A dense population, global connectivity and frequent human-animal interaction give southern China an important role in the spread and emergence of infectious disease. However, patterns of person-to-person contact relevant to the spread of directly transmitted infections such as influenza remain poorly quantified in the region. We conducted a household-based survey of travel and contact patterns among urban and rural populations of Guangdong, China. We measured the character and distance from home of social encounters made by 1821 individuals. Most individuals reported 5-10 h of contact with around 10 individuals each day; however, both distributions have long tails. The distribution of distance from home at which contacts were made is similar: most were within a kilometre of the participant's home, while some occurred further than 500 km away. Compared with younger individuals, older individuals made fewer contacts which tended to be closer to home. There was strong assortativity in age-based contact rates. We found no difference between the total number or duration of contacts between urban and rural participants, but urban participants tended to make contacts closer to home. These results can improve mathematical models of infectious disease emergence, spread and control in southern China and throughout the region.