Dongguan, a large city located between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, is known for its massive manufacturing sector. Despite its industrial reputation, Dongguan actually has a rich history and culture (unlike its more famous, mega-modern neighbor, Shenzhen). It's easy to get to Dongguan by taking the high speed rail from Shenzhen. The ride is only 45 minutes, and you enter another world.
We came during Chinese New Year and it was crazy crowded. The huge Covid wave had just finished blazing through China, and now everybody was ready to go out and travel! Dongguan has its share of gems, and we visited several of them during our weekend in Dongguan.
Song Shan Park
Song Shan Park is a huge park that is a wonderful place to spend the day on bike.
Renting bikes, we explored the park's expansive trails. This sprawling green oasis in the heart of Dongguan provided a lovely retreat from the city's hustle.
SongShan Park is adjacent to a company's campus that is built to look like a European city. From the park we could just get a glimpse of some of those European style buildings.
Dongguan still preserves a lot of "urban villages". A stroll through one of these villages feels like you are walking back in time.
A Taste of Local Guangdong (Cantonese) Cuisine
Dongguan's food scene is a testament to the rich culinary heritage of the Guangdong province. Cantonese cuisine, known for its subtle flavors and emphasis on fresh ingredients, is ubiquitous here. We indulged in classic dishes like congee, a comforting rice porridge; tofu pudding, silky and delicate; and chicken feet.
Our next meal was at a restaurant called "xiang ge li la" “湘阁里辣”, a clever play on the Chinese wordplay that echoes 'Shangri-La' but stands for Hunan cuisine (湘) and spiciness (辣). This restaurant highlighted Hunan's bold and fiery flavors, a stark contrast to the more subdued Cantonese palate.
We tried the signature dish, a whole fish head simmering in a broth of aromatic spices and chilies.
However, my favorite dish was their hand-smashed eggplant, with longhorn peppers and century egg, which was prepared table-side using a mortar and pestle.
The peashoots in a light, savory broth was lovely. While I passed on the duck blood dish, Bryan really enjoyed it.
The place is known for their rice (and I agree, the texture is fantastic), and they sell it separately. It's a lot more expensive than normal restaurants (a bowl of rice is like US$3, which is A LOT in China!).
If you want to get a sense of old Guangdong (Cantonese) culture, Dongguan is a great place to visit. It's much better than neighboring Shenzhen, which is a sprawling metropolis that was built up in a very short amount of time. The prices here are also cheaper than in Shenzhen, so people from Shenzhen will sometimes come here to get massages, pedicures, treatments, etc. I seldom get manicures (I think this was my third time?), but they did a fantastic job (spent over an hour on an intricate design!), and it only cost like $15 USD.
Dongguan is a huge city, and a lot if it is very industrial (it is a manufacturing center, after all). However there are many pockets of culture, nature, and beauty.