Since J. and I have become fans of the Guangzhou subway system, I thought I would write out detailed directions so other families can enjoy this easy mode of transportation as well. Unless you really like reading about things like this or you have plans to be in Guangzhou sometime soon, I give you permission to skip this post.
I'll describe how to travel from the China Hotel down to Shamian Island, since that is probably the most popular destination for adoptive families. If you manage one trip, you'll see how easy it is and can venture out further. I would suggest asking the concierge for a subway map so you can keep track of where you are.
Begin by entering the subway at either D1 or D2, which are the entrances right in front of the hotel. Once you descend the escalator, you need to find the ticket vending machines. The machines take coins, and 10rmb and smaller bills. (Make sure the bills are in fairly decent condition or the machine will spit them back out.) If you need smaller bills, look for the customer service counter. They know why you're there and will change whatever bill you give them into smaller ones. (We only tried changing 20 rmb's so I don't know how large a bill they will change.) The screen on the ticket machine is a touch screen with a very small map of the entire subway system. (There are English labels on the machines.) The first thing you need to do is indicate your destination stop. For the island you will need to go to Huangsha on the yellow line. Touch the screen over by that stop on the yellow line to bring up a larger version of the area you touched. You can then look for the exact stop and touch that. Now look to the right side of the screen. It will tell you how much you will need to pay for that length of trip. Now is the time to change the number of tickets you need, if you need to. We needed five tickets, so we pressed five and it changed the total. (At the time we rode it, this trip was 15 rmb for five tickets.) Now feed the required fare into the machine. Once you have done this it will vend your tickets; they come out at the bottom. They are plastic disks that are smart chipped.
Now it is time to enter the subway. Look for the entrance turnstiles. You will see a place on the top front of the turnstile that looks something like a screen. Place your ticket over it to open the turnstile. Be sure to keep track of your ticket as you will need it to exit at the end. The trick to the subway system is to know the terminal destination of the line and direction you are going so you board the correct train. For this ride you need to head south, so you will be traveling in the direction of the Guangzhou South Railway Station. This is marked above the doors where you enter the train. Choose a door to stand in front of and board the train when it comes. (The doors all the way to the right side, which is the end of the train, are reserved for the elderly, children and anyone needing extra help, a category which Ann suggested adoptive families fall into. It tends to be less crowded so you may want to head toward that end.) Sometimes it takes two trains to get to the front, but because the trains comes every TWO minutes, this isn't a big deal. Once you are on the train, you will be traveling two stops and getting off the blue line at Gongyuanqian. Most of the trains we have been on have nice electric read-outs so you can keep track of where you are, but at least one train was a bit older and didn't have this, so be sure to count your stops.
At the Gongyuanqian stop, exit the train and look for the signs that lead you to the yellow line. (Just a note, whenever you are at a stop, you can exit whichever door opens on the train. The side doesn't matter and you'll get to where you want to go either way.) Head toward the yellow line and look for the train heading toward Xiang. You will be on the yellow line for four stops. When the train reaches Huangsha station, get off the train and follow the signs to the exit. Now is when you need your tickets again. To exit through the turnstiles, you need to feed your ticket into the coin slot.
There is only one exit to above ground at the Huangsha stop, so you don't need to worry about where you come up from below ground. When you reach ground level, look to your left while facing the street. You should see a stairway leading to a pedestrian overpass so you can cross the street. When you reach the other side of the overpass, the canal will be right in front of you and you will see a pedestrian bridge to cross over to the island. This bridge places you at about the NW corner of the island. Heading left and then right will put you where the shops and hotels are.
When you want to return, just reverse the process. Buy your ticket just like before except this time you will choose the Yuexiu Park stop on the blue line. You will also be heading in the opposite direction from the first trip. So on the yellow line you will board the train heading toward Guangzhou East Railway Station and on the blue line you will be heading toward Jiahewanggang. When you reach your destination on the blue line and have exited the turnstiles, look for the signs showing you to the D exits. Either D1 or D2 will bring you up right outside the China Hotel.
Easy, huh? And because the fare is distance based, if you just go one stop, the fare is only something like 2 rmb per person. I have heard a lot of stories about the difficulties families have been having finding cabs, especially off the island. Taking the subway is less expensive, there are no hassles of flagging a cab, and it's fun.
It's so easy, I really think the guides should give subway riding lessons to every family when they arrive in Guangzhou. We are feeling a lot more freedom now that we know how to get around.
(Edited to add: Each subway entrance has a sign which tells the first and last train for each line. Also, a child under 1.2 meters is free with a paying adult.)