China City Guides: Shenzhen 深圳
The Best of Boomtown: Shenzhen's modern attractions compensate for culture
Located north of Hong Kong in mainland Guangdong Province, Shenzhen's brief but intense history has seen it grow from a backwater village into a potent symbol of China's newfound wealth and economic muscle.
Designated a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1980, the area has developed into a commercial hub of over 8 million people, and is now a bustling trade conduit between China, south-east Asia, and beyond.
Considering Shenzhen's meteoric rise, growing pains have been inevitable. As a testbed for China's economic reforms, the city has faced a diverse array of criticisms - some more justified than others. A lack of history, culture and style are its most commonly cited vices, while comparisons to the shallow, neon sleaze of Las Vegas are often splashed around.
However, Shenzhen's many critics often overlook the city's growing atmosphere and range of attractions. On the back of major government investment, the green and generally pleasant SEZ has made big efforts to develop tourism, shopping facilities and transportation infrastructure, especially since the 1990s. This, coupled with Shenzhen's agreeable subtropical climate, comfortable hotels and proximity to Hong Kong and Macau, has made it an increasingly popular tourist destination.
Nowhere are Shenzhen's efforts to attract tourist revenue more evident than in its theme parks. Splendid China and China Folk Culture Villages introduce visitors to China's long history and varied cultures, while Window of the World will take you to every corner of the world in one day. Splendid China offers visitors a chance to "do China" in one stop, with scaled down replicas of the country's 74 most famous sites. Window of the World competes with a mini Taj Mahal and Mount Rushmore.
For those less interested in "cultural" diversions, Shenzhen's largest theme park, Happy Valley, is Disneyland-like in both area and attractions. It consists of nine major projects, including a Spanish Square, Cartoon City, Adventure Hill, and Maya Water Park - visitors should expect roller coasters, water slides, and heaps of tasteless souvenirs.
More laid-back retreats include golf courses, spas and beaches. The 12 world class courses offered at the 216-hole Mission Hills Golf Club is a must for any keen golfer, as is a visit to the Mission Hills Spa and Resort for a little pampering. If you require relaxation at a more central location, the extensive Queen Spa and Dining is a favorite of many. For sea and sand junkies, a trip out of the city center to Shekou is well worthwhile.
Shenzhen is also a popular place to go to get a cheap massage, especially compared to neighboring Hong Kong. A foot massage, pronounced xi jiao, (which actually often consists of massaging your shoulders, back, arms, legs, and feet) costs between 25 and 50 RMB 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 between 50 and 150 RMB for up to two hours. Some places offer a 3 hour massage consisting of 1 hour of foot massage plus 2 hours of full body massage for only 68 RMB (excluding tips). It is customary to give the masseuse / masseur a minimum tip of 10 RMB per hour. As with massages in the rest of China, ensure you are getting what you came in for before the action begins.
Shopping is another popular way to pass the time in Shenzhen. For deals on the genuine article, head to CITIC Plaza on Shennan Lu; for cheaper, less authentic options, Luowu Commercial City, near Luowu Railway Station, is a mecca for bargain hunters, and also a good place to find quality tailors.
Endowed with the Cantonese love of all things edible and a large migrant population, Shenzhen boasts a fantastically diverse cuisine. For great dim sum and Cantonese try Xinyidai Seaport Restaurant on South Renmin Road (Nan Renmin Lu). Spicy Sichuan and heavier northern dishes are also offered widely, as are Italian, French, Japanese and other international culinary delights. Beer drinkers should check out Shenzhen's own Kingway beer, brewed in two locations in Shenzhen and available in local shops, bars and restaurants.
There are lots of bars and restaurants in Shekou, which is the main residential zone for Shenzhen's sizable expat community, and for non-Chinese brand chains check out the Hua Qian Bei area which is home to McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut et al.
Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) is famous for its numerous dining options, including some of the best Korean restaurants in Shenzhen. All of these are within easy walking distance of the Hua Qiao Cheng (OCT) subway stop, behind the recently opened InterContinental Shenzhen Hotel.
- Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport is 35 kilometers from central Shenzhen and connects the city with many other Chinese cities including Beijing, Hangzhou, Harbin, Shanghai, Wuhan, Urumqi and Xian, as well as some international destinations. Check elong.com for cheap flights.
- Trains T107/108 are the fastest between Shenzhen and Beijing West Railway Station (approximately 24 hours) - hard sleeper costs around 450 RMB / soft sleeper 700 RMB.
- Shenzhen is connected by fast ferries linking Shekou, on the western edge of the SEZ with Zhuhai, Macau, Hong Kong International Airport, Kowloon, and Hong Kong Island.
- Taxis are metered and come in three colors. Red taxis may travel anywhere; green ones must stay outside the SEZ, and yellow ones must stay inside the SEZ.