Updated: Feb 11, 2019
So you feel like escaping Hong Kong for a little while?
Whilst hopping on a plane to some exotic destination is certainly one possibility, there is another much closer option that a) doesn’t require any air travel and b) can be arranged at the last minute with very little hassle.
We are talking about Shenzhen, which lies just across the border between Hong Kong and mainland China.
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Shenzhen is very popular with day-trippers from Hong Kong who are eager to snap up a bargain on goods for a fraction of the price they can find back home – especially electronic items and clothes.
But there is so much more to Shenzhen than shopping, and if you want some experiences that are quite different from those found in Hong Kong but don’t want to go too far then Shenzhen is a good place to consider.
Getting to Shenzhen is a cinch – simply hop on the MTR all the way to the border and cross on foot.
Even better: you can get a visa on-the-border (providing that you cross at Lo Wu rather than one of the other land borders). The price of the visa varies according to your nationality, but is typically between 200 and 400 HKD.
So what should you see whilst up there?
We have just spent Chinese New Year in the Shenzhen region, finishing off the research for our brand new guide to the city (yes, there will be one coming soon), and here are a few family-friendly suggestions.
This beautifully-preserved walled village, so distinct from the cloying skyscrapers of downtown Hong Kong or Shenzhen, is definitely worth visiting.
Set in the middle of a verdant landscape, and little touched by the modern development that has ravished much of south-eastern China over the past 20 years, the village is full of charming little alleyways and hidden streets that you can spend hours wandering around.
There are plenty of street vendors selling a wonderful array of local snacks, such as spiced bread cooked in tandoori-style ovens or quails eggs on skewers. There are also some excellent Chinese restaurants; the dumplings that we ate may have been the best I have ever had.
A local shadow puppet theatre in the town completes the picture of rural Chinese life.
It is really worth visiting Dongshan Temple, too, just to the east of the walled village (about a 15-minute walk).
Living in Hong Kong you may feel that you may already have seen enough temples to last a lifetime, but Dongshan Temple is certainly worth a moment of your attention, with its gargantuan statues and intricately-decorated hallways. The temple is part of a working Buddhist monastery and so you may see monks scurrying between rooms during your visit.
Once you are done with the walled city and the fortress you can also go for a quick dip in the sea. Jiaochangwei Beach a short 10-minute walk from the south entrance. Here you will find rickshaws that you can rent to cycle along the coast (50 renminbi for an hour) and boats willing to ferry you to nearby islands, including the delightful Sanmen Island, for a negotiable fee.
Danpeng Fortress is a little way outside of downtown Shenzhen but well worth the effort to get here. It will take you about an-hour-and-a-half to get there by taxi from the border crossing at Luohu / Lo Wu. Getting a taxi back, though, can sometimes be a little difficult.
The world in miniature
Miniature-model theme parks are popular all over the world but one of the best ones you’re ever likely to visit is located right here, in Shenzhen.
There are two model parks: Window on the World and Window on China. The two theme parks are next to each other, but each requires a separate entrance ticket. To get here simply take like one of Shenzhen’s metro and get off at the ‘Window of the World’ station.
Window on the World is vast and contains a huge number of intricately-fashioned models, from the obvious landmarks such as France’s Eiffel Tower or Italy’s Coliseum to the arguably more obscure ones such as Shirasagi Castle (Japan) or the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa (Sri Lanka).
Window on China is not quite as big but still very impressive: great to visit if you are planning a tour of China and want to see what is out there before you head off.
Shenzhen Safari Park
Hong Kong doesn’t really have a proper zoo – other than some caged monkeys and birds in the Botanical Garden and a few animals at Ocean Park – and so if you want to see things like lions and tigers then Shenzhen’s Safari Park is probably your best bet.
Don’t expect to be overawed by the place. Despite its name – ‘safari park’ – for the most part you will be walking round a zoo rather than going on safari.
Still it is a good option for somewhere to take all the family, and young children will love the animal shows and performances that are put on throughout the day. There is also the opportunity to feed some of the animals, such as the giraffes.
But the highlight of any visit has to be an opportunity to see the tigers up close. Visitors are bundled into the back of a safari jeep and handed hunks of meat on a sticks. They can then feed the tigers through the safety bars on the jeep. Doing this really allows you to appreciate the ferocity and majesty of these great beasts, particularly when, in their eagerness to be fed, the tigers press their vast bulks up against the vehicle. There is no age restriction for taking this tour, although very young children may find the experience frightening.
Since Hong Kong already has plenty of really good beaches, you’re probably not going to want to visit Shenzhen just to go to the seaside.
Still, if you are here anyway and want a quick dip, there are a number of popular options, although at peak time things can get very busy.
If you do any online research about which beach to visit in Shenzhen, the name you are likely to encounter the most is ‘Dameisha’. However, this particular beach was badly damaged by a super-typhoon that hit the area during the summer of the 2018 – and it has still not been fixed. There is not much else to recommend Dameisha and so we would recommend avoiding this area.
The new most-popular spot for beach-goers is now a few kilometres east of the typhoon-ravaged Dameisha, at a place called Xiaomeisha. The beach is nice but almost always busy – despite the 30 renminbi entrance cost.
Shenzhen’s Ocean World is also here. We wouldn’t strongly recommend this particular sightseeing attraction – it’s rather pricey for what it is and the tanks are overcrowded – but is a nice family thing to do if you want to escape the crowds for a bit. The clear highlight of the theme park are the shows.
An alternative and much quieter beach area can be found a little further east: Rose Coast (or 玫瑰海岸 in Chinese). There is still an entrance fee – 20 renminbi per person – but you will find the beach much quieter and more relaxing. It is a place that is fairly well-known for wedding photography, and you will see many vehicles and European-style buildings that can be used as a backdrop for memorable photos.
If you want to try a beach that is even further out, and therefore less frequented by Shenzhen day-trippers and tourists from Hong Kong, consider some of the ones in the Dapeng Peninsula, just below the walled city that is described above: the one at Yangmeikeng (杨梅坑) is a good choice.
OCT East offers some theme park fun combined with a botanical garden and a golf course.
There are three separate parks.
Knight Valley is a water-themed park spread over 20 square kilometres. Here you will find a variety of rides such as a roller coaster, water flume and a giant luge. There is also an indoor pool area with slides and wave machine – bring your swimming costume! The park also boasts a huge manmade waterfall. Disappointingly a number of the smaller children’s rides – such as the bumper cars – you have to pay separately for.
Tea Stream Valley combines a wetland botanical garden with elegant Swiss-style buildings and a nice tea garden to relax in.
Wind Valley is actually a sports park and includes an 18-hole golf course.
You can also visit the nearby Huaxing Temple whilst in the area.
The surrounding scenery is stunningly beautiful.
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