Shenzhen, China: Boring AF or a Hidden Treasure? (Also introducing OCT LOFT)
What makes a city a great city?
This is a question that’s been turning in my head my entire life. Growing up mostly in the suburbs, my 18-year old self would say a great city is one with “LIFE!” and “CULTURE!” and “NO BOX STORES!”
That answer became more complex as time went on. Now, I truly believe that every city, town, and suburb has something there for everyone, but that something really depends on the person.
So where does Shenzhen fall?
Trip Duration: 1 day. Er, half day?
Accommodations: None. Arrived from Macau, left for Hong Kong in the evening
Goals: Make it back to Hong Kong and take a shower
History: Shenzhen was established in 1978 as a Special Economic Zone, one of the many created as part of an economic reform to make China globally competitive. Shenzhen was specifically created to compete with Hong Kong (the Chinese didn’t actually believe that Great Britain would give Hong Kong back to them). Thus, the young city really doesn’t have that much history to fall back on.
Shenzhen is currently the most successful SEZ, however, with over 11.3M residents, many of whom work in Hong Kong and commute daily by train due to Shenzhen’s lower cost of living. It’s a highly industrial city that’s currently experiencing a tech boom. Due to the number of job opportunities, it’s currently experiencing a boom of young people relocating into the city. More than half of the population is under 30 and female.
(Side note: Does anyone out there design maps? I’ve been pulling these maps off of Google images and adding my trip route to them, but it would lovely to work with an illustrator who actually knows what they’re doing. Plus, consistency in branding is awesome.)
1.1 Getting to Shenzhen
I realized that Shenzhen was easily accessible from Hong Kong about 3 weeks before I left for my trip. However, U.S. citizens are required to apply for a Chinese visa in advance. It’s costs a hefty $140 USD, but it’s good for ten years from your issue date.
The easiest way to get to Shenzhen from Hong Kong is via the MTR East Rail line. There are two stops you can choose from—Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau. My initial plan was to do a day trip using one of those entry ways, but then I fell in love with Macau and threw all my previous plans to the wind.
But, that also means you can get to Shenzhen from Macau via the TurboJet ferry! Cost was around MOP245, and you’re able to choose to enter from the Shenzhen Airport or Shekou Port. I chose Shekou.
From Shekou, you can take a shuttle (1RMD) to the metro station and get into the city from there.
One thing to note is that while it was easy to get around Hong Kong and Macau speaking only English, most people in Shenzhen only speak Mandarin. While many signs are still multilingual, a good amount (especially at the train station) are in Chinese characters only.
1.2 Things to Do in Shenzhen
In my haphazard research trying to find things to do in Shenzhen, most articles recommended:
- Spa days
- Amusement Parks (Window of the World, Sea World, Happy Valley, Spendid China Folk Park, OCT East, Shenzhen Safari Park/ Zoo)
I hate shopping, am not one for going to amusement parks alone, and while a spa day sounds GREAT, I’d rather spend my time outdoors, so that left me with…
2. Walking around A LOT
As it turns out, Shenzhen has some pretty amazing pedestrian walkways and bike trails. It’s easy to get around in the city using these walkways (they’re not at all confusing like Hong Kong’s skyways or Macau’s streets), and there’s so much green!
I ended up lying on a bench and reading for two hours before making my way to…
3. OCT LOFT
I mentioned earlier that there was something for everybody in every city, right? Well, OCT LOFT was that something for me. Art everywhere, integrated into restaurants, coffee shops, restaurants, breweries, craft stores, galleries, funky architecture, collaborative creative spaces, BE STILL MY HEART.
(Most of this post was typed up at nBeer, a brewery that serves dozens of craft beers made in Shenzhen.)
4. Getting Back to Hong Kong
After hanging out at OCT LOFT, I walked for a bit before hopping onto the subway to the Luohu / Lo Wu border crossing, the largest train station in Shenzhen. It takes a bit of twisting and turning to navigate, but once you emerge onto the Hong Kong side, you can hop on the train and take it back into Hong Kong.
Appendix: What else?
With less than a day in Shenzhen, I didn’t nearly get to explore the city as much as I could have. With more time, I would have definitely checked out some of the beaches in Shenzhen.
I guess I can see why people call Shenzhen boring—it’s highly residential and there isn’t much there in the way of history and everything about it is SO YOUNG—but you know how the saying goes: There’s no such thing as boredom, just boring people.
Anyway, if the residents of this city have any ounce of creativity and ambition in them (and they seem like they do), this place will be hoppin’ in a few decades.