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About 85 miles southwest of Guangzhou is Kaiping, which is definitely worth a visit. This rural area is reminiscent of the past, with a slower pace, more serene surroundings, and locals still adorning their straw hats as they manually tend their plants. To get there from Guangzhou, you can take one of 50 buses that make the trip back and forth every day. The 2-hour ride costs 61 RMB = apx. $10.00 (8/26/13).
The highlight is definitely the spectacular watchtower houses ( diaolou)—fortresses built in the 17th century as a place of refuge for entire villages. Reaching as high as nine stories, they feature turrets, balconies, and cupolas. Approximately 1,800 of the original 3,000 are still in existence, and stand watch over most villages. The Kaiping diaolou (watch towers) and villages were added to the list of world historical sites by UNESCO in 2007. There is an separate admission fee sold at the entrance of each site or a you can purchase multi package ticket.
Once in Kaiping, you can easily explore several by foot or taxi. The oldest diaolou is Yinglong Lou, at San Men Li. Walk through the narrow tunnel set between ancient houses to get to the three-story fortress, which dates back to the 1400s. This place of refuge saved the lives of the villagers during the monstrous floods in the late 1880s and again in the early 1900s.
To see the largest collection in one place, visit Zili Cun, with 15 towers in close proximity. Most are three- or four-stories high, adorned with turrets, urns, arches, and balustrades. Walk the stone paths between the buildings, some of which lean due to the marsh land on which they stand. Wooden signs point out the best viewing route.