rd.
Kaiping has two long distance bus stations, Yicizhan (义祠站) and Changshazongzhan (长沙总站) along the downtown (presumably state-) bus terminal at the intersection of Xijao Rd and Musha Rd. Yicizhan is most likely the starting point for your journey into the surrounding villages of Kaiping town. Kaiping itself has bus lines numbered from 101 to 108. Number 101 connects the two major bus stations and passes the city center. 106 starts at Yicizhan terminal and ends in Chikan, runs about every 10 minutes.
The language of Kaiping is Taishanese, a variant of Cantonese that is only slightly mutually intelligible with standard Cantonese. However, as Cantonese is the lingua franca of Guangdong province, most locals will be able to speak and understand standard Cantonese. Mandarin is the primary language of instruction in all schools so most younger individuals would also be reasonably fluent in it.
- Kaiping Diaolou and Villages (广东开平碉楼旅游). Very close to the town of Kaiping there are a number of small villages and small houses that were built by overseas Chinese during the early 20th century. Most buildings resemble the style of western or middle eastern culture mixed with traditional Chinese elements. Often there were designed to defend against bandits. See The Diaolou of Kaiping for background. The buildings have not been taken care of since, but the government started to restore and preserve them recently. Four of them (see below) have together been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The style of these buildings is often cheaply copied by many "modern" buildings throughout Guangdong. Kaiping diaolou is also the setting for China's highest grossing domestic film "Let the Bullets Fly" (让子弹飞) with Chow Yun-Fat. Please visit the website provided for directions as it is a very large and complex place to visit that will easily take an enitre day to see and possibly more.
- Liyuan (立园) (about an hour away from Kaiping Town). The best preserved and renovated of all the villages and hosts a museum about overseas Chinese culture.
- 1 Zilicun (自力村) (about 3km from Liyuan). Hosts the ruins of a former village with a giant watchtower.
- 2 Chikan (赤坎). An inhabited market town with many arcade buildings built in the mixed western and eastern style by overseas Chinese during the early 20th century. Lovely short riverfront walk. On the opposite river side, you can rent bikes from the youth hostel to discover the area. Reach Chikan comfortably in 20 minutes using bus 106 running through most of western Kaiping. Chikan old town is under renovations beginning 2017.
- 3 Yu Family Temple (名贤余忠襄公祠), Feng Cai Middle School, Taiping Road, Dihai (Take local bus #2 from Yicizhan to Dihai, getting off at the Feng Cai Middle School stop). The Yu Family Temple is a large traditional Chinese temple built in 1905 in honor of Yu Jing, a Song dynasty minister who moved to Guangdong in 1052 AD and is said to be the ancestor of all people with the last name Yu in the province. The Dihai area is known to have been the hometown of many overseas Chinese with the last name Yu, and the temple was recently restored with donations from their descendants now living all over the world. The temple is exquisitely decorated in traditional Chinese style and is the second largest temple in all of Guangdong.
- 4 Jinjiangli village (锦江里) of Xiangang township (蚬冈镇). An impressively shaped diaoulou with a bulbous cantilevered upper storey. One of the sites at which ticket purchase is required. There are quite a few additional diaoulou nearby in various states of disrepair, all of which are free. 60RMB/person or 180RMB for all sites.
Hire a car in town. Around 300-350RMB should be enough for a half day (5 hours) of sightseeing. The taxi drivers don't often see this much money, so there's no need to offer them any more.
There are tonnes Diaolou across the countryside and you will get bored of them within a day, so don't worry too much about skipping some. As of May 2019 there is a tourism system set up whereby the 'major' sites are 60RMB each or 180RMB when purchased as a joint ticket, although tourist numbers seemed to be effectively zero and a discount was offered of 50RMB for a single site on our visit. Smaller kids are free.
The four designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites with diaolou architecture are
- Zilicun village (自力村) of Tangkou township (塘口镇)
- Sanmenli village (三门里) of Chikan township (赤坎镇)
- Majianlong cluster (马降龙) of Baihe township (百合镇)
- Jinjiangli village (锦江里) of Xiangang township (蚬冈镇)
Also of interest are Liyuan (立园) mentioned above (a group of neoclassical and baroque buildings with Chinese ornamental roofs in an elegant garden), the riverside promenade in Chikan (赤坎古镇影视城; under reconstruction from 2017-mid 2019 with no sign of completion) and the leaning diaolou in Nanxing village (南兴村) of Xiangang township (蚬冈镇). All are located within roughly 20km of Kaiping city center.
