Travelogues

Swatow Old Town Tour 汕頭老城區

The heart of Shantou is its bustling Old Town, where many of its grandest buildings are concentrated.

L2M-CN-1909-SWATOW-3Shantou, a city significant in 19th-century Chinese history as one of the treaty ports established for Western trade and contact, was one of the original special economic zones of China established in the 1980s, but did not blossom in the manner that cities such as Shenzhen, Xiamen and Zhuhai did. However, it remains eastern Guangdong’s economic centre.

Shantou is one of the primary hometowns of the Chinese diaspora. The local natives are scattered around the globe and can be found in over 40 regions and countries, including Singapore and Malaya.

Those who have left the city often invest in their hometown and come back to work together with the locals. The exotic culture that they bring back to the city is then mixed with the traditional culture, forming a particular local flavor.

L2M-CN-1909-SWATOW-8Most of these buildings were constructed in the nineteenth century, when the port of Shantou was packed with cargo ships from around the world and the city played a more important role in China’s global trade. As you can see in the photo, the buildings resemble some of the prewar shophouses commonly found in Singapore and Malaya.

L2M-CN-1909-SWATOW-6In keeping with that cosmopolitan era, Old Town’s architectural style is an eclectic blend of European and traditional Chinese styles, and often forms a distinct contrast with the growing and modernising backdrop.

L2M-CN-1909-SWATOW-7However, most of the old buildings are slowly decaying and overgrown with trees, but to the right eye that just makes it more aesthetic.

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Those interested in Shantou’s history should note that much of the old town is not being preserved for posterity – the clock is running.

The one section that is marked for preservation is the part that is next to the renovated post office and the Shantou Founding Museum

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The Chaoshan train station

The easiest way to get here from Hong Kong is via the high speed railway to Chaoshan train station. It’s right between Chaozhou and Shantou in the middle of the connecting highway, so the transport here serves both cities. Remember to bargain the fare, or better, book the fare on ctrip or didi before you arrive. There’s no taxi queue here, and public buses are a hassle, chaotic, uncomfortable and unreliable.

Date Visited : Sep 2019

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