1. Picture Perfect Landscape Design
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.
2. Discover How British Drug Imports Sparked Chinese Resistance
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.
3. Where The Opium Wars Kicked Off
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.
4. Slow-Paced Rural Life And Family Fun
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.
5. An Invaluable Historical Primer
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.
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