My trip to Shenzhen involves flying to Hong Kong and making my way through to mainland China.
Arriving in Hong Kong
Disembarking in Hong Kong International Airport is very similar to Heathrow, walk off the plane, wander down a few long passages. Then passport control, and then baggage retrieval.
Passport control was fairly empty. I guess landing on Chinese New Year is part of that, and most of my fellow travellers seemed to be in transit to other destinations. So I walked through passport control in the same easy manner as returning to Heathrow.
Leaving arrivals lands you in the middle of a three level mall. It took me a while to find where to buy a bus ticket to Shenzhen, since you can see areas A and B immediately, area C isn’t marked or signposted. So I followed signs indicating transportation to mainland China and found myself in the right place.
Ways to Shenzhen
There are a number of ways to get from Hong Kong to Shenzhen. My plan was to take a Go Go Bus, because both the Hong Kong International Airport website, and an old bus schedule from the Shenzhen Post website show that their service includes stops at various hotels in Shenzhen. So being my first real trip, and in a land that is quite different to what I’m accustomed to, it seemed to be the most sensible choice.
Expats in Shenzhen recommend catching the Hong Kong metro over to the Hong Kong side of the border crossing. It’s both cheap and quick, but it does take some knowledge of the underground system, and some general local knowledge. For frequent travellers, it’s probably worth figuring out.
Another interesting option is the ferry from Hong Kong Airport to Shekou in Shenzhen. One potential bonus is that the ferry company will deal with picking up your luggage and getting it on the ferry, and it also means you don’t have to enter Hong Kong through passport control, you’re effectively transiting to Shenzhen directly from inside the airport. I was interested in this path, but the destination is Shekou, which means needing to catch the Metro from Shekou to Futian where my hotel is. Again, not ideal for the first time traveller.
There are a number of bus companies operating services from Hong Kong Airport to Shenzhen, or more specifically Futian. They are all located in area C of the airport. Before I flew out I made sure what I wanted, so I was armed with both the company names I wanted, and a bus schedule, and the right price. I’ve read a few stories about people paying over the top for transport to Shenzhen, including having to pay again after going through Huaggang Port. I’ve read stories about booking a sky limo (effectively a people-carrier) and paying a hefty price because it is just you in the car. So I kind of knew what I wanted, which does really help.
The staff at the mainland China services desks see you coming along, and they are very adept at getting you to their desk. It looks to be quite a competitive environment, of course, the economies of running a bus service relies on filling as many seats as possible. All the staff were keen to sell you a ticket for a bus, which means if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, you run the risk of not getting the place you want at the price you expected. I was armed with a company name, their logo, and their schedule of services. So I could point to the exact bus schedule I wanted, and basically went to three counters until I found the right desk.
Go Go Bus / Limo / People carrier to Shenzhen
I wanted a Go Go Bus to Shenzhen, where one of my stops is the hotel I’m staying at in Futian (Marco Polo, Shenzhen). What I got was a Sky Limo, from Go Go Bus. I guess buses and people carriers are the same thing, or possibly because it’s Chinese New Year it’s not economical to run a actual bus. But it was the right company, and they confirmed they would organise a vehicle on the Shenzhen side to get me from Huanggang Port to my hotel, and the price was that I expected for the bus. So the only ambiguity is the vehicle itself. 3 out of 4 isn’t bad.
So I paid $170 (Hong Kong dollars), got a note about how to find their offices at the Shenzhen side of the border, a border crossing slip to fill in, and a receipt that documented clearly I was paying for transport to my hotel in Shenzhen, with the correct price.
The fast hard selling is a little daunting to deal with at first. It’s best to be polite but firm. Not to agree to something you don’t clearly understand, and reduce as much ambiguity as possible.
With the hard selling, there’s also the amazing customer service. I was effectively chaperoned right to my hotel. Staff were very friendly, and looking out for me each step of the way, so the likelyhood of getting lost was close to zero.
Travelling through Hong Kong
The first people-carrier took us from the Airport and over the imposing bridges connecting the main islands of Hong Kong. The bridges were impressive – multiple bridges on the scale of the Severn bridge. Lots of densely clustered residential sky scrapers. There was fog so I couldn’t see far. I was hoping to see the iconic Hong Kong skyline from the bridges, but either we were too far west to see that, or it was hidden by the fog. I saw a few ferries and massive yatchs below. From what I could see Hong Kong looked quite something.
The highways and the typical views reminded me of countless travelling between Pretoria and Johannesburg. Even the driving style is similar. After the bridges there’s a long tunnel under a mountain that took us inland directly to the border. It’s about a half-hour drive from the airport.
Huanggang Border Control
The driver collected our passports at the airport (there were 6 of us making our way to Shenzhen), and at the Hong Kong side of the border it was just a process of the driver handing our passports to the person at the checkpoint for checking. Then we were driven to the building of the Shenzhen side.
The Shenzhen checkpoint is a large building, about the size of a warehouse. You walk in with all your luggage on one side, through a Passport Control (with the slip provided by Go Go Bus at the airport), then an X-Ray machine scan of your luggage, and you exit on the opposite side, and you are in Shenzhen.
To the hotel
I was immediately spotted by a Go Go Bus representative, who made sure I wouldn’t get lost looking for my connecting service. And after waiting a few minutes another people carrier arrived (this time a left-hand drive), and took me to the hotel.
In all that time, a simple thank you in Chinese (xie xie ni), and wishing a happy new year (in English, because I forgot part of the Mandarin of it) was sufficient for my smooth progress, and a few smiles and nods. I forgot what Happy New year was (Kung hei fat something… – I forgot the last word: choi. Thanks Cathay Pacific for the teaching me that), I picked it up on the flight, it sounded quite staightforward, so I didn’t write it down because I thought I’d remember it. Beginner error, jet lag and tiredness destroys memory.
And I was dropped off in the hotel’s drop-off area, into the safe hands of the Marco Polo hotel staff.
Know what you are looking for
For a tired and jet-lagged tourist, it was a smooth and relatively straightforward experience. Again, do figure out ahead of time what you need, and what options there are. Don’t jump into the first offer that sounds like what you want, spend the time to make sure, and ask questions.
My only problem now is to figure out how to get back to the airport. It’s one thing getting a bus from a high-traffic area to a route that includes your hotel, it’s a different problem the other way. So I don’t know yet how I’m getting back to Hong Kong on the return trip.