Shenzhen (深圳; Shēnzhèn) is one of the most populous and richest cities in China. It is situated in Guangdong, China on the Hong Kong border about 40km north of Hong Kong Central and approximately 100km south of Guangzhou. The city is on the list of UNESCO Creative Cities.
There are plenty of airlines offering flights to Shenzhen from major UK airports including London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, New Castle, London Gatwick.
In most cases, a visa should be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate before arriving anywhere in China. Certain nationalities arriving from Hong Kong can obtain a single-entry five-day Special Economic Zone Tourism Visa on arrival for ¥160-1,000. At the Luohu border (罗湖口岸), the office is immediately upstairs after clearing the Hong Kong immigration and customs. It is open 9AM-10:30PM seven days a week and only accepts RMB for payment. It can be reached at +86 755-8232-7700 for enquiries. Currently, these visas are available for Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, British and French passport holders. Note that the charge for UK passport holders is much higher at ¥469 for a five-day Shenzhen-only visa, while it costs only ¥160 for most other nationalities. Irish travellers are sometimes charged the same exorbitant UK fee when they are unlucky enough to get a border official who is unaware that the UK and Ireland are different countries. US passport holders are not eligible for this scheme and may even get fined for arriving without a valid visa! The same five-day visas are also available on arrival at the Huanggang and Shekou border offices. There is no visa-on-arrival office at the Futian border. The reason for the differing fees is that Chinese visa fees are set on a reciprocal basis.
It is worthwhile to point out here that even though the Huanggang (皇岗口岸) and Futian (福田口岸) borders are only a few hundred metres apart, they are different land crossings that connect to different points in Lok Ma Chau on the Hong Kong side. Huanggang connects to the 24-hour Lok Ma Chau Control Point, while Futian connects to the Lok Ma Chau MTR station.
Besides the five-day SEZ visa, you may also apply for a full China visa (single and double entry only) at the Luohu border. Again, UK passport holders are expected to pay more and US passport holders are not entertained at all. It is better to apply for a one year multiple entry visa at any consulate in the US for $130. It’s strange that they set the same same price tag for single, 6/12 month multiple entry visas.
Getting a tourist visa in Hong Kong now takes 3-4 days and costs HK$150-1,100. A list of costs is available. The old approach of arriving in Hong Kong and immediately applying for a visa is no longer worth the time and cost, as you will face expensive hotel bills in Hong Kong until your visa is granted. Macau’s visa office is less crowded and the hotels are a bit cheaper, but it takes just as long. In general, only single and double entry visas are granted to visitors without HKID cards, although foreigners with previous entries into the mainland and Hong Kong student or work visa holders have been known to be approved for multiple entries.
You can get a taxi van from HK International Airport to Shenzhen via the Huanggang border for HK$150. This fee includes ferrying you onwards to some destination within Shenzhen (e.g. hotels) after you have cleared the China immigration, but do clarify with the airport service counter staff first. Well worth it if you have a valid visa.
Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport has domestic and international flights. Direct coach 330 (¥20) connects the airport with downtown with its final stop next to Ke Xue Guan Metro Station. Local buses serving the airport include 327 and 355 but they are slow.
For those who plan to travel to other mainland Chinese cities from Hong Kong, Shenzhen airport is a viable alternative to Hong Kong International Airport. While most cities in China have direct flights to Hong Kong they are much more expensive than flights to and from Shenzhen. With good scheduling you can do your international travel through Hong Kong and then connect via buses or ferry to Shenzhen Airport for your domestic needs, but make sure you have your visa ready before you attempt this. Shenzhen Airport is very efficiently managed. However, it desperately needs a further terminal and a second runway. These are currently under construction, but in the meantime, aircrafts are often parked on the apron and flight delays are common. If you have no check-in luggage and can read Chinese, use the self check-in terminals.
In addition to domestic flights, the airport also serves limited international flights from the following destinations:
- Air Asia flies direct from Bangkok, Thailand as well as Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia.
- Silkair and Tiger Airways fly direct from Singapore.
There is also a helicopter service from Terminal Marítimo in Macau to Shenzhen Airport , though it is very expensive.
Taxis to central Futian are approximately ¥100 and to Luohu approximately ¥135 including tolls.
Transportation from Hong Kong International Airport to Shenzhen
Bus and Van There are very frequent bus and van services that can take you from the Hong Kong airport to most hotels in Shenzhen. The bus/van fare is ¥190-250. If you are a seasoned traveler, you can take the bus/van to Huanggang border, go through immigration and then get your own taxi to take you to where you want to go. The bus/van fare to Huanggang is ¥100-150. The bus/van companies have counters inside the airport. The staff at the information booth should be able to direct you to their counters.
Ferry There is also ferry services from Hong Kong airport to Shenzhen, check at the information desk for their schedule. A further alternative is to take “Skypier”. This service takes you direct from HKIA to the mainland (Shekou area in Shenzhen or Zhuhai) without going through Hong Kong immigrations or customs or in fact the city itself. There is a booth before you get to immigration and you purchase your ticket and ask them to get your luggage transferred and then you go by bus to the ferry and then straight to China. It is cheaper, easier, and faster than going into Hong Kong Central or Kowloon. If you exit China this way you get HK$120 departure tax given to you when you arrive at HKIA.
Taxi Taxis go from Hong Kong Airport directly to the border posts at Shenzhen Bay (approx HK$350) and Lok Ma Chau (approx HK$275) where you can walk directly across the border. Make sure you catch the green New Territories taxi (cheaper). The Lok Ma Chau border closes at 10.30PM and the Shenzhen Bay border at 11.30PM.
MTR, Bus Another way to get to Shenzhen from Hong Kong is to take the MTR to Lo Wu, crossing the border (and customs) and transferring onto a public bus (K568) to get to the Shenzhen airport. This also works in reverse if you fly into Shenzhen and want to get to Hong Kong Island or Kowloon.
Shenzhen has border train and bus connections to Hong Kong. There are trains to Guangzhou and buses to most nearby cities.
