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A weekend in Zhuhai: Dorothy Veitch reports on what to do

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I have to say, on this, my first visit, I wasn’t expecting to be seduced by Zhuhai. But, as it turns out, it’s a quiet and picturesque city with enough of its own attractions and charms to justify a weekend away. If you’re like me and find it hard to spend more than a day in Macau without getting frustrated by the crowds, Zhuhai offers a slower pace, delicious seafood and plenty to see and do.

A Special Economic Zone established in the 1980s, Zhuhai is a bustling industrial hub, but it’s also one of China’s premier tourist destinations, known for its ‘tropical island’ resorts, golf clubs and theme parks. For this reason, there’s plenty of top-notch accommodation available in both international and Chinese hotel chains.

Fisher Girl Statue 

Top attractions

Zhuhai’s most famous landmark is the Fisher Girl Statue on the promenade at Xianglu Bay, which boasts a good view of the Pearl River Delta. The statue drapes a fishing net and holds a pearl high in the air with both hands. It symbolises a vigorous and lively Zhuhai, welcoming visitors from all over the world.

Zhuhai’s balmy promenade starts at Gongbei, at the border with Macau, and sweeps north for 28 kilometres along the coast, passing some of the city’s most coveted real estate. The section near Tangjia Public Garden is the most beautiful. There are kite and bicycle rentals along the way, and snack booths at night.

At the centre of the new promenade development, you’ll find the 100-metre Zhuhai Observation Tower, which has been built to resemble a fish leaping out of the water.

You’ll also want to visit Zhuhai Opera House on Yeli Island to catch a performance, or simply marvel at the graceful modern architecture. Two giant clam-like structures, referencing the moon, the sea and its tides (not Boticelli’s Venus), house a 1,550-seat opera house and a 550-seat multi-function theatre, and are connected by a 350-seat outdoor theatre.

And of course, when in Zhuhai, you’ll want to shop (and not just for duty-free treats in the malls of Jingshan Road). You know all that lovely restored Chinese furniture on sale in Macau? It’s all made in Zhuhai – its shops and warehouses have been shipping internationally for decades.

Make your way to Zhongshan, approximately 30 minutes by taxi from the HZMB Zhuhai Port, and you’ll find vast warehouses filled to the rafters with ornate wedding cabinets, Ming-style chairs, reconstructed pillow boxes and everything in between.

Zhuhai Opera House

Good surprises

Right in the centre of town, near the extravagant modern malls, the old Beishan District is gradually morphing into hipstercentral. As you wander the labyrinthine alleyways, you’ll find old temples, ancestral halls and theatres rubbing shoulders with rather more westernised hangouts. Hip noodle bars, cafés and even a tattoo shop add modern charm to the oldest district in central Zhuhai, marking the transition from timeworn to gentrified-traditional.

Make your way to Beishan Hall, whose decaying grey walls belie the modern East-meets-West interiors within. The hall’s inner courtyards are framed with red lanterns and bonsai trees, while the sparsely decorated rooms hold reading rooms and art galleries. Over summer especially, Beishan boasts a programme of shows, concerts and even a yearly jazz festival launched in 2010.

On a regular weekend, however, the hall’s art café is a draw in itself – somewhere to hunker down, drink quality coffee or pu’er tea, and flip through the beautiful art and photography books.

Surprisingly too, Zhuhai is home to China’s first permanent motor-race track. The Zhuhai International Circuit (ZIC) hosts numerous races throughout the year and provides a base for professional racing teams from Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the mainland. At the weekends, you can sign up for a coaching session and have your own personal race-track experience.

Zhuhai Observation Tower

Family entertainment

For a complete change of pace, head to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, touted as the biggest aquarium-based theme park in the world, or to Ocean Spring Resort, reputably the number one ocean hot-spring facility in all of China.

Zhuhai is an outdoorsy, garden city with plenty of verdant downtown parks, notably Seaside Park and Bailian Cave Park. Denglongsha Waterside Folk Custom Scenic Spot is also well worth a visit. It’s a delightful green lung, a short bus ride from central Zhuhai, where locals rent garden plots. Here, you can cruise the waterways by boat, cycle along the riverbanks or simply soak up the pastoral setting.

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom

Last but not least, every visitor to Zhuhai should spend a couple of hours at New Yuanming Palace. A scenic complex, spanning 1.4 square kilometres, it’s fashioned after Yuanming Yuan (the Summer Palace) in Beijing. There are imperial gardens to explore, pavilions and palaces around Fuhai Lake, and the quirky western section of the garden, which homes Gothic architecture and Romanesque fountains.

Beishan Hall 

While you can learn a lot about Chinese history at New Yuanming Palace, it’s essentially a vast amusement park with a cable car, roller coaster, water rides, boating opportunities and a maze. Here, should the mood take you, you can dress up as an emperor or empress. A make-up artist helps you perfect your look, and a manservant holds up your elaborate robes as you pose for a photograph.

Who would have thought a weekend in Zhuhai could be so much fun?

Zhuhai International Circuit 

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