A Day in Shenzhen

Start your journey...

If you have a spare day in Hong Kong and shopping is your thing then think about taking the train to Shenzhen for some serious retail therapy. The prices in Shenzhen are incredible and the people are friendly and approachable and bargain in a friendly, non aggressive way. Note. The best days to avoid crowds are Wednesday and Thursday. Don't even consider public holidays!

If your hotel is on Kowloon side get yourself to the Hunghom terminus of the Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR) and stay on all the way to Lo Wu. If you are staying on Hong Kong Island catch the MTR, get off at Kowloon Tong and follow the signs for the KCR. On your right you'll see the ticket office. The fare in standard class is $66 HKD return. A bargain as the first class ticket is $66 one way. Don't bother, standard class is clean and the journey is only about half an hour or so. You want to get off at Lo Wu.


Lo Wu...

is a border crossing and Customs and Immigration controls are in force. You must bring your passport! Get off the train and follow the crowds down to the immigration hall. The visitors stream is on the far left adjacent to the police post. Don't worry about visa's yet! You need to fill in a H.K immigration departure card and present it with your passport at the desk. Take a pen and fill it in whilst waiting in the queue, don't waste time, there's serious shopping to be done!

O.K. Now you've cleared Hong Kong, go around the corner and look for the yellow sign hanging from the ceiling regarding travel documents a.k.a passports. Another left turn and you go up the escalator to the second floor and the visa office is on your right. The application forms are on your right in the corner. Fill it in and hand it over to the surly man behind the counter . He in turn passes it to his equally surly partner who takes your $100 HKD and returns your passport with visa stamped inside. (Note: this tourist visa is only good for a five-day visit and is valid only within the Shenzhen Economic Zone. That is, if you plan to go beyond the Shenzhen border you need another visa!) The process takes about five minutes depending on the crowds.

Go back down the escalator and follow the path to the visitor queue for Chinese immigration. Once again fill in your arrival form in the queue. Hand it over with your passport and pass through. Now you are in the Peoples Republic of China! Go down another escalator and out the door. Ignore anyone offering you anything, you aren't in Kansas anymore, ToTo! Watch your belongings like a hawk and if some one bumps into you or brushes against you clamp your hand over your wallet! You are not in any physical danger, but pickpockets are rife. Read and believe. You will be spending the next few hours looking at an amazing array of goods and it is very easy to let your guard down. While you are bending over a fabulous array of must have items, someone is rummaging through your backpack. The safest way is to invest in a thin pack that slips under your shirt. Keep your passport and cash and cards in it. While we are on the take notices, into your backpack should go a bottle of water, a pack of tissues, some headache tablets, a couple of 'blocking' tablets for diarrhoea and a pad and pen.


Right, lecture finished!

Out the door and on your right you'll see a big modern shopping centre, the Lo Wu Commercial Center. That's your target! Go over the pedestrian bridge and inside. Here are the facts. You can pay for everything in Hong Kong Dollars and receive change in HKD. The exchange rate you'll get is one to one with the Chinese Renmimbi. You'll get a fractionally better rate if you change your money, but any advantage is lost in the frustration ensued. Don't bother. Just pay in HKD. Trust me on this one.

How to Bargain...

Ask the price. Then offer one third of that sum, no more. The vendor will smile and shake their head. Wait. Examine it again. If you want it, offer $5 more. Now you should get a lower price punched into the calculator for your perusal, but still higher than yours. It's crunch time. Do you want it? If yes, pick the middle ground with finality. They should come around as you are still paying a foreigners price! NEVER EVER pay more than 50% of the original price offered. Or, you will be one of those suckers born every minute. One third to one half of the original price is about right. Please keep in mind that it is their livelihood though, and a fair price is the best price, if you quibble over a dollar you are missing the point. Bargaining in Shenzhen is fun, no one gets aggressive and all is done with a smile and lots of woeful head shaking!


One other thing, all that Chanel and Gucci you can see is fake. The authorities are starting to tighten up on the trade in pirate goods and it is not a good idea to come back to Hong Kong with loads of fake Chanel handbags! One or two maybe, but not too many. It's up to you, I'm sure that 99% of the time nothing will happen at Hong Kong customs, but there's always that one time ah?

Hungry?

I can personally recommend the Laurel Chinese Restaurant on the top floor. I recently took my mother to Shenzhen for the day and as the shops don't open until eleven am. we had some time to kill. We wandered in quite by accident and it was a highlight of the day! Delicious dim sum, friendly staff and very clean toilets with paper! I think finding the spotless toilets was the best part. Never underestimate how bad toilets in China can be! Make a note of all clean ones for future reference. Fortified by the delicious brunch, my mum hit the shops and ten hours later we (and half a tonne of shopping) got home. I am a veteran of shopping in Bali, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and North America and I don't think I've had as much fun shopping before or seen such cheap prices. The people are friendly and eager to make a sale without the pushiness or rudeness that tends to go with market-style shopping elsewhere in Asia. So if the Hong Kong shopkeepers and their prices have left you cold, take yourself and your money across the border. It's well worth the trip!

Story by Joanie Scott

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