There are six land border crossings: Lok Ma Chau/Huanggang, Lok Ma Chau/Futian Kou’an, Lo Wu/Luohu, Sha Tau Kok/Shatoujiao, Man Kam To/Wenjindu and Shenzhen Wan which is at the end of a long and elegant bridge across Shenzhen Bay.
Lo Wu/Luohu is one of two ports for train connections and the most popular crossing point, operating daily 6:30AM-midnight. Be aware that the last several trains do not go to Lo Wu, they terminate at Sheung Shui. Lo Wu is the last stop of the MTR East Rail Line. East Rail, which connects to downtown Kowloon at Hung Hom Station. Because Lo Wu is in Hong Kong’s Border Restricted Area, MTR Eastrail is the only way to reach it. Lo Wu Station is only open for travel to Shenzhen or beyond, and a valid travel document is required to travel there.
For people travelling to Futian including the Free Trade Zone and other destinations in Central and Western Shenzhen, the most convenient rail route is the train from Hung Hom to Lok Ma Chau station, this is not the Lok Mau Chau/Huanggang border crossing, but the Lok Ma Chau/Futian Kou’an crossing. It connects directly to the Shenzhen Metro line 4 Futian Kou An Station. The train follows the same route as the Lowu one but turns off at the last station. This service only goes til 9:30PM.
The MTR East Rail Line commuter train which connects Hung Hom to Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau with several intermediate stops mainly serves Hong Kong locals. It interchanges with the urban section of the MTR at Kowloon Tong Station and East Tsim Sha Tsui Terminal. For those traveling to or from Hong Kong Island, it is recommended to transfer to Cross Harbor Bus in Hung Hom Station or the Tsuen Wan Line at East Tsim Sha Tsui.
The journey from East Tsim Sha Tsui to Lo Wu takes 42 minutes and costs HK$33-36.50, first class is charged double. However generally you can save about HK$7 if you get off and exit the gates at Sheung Shui and get back on again from Sheung Shui to Lo Wu. Trains depart every few minutes but some short trips are operated in rush hour, so check the destination screen before boarding. The train can be crowded during rush hours as it serves millions of commuters along the line as well.
The road border crossings (such as Lok Ma Chau/Huanggang) are accessible by cross-boundary coaches from Hong Kong. Domestic China Railway services arrive and depart from Shenzhen Rail Station in Luohu District – immediately north of the HK border. It’s a fairly small, but clean and well-organized station serving mostly Guangdong regional trains and just a handful of long-distance sleeper trains to other major cities. A high-speed shuttle service runs every 10-15 minutes to Guangzhou East Station (with alternate services continuing to Guangzhou main station – both GZ East and GZ have much more long-distance connections) – it takes approx 1 hour and costs 75RMB one way. Tickets for this service are available from a separate ticket office or from self-service machines and there is a separate platform entrance. Some K-series overnight trains will run from Shenzhen West Station although it is very far from downtown and has poor transport connections.
There are several long-distance bus stations – the most convenient is Luohu Bus Station – adjacent to the rail station and the border crossing. It has regular services to Dongguan, Guangzhou (Tianhe, Liuhua and Guangyuan stations), Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Shantou and many other cities in Guangdong. Unlike most bus stations there is no ticket office – instead bus station employees will ask you where you are going and will direct you to the bus and you buy your ticket from the conductor on board. NOTE if you are going to Guangzhou it’s important to check which bus station you will arrive at (qu na ge zhan? – lit. Go to which station?) – if you arrive at Tianhe or Liuhua bus stations then both have direct subway connections, but many go to Guangyuan bus station which is in Baiyun district and requires a long connection by bus to the city centre.
There are ferries from Hong Kong (Tsim Sha Tsui, Central (also know as HongKong/Macau Ferry Port) and the airport), Macau, and Zhuhai. They land at the ferry terminal at Shekou. There is further information available online: Hong Kong Ferry Info , Shenzhen Ferry Info (site only in Chinese, English version under construction).
The Shenzhen Metro (深圳地铁) is the most convenient and easy to understand method of transport around the Shenzhen city area. Fares are ¥2-5. Trains come every 3 minutes or so and the metro runs until 11PM. Note that there is a relatively high standard of public courtesy on the Shenzhen Metro. Some customs are unusual to foreigners. For example people will often give their seats up to young children. Line 1 runs east to west from Luohu (HK Border/Shenzhen Station) to Shen Da (Shenzhen University). Line 4 is a partially-open north-south line which most conveniently links to Futian Kou’an for the Lok Ma Chau border crossing. All other lines shown on this metro map on the right are still to be built.
Buy your ticket at the ticket machines on the concourse. The machine will dispense a round green plastic token. Touch it on the reader on entering the station and deposit it in the slot on the turnstile on leaving. The machines often reject old or worn notes. The most convenient way to travel is to buy a Shenzhen Tong (深圳通) card at the ticket window. This is a stored value ticket. Touch it on the turnstile reader on entering and leaving the station. It can also be used for purchases in convenience stores.
Note that unlike most subways, the exit-guide signs in the station are only written in Chinese except for a handful of major attractions. There are also a limited number of maps of the local area (often in Chinese) in the station so finding the right exit can be a problem. This map contains lines and stations that are not yet finished.
Taxi meters start at ¥10.00 for the first 2 kilometers, then ¥0.60 for each 250 meters. Late night costs slightly higher. There is a ¥2.00 oil surcharge added to all fares. Taxis are unusually (for China) well regulated and managed in Shenzhen. It is very rare to have a driver give you problems or take you the long way to your destination. However, be sure that the cab has a licence prominently displayed in the plastic stand provided for this purpose on the right hand dashboard of every cab. If there is no licence, get the next cab. Unlike in neighbouring Hong Kong, it is rare to find any drivers who speak English, so be sure to have the names and addresses of your destinations written in Chinese to show your taxi driver.
