For Americans traveling to China, Hong Kong can be an ideal entryway. The city is modern and easy to navigate, almost all signs have English translations, and there are hundreds of phenomenal restaurants, bars, and shops. Plus, there are plenty of historical sights and a surprising number of outdoor activities. The only drawback is that plane tickets from Hong Kong to the mainland can be a bit expensive.
So what do people who frequently travel between Hong Kong and China do? They head to Shenzhen—the massive metropolis and manufacturing zone that shares a border with Hong Kong—and fly from there. Here are three reasons you should follow their lead on your next trip to China.
1. It’s Cheaper
Flying out of Shenzhen instead of Hong Kong can save you a lot of money. Right now, roundtrip tickets to Beijing listed on Ctrip.com (a Chinese booking site) are about $270 if you fly from Hong Kong, and only $195 if you fly from Shenzhen. To Shanghai it’s $177 versus $90. And if you’re headed to a smaller, less popular city, the deals are even better because Shenzhen’s airport hosts more regional carriers. Additionally, the best fares out of Shenzhen have more flexible terms than the best fares out of Hong Kong (many of which are listed as non-amendable).
2. It’s Easier Than You Think
There are five places where you can cross the border and lots of different ways to get between the cities. If you want to go directly from the Hong Kong Airport to the Shenzhen Airport, there’s a bus service that will drop you and your luggage at border control and then pick you up on the other side for the second half of the trip, all for about $25. If you want to splurge on a $35 ticket, you can even take a smaller bus that doesn’t require you to disembark. Many local airlines also have their own bus transfer services.
If you’re already in downtown Hong Kong, there are buses that leave for the Shenzhen Airport from both the island of Hong Kong (near the Sheung Wan ferry station) and Kowloon (from the Yuanfang Mall). You could also take the MTR (Hong Kong’s metro) and then hop on the Shenzhen Metro on the other side of the border. And if you really want a quiet, peaceful ride, you can take a ferry from either Hong Kong Island or the Hong Kong airport, then hop a cab once you cross the border.
Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you leave plenty of time for passport control and customs. Some of the border crossings are much busier than others, and your wait in line will vary depending on the time and day. Passport control usually takes about 40 minutes (including lines), but if you inadvertently end up in a huge crowd at rush hour, you could lose a couple of hours. If that’s the case, don’t panic: there are plenty of cabs waiting outside that can get you to your destination much more quickly than the buses will.
3. Most Importantly: You Can Spend Some Time in Shenzhen
Most Americans only head to Shenzhen to do business, but the city itself has lots of sights that make it worth staying for a couple of days. You can visit historic sights like the tomb of the last emperor of the Song Dynasty or the preserved buildings of Xin’an Ancient City, enjoy some of China’s best modern art and design at OCT Art and Design Gallery or the Shenzhen 22 Art District, or hang out with the city’s hipsters at the café at Old Heaven Bookstore or the Bionic Brew taproom.