The Shenzhen Rundown
Shenzhen is a gleaming, sprawling metropolis of industry and glass and steel towers across Kowloon Peninsula from Hong Kong. The most prominent poster child of capitalist urban reforms under former People's Republic leader Deng Xiaoping is a Special Economic Zone par excellence that teems with migrant factory workers, foreign business executives on the make, expat knowledge workers and plucky young Chinese professionals eager to stake a claim in the new China. It is almost impossible to imagine that less than four decades ago, Shenzhen was a sleepy, moribund village.
The rapid reboot of that village into one of the world’s primary centers of economic and commercial growth is now legend in Shenzhen. This is a proud, dynamic city that has come into its own not just in the PRC but, indeed, Asia and the world. The skyline expansion has run unfaltered at a breakneck clip, new suburbs pop up every year and the subway system has gone from non-existent to one of the most extensive on the planet in what seems like the blink of an eye.
The busy Pearl River Delta port city has strides to make in the arts and culture and quality of life departments in order to catch up with neighbors Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Still, given Shenzhen’s improbable metamorphosis, the city has already demonstrated a dramatic and flagrant ability to reach for the sky.
Shenzhen’s Top 10
10. Xin’an Ancient City marks the site of a town in existence since the 4th century.
5. Lake of the Immortals is hands down the best park in Shenzhen.
9. Chiwan Tin Hau Temple dates back to the early 15th century.
4. He Xiangning Art Gallery unfurls some fine art of interest from East Asia.
8. Shiyan Lake Hot Spring Resort is difficult to find but well worth the trek for a restorative dip.
3. OCT Contemporary Art Terminal and Loft Area is proof positive that Shenzhen has arty ambitions.
7. Splendid China is a corny but popular folk village recreation.
2. Dapeng Fortress is a citadel village 55 km from Shenzhen proper.
6. Wutong Mountain is the dominant natural landmark in Shenzhen.
1. Shenzhen Museum is the ultimate repository and archive in the city.
- Dapeng Fortress – Built 600 years ago, this walled town was the centre of the 19th-century Opium Wars.
- Minsk World – This military theme park has a decommissioned aircraft and uniformed Russian dancers.
- Chung Ying Street – This border street between China and Hong Kong has had a colourful history.
- Shenzhen Museum (Old) – A museum of ancient arts featuring 20,000 bronze, porcelain and jade artefacts.
- Nantou Ancient City – Built in 1394, this area contains Shenzhen’s well-preserved city gate.
Shenzhen Art & Culture
- Splendid China Folk Village – A theme park that features various aspects of China’s 56 ethnic groups.
- Shenzhen Cultural Center – This building contains a concert hall and the Shenzhen’s library.
- OCT-Loft Art Terminal – This art museum and studio space display pieces from local and international artists.
- Dafen Oil Painting Village – Home to 600 art studios where 10,000 artists create copies of famous masterpieces like the Mona Lisa.
- Di Wang-Land King Building – The tallest building in Shenzhen at 69 stories high.
- SEG Electronics Market – This plaza contains eight floors of booths selling all manner of computer components.
- Dongmen Market – A popular marketplace selling a variety of goods, including suits, ready-to-wear clothing and electronics.
- Luohu Commercial City – This mall contains over 700 shops selling clothes and fabric.
- China Sports House – A place where you can get custom, hand-painted shoes.
- Shenzhen Musical Heaven Market – The biggest musical instrument store in the Shenzhen.
Shenzhen Gay & Lesbian
- Auld Lang Syne – A nightclub with live shows (with some nudity) every night.
- Why Not Bar – A popular nightclub featuring a karaoke bar and disco.
- Century Kingdom Hotel – A five-star, GLBT-friendly hotel.
- Phoenix House – This tea house is GLBT friendly and serves a variety of Shenzhen dim-sum dishes.
- Barden-Barden Disco Club – A disco club that is gay-owned and offers nightly shows.
- Shenzhen Happy Valley – This outdoor amusement park has rides and games for adults and children.
- Window of the World – A theme park located in Western Shenzhen that features 130 replications of the world’s most famous attractions.
- Safari Park – A small wildlife park with a variety of sub-Saharan animals, including giraffes and rhinoceroses.
- OCT East – An upscale, multibillion-dollar theme park similar to Disney World.
- Dameisha & Xiaomeisha Scenic Area – Two beaches that provide beautiful views of the city’s coastline.
- Watch bike riders compete in the Asia Fixed Gear Championships at the end of May.
- Go golfing at the Spring City Golf & Lake Resort or the Shenzhen Golf Club.
- Cool off with a nice wade in a public swimming pool.
- Hit the (indoor) slopes at the Alps Ski Resort.
- Watch popular table-tennis competitions at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre.
Like any good sub-provincial metropolis in the People’s Republic of China with over 10 million people, Shenzhen is big and envelops many city-like districts.
Futian is the primary hub of Shenzhen and is home to some 1.3 million people. The district is the scene of frantic high-rise development and has the skyline to prove it. Points of interest include Lianhua Mountain Park, Shenzhen Garden and Flower Exposition Center, Guan Shan Yue Art Gallery, Mangrove National Park and Shenzhen Cultural Center.
Luohu has just under 1 million people and is the home of Wutong Mountain, Lake of the Immortals Botanical Gardens, Dong Men Pedestrian Street, Tea World Terminal Market, Hubei Village Eat Street, and Jiahua Foreign Trade Market.
Nanshan has over 1 million people and points of interest like Chiwan Fort, Xin’an Ancient City and Happy Valley and Window of the World theme parks.
Yantian has just over 200,000 people and desirable tourist targets like Dameisha beach, Xiaomeisha beach and Chung Ying Street.