For those interested in diaolou architecture, see The Diaolou of Kaiping (1842-1937) for background. It may also be a good idea to look for accommodations in one of the small townships surrounding Kaiping. (Kaiping city itself is a fairly standard modern Chinese town.) Xiangang (蚬冈镇), for example, has entire small streets fitted with baroque-like facades cast in concrete.
- Jin Qiao Cheng (金桥城). A shopping mall in Kaiping that was completed in November 1993. It is a shopping and entertainment mall. Inside you can find fashion shops, gift shops, cosmetic shops, and DVD stores. With a construction area of 1.3 million square meters, there are a total of eight floors. There escalators, elevators, central air conditioning, closed-circuit television monitoring system, automatic fire control system, parking and other service facilities. A total of hundreds of city shopping shops, First to fourth floors are commercial space, business is very rich in species, of which the first floor is main selling household appliances, audio-visual products and daily necessities, etc. Second and third floors mainly sell apparel and leather products and so on. Fourth floor is mainly beauty centers. Level five and above is a large-scale entertainment venues.
- Bu Xing Jie (步行街). There are 2 floors of this street ; First floor having 262 shops and second floor having 275 shops. This street features fashion clothing, footwear, stationary, accessories, electronic appliances, etc. Beside the stores are many little stalls selling snacks from drinks to noodles. The second floors features many shops where you can take photos of yourself which is like a sticker(sticker photos).
- Yi Hua Plaza (益华广场). At commercial golden mile of Kaiping, Mu Sha Rd. Built by Hong Kong Capital Groups and Sino Groups' investment. As a multi-functional commercial square, it has an area of 68,000 square metres, 8-storey (a layer in the basement), and includes department stores, supermarkets, brand-name shops, restaurants, snack street, Western-style fast food, movie theaters, kids playground, Internet cafe, karaoke, sauna, fitness, foot, Steppenwolf, rooms, meetings, car park, etc. It is the largest commercial centre at present.
- Kaiping Tourist Shopping street (步行街). Kaiping tourist shopping street is a two-storey large-scale special building, 800 metres long, south from Cangjiang river, north to 325 national highway, and east with Dong Xing road. This building is a highlights of European style, and is similar with many famous building such as The White House, the Arc de Triomphe in France, Germany Castle, London Bridge, the Netherlands windmill, etc.. There are 262 shops on the first floor, 275 shops on the second floor, and a large space garden on the roof which includes fountains, pavilions, porticos and a large quantity of white marble sculptures. Tourist shopping street include many kinds of products, such as clothing, footwear, stationery, electrical appliances.
- Baihui Market (百汇). Baihui Market is relatively close to Yi Hua Plaza. It's just like Bu Xing Jie, but there are several columns of shops that sell tea, fruits, stationary (pens and penicls and paper), snacks, and a lot of other stuff.
- Easco City (东汇城), Easco City is a shopping complex with many places to eat, shop, and play. It is just like Yi Hua Plaza, but more modern.
- Ganbasha Coffee House (甘巴莎咖啡馆), 255 Xiangyuan Xincun (祥苑新村255号), ☏ . Serves western and Chinese food at a reasonable price.
- Vegetarian Restaurant, Level two of the mall 500m east of the bus station (Walk east of the bus station 500m, then ascend to level 2). Great mainland Chinese style vegetarian buffet. Operates from 11AM or 11:30AM to 2PM for lunch. 20RMB/person.
- Café de Coral, in the front of Yi Hua Plaza.
- Xiangyuan Binguan (祥苑宾馆), 261 Xiangyuan Xincun (祥苑新村261号) (Next to the shopping and tourist center), ☏ . Rooms are ¥100 for a double after.
- Xingdu Hotel (星都大酒店), 10 Changshaguangming Street (长沙光明路10号), ☏ .
- A 15 minute bus ride south will bring you to the neighboring town of Taishan.
- 30 minutes west are the numerous hot springs of Enping.
- Further west (2 hours) is Yangjiang, the knife manufacturing capital of China.
- 45 minutes north on the way to Guangzhou is Heshan with its temples in the mountains overlooking the highway.
- The closest major city (1M+ population) is Jiangmen -- 30 minutes to the west with an Intercity Rail station. There you can catch fast trains to either Zhuhai or Guangzhou and the cities in between.
- 3 hours by bus (5-10 times a day from downtown bus terminal) to reach Zhaoqing, a nice city with old city walls, a massive lake with many islands and a national park close by.