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Visit the bustling Guangzhou with the aim of eating and shopping

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    Buckets of live scorpions are for sale at a market in Guangzhou, China. The southern port city is an easy weekend getaway from Hong Kong or long layover for international travelers.

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    An outdoor sculpture is featured at the Redtory Art and Design Factory. Redtory is similar to Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, but in the rough.

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    The bubble tram sits atop Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China. The southern port city is an easy weekend getaway from Hong Kong or long layover for international travelers. Below, buckets of live scorpions are for sale at a market in Guangzhou.

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    The lighted Canton Tower is a pillar of color at night in Guangzhou, China.

GUANGZHOU, China >> The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou offers all the hustle, bustle, culture and commerce of other major Asian metropolises minus the massive tourist crowds. But that could change as more travelers are lured to the modern port city by affordable flights and a 72-hour visa-free transit policy. Just a two-hour train ride from Hong Kong, Guangzhou is an easy weekend getaway or, in my case, a two-day stopover on my trip from Los Angeles to Malaysia.

Come hungry

Often touted as the birthplace of dim sum, Guangzhou takes its Cantonese cuisine seriously. Head west to the historic Liwan district to stroll through the shop- and restaurant-lined Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. Pick up a traditional mooncake filled with lotus seed paste at Lianxiang Lou or try the delectable dim sum at the popular Guangzhou Restaurant.

Just off the main strip are side streets brimming with tasty food stalls and bustling markets selling fresh produce and traditional remedies such as live scorpions and dried snakes.

If, like me, you’re overwhelmed by Guangzhou’s copious culinary choices, book a local guide though Eating Adventures Food Tour, eatingadventures.com, and tackle this foodie’s paradise like a pro.

A bird’s-eye view

Canton Tower, cantontower.com/en, is one of Guangzhou’s top tourist attractions, and with good reason. At 1,968 feet, the modern monolith offers panoramic views of the cityscape and winding Pearl River. It also features rotating restaurants and, for thrill-seekers, a 100-foot free-fall ride. I opted for the leisurely bubble tram and snapped the stunning sunset views while slowly rotating in a glass pod on a track atop the tower.

Culture vulture

Craving a creative boost? Head to the Tianhe district for the Redtory Art and Design Factory, redtory.com.cn/english/redtory.php. This sprawling canning factory-turned-sleepy artists ’ village boasts a bevy of contemporary galleries, exhibits and restaurants. Pick up a milk tea from one of the trendy cafes and peruse the small shops of artsy handicrafts, clothing, books and accessories. Redtory is similar to Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, but not yet quite as developed. Still, you can easily lose a few hours in this off-the-beaten-path cultural compound.

Souvenir shangri-la

Cross off your entire shopping list with a visit to OneLink International Plaza, onelinkplaza.com/en/main.php. This massive wholesale mall off of Haizhu Square is a winding, multifloor maze of toys, home goods, electronics, clothing and accessories. I spent three hours in this shopper’s wonderland and barely scratched its surface.

Go underground

If you can overcome the language barrier, taxis are affordable and abundant in Guangzhou. But I’d recommend beating the traffic and hopping on the metro. The subway is clean, quiet, air conditioned and cheap (single ride tokens are 32 cents and day passes are $3.15). It’s also easy to navigate with most maps, and the announcements are in English. Keep in mind the Chinese government blocks thousands of websites including Facebook and Google. You’ll need a virtual private network, or VPN, if Google Maps is your go-to navigation tool.

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