Driving is notably incompetent and terrifying. If you think your life is in danger, do not be afraid to get out and get the next cab. Sadly there is little assurance that the next driver will be any better. If you have a major problem, threaten to complain. (use the word “tousu” (toe-soo) meaning “complaint”). We don’t know what happens when you complain but it is expected to be BAD. On the receipt you should get when the driver prints out the ticket is a phone number and his taxi license. Use this if you want to file any type of complaint.
Unless you are extremely familiar with local conditions (in which case you will not be reading this) or an expert Chinese negotiator, avoid like the plague illegal unlicensed taxis of the type which proliferate in places such as border crossings. You are just calling down trouble in infinite variety on your head. If you ask for a driver from a hotel it is likely they will get a private driver. Negotiate the price before you leave.
There are still a few gold colored cabs which can only operate inside the SEZ. Green colored cabs can only operate outside the SEZ. They cannot enter the SEZ. Red cabs can operate anywhere. Tipping is not expected at all. Round up to the next Yuan
Local buses run everywhere and start at ¥2 for most trips. The longest bus trip in the city will cost ¥7. Buses are comfortable and almost always air-conditioned. Bus stops are signed in Romanised Chinese. The next bus stop is always announced although it may not be particularly comprehensible. Buses usually stop at all stops so counting stops is a viable alternative for finding out where you are. All announcements are made in Mandarin and English. You can pay with your Shenzhen Tong card (see Metro Section).
Mini-buses have been phased out within the Special Economic Zone but are still operating outside of it. Most bus lines operate every couple of minutes.
Free shuttles run from the basement of Luohu’s immigration building to and from various attractions such as spas in the area.
Cycling is not as popular as in Beijing for example but Shenzhen is much more cycle-friendly than neighbouring Guangzhou. Downtown is relatively flat and traffic is not as heavy as in other cities (thanks to a good road infrastructure, although bicycle lanes can be sporadic which means bicycles have to run in the vehicle lanes or sidewalks. Bike rental is not easily available but a cheap bicycle from a major supermarket or a second-hand bike shop will get you around easily. Note that electric-bicycles and motorcycles are banned within the SEZ area.
- Get a card from your hotel with the name and address in Chinese characters (if you are lost and no one understands your Mandarin)
- Get your hotel staff to write down the destination names for you on paper. You may also learn some phrases from the Chinese phrasebook. Keep in mind that outside of establishments which specifically cater to Westerners, few people know English.
- As a migrant city Mandarin has become the lingua franca of daily communication and is more widely spoken than the Cantonese common elsewhere in the region. Taxi drivers are much more likely to speak Mandarin than Cantonese.
- Shenzhen is a linguistic melting pot. You will likely hear every dialect and accent of Mandarin as well as the Guangdong languages of Cantonese, Teochew, and Hakka. The main non-Mandarin dialect is Hunanese.
Shenzhen has many theme parks, which are popular with Chinese tourists, many of whom go to Shenzhen mainly for these. Reactions of Western visitors vary widely, from enjoying them immensely to finding them amazingly tacky. Most of them are owned and operated by the Shenzhen OCT (Overseas Chinese Town) Group :
- Window of The World (世界之窗), 南山区华乔城深南大道 (Shi Jie Zhi Chuang Metro Station), . 9am – 10 pm. Travel around the world in one day. This 480,000 square meter park has a beautiful natural landscapes and wonderful lighting at night. Inside, you can climb the 1:3 ratio Eiffel Tower, Egyptian Pyramid, Pisa Tower, Taj Mahal of India, Grand Canyon, and other famous places of interest. Every night there are spectacular dance shows based on themes of Chinese and world history. Hundreds of dancers perform on the enormous outdoor stage. The performance finishes with a procession and fireworks at 9PM. ¥120.
- Splendid China & Chinese Folk Culture Village (深圳锦绣, 中华中国民俗文化村; Shēnzhèn Jǐnxiù Zhōnghuá, Zhōngguó Mínsú Wénhuà Cūn), (Hua Qiao Cheng Metro Station, exit D, walk about 200 meters), . It combines two different sections. The first part is a miniature park of China. You can find the famous Forbidden City, Terracotta Soldiers, Tibet Potala Palace, Huangshan Mountains, Yunnan’s Stone Forest, and of course the Great Wall of China. This miniature park covers 300 thousand square meters, fully forested with beautiful greenery and flower. The second part consists of 56 houses, each representing one of the 56 nationalities in China, such as Miao, Yi, Bai, Mongol and Uygur. You can find here real people, culture, fashion, habits, religion, language and food. As with all the Shenzhen theme parks, plenty of people go just for the fixed exhibits but the real meat is in the shows. Uygur women twirl to Turkish music, Miaos dance, a miniskirted Ming Dynasty troupe performs electronic versions of Ming music and dance. There is even a Tibetan rock band. But if you are a boy, do not miss the Mongol horse battle held daily. Follow the smell of horse manure. ¥120.
- Happy Valley Theme Park (欢乐谷 huanle gu), Qiaocheng W Rd OCT 南山区华乔城乔城西路 (Shi Jie Zhi Chuang Metro Station, walk about 500 meters), . 9am – 10pm. A classic fun park. It is a lot bigger than Hong Kong Disneyland and many would say a lot better. Divided into theme areas it has the usual fun rides. Try the flume ride but be prepared to get wet. And speaking of wet, the Playa Maya is an excellent water park built around a Maya architectural theme. There are shows all day and well into the night.
- Minsk World (明思克航母; Míngsīkè Hángmǔ), Jinrong Rd, Shatoujiao, opposite the Yantian District Government Building 盐田区沙头角金融路海滨明思克大厦; Yántián Qū Shātóujiǎo) (Buses 103, 202, 205 or 430; or taxi from Lo Hu). 9AM-7:30PM. A military theme park centered around the former Soviet aircraft carrier Minsk. You can tour the island, flight deck and second and fifth decks of the carrier. There is a short film on the carrier’s history in a small theater to the left of the entrance from the shore. Many key captions and display boards are in English, but Chinese is predominant. There are tour guides stationed at various exhibits that will give brief explanations of them in Chinese only. There are periodic performances with a military theme on the flight deck and fifth deck. For ¥30, you can take a 5 minute motorboat ride around the starboard side of Minsk and get a good view of it that is not possible from the shore. There are also several exhibits of PLA military equipment on the grounds. Admission ¥110.
