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A Long Weekend in Shenzhen

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Almost every China visitor passes through Shenzhen at one point or another. Hong Kong’s sprawling neighbour to the north has four land crossings as well as ferry connections to Hong Kong Island, Zhuhai and Macau. Its port is Mainland China’s second busiest and its flashy new honeycomb airport, Shenzhen Bao’an International, has connections to all major Chinese cities as well as destinations throughout Asia. In short, Shenzhen sees a lot of traffic. 

But is it just that, a gateway to the Middle Kingdom? Is its shady border town image still justified? Does Shenzhen offer visitors more than hooky DVD stores, a few elaborate spas and some fancy high-rise dining options? Indeed, is there any reason to linger longer than necessary in the fishing village-turned-metropolis?

Much laundered for its economic gravitas (Shenzhen is Mainland China’s third richest city having already surpassed big brother Guangzhou) this mercantile miracle town is now reorienting itself as a far more liveable place. Manufacturing money is being spent developing Shenzhen’s coastline, its cultural industries as well as enough shopping malls to rival Hong Kong. So if you do find yourself in the subtropical south, you won’t be wondering what to do, but simply how to fit everything in. 

Day 1


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Get a taste of culture in the OCT Loft Creative Park. This redeveloped manufacturing hub in Nanshan District is bursting with trendy cafés, galleries, bars and design studios, as the city’s young population seek to express itself.

Doubtlessly the coolest joint on the strip is Old Heaven Books, a vinyl store, bookshop and café where the city’s hip art aficionados gravitate. Operated by local radio host Tu Fei and friends, the key to the Old Heaven’s success seems simple: “Principally we do what we like and hopefully other people like it too,” Tu says. 

Tu also organises two annual music festivals, the OCT