Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 November, 2010, 12:00am

While both Hong Kong and the eastern Pearl River district are noted for mountainous scenery, Guangzhou is overwhelmingly flat - with one exception. In the north of the city, about seven kilometres from the Pearl River, is Baiyun Mountain - historically known in English by the literal translation, White Cloud Mountain - a welcome sight for the sore eyes of the provincial capital's jaded residents.

Baiyun forms a series of peaks and, as in any popular Chinese mountain district, its crags, rock formations, prospects and viewing points have become linked to legends. Down the centuries, visiting poets have left behind verse couplets that have been inscribed in stone, adding to Baiyun's picturesque appeal.

Its highest peak is Mo Sing Leng ('touching the stars range'), a moniker that will be familiar to Hong Kong people as this is the Chinese name for Mount Davis. Cantonese settlers who moved to Hong Kong Island after the British arrived in 1841 appropriated the name from the original at Baiyun, in much the same way that settlements in Australia, New Zealand and other colonies were named after British originals by new arrivals.

Guangzhou's Baiyun airport opened just below the range in 1932, part of a considerable expansion of civil aviation in China during the 1930s. It was one of the country's major airports for 72 years before it closed in 2004.

The city's new airport, in Huadu district, was rather confusingly named Baiyun International Airport. Retaining the name for a new facility some distance away was not particularly helpful for travellers trying to get their bearings (imagine the airport at Chek Lap Kok retaining the name Kai Tak). In a lingering connection to the past, Baiyun's airport code - CAN - is derived from Canton, the still widely used old Anglicised name for Guangzhou.

On the mountain, a series of cable-car routes provides easy access to scenic points for the less agile.

Cable-car construction has become a growth industry in recent years, thanks to the boom in domestic tourism. New routes continue to open in other popular mountain resorts, such as Huangshan and Zhangjiajie. Baiyun's cable cars have been in operation for years - children love them.

Recent Guangzhou Metro expansion means the mountain is easily accessible from Baiyun Park Station, with good signposting to the main sights and the cable-car station.