Depart from your downtown Guangzhou hotel by comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle, and relax on the 2.5-hour drive south to Kaiping, deep in Guangdong province.
On route, gaze at China’s countryside, rice fields, and towns, and hear information about the region’s history from your guide. As you approach Kaiping, glimpse the famous watchtowers (diaolous) that dot the landscapes. The oldest of these UNESCO-listed, multi-story fortified houses date from the Ming dynasty era between the 14th and 17th centuries, and were built to stave off bandits and floods.
On arrival, visit the village of Zili, home to an impressive collection of the castle-like towers, including 20th-century examples built by returning Chinese émigrés who incorporated Western-style architecture into their designs.
Stroll around to study the towers' different styles, and head inside some to view the interiors and absorb the panoramas from the rooftops.
Refuel with a tasty southern Chinese lunch at a local restaurant, and then continue to the Li Garden, also known as Kaiping Garden. This early 20th-century garden was designed by a wealthy Chinese emigrant XieWei Li, and is home to a stunning watchtower, villas, waterways, and bridges. Stretch your legs to see the park's highlights like the magical-looking birdcage pavilion, and ornamental Chinese gardens.
Having explored here, travel to Chikan Old Town, known for its 1920s Western-style architecture. Returning expat Chinese families of the time came back here, and designed houses using Western architectural elements, complete with elegant balconies.
Absorb the rundown-but-photogenic houses along the riverbanks, and learn how Chikan has attracted movie producers who have used the houses as period film sets.
Finally, journey back to Guangzhou, where your day trip finishes with a hotel drop-off.