Bao’an, with close to 5 million people, is tops in Shenzhen. The suburban district outside the Special Economic Zone is, for the most part, a behemoth factory city.
Longgang has over 2 million people and while a busy suburban district, is home to some desolate coastal areas, such as Ju Diao Sha, Dong Chong and Xi Chong beach. The Longgang Museum of Hakka culture is worth a visit as well.
Shenzhen Eat & Drink
As a prominent migrant and expat city that moves at the furious pace of business, Shenzhen has a big and eclectic restaurant scene. From regional mainland fare to branché continental, wine bars to sushi bars, mealtime need not be dull in the city.
Ju’s Fusion (2nd floor 1001 Shennan Donglu Shenzhen 999 Royal Suites and Towers) is as plush a Cantonese restaurant as Shenzhen has.
The Terrace (Sea World Square, Tai Zi Lu) is a popular expat bar and restaurant with live entertainment.
Grand Prince (Shop 45 Bao'an Nanlu 5th fl, The MixC) is a swish spot that serves pan-Chinese fare for lunch and dinner.
Sushifu (Fumin Road) is one of the best Japanese restaurants in Shenzhen.
Milano (1/F, Anhui Building, Shennan Road 6007) serves - what else - Italian cuisine. The quality is up there with the best in the city.
Dan Gui Xuan (5/F, Louhu Commercial City, Renmin Road) is a solid bet for dim sum.
West Lake Spring (3019 Sungang Lu 2nd-3rd fl, Parkway Tower) cranks out authentic seafood and vegetable dishes.
Belle Epoque (Bao’an Nanlu Shop 299, 2nd floor, The MixC) caters to upscale clientele with a good wine list and menu of French cuisine classics.
Phoenix House (4002 Huaqiang Beilu East Wing, Pavilion Hotel) is a wildly popular Cantonese restaurant.
Made in Kitchen (7th floor 2028 Renmin Lu Shenzen Kingglory Plaza) has a colossal menu for carnivores and lovers of Southeast Asian staples.
Shenzhen has been in such feverish expansion mode over the last two decades that it has yet to develop a bona fide international festival scene in the mold of a Shanghai or Hong Kong. Still, a few annual events do stand out.
The month-long Shenzhen Nanshan Litchi Cultural Tourism Festival runs from late June to late July and, aside from a lot of ripe lychees, features a diverse program of events.
The Dragon Dance Art Festival is one of the most popular festivals in Shenzhen and takes place in Longgang District.
The Grand Theater Festival is held in January and features a diverse lineup of traditional and contemporary performances.
Shenzhen Cultural Center has a regular program of events and exhibits on rotation. The home of Shenzhen Concert Hall and Shenzhen Library is impressive, thanks in no small part to the efforts of avant-garde architect Arata Isozaki.
New Shenzhen Stadium, host of the 2011 Summer Universiade, or World University Games, has a capacity of 60,334 and is the stadium of record for football, athletics et al.
When To Go
Shenzhen has a subtropical climate with a discernible monsoon effect. The wet season features heavy rain, typhoon thunderstorms and brutal humidity from May to September, with significant showers in April and October as well. Summer temperatures range from 76°F (24°C) to 90°F (32°C).
The mild winter and dry season is unquestionably more comfortable. Conditions from December to February waver between 53°F (12°C) and 71°F (22°C), with minimal rain. The months of March and November are warmer but not altogether unpleasant.
What To Miss
Rogue taxi drivers, patent tourist trap attractions and city tour swindles form three obvious pitfalls to avert in Shenzhen.
While not facile to identify a scam artist cab driver before you reach your destination, get some help from a hotel concierge or local if your Mandarin or Cantonese is weak. Otherwise, you could wind up with a “special” tourist rate.
Shenzhen has a profusion of amusement park attractions that were purpose-built with domestic tourists in mind and, perhaps more cynically, as opiate-like diversions for a spent, underpaid labor class. The point is that whatever novelty places like Sea World Shekou, Happy Valley Theme Park, Minsk World and Safari Park Shenzhen have hastily dissolves once you get past the gates.
Shenzhen “city tours” that ferry busloads of tourists from factory to factory, for a tidy payola on subsequent wholesale purchases, on top of the per head tour price, need to be put out of business. If you want to see the ins and outs of a jade jewelry factory, for example, hire a driver and book a private tour through a local connection. Otherwise, give these tours a wide berth and experience the city on your own.
Shenzhen is 40 km from Hong Kong and connects to the city via ferry, MTR, bus and taxi. Visitors do need to apply for a visa before they cross over to the People’s Republic mainland, however. A short list of nationals from the likes of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the EU can obtain a five-day Special Economic Zone Tourism Visa on arrival, after the rigamarole of Hong Kong immigration and customs that is. Alas, those with a valid U.S. passport, good for six months minimum, must apply for a regular multiple-entry visa.
Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport has yet to undergo a significant expansion and upgrade and is still one of the top 25 airports in the world. In China it ranks in the top 5 in total passenger movements and is a formidable competitor to Hong Kong International and Guangzhou Baiyun International. Although the hub currently processes up to 27 million passengers a year, Shenzhen’s sharp rise requires more capacity - and soon. For the moment, Shenzhen Bao'an serves the likes of Beijing-Capital, Shanghai-Pudong, Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Macau, Seoul-Incheon, Singapore, Taipei and Tokyo-Narita. Visitors can also access the city by train from a host of spots on the mainland.
The Shenzhen Metro has 5 lines, 137 stations and is by far the best way to get around the city. By 2020 the number of lines, stations and total track will double. The city also operates a decent bus and minibus network. Taxis proliferate but since drivers are rarely conversant in English, be sure to ask your hotel for assistance with place-names in Chinese characters.
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