Shenzhen is famous in China as being one of its greenest cities. Only Dongguan, twenty miles north of Shenzhen, has a greater percentage of its area given over to parks and gardens.
- Lianhua Mountain Park (Lotus Mountain Park; 蓮花山公園; Liánhuāshāngōngyuán), Hongli Road West, Futian Central (Metro line 4 (Shaoniangong Metro Station) Bus no 25 from Shenzhen Railway Station. Bus stop is “Lian hua shan gong yuan” 莲花山公元). This is Shenzhen’s main and most central park. Set at the northern end of the Futian central access it is 150 ha of urban bushland. The gardens themselves are extremely beautiful and meticulously cared for. But to really enjoy the mountain, you need to be there with Shenzhen’s middle calsses early in the morning or on Sundays when large family groups gather to have fun. At the top of the mountain, which you can reach via a twenty minute, not too challenging walk, is a large bronze statue of Deng Xiaoping striding out over the city. Large aerobics groups operate to loud music, people play badminton, a man walks down the path inscribing Tang Dynasty poetry in ever evaporating water with an enormous brush. Further down the mountain, ballroom dancers do the tango, a group of belly dancers wiggle and large men lay into each other with bamboo staves and swords. A famous and totally spontaneous group of singers of revolutionary opera sings by the lotus lake every Sunday morning, a must-see if you are even remotely in the vicinity. They are just past the laughter therapy group and the marriage market. And in season (Autumn), do not forget your kite. (18.104.22.168N,22.214.171.124E)
- Lake of the Immortals Botanical Gardens (仙湖植物公园; Xiān Hú Zhíwù Gōngyuán), Lian Shi Rd, Lian Tang Rd., Luohu District 罗湖区莲塘村莲十路 (Buses: 218, 220 to the garden gate). 7 am to 10 pm. This is Shenzhen’s most beautiful park and surely one of the most beautiful in China. It sprawls over miles of foothills, valleys, rivers and lakes before climbing half way up Wutong Mountain. Main attraction is the Hong Fa Temple (see entry above) but there are beautiful and peaceful lakes surrounded by teahouses and pavilions which could inspire great poetry. Don’t miss the azalea garden, the pertified forest, the paleontology museum or the medicinal plants garden ¥20. (22.34.17.01N,126.96.36.199E)
- Shenzhen Garden and Flower Exposition Center (园博园), Zhuzilinxi, Futian District (at the intersection of Shennan Avenue and Qiaocheng East Road) (深圳市福田区竹子林西 (深南大道与侨城东路交汇处); Fútián Qū Zhúzilín Xī (Shēnnán Ddàdào Yú Qiáochéng Dōng Lù Jiāohuì Chù)) (Qiao Cheng Dong Metro Station, exit A), . 9AM-10PM. This park started life as the site of an international garden exhibition in 2004. It is an enormous garden with an area of 660,000 sq m. It ranges from gently undulating to quite steep and contains gardens in many different styles, not only Chinese but from all over the world. We love the Jiangnan style gardens built aroubd lakes in the north-east corner. Make sure you visit the hot houses and climb the hill past the waterfall to the pagoda on top of the hill. Views back to Hong Kong are spectacular on a clear day. A further 242 steps will take you to the top of the pagoda. ¥50.
- Mangrove National Park (红树林生态公园), Binhai Freeway Futian 福田区滨海大道. China’s smallest national park. Hong Kong’s Mai Po Marshes are one of the world’s great birdwatching paradises as birds migrating from Siberia rest in the fishponds. The same birds also rest in the mangroves on Shenzhen Bay a scant two miles north of Mai Po. In the late 1990s when the Binhai Freeway was being built, there was public outrage at plans to route the freeway through the bird habitat of the mangroves. The freeway was moved 200 metres north and China’s smallest national park was founded. The bird watching is legendary, but if you are not into birds, the park provides coconut palm shaded walks and views to die for across Shenzhen Bay. Free. (188.8.131.52N,184.108.40.206E)
- Wutong Mountain National Park (梧桐山Wutong Village Luohu District 罗湖区捂桐村), . At just over 900 meters, Wutong Mountain is the tallest mountain in the Pearl River Delta and it is a Mecca for hikers and climbers. This has been a recognised beauty spot since at least the Ming Dynasty when it was included in the Eight Great Views of Xin’an County and was celebrated in poetry. There are several routes to the top varying significantly in difficulty. The broad road will be a gentle climb. But be prepared for a good 5 hours if you intend to go to the top and back. There are two peaks, Lesser Wutong where the Shenzhen TV Company has its handsome transmission tower, and Greater Wutong which is reached via the notoriously difficult Hao Han Slope. On a clear day, the views from the summit over Mirs Bay and the mountains of Hong Kong’s New Territories are indescribably beautiful. Night views over the city set against the sweep of Shenzhen Bay are also to die for. Free.
- Yangtai Mountain Forest Park (羊台山森林公园), Longhua Town Bao’an 宝安区龙华镇 (We warn you that this is NOT easy to get to and we advise you to combine the hot springs with a visit to Yangtai Mountain. That way you can take advantage of easy public transport connections between them. Take the Metro to Windows on the World, Shi Jie Zhi Chuang. Next to Exit B there is a large underground bus station. Take bus no 392 to its terminus which is the Shiyan Hot Springs. When you’ve finished, take bus no 769 from the place where you got off. This terminates at Yangtai Mountain). This is a forest park administered by the water and forestry administrations of Guangdong Province. The mountain, 500 metres high, lies around an attractive reservoir. It is heavily wooded with native and exotic vegetation and abounds with wild life. The climb to the top is moderately difficult and very rewarding.
