Shenzhen

One of China's newest metropolises—and its fastest growing—Shenzhen (Shēnzhèn, 深圳), offers travelers great insight into contemporary China, though it lacks much in the way of historical and cultural artifacts. Indeed, it's a very now place, brimming with migrants from provincial China hoping to pull themselves up a few rungs on the financial ladder and flush with business-driven expats and foreign investment.

The steady influx of cash has combined with Chinese industrial might to make a major economic powerhouse out of a city that barely existed twenty-five years ago. It can be an uncanny place, where history—largely absent in any tangible or authentic way—is garishly represented by replicas of such world-famous sights as the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and the Great Wall at the Window of the World theme park—an assortment that reflects China's new global orientation.

The city's dynamic energy is undeniable, but only time will tell if this giant city of factories and finance will mature into a cultured, world-class metropolis. In the meantime, it's worth a visit, and Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou are all nearby once you've had your fill of Shenzhen. Be aware that you will need to show your passport upon entry into the SEZ and, if continuing on to Hong Kong or Macau, you'll have to do so again in order to obtain the proper visas for the Special Administrative Regions (SAR). Regulations change often, so be sure you're up to date on the latest China visa requirements. To enter the PRC from either SAR, you need to obtain a visa for China in advance.

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There is plenty of five-star accommodation in Shenzhen, though the city can't hold a candle to neighboring Hong Kong or Macau in terms of sparkly luxury options. The good news is that deep discounts can be found, especially if you visit during the week (up to 50% off weekend prices), making Shenzhen's high-end hotels quite affordable. With all those foreign business-types coming to town, there's no shortage of business-type and mid-range hotels in Shenzhen, but these can always double as comfortable and convenient places for pleasure travelers to crash and take advantage of the gyms, spas, bars and copy machines with which they are often decked. Whether you're a high-roller coming to finalize that big deal or a curious visitor come to gawk at the theme-park capital of China in search of a budget stay, there's a hotel for you at whatever you consider to be a reasonable price (this is still Mainland China after all and the "always bargain" rule applies). 

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With an immigrant population from all over China and foreign business people from around the world, Shenzhen restaurants and markets serve up a wide range of quality Chinese cuisine and international fare, though the level of sophistication in this boomtown is generally a long way from the elegance of Shanghai, comfortable luxury of Hong Kong or established traditions of Beijing. Good, cheap Sichuanese and Hunanese restaurants bring the heat, while Guangdong places provide milder (and sometimes wilder, as in non-domesticated animals) fare drawn from the traditional regional cuisine. Muslim restaurants and street-side kebab grills are common, as are Western and Chinese chain restaurants. Cheap Chinese eats—dim sum, noodles, stir fries, dumplings—are plentiful and generally excellent.

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tiě, 港铁) via the Lok Ma Chau Station (Luòmǎ zhōu zhàn, 落馬洲站), where a short trip on the East Rail Spur Line takes you to the MTR East Rail Line (Dōng tiě xiàn, 東鐵綫), connecting you to the entire Hong Kong MTR system.

The other way to access Hong Kong from Shenzhen on the metro is via the significantly busier Luohu Station (Luōhú zhàn, 罗湖站) at the end of the Shenzhen Metro Luobao Line (Luō bǎo xiàn, 罗宝线). After passing immigration, you can access the Lo Wu Station (Luóhú zhàn, 羅湖站) on the Hong Kong side and take the MTR East Rail Line into Hong Kong.

Bus 

Several long-distance bus stations in Shenzhen operate routes around Guangdong Province and beyond to cities and provinces like Guangzhou, Chaozhou, Guangxi, Fujian, Zhejiang, Hebei, Anhui, Sanya, and Chengdu. The three major stations are Yinhu Bus Station (0755 8243 6053), Futian Bus Station (0755 8358 7526) and Luohu Bus Station (0755 8232 1670).

Shenzhen to Hong Kong by bus:

Taking a bus from Shenzhen airport to Hong Kong is easy and relatively inexpensive. Chinalink Bus Company Limited runs buses every half hour, and the tickets are purchased in the arrival hall of Shenzhen airport. Tickets are RMB 80. The bus will take you to a border crossing, where you take your luggage off the bus and pass through customs. Be aware that if you take too long at customs, the bus you were on will leave and you will have to wait for the next bus to arrive. The bus delivers passengers at the Kowloon Station (Jiǔlóng zhàn, 九龍站) on the Tung Chung Line (Dōng yǒng xiàn, 东涌线), from where you can access the rest of the Hong Kong MTR system and get wherever you need to go.

