Dongguan is located on the Pearl River Delta, and it's a great base from which to explore the sights of southern China. The city has received the National Excellence in Tourism award for its enchanting landscapes and its one-of-a-kind attractions.
Explore the leafy glades and see local architectural styles at one of the Guangdong Province's most famous gardens. The Keyuan Garden was established during the Qing Dynasty and is said to resemble the ancient Suzhou gardens in Jiangsu Province.
The Humen Bridge spans the Pearl River Estuary, and it's one of the city's best-known landmarks. Drive to the east end to visit the Humen Naval Battle Museum where you can learn all about the Opium Wars that took place here during the 19th century.
Spend the day at the mountainous Yinxian Resort, which is just nine miles from the city center. Walk to the Yinxian Temple on the banks of the lake and see the 95-foot marble effigy of Kwan-Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, at the top of Guanyin Mountain.
Visit the world's largest mall (at least, in terms of space for rent): the New South China Mall is over five million square feet of shops and restaurants.
The Opium War Museum's main exhibit is based on the life of patriot and politician Lin Zexu, who was responsible for destroying vast quantities of opium during the 19th-century war.
Located in the Boxia neighborhood, in north-central Dongguan, the Keyuan Garden is the most beautiful of four splendid gardens in the city. In this case, the gardens occupy over 2,000 square meters of prime real estate, and have been providing an escape for the locals since being laid out in the 1850s. These days, little has changed, with attractive pavilions, flower gardens, ponds, and viewing platforms (designed to be a location for composing poetry). You might be roused to poetic efforts of your own. A wonderful example of Chinese garden design.
Dongguan's greatest historical claim to fame is as the starting point of the First Opium War in 1839. Well, as this museum explains, it actually started in Humen Town, which has been rolled into modern Dongguan, but the claim is still pretty strong. An excellent overview of how the Chinese and British came to blows over the latter importing Indian opium into the country, it pays homage to the rebel leader Lin Zexu, who fought a "war on drugs" as the British poured narcotics into China.
This is where the Opium Wars really began, and where many Chinese believe their independence struggle really took off. Humen Bridge is where fed up Chinese patriots seized over 1,000 tonnes of British owned opium and threw it into the river, in a kind of Chinese Opium Party moment. As you'll see when you get there, the Humen Bridge itself is a fairly impressive 1990s suspension construction across the Pearl River, but its main appeal is purely historical. This is holy land for Chinese nationalists and anti-imperialists all over the world.
Located about 10 miles northeast of the riverfront district, Shuilianshan is a world away from the energy of modern Dongguan, and is definitely worth visiting if you have the chance. As the name indicates, this well-preserved area is mainly forested, with steep peaks and dramatic waterfalls. But the real lure here is the slow pace of life and the survival of traditional Chinese culture. There are also swimmable lakes (so take a towel), and even a small amusement park with child-friendly rides, so it's the kind of park where there's always something to do.
Situated to the right of the Opium War Museum, this engaging museum is a logical place to head after absorbing the historical importance of the Pearl River crossing. The exterior is an attraction on its own, resembling a kind of UFO crossed with an ironclad warship, but when you get inside, the exhibition halls take over. If you enjoy military history, the accounts of Opium War naval battles will be fascinating (and little known to many visitors). Owing to their importance to the Chinese, this is essential viewing.
Dongguan has a mild climate with year-round rainfall. Visitors flock to the city during May and June for events like the Dragon Boat Festival and the Hengli Red Lichee Festival, and in November for the China International Fashion Fair. Visit from September to October for drier weather and fewer crowds.
Fly to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN), 31 miles north of Dongguan city center. A shuttle bus service runs from the airport to the New South China Mall, or you can take a taxi for ¥300.
Regular trains from Hung Hom Station in Hong Kong stop at Changping township in Dongguan en route to Guangzhou.
Rent a car for ¥96 per day at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and take the G15 to the city center. If you don't have a Chinese license you can rent a car with a local driver.
Bus services from places like Hong Kong arrive at the Dongguan Bus Station, in the city's west.
Splash out on a stay at the Regal Palace Hotel or the Hyatt Regency Hotel Dongguan, or look for affordable hotels like the South China International Hotel and Kande Club Hotel.
Dongcheng - this leafy, residential neighborhood is known for its public parks and 5-star hotels.
Nancheng - this is the city's commercial and financial center and where you'll find Shuilianshan Forest Park (Northwest Gate).
Wanjiang - this vibrant area of the city is best known for the New South China Mall.
Take Line 1 on the subway to reach Dongguan Railway Station or Humen. The city is also well served by local buses and a single fare is just ¥2.
Taxis are readily available and you should pay ¥10 for a five-mile trip.
Rent a car with a Chinese driver for ¥200-400 per day if you'd like to explore Dongguan at your own pace or take trips to nearby cities.
Find all of your favorite brands at the New South China Mall or visit Huanghe Fashion Town in the Humen district for clothes and accessories.
Pick up food and basics at supermarkets chains like Metro, Tesco, and Carrefour. You'll pay ¥15 for 12 eggs and ¥17 for a quart of milk.
Try local street foods like Lai Fun noodles at one of the many snack bars on Houjie Street, or book a table at Luigi Italian Restaurant in the Sheraton Dongguan Hotel for a special meal. A simple diner lunch should cost ¥45, while dinner for two with wine at a good restaurant will be ¥420.