Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 September, 2009, 12:00am

Shaoguan, (better known to Cantonese speakers as Shiu Kwan), lies at the confluence of the Wu and Zhen rivers. These join to make the Pak Ho ('North River'), which flows south 221 kilometres to Guangzhou. Shaoguan, which sees few visitors from Hong Kong and is seldom reported from, was in the news recently; China's worst race riots in decades were triggered by an incident in a Hong Kong-owned factory here.

The area's historic sites include the Dajian Monastery, founded in AD660, and the scenic Fengcai pagoda, built during the Ming dynasty. Some of China's earliest Neanderthal remains were found in the town of Maba, near Shaoguan. The excavation site can be visited. Near the city, the Nam Wah Temple complex, one of the most significant sites in Chinese Buddhism, dates from AD502. The present structure, restored in the late 1990s, was mostly built in 1934.

Kukong, on the opposite bank of the river to Shaoguan, was Guangdong's wartime provincial capital, and a vital staging post for Hong Kong escapees headed for the interior. By the late 19th century, Methodist missionaries had established a notable presence here, and the Kukong Methodist Mission hospital provided the district's only real medical facilities for decades. The medical superintendent at the time was Dr S.H. Moore, a New Zealander who later established Hong Kong's pioneering heroin addiction treatment facility on Shek Kwu Chau.

'The country north of Shiu Kwan is very mountainous,' wrote missionary J.A. Turner in 1894, 'and sparsely populated by timid and suspicious inhabitants'.

Northern Guangdong remains agreeably empty, which makes it popular for bird-watching and other outdoor pursuits, but the people seem pleasant enough. River systems to the northwest provide plenty of scope for adventure sports. A turbulent stretch near the small town of Pingshi, popularly known as the Nine Torrents and Eighteen Shoals, is popular for white-water rafting.

North of Shaoguan is the dramatic Danxiashan. Composed of eroded red sandstone formations, hiking possibilities abound and boat trips through the gorges can be arranged. Numerous yang yuan (male essence) and yin yuan (female essence) stones can be seen in the area; unmistakably phallic or cuneiform and true-to-life in shape, these natural features are coyly pointed out to visitors.

Most northbound inter-provincial trains from Shenzhen stop at Shaoguan and there are regular rail departures to the city from Guangzhou.