- Shiyan Lake Hot Spring Resort (石岩湖温泉度假村; Shíyánhú Wēnquán Dùjiàcūn), Shiyan Town, Bao’an District (宝安区石岩镇; Bǎo’ān Qū Shíyán Zhèn). This has been a popular attraction since the 16th century when it was named as one of the “Eight Great Views of Xin’an County” (the county of which Hong Kong and Shenzhen were part). Situated on a man-made reservoir at the back of Yangtai Mountain, it is not easy to get to but it is worth the trouble. Water springs from the ground at over 60 degrees, but is cooled to about 40 before being fed into pools. Pools are both public and private and indoor and outdoor. ¥15.
- Safari Park Shenzhen (深圳野生动物园; Shēnzhèn Yěshēng Dòngwùyuán), Xili Road, Nanshan District (南山区西丽路; Nánshān qū Xīlì Lù), (firstname.lastname@example.org), . 10AM-5PM. Billed as a safari park where the animals stare at the humans. It is dirty, disorganised and a bit of a dud but kids might like it. ¥160.
Museums and galleries
- Dafen Oil Painting Village (大芬油画村; Dàfèn Yóuhuà Cūn), Dafen Village, Buji, 龙岗区布吉街道大芬社区 (Buses: 300, 372 and 357. Da Fen You Hua Cun (大芬油画村) stop), . If you do nothing else in your visit to Shenzhen, see Dafen. In 1988, a Hong Kong businessman called Wong Kong, who had a business specialising in reproduction art, decided that there was no future in Hong Kong and set up in Dafen, even though it was not in the SEZ. Soon he was joined by artists from all over China, some classically trained but many just talented amateurs fresh from the paddy fields. And so Dafen was born. It is set in an old Hakka village and consists of street after street of shops selling art. Much of it is rubbish but some of China’s best artists also have studios in Dafen. For a few hundred Yuan you can commission an artist to copy your favorite piece of art, your wedding photo, or photos of your family. Insist on “A” quality – it costs a little more but it’s worth it. You can also get incredibly rapid framing while you wait and inexpensive art supplies. There is a handsome modern gallery exhibiting works by Dafen local painters. And don’t miss the experience of the Qi Xing teahouse, built round several 300 year old Hakka houses with beautiful courtyards.
- He Xiangning Art Museum (何香凝美术馆; Hé Xiāngníng Měishùguǎn), 9013 Shennan Boulevard (深南大道9013号; Shēnnándàdào) (Get off at Huaqiaocheng Metro Station (华侨城), take exit C, walk west towards McDonald’s), . 10AM-5:30PM, closed Monday. China’s second national modern art museum, after the National Art Gallery of China. He Xiangning was the widow of Liang Zhongkai, the leader of the pro-Moscow left of the Kuomintang during the 1920s. Liao was expected to become KMT leader after Sun Yat-sen’s death but he was assassinated by gangsters probably hired by Chiang Kai-shek. He Xiangning then became an important leader of the leftist wing of the KMT and after 1949 stayed on in Beijing. Her son, Liao Chengzhi was a leading Communist and head of the organisation which originally controlled the area where the He Xiangning Art Gallery is located, Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) in Eastern Shenzhen. This is why the galllery was built as a memorial to her. The gallery has shifting exhibits mainly of avant garde and modern Chinese art. Some of China’s best known painters regularly exhibit there and it is definitely worth a visit. ¥20, free Friday.
- OCT Art and Design Gallery (华.美术馆), Shennan Ave OCT 南山区华乔城深南大道 (Bus nos. 21, 26, 54, 59, 101, 105, 109, 113, 204, 223, 338, 373, 390 Metro Hua Qiao Cheng). Shenzhen is famous throughout China as a centre of design and the OCT Art and design gallery is where you go to see it exhibited. Set in a restored industrial building, the gallery holds regular exhibitions showcasing Shenzhen and China’s industrial, domestic and fashion design
- Guan Shan Yue Art Gallery (关山月美术馆), 6026 Hong Li Rd. Futian 福田区红荔路6026号 (Bus nos. 25,215,105 Metro Shao Nian Gong (少年宫)), . The Guan Shan Yue Gallery is dedicated to the works of Guan Shanyue, a modern master of the Ling Nan school of Chinese ink painting. The Ling Nan (Ling Nan is the Tang Dynasty name for Guangdong and Guangxi provinces) originated in the early 20th century inspired by Japanes westernising schools. Guan Shanyue studied under the masters of the school and produced some very competent art in that style. He had revolutionary associations and, after the communist takeover, became an arts bureaucrat until he was attacked during the Cultural Revolution. He donated his paintings to the Shenzhen City Government in 1993 and the gallery opened in 1997. It contains exhibits of Guan’s work and hosts regular special exhibitions
- Shenzhen Museum (深圳博物馆; Shēnzhèn Bówùguǎn), Jintian Rd Entrance, Shenzhen Civic Centre, Futian District (福田区市民中心东座) (Central Futian (Shi Min Zhong Xin Metro Station)) . 10AM-6PM, closed Monday. In the East Wing of the Shenzhen City Hall Centre, the City Government’s spectacular wing-roofed building. This is a must-see. The ground floor gallery has exhibits from some of the most famous museums of China. So far since its opening in December 2008 it has played host to exhibits of jade burial suits, bronzes from the Shu Kingdom and Shang Dynasty bronzes. The upper floors have exhibits of the founding and development of the SEZ revealing details of some of the most significant events of recent Chinese history. There is also an exhibit of the history of the Pearl River region including the incredible number of ancient relics unearthed during construction in Shenzhen, and an exhibit of the Qing and Republican periods in Shenzhen. Free.
- OCT Contemporary Art Terminal and Loft Area (OCT当代艺术中心), Behind Konka, OCT, 南山区华乔城康佳集团北则 (Metro Station Qiao Cheng Dong, Exit A. Walk back 150 m to Enping Rd).