Boat

Eight passenger ports line Shenzhen's harbor including Yantian, Shekou (Shékǒu Gǎng, 蛇口港) , and Chiwa. The Shekou Port, located at the intersection of Gang'ao Dadao and Nanhai Dadao in Nanshan District marks the most convenient travel point, with regular lines to and from Zhuhai, Guangzhou, Macau, Hong Kong and Kowloon.

Shenzhen to Hong Kong by boat:

There are a number of ferry services that run between the Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau airports, including high speed ferry company, TurboJET. In order to take any of these high speed ferries between the three airports, you must have a valid visa (if applicable) and a plane ticket with same day departure. Keep in mind that these ferries are for transit between airports only, and do not make any stops besides the airports.

For those traveling from Shenzhen to Hong Kong from the city itself, there are ferries that run between Shekou Port just outside of downtown Shenzhen to the Hong Kong/Macau Ferry Terminal in Hong Kong. Tickets cost RMB 110 and the trip is about an hour. You can also take a ferry from Shekou Port to Hong Kong SkyPier at the Hong International Airport. The trip is about 30 minutes and costs RMB 260. 

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In Shenzhen they make and ship almost anything you might find in malls and discount stores around the globe, so you'd think you could find almost anything with the "Made in China" label. And with all the money that's pouring into the city, you'd think brand-name consumer goods from around the world would be filling the shelves of Shenzhen's stores. On both counts, you'd be right, though many domestic goods are cheaper elsewhere in Mainland China—though not in nearby Hong Kong—and, if you're not attentive, you might end up with a "Faked in China" designer Italian handbag or Swiss watch (then again, that might be exactly what you're looking for, though shoppers should take note of upgraded customs inspections in the U.S. and elsewhere—that authentic-enough-for-your-myopic-uncle-looking Rolex might not fool the officials at LAX or O'Hare).

Shenzhen does shopping big, with giant malls and bazaars making it easy for shoppers to browse endless shops full of clothing, watches, bags, DVDs, golf clubs, toys, cell phones and electronics—you name it. Dongmen Night Market (东门步行街) is a great place to extend a buying bender, staying open until midnight. The enormous Lu Won Shopping Center (Luōhú Shāngyè Chéng, 罗湖商业城) offers five floors crammed with consumer goods, including leading luxury brands. The Jia Le Fu Bazaar near Fuyong Town (not to be confused with French supermarket chain Carrefour which also shares the same Chinese pronunciation: Jiālèfú, 家乐福, and has several stores in Shenzhen) is one of a number of markets where savvy hagglers can get rock-bottom prices on clothing, shoes and electronics. Keep in mind that every spring most of the stores in town slash prices, usually around April time.

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As a symbol, Shenzhen represents China's late twentieth-century economic boom like nothing else. Unencumbered by a long and messy history like Shanghai or Beijing, Shenzhen, only a humble fishing village until 1979 when Deng Xiaoping decreed it China's first Special Economic Zone, has, in just a quarter-century, grown into a thicket of shiny skyscrapers surrounded by humming industrial parks servicing the second-busiest port in China. (Shanghai is number one in China—and the world.)

The glitzy city center is surrounded by crowded, hastily built neighbohoods that have sprung up too quickly for careful city planning and with little to no thought of permanence, aesthetic value or environmental sustainability—revealing an element of rather grimy chaos behind the scenes of an otherwise carefully managed economic success story. Immigrants from China's poorer provinces continue to pour into the SEZ and its environs. Ironically, many can't get the necessary documents to live in Shenzhen proper and end up floating outside the policed boundaries of the SEZ, finding work in loosely regulated factories, shipping facilities and the service sector. Highlighting Shenzhen's uniqueness and importance to China at large, it is the only city in Guangdong Province where Mandarin predominates rather than the local Cantonese language, thanks to its migrant population. 

Despite its newness, Shenzhen's history is deeper and more complicated than the popular near-myth in which Deng Xiaoping magisterially proclaims Shenzhen to be the place where China, having united politically under Mao Zedong, would begin its fantastic ascent from the economic hole in which it found itself following the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution. The Pearl River Delta site was chosen because of Hong Kong's long success as a bastion of capitalism within spitting distance of the world's largest avowed Communist state. And Shenzhen, which abuts Hong Kong's New Territories, has indeed been able to exploit its proximity to Hong Kong and the former colonial-era treaty port of Guangzhou (Canton) to draw major investment and do major business. This experiment has been a huge economic success, at least in the near term, but as with much of China's recent growth, new concerns have arisen about the social and environmental costs of that success. For those who wish to know today's "real China," Shenzhen is an important place to see. Plus, brand-name and fakes shopping alike are excellent.

