One of China's historic treaty ports, this fast-growing city is both a hub of international commerce and tourism thanks to its superb coastal location
One of three cities making up the traditional homeland of members of China’s celebrated Teochew diaspora, Shantou boasts a spectacular harbourside location and a wealth of marine resources that have made it one of China’s leading port cities and a top seaside hotspot. The area’s hilly coastal landscape, pristine islands, subtropical climate and world-renowned traditional culture – centered on Teochew cuisine and opera and the region’s one-of-a-kind Gongfu tea (named for the painstaking process of making it) – are the key reasons for the city’s enduring popularity with domestic tourists and with the many descendants of Teochew emigrants in overseas locales like Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. Top attractions include scenic Queshi and Nan Ao Islands with their caves, boulders, historical remnants and unsurpassed views, bridge- and pavilion-dotted Zhongshan Park, the sprawling, 500-room former residence of the prominent Chen Cihong family and the cracked granite natural landmark known as Lotus Peak.
Things to do
Kept at bay
Qing Ao Bay to the east of Nan Ao Island is a huge, moon-shaped body of water lined with a soft-sand beach that stretches for more than 2km. Sheltered by casuarina trees and encircled by eye-catching pavilions, the bay is the site of resorts and leisure facilities (for sailboarding, boating and golfing among other activities) and the city’s only saltwater swimming pool.
After making it big in Hong Kong and Thailand in the 19th century, homegrown tycoon Chen Ci Hong built many lavish homes for his family, the most palatial of which is in Chenghai City, about an hour from Shantou. Though weathered by time, Chen Ci Hong Mansion is still a sight to behold, home to a blend of Chinese and Western architectural styles, elegant furnishings, a labyrinth of staircases, corridors and overhead walkways, and such a vast number of rooms that Chen reputedly employed a servant to do nothing but open and close the house’s hundreds of windows.
No end in sight
Just a 15-minute ferry ride from downtown Shantou, Queshi Scenic Area is embraced by the sea on three sides and manages to squeeze nearly four dozen evergreen-draped hilltops into its 20sqkm area. Check out the memorably named White Rabbit Cave, Dragon Spring Cave, Lion Cave and Elephant Cave before ascending the nearest hill for a bird's-eye view of Qing Hao Gulf and the area’s many other picturesque sights.
Accessible via a 40-minute ferry ride from nearby Chenghai Laiwu Port, Nan Ao Island is home to wildlife-rich Huanghua Mountain National Forest Park and Marine Migratory Birds Preservation Zone. Beyond that, visitors come from far and wide to marvel at the lovely mountain and coastal scenery, tour ancient temples, stretch out on the sand or just enjoy the cool sea breezes.
The Sun belt
There’s no shortage of parks in China honouring the 'Father of the Nation', Dr Sun Yat-sen – Sun Zhongshan to the Chinese – and Shantou’s Zhongshan Park is one of many that does him proud. Check out the eye-catching bridges linking to the islands in Yujian Lake, descend into a cosy cave, visit a hilltop pavilion, explore the Shantou Museum, go for a boat ride and dine at the restaurant or tea house.
Travel time 40 minutes
Taxi Approx CNY 80
Airport express bus CNY 20-22, journey takes about 60 minutesBack to top
When to go
Shantou’s subtropical marine climate accounts for its abundant sunshine and the fact that temperatures average about 22°C. July and August are the hottest months while the winter months are relatively mild and dry. Be prepared for frequent rainfall from April to September.
The annual International Tourism and Culture Festival takes place in October or November, during which visitors can sample celebrated local dishes like steamed abalone, boiled white eel and stewed trepang (a marine invertebrate), and experience Teochew opera and dance. Culture in the form of folk dancing and martial arts also marks the annual Shantou Spring Festival in April.Back to top
The city bus fare is CNY 2 and routes are posted at bus stops, which can be a bit tough to locate. Taxi fares range from about CNY 7-9 depending on the destination, not including a CNY 1 fuel surcharge. Travellers should insist that drivers use the meter. Travelling by motorised trishaw tends to be cheaper, though it’s necessary to bargain with drivers.Back to top