On my way from India, I was supposed to have a 14 hour layover in Guangzhou, China. My family also had a several hour layover in the same airport. We figured our gates would be somewhere near each other so that we could spend some time together before we had to go our separate ways.
Instead, once we got off the plane, we immediately had to part ways.
They were directed to a terminal while I was directed outside the terminals to an accommodation desk. I protested that I didn't want to pay for a hotel room and that I was perfectly fine staying inside the airport or taking a bus into the city. What was quickly revealed to me was that I was entitled to a free hotel stay due to my long layover time.
While I was in line, a fellow traveller told me big airlines usually put up their customers in hotels. I was excited scoring a free hotel stay as it was and assumed it would be somewhere budget and near the airport. However, myself and several other travelers learned that we were being transferred to a hotel in the middle of the city - a half hours drive from the airport!
I researching Guangzhou before I arrived and getting to and from the airport was my main concern. Since my transfer to and from the airport was covered, I could focus on finding out which sights I should see first!
Fortunately, China Southern Airlines had that part covered for us as well. In addition to a hotel room, they provided an activities package for the day. Each person received a metro card, two museum tickets and a map detailing the locations.
Since it was about 9 in the morning we received a complimentary breakfast voucher as well. I had not eaten since the night before so I was starving! I dropped out my bag in the room, oogled my beautiful five star accommodation and rushed downstairs before breakfast was cleared.
The breakfast at the Dong Fang Hotel was incredible.
Servers in white button up shirts and black slacks doted on hotels guests, food was displayed on pretty white napkins and strong coffee wafted through the air.
They had everything from french toast and pancakes to soup and noodles. There were plates of cheeses, breads, fruit and everything in between. They even had two coffee machines that could make whatever type of coffee combination you desired in addition to several types of fruit juice. This type of luxury made me giddy, especially since it was so unexpected.
Full to the brim, I waddled back to my room to try out all the bathroom products and take a much desired hot shower. After steaming in the shower for a good twenty minutes, I figured I had spent enough time pampering and decided to venture out into the city.
Looking through my activities pack, I was elated to find that one of the museum tickets was for a place just around the corner! Without further contemplation I marched myself over to the Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King.
Along the way, I ran into several other people on my transfer bus and we decided to explore together.
Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King wasn't discovered until 1983, yet it is the burial site of Nanyue King Zhao Mo. This 2,000 year old tomb stood there for centuries before it was discovered just 40 years ago! Ruling from 137 BC to 122 BC King Zhao Mo was buried with over 1,000 artifacts including human sacrifices. It took five years to organize and build the museum and it's one of the most interesting places I have visited.
After walking around the Nanyue Museum for about two hours (and honestly I could have stayed there for much longer!), half of the group decided to head to the hotel to nap, but I was determined to get as much out of my layover as I could.
My new friend Claudia and I decided to head to a more lively area of town and hopped on the metro towards the Big Buddha temple. Wide-eyed we walked through the temple, afraid to blink in case we would miss a sight. The temple was ornately decorated and filled with people praying, chanting and burning incense.
Canton Tower was on my list to hit during the layover although by this point we were cutting it close to get back for our transfer bus to the airport. We were determined, however, and made the two train transfer to the tower. We ran out of the metro station and looked around, not seeing the tower which you would assume would be hard to miss. It took us a minute to realize the train station was right under neath the tower and we were standing right under it! We had time to take a couple snaps in front of the tower to mark the occasion and we sprinted back into the metro just in time to get to the hotel and catch the bus!
By this point, you're probably wondering what my $3.21 expenditure was.... I bought a magnet to commemorate my race around Guangzhou. Other than that, my accommodation, transportation, activities and food were all provided for! Now that's what I call traveling on a budget.
If you end up having a long layover through a large airline, make sure to see if they compensate you in any way! This was the most memorable and quite unexpected layover I've experienced and it would be a shame not to share this super helpful hack with all of you! Happy traveling.