 

As a boomtown with an overwhelmingly young population, Shenzhen is full of the kinds of things young Chinese with a little extra money in their pockets like to do. You'll have no trouble, therefore, finding KTV (karaoke) and bars and clubs with loud dance or pop music—most of them very affordable. The city's significant Western expat community, centered in the western suburb of Shekou, also has its favorite spots. Of course, when it comes to a night out on the town, Hong Kong and Macau are just a hop, skip and a jump away, and many find themselves partying in Lan Kwai Fong or one of Macau's casinos after exhausting Shenzhen's relatively limited possibilities.

Things are just now beginning to get interesting as the young city begins to grow up. In the realm of culture and arts, Shenzhen is showing signs of maturity with a small but growing number of serious museums and performing arts venues establishing themselves in a cultural landscape dominated to date by theme parks, KTV, third-string "global" DJs and tacky club dancers. As for the kinds of festivals that define the cultural calendar elsewhere in China, Shenzhen's youth shows there's not much tradition to draw on, though the region's tasty lychee and peaches are celebrated. For Spring Festival, most of Shenzhen's young immigrant population goes home, leaving the city empty.

Bars & Restaurants

Shenzhen can have a bit of a frontier town vibe, with its young population and get-rich-quick attitude. Youth with a few extra kuai in their pockets means that the city's nightlife can be lively; however, it also can be quite seedy and, compared to the safety of other major Chinese cities, a bit dicey—petty crime is more prevalent in and around the SEZ than in most comparably sized Chinese urban areas. That said, if you exercise a fraction of the caution you would in New York or London, you should be fine. For live jazz and rock music, try one of the True Color bars or the Base Bar. There are a slew of bars and restaurants that cater to Western tastes in Shekou near Sea World; for a more interesting time with the Shenzhen locals, try bar- and club-hopping in Huaqiao City. If you get bored, there are always the trains and ferries to Hong Kong and Macau.

Performing Arts

Shenzhen can hardly claim to be a bastion of high culture, despite its battery of culturally and historically themed amusement parks (see replicas of the Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal at Window of the World! Pose for photos on a real ex-Soviet aircraft carrier turned floating military theme park at Minsk World! And why actually travel China when you can see its most famous sights in miniature at Splendid China and absorb the essence of ethnic minority culture at China Folk Culture Village?). Any of the aforementioned parks feature regular performances that, depending on your attitude toward kitsch, exist somewhere between the delightfully corny and the irredeemably crass. Nevertheless, Shenzhen does have the hint of a promise of the beginning of a serious performing arts community, with the impressive new Shenzhen Concert Hall staging middle- and high-brow performances for audiences that have developed a reputation for rather low-brow behavior (think babies, mobile phones, hawking and talking).

Shenzhen Museums & Galleries

For all of its rough edges, Shenzhen is beginning to take art seriously (given the hot Chinese art market, one would be forgiven for thinking it were money first, art second). The recently renovated Shenzhen Art Museum focuses on contemporary urban art, including local art, which finds support from the Shenzhen Fine Art Institute. The Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art adds to the mix. For local, regional and general Chinese culture and history, visit the Shenzhen Museum. The city's theme parks also function as pop museums of a kind, though with definite "edutainment" and "imagineering" vibes (it's a small world after all).

Festivals & Events

With a short history to draw upon, local festivals are in short supply compared to older Chinese cities. During Spring Festival the city empties out as the immigrant population returns en masse to hometowns around China. Interestingly, Christmas is a big deal—the commercialized version, that is: the subtropical Chinese city does a fine job of decking the halls, piping in the holiday music, putting up the Xmas lights and donning gay apparel. The surrounding countryside does have its traditions, including annual celebration of its famous lychees at the late-June/early-July Shenzhen Lychee Festival (local peaches are a treat that time of year, too).

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Shenzhen attractions

Splendid China (Jǐnxiù Zhōnghuá, 锦绣中华) is part of the theme park complex outside Shenzhen that includes the China Folk Culture Villages. All of China's natural and cultural landmarks are on display here, from the Great Wall to the Forbidden City to Suzhou's famous gardens, with the grounds roughly resembling a shrunken China and the landmarks laid out accordingly. There's also cuisine from all over China, traditional performing..

The Fairy Lake Botanical Gardens (Xianhú Zhíwùyuán, 仙湖植物园) are located at the base of..

Window of the World (Shìjiè Zhī Chuāng, 世界之窗) is a theme park directed at Chinese tourists new to..

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