On our first night back in China (and after 10 days exploring Japan), we decided to check out the light show along the Pearl River. Relative to what you would pay in the US (for a similar attraction), the value for the “cruise” is incredible. There are a couple of different options in terms of cruise length (70, 90, and 110 minutes). We opted for the 70 minute cruise with snacks: $20 USD equivalent.
Guidelines for buying a ticket (bring your passport)
We bought our tickets at Tianzi Wharf a few hours in advance to make sure we got the departure time we wanted. Since we are US citizens, we needed our passports in order to purchase a ticket. Luckily we had our passports with us, but I couldn’t believe that you needed a passport to buy a ticket. So if you plan to go, remember to bring your passports (if you aren’t Chinese of course).
Where to go while you wait
Since we purchased our tickets a few hours in advance, we had a few hours to kill before our “cruise” departed at 7pm. We walked a few blocks “inland” from the river to a really big marketplace for dinner. I am not sure of the name, but looking at the map, it might be called “Wende Square”. The marketplace is marked on the map below. It was a great place to get dinner and just walk around. There was a diverse selection of restaurants; not just Chinese food.
Sites along the Pearl River
A boat departs roughly every 20 minutes. We departed around 7pm, at which point it was completely dark outside. There are multiple places along the river to hop on or off of a boat. I suppose we departed from the main stop at Tianzi Wharf. The boat takes you over 5 miles down the river where you can see animated lights coordinate along the faces of the buildings. It’s difficult to explain, so here is a short video:
Our boat departed from Tianzi Wharf, near Haizhu Square heading downstream to the East. Immediately you see all of the buildings on the north bank of the river illuminated. The animated lights stretch for a mile or so. Farther down the river, many of the larger buildings have some sort of lighting scheme including the Canton Tower.
At almost 2,000 feet tall, the Canton Tower is hard to miss. It’s across the river from the wharf after passing under three bridges. The tower changes colors and even has illuminated advertisements. I can’t imagine how much that costs.
On the other side of the river, the boat passes by the Xinghai Concert Hall (also illuminated) and more big buildings. China just celebrated 70 years under communist rule, and there were plenty of Chinese flags and “70” signs all over the area.
I don’t know what the Bridges were called, but the architecture in Guangzhou is interesting. Most of the bridges (and buildings) have a unique design. Seeing them lit up at night is very cool.
My 2 cents for the river cruise
Get the good seats: Get the expensive tickets. The “fancy” expensive tickets ($20 each) that we bought included snacks (fruit, candy, and coffee) and we were seated on the top deck where the view is the best. I could do without the snacks, but it’s worth it for the seats. Everyone with cheaper tickets were “seated” on the decks below, but had the option to walk to the top and stand on the top deck. Inevitably everyone comes up to the top deck for most of the ride, but the expensive tickets actually get you a seat. It was a little strange as everyone with “normal” tickets was sectioned off from us “elites”.
Value: The ride is over an hour and the boat goes at least 5 miles one way. Just seeing downtown Guangzhou is impressive. Add the light displays and it’s a great deal. You would easily pay triple the price ($20 USD) for a similar attraction in the US or Europe.
It’s unique: the lights are coordinated amongst so many buildings. Name me one other city that has a more extensive light show in one place.
Volume: At the beginning and end of the ride, the announcements are made over the load-speaker…and it’s loud. It’s especially loud on the top deck (where we were). Fair warning.
It’s a little chilly: At least in October. Guangzhou has some great weather, but even if it’s warm, the wind still gets at you on the water. Bring a jacket and you should be okay.