THIS month's featured travel destination WAS Shenzhen (please note past tense). After having my passport stolen and being stuck in China for 9 days and 8 nights, I would have to caution against all NON-essential travel to the city - and perhaps the country. More to come ...
In the 1980s and 90s, Shenzhen transformed itself from a sleepy fishing village into the world's workshop. Now it is turning itself into an important centre of entrepreneurship, creativity, and culture.
Move over Beijing and Shanghai!
Once considered Hong Kong's ugly stepsister, Shenzhen - home to more PhD's than any other city in the country - is China's new Capital of Cool!
Here are 10 reasons why you should go to Shenzhen now:
1. Because Shenzhen has great beaches.
The city has 3 beaches, 2 of them natural (Dameisha and Xiaomeisha, both in the Yantian District) and one of them man-made (OCT Harbour, on a man-made lake in the Nanshan District).
2. Because Shenzhen has world-class architecture.
The once unsightly Futian District has been transformed into a sophisticated collection of stunningly beautiful high-, mid-, and low-rise buildings designed by some of the world's top architects.
3. Because Shenzhen has great regional Chinese food.
As a city of migrants - at least 80% of the population is from other parts of China - the city has an amazing array of streets stalls and restaurants serving food from all over China.
4. Because you can dance till you drop - without spending a dime.
As soon as the sun sets, you can dance in the square in front of King Glory Plaza in the Lowu District (and at other public venues around town). Ballroom? Fan dancing? Hip-hop? Latin? And you don't even need a partner!
5. Because there are roughly 10 kitschy theme parks.
From Splendid China to Window of the World to a reproduction of a Swiss village high in th Alps, Shenzhen has all manner of amusement parks that you can spend your hard-earned money at.
6. Because pulling noodles is considered a skill.
You haven't lived until you have seen a chef skillfully take a hunk of dough and start pulling, twisting, and stretching it until it becomes so many noodles. And trust me! They really DO taste better when they're made in front of your very eyes.
7. Because you can get a great massage (without breaking the bank).
Okay. If you want to indulge, do so at a spa at a 5 star hotel, where a 90 minute treatment could easily set you back US$250. But you can also get a 60-minute foot massage at a storefront day spa for roughly U$3 (but PLEASE remember to tip - the therapists don't get paid much, and I'm NOT talking 10%).
8. Because you can see nature.
Believe it or not, there is a massive wetlands park and a mangrove nature preserve just minutes from downtown. Plus, there are lots of lovely parks, tree lined boulevards, and green zones that have yet to be developed.
9. Because there's culture - and I'm NOT talking museums!
A former industrial zone in the Nanshan District (OCT Loft) has been transformed into a "creativity park". Creative industries are located upstairs. At street level you will find art galleries, exhibition spaces, coffee houses, bookstores ... the list goes on.
10. Because Hong Kong is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Say what you want, China can get to you. When it does, Hong Kong is always just a cross-border bus, a train, or a jetfoil ride away.
One of China's 5 special economic zones, Shenzhen was a sleepy fishing village with a population of just 30,000 people when Deng Xiaoping announced sweeping economic reforms in 1988.
The city now has a population of more than 15 million people, and it has one of the highest standards of living in the country.
Shenzhen is divided into several districts. Some of them are highly urbanized, and others remain relatively unspoiled.
Shenzhen has a subtropical climate. There is rainfall throughout the year, especially during spring and summer.
Winters are short and relatively mild, though the temperature can plummet for a few days or weeks causing the locals to bundle up, wearing overcoats, scarves, hats, and mittens.
Summers are long, hot, and very humid. Typhoons are common between July and September. The best times to visit are fall and winter, when the humidity drops and rainfall is less frequent.
The Shenzhen Metro currently has 5 subway lines with 118 stations, and more are under construction. The city is also served by an excellent network of buses.
Taxies are cheap, but most drivers are from other parts of China and sometimes they are not familiar with the lay of the land so it is a good idea to carry a map.
Most do not speak Cantonese, and fewer can speak English so it is a good idea to have your destination written in Chinese.
While tips are not expected, passengers should consider rounding up their fares to the nearest even number.
Forget everything you've ever heard about tipping in China. If you're on a guided tour, tour guides WILL expect a tip - and they will usually tell you how much they expect.
Therapists at massage parlours in other parts of China do not expect tips, but they DO expect tips in Shenzhen, and with good reason. The minute owners discovered that patrons were tipping therapists they cut their salaries.
You should figure on 20 to 40 yuan per hour at mass market day spas, more at upscale venues.
Tipping is not usually expected at food and beverage outlets.
Tourist visas of one to 3 months are issued at no cost to most foreign nationals upon arrival in Hong Kong.
The same is NOT true of China. Visas should be arranged ahead of time at a Chinese consulate, on line, or through a travel agency authorized to issue Chinese visas.
Blogger's Tip: contrary to popular belief, the China Travel Service is NOT the most efficient way to go - still highly bureaucratic.
Make It Happen!
Shenzhen is a modern city with all manner of accommodation, from luxurious 5 star resorts to modest dormitories to a capsule hotel with capsules renting for just over US$10 a night.
As a city of migrants, Shenzhen has thousands of restaurants, cafes, and food stalls serving regional Chinese dishes from all over the country as well as the national cuisines of countries all over the world.
How to Get There
Shenzhen is just north of Hong Kong. It can be reached by Hong Kong's metro, which is known as the MTR. There are MTR stations on the Hong Kong side of the border at Lowu (Luohu) and Lok Ma Chau (Futian).
There are cross-border buses from several districts in Hong Kong to several districts in Shenzhen. There are also jetfoils from Hong Kong and Macau to the Shekou district in Western Shenzhen.
There are intercity trains and buses to travel destinations throughout China.
Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport is located in the city's Bao'an District, 32 kilometres northwest of downtown. The Shenzhen Metro connects the airport with other parts of the city.
The airport is served mostly by domestic carriers. It is a hub for Shenzhen Airlines. It is a focus city for China Southern AIrlines and Hainan Airlines.
Domestic airlines fly to travel destinations all over China. Many travellers from Hong Kong use the airport because there are more flights to more destinations, and fares are also cheaper.
Domestic airlines fly to the following international travel destinations: Bangkok, Thailand; Da Nang, Vietnam; Denpasar, Bali; Jeju, Korea; Mauritius; Phuket, Thailand; Seoul, Korea; Taipei, Taiwan.
Foreign air carriers include Asiana Airlines, which flies to Seoul, Korea; China Airlines, which flies to Taiwan; Korean Air, which flies to Seoul; SilkAir, which flies to Singapore; Thai AirAsia, which flies to Bangkok, Thailand.
Many people travelling between Shenzhen and foreign countries go by way of Hong Kong International Airport, which has far more international links. Both ferries and coaches connect the airport with Shenzhen.
Hong Kong-Shenzhen Airports Link offers cross-border coaches between the 2 airports for passengers making connections.