- Shenzhen Art Museum (深圳美术馆), 32 Donghu Street, Donghu Park, Aiguo Road, Luohu 罗湖区爱国路东湖一街32号 (Bus Nos.3, 17, 360, 351, 300 . Take the bus to the Shenzhen Reservoir (Shenzhen Shui Ku) station and go to the East Lake (Dong Hu) Park), . 9am to 5 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Mondays.
- Hongfa Buddhist Temple (弘法寺; Hóng Fǎ Sì). Not particularly old but it is always packed with pilgrims from all over China and beyond. Its attraction is its 104 year old abbot, a famously holy man who has a fascinating history in the destruction and revival of Chinese Buddhism. The temple is spectacularly sited half way up Wutong Mountain in the Park of the Lake of the Immortals (仙湖公园), Shenzhen’s largest and most beautiful park.
- Chiwan Tin Hau Temple (赤湾天后宫;). This is one of China’s biggest and most splendid temples to Tin Hau, the Goddess of Heaven who guards over sailors and fishermen. It was founded in the early fifteenth century by the famous eunuch admiral Zheng He who, during one of his voyages of discovery, was saved from shipwreck here during a typhoon by the intercession of Tin Hau, this despite the fact that Zheng He was a Moslem. It has been restored many times during its lifetime, most recently during the 1980s after the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. It is built in the style of the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th centuries) and is a magnificent example of this style.
People, even long time Shenzhen residents, will confidently tell you that “Shenzhen has no history”. However there is a surprising number of sites, some of great national significance, dating back to the twelfth century. Shenzhen, it seems, was critically involved in a number of historical events, especially the collapse and final stand of the Southern Song Dynasty (13th century), the last stand of the Ming Dynasty (17th century) and the Opium War (19th century).
- Tomb of the Young Song Emperor (宋少帝陵; Sòng Shǎo Dì Líng), Chiwan (赤湾; Chìwān). This is putatively the tomb of the last Emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty (d. 1279). There is little doubt that he died in this general area after fleeing from the Mongols who had taken the dynastic capital Hangzhou. Modern knowledge of the tomb dates back to the latter years of the 19th century when the Zhao (Cantonese Chiu) Clan of Hong Kong (Zhao was the Song Imperial surname) researched the tomb and declared it to be in Chiwan near the great Tin Hau Temple Certainly there are folk tales of the Emperor’s demise current in the Chiwan area and very large numbers of people claiming Imperial descent in the district. But the claims remain debatable. The tomb was restored in the early 20th century and subsequently fell into disrepair. It was rediscovered by a military cook during the Cultural Revolution but left alone. The Shenzhen City Government further restored it in the 1980s. It is in the form of a normal Chinese upper class tomb and the focus of much popular devotion.
- Xin’an (Nantou) Ancient City (新安(南头)古城; Xīn’ān (Nántóu) Gǔchéng). This is the original county town for the county which originally encompassed Hong Kong and Shenzhen. There has been a town on this site since the fourth century. Much of the old town has been demolished and replaced by eight storey residential buildings in the “urban village” style, but Xin’an has still maintained the flavour of a Cantonese town throughout the ages with vibrant street life along narrow streets. The Ming Dynasty wall and gate remain magnificently preserved as do the Guan Yu Temple outside the gates, the naval and civil headquarters, a silver shop, an opium den and even a brothel. Visit the eighteenth century “Flower Street” or street of brothels, a narrow alley with an eighteenth century official stele denouncing the evils of prostitution.
- Dapeng Ancient Fort (大鹏所城; Dàpéng Suǒchéng). Dapeng Fort is yet another amazingly well preserved Ming Dynasty Fort. Founded in 1394, it shared with various other forts the duties of guarding the entrances to the Pearl River and was prominent in the defense of the river during the Opium War. It is extremely well preserved and currently undergoing restoration as a museum.
- Crane Lake Fortified Hakka Village and Hakka Culture Museum. Half of Shenzhen City was originally Hakka. This came about after the 17th century Kangxi Emperor depopulated the coastline to a depth of 30km as part of his campaign against Ming loyalists in Taiwan. When the coast was reopopulated, the Hakka, descendants of 13th century immigrants from north China, were quicker. Relations between the Hakka and the Cantonese were often strained. During the 19th century, half a million people lost their lives in civil strife between the Hakka and the Cantonese. Accordingly, most Hakka settlements of any size were heavily fortified. The most common form of fortification in south China is the rectangular “wei” or “wai” and the biggest of them anywhere is the Crane Lake Wei in Longgang. It doubles as a museum of Hakka culture.
- Dawanshiju Hakka Fortified Village. Similarly a well preserved and enormous Hakka wei. It is of a similar scale to the Crane Lake wei.
- Chiwan Left Fort (赤湾左炮台), Chiwan First Rd, Chiwan, Nanshan 南山区赤湾一路. 8am – 5.30pm. Chiwan was one of the prime defensive spots on the Pearl River . The Chiwan Fort was divided into two parts, the Left Fort and the Right Fort. Originally they had twelve gun positions but now only the Left Fort is in any reasonable degree of repair. Perched on Ying Zui Mountain, at over 500 feet above the Pearl River, they commanded a full field of fire. Their failure to make any impression on British ships as they entered the Pearl was one of the first great disasters of the Opium War. There is also a statue of Lin Zexu, the Viceroy of the Two Guangs, whose decision to try to destroy the opium trade was one of the causative factors leading to the Opium War
- Shenzhen Library (深圳图书馆), 2016 Fuzhong 1st Road, Futian 福田区福中一路2016号 (Metro either Shi Min Zhong Xin or Shao Nian Gong on lines 2 and 4. Buses Nos. 25, 228, 65, 111, 71, 64, Shao Nian Gong bus stop). Shenzhen Library and Concert Hall together make up another of the architectural masterpieces of the city. Architect Arata Isozaki designed the buildings with a back of almost featureless black granite and a front of brilliant folded glass. It is a must see for architecture freaks. The library has four million books.
- Shenzhen Concert Hall (深圳音乐厅), 2016 Fuzhong 1st Road, Futian 福田区福中一路2016号 (Metro is either Shi Min Zhong Xin or Shao Nian Gong on lines 2 and 4. Buses Nos. 25, 228, 65, 111, 71, 64, Shao Nian Gong bus stop), ☎ Ticket hotline 0755-82841888 (9.00-20.00), . See Shenzhen Library above. The Concert Hall hosts international standard artists in a stunning glass-wrapped setting.
- Portofino (波托菲诺; Bōtuōfēinuò). Shenzhen housing developments are often built around beautiful tropical gardens with luxurious club house amenities and one of the most famous of these is Portofino. It is built around a surprisingly attractive imitation of an Italian Piazzetta along a lake which has cafes, bars and restaurants without outdoor seating. Shenzhen’s best Cantonese restaurant chain, Laurel, justly famed for the quality of its dim sum, has a branch with outdoor seating here. Be sure to be early. Sunday morning dim sum queues are long.
- Shekou Sea World (蛇口海上世界; Shékǒu Hǎishàng Shìjiè). In 1984 Shekou was booming and there was a serious shortage of accommodation. To deal with this, the cruise ship “Ming Hua” (Launched April 5, 1962 by the French president Charles de Gaulle, purchased by The People’s Republic of China in 1973 and renamed MINGHUA) was moored alongside the dock and used as a floating hotel. Only nine years before it had been the focus of a political typhoon during the movement which saw Deng Xiaoping sent for the second time into political limbo. No wonder that he was happy to write an inscription in his own handwriting, “Sea World”, a facsimile of which now presides in neon over the ship. The land has now been reclaimed for half a mile beyond the ship which now sits in a small pool. But the square in front of the ship is very attractive and a meeting place for all walks of Shekou life. Go there in the evening for food and drinks al fresco.
Theatres and concert halls
- Poly Theatre (保利剧院), Baoli Wenhua Square, Houhaibin Road, Nanshan District (南山区后海滨路保利文化广场; Nánshānqū Hòuhǎibīn Lù Bǎolì WénhuàGuǎngchǎng) (Buses 70, 80, K113, 204, 217, 226, 230, 245, 369, 39), ☎ +86 755 86371698, 86371699 . This is a more or less middle brow theatre specialising in musical theatre and often hosting Russian Army theatre troupes. The futuristic silver egg-shaped building alone makes it worth a visit.
- Grand Theatre.
- Shadu Song and Dance Hall.
- Shenzhen Cantonese Opera Troupe.
- Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra.
Spas and massage
Shenzhen is a popular place for Hong Kong people to go to get a massage. Prices are low compared with Hong Kong, though generally higher than elsewhere in China. A foot massage, pronounced “xi jiao”, (which actually often consists of massaging your shoulders, back, arms, legs, and feet!) costs ¥25-50 for 60-80 minutes depending on the location, time of day, and quality of the establishment. A full-body massage (pronounced “an mo” or “song gu”) costs ¥50-150 for 90-120 minutes.
In recent years many large spa and massage complexes have appeared in Shenzhen. For an entrance fee of around ¥100 (waived if you purchase around ¥160 of spa and massage services) you get 24 hours of access to a spa pool, saunas, showers, baths, and other amenities depending on the facility such as a gym or pool. Paid services often include Internet access, billiards, and rentable “multi-purpose rooms” with KTV/karaoke and games. Complimentary items include drinks (sometimes restricted to juice) and fruit; food can be bought for ¥20–¥50 a plate. For around ¥50 for 45 minutes (not including a ¥10–¥30 tip and often a 10% service charge) you can have head, foot, leg, shoulder, back, or hand massage while lying in one of the many reclining chair-couches — two types at once if you wish — and watch personal TV, read a book, or relax. For around ¥150 you can have 90 minutes of full-body Chinese, Thai, or Hong Kong-style massage in a private room or with your friends. Chinese Medical Massage and aromatherapy oil massages are usually available at a premium. Masseuses and masseurs hail from various regions around China and are listed with pictures and statistics in catalogues and can be selected by number. Very few of them speak any English.
Spa complexes can be found around the border crossings with Hong Kong, so as to cater to the relatively rich Hong Kong population looking to unwind. In the basement of the Luohu customs and immigration building (not the LCC mall) free shuttles are available to various spas, some of which also have themed waiting areas with price lists and pictures of the facilities. Some spas have representatives standing around to give out discount tickets (often ¥20) as an enticement.
Massages tend to be rather painful, especially on the feet! If you can endure it, you’ll notice the lasting benefits. But if it is too much, you can say “Teng! Teng!” (pronounced like “tongue”) to express your pain and make them ease up. It is best to not reveal you know any spoken Chinese because you will immediately face uncomfortable questions about your salary, weight, etc.
Caution: In most hotels, prostitution is widespread. In some seedier areas, “massage” may actually mean sex. Use your best judgment.
Near Lok Ma Chau border crossing
- Oriental Palm Spring International Spa Club, . Refurbished with a strong Thai themed interior decor, you almost think your in a Thailand resort especially on the new first floor. One of the many big spas in the Futian area and well worth a try if your not into the hanky panky business. OPS is famous for providing excellent service, massages and really good Chinese cuisine. The food is excellent although a little pricey for local standards.
- COCO Park. A large A grade shopping complex with restaraunts, bar strip, cinemas, and lots of shopping. A lot of foreigners and locals dive in on the bar strip at night (drinks stop serving at 2AM).
- SLF International Spa Club, . Branded as Water Cube is brand new, hence in excellent condition, and tastefully designed with an interior resembling a luxury hotel. Although English is barely spoken by anybody, the staff are clearly trained to be first class and they try their best to be helpful — and sell massages, which cost ¥48 for 45 minutes of lounge-chair massage through ¥128–238 for 90 minutes of full-body massage in the usual styles, 10% service charge and tip separate. The spa is visible from the main street outside Lok Ma Chau border crossing and metro stop, and shuttles are available to Luo Wu and Huanggang border crossings. Gym, fruit, full drink menu including iced lemon tea and coffee, gym, and videogames complimentary; internet, karaoke and VIP room rental, billiards, table tennis, and of course food all charged separately.
Near Luohu border crossing
- Queen Spa. This spa is showing its age like an old resort hotel in Las Vegas, although it remains a popular tourist destination in part because it has the notable advantage of having English-speaking staff on duty and identified with clearly visible tags year-round. The entry fee of ¥98 is waived after ¥168 of spa services paid, not including the 10% service charge and tips of ¥10-30 per 45 minutes. Foot/head/leg massage is ¥56/45 min and Chinese massage ¥168/90min. Perks include a swimming pool, a gym, videogames, and free ice-cream and juice and fruit. Free WiFi and five-minute Internet terminals are available in the shared area. The spa has a range of VIP services available such as private Royal Club rooms with a semi-private second swimming pool and Rolls Royce transfers from Luohu (¥30) or the airport.
- Gold Coast Club, Building 1-4, Kaili Hotel, 2027 Jiabin Road East, Luohu, . Beautiful interior, entry fee of ¥138 with 10% service charge. Party room rental for ¥60/hour to ¥120/hour depending on size with karaoke and chess and games included.
- Sentosa International SPA Club. Shuttle available, offering in March ’09 four hours of Chinese massage for ¥108 and ¥88 for any three types of foot/head/leg/etc massage.
Shenzhen is one of China’s and indeed one of the world’s great golfing Meccas. It boasts some of the earliest golf courses in China and, in Mission Hills, the world’s largest golf course which is the scene of leading international tournaments.
- Mission Hills Golf Course (观欄高尔夫), (Along the intersection of the Meiguan Expressway, the Guanshen Expressway and the Jinhe Expressway), ☎ +86 755 28020888, . The world’s biggest golf course with 216 holes. Each course is designed by a different world champion golfer. The Golf World Cup has granted a twelve year franchise to Mission Hills
- Shenzhen Golf Club (深圳高尔夫俱乐部), Shennan Boulevard, Futian District 福田区深南大道, ☎ +86 755 3308888 (fax: +86 755 3304992). This is one of China’s two oldest golf courses. When it was established in 1985 it was way out in the country but now it is surrounded by skyscrapers, providing a pleasant oasis in the heart of Futian. This is where the locals prefer to play.
- Shahe (Sand River) Golf Club (沙河高尔夫会), Shahe East Rd Nanshan (南山区沙河东路) (From the Huanggang Border crossing travel along Binhe/Binhai freeways to Shahe East Road). Another favorite with the locals. It has 27 holes plus a nine hole night course under lights. Gary Player designed the course.
- Xili Golf Club, Tanglang Village Xili, Nanshan (南山区西丽针塘郎村), ☎ +86 755 26552888 . This is a private club owned and managed by the Kwok family of ShangriLa fame. You will need an invitation to play here. It is worth getting it.
- Longgang Public Golf Course (龙岗高尔夫), Next to the International Velodrome, He Keng, Henggang Town, Longgang District, ☎ +86 755 28937188, . This course was the brainchild of a former official of the Shenzhen Government who wanted to bring golf to the masses. It is as an eighteen hole 72 par course, situated on rolling hills in the Longgang District. The founders of the course wanted to keep green fees at 20-30% of commercial golf courses.
- OCT East Golf Club (东部华乔城高尔夫), OCT East, Dameisha (盐田区大梅沙东部华乔城) (Buses 53, 239, 103, 360, 364). Shenzhen’s newest and poshest golf course. It has two 18 hole courses, each with its own luxury clubhouse. Set in spectacular mountains overlooking Dameisha and Mirs Bay.
- Century Seaview Golf Club (世纪海景高尔夫求会), Yangchou Bay, Nan’ ao Town, Longgang (龙岗区南澳洋畴湾). An 18 hole PGA golf course set in beautiful mountain and sea surroundings near Nan’ao Town, Dapeng Peninsula.
- Noble Merchants Golf Club.
Shenzhen has some of China’s best beaches, many of them untouched stretches of National Park. In 2006, Chinese Geographic Magazine named the Dapeng Peninsula, where most of Shenzhen’s beaches are situated, as one of China’s top ten most scenic coastlines.
- Dameisha Beach.
- Xiaomeisha Beach.
- Jin Sha Wan Beach.
- Longqi Wan Beach.
- Judiaosha Beach.
- Shuitousha Beach.
- Nan’ao Beach.
- Xichong Beach.
Despite it’s sensationalized reputation from Hong Kong residents as being crime-ridden, Shenzhen is relatively safe by Western standards. It is no more dangerous than a major American city and violent crime remains rare. Nevertheless, as always, a little commonsense goes a long way.
The main problem is petty crime such as pickpocketing. Be careful in crowded shopping centres, subway trains, buses, stations and around the theme parks – keep your wallet in your front pocket.
Being scammed is not so common as in Beijing or Shanghai but be alert for people touting for business (massage, watches, shoes etc) around the Luohu area as they sell below-standard fakes at inflated prices. The ‘touts’ in Luohu bus station are not necessarily touts – there is no ticket office so they are simply there to direct you to your bus and don’t require any payment – you should buy your ticket on the bus.
You will encounter beggars but they are confined to a few places. Notable amongst these places are border crossings, Shekou amd Christian churches. Ordinary Chinese rarely give beggars money so they concentrate in places where the punters are either ignorant or have just heard a sermon. They are not aggressive and are mostly harmless. Give money at your own risk – beggars are controlled by criminal gangs and your donation will be funding organized crime – giving food or a cigarette is more beneficial to them. Particularly avoid giving money to child beggars. There have been several high profile court cases in recent years against gangs who buy children from impoverished peasant families, mutilate them, and use them in the begging racket.
The standard of driving in Shenzhen is appalling. Care should still be taken when crossing the street – fortunately most major roads are crossed by over- or underpasses.
Prostitution is common – particularly around Luohu and Shekou – keep your wits about you and be wary of that scantily-clad, available-looking woman giving you the eye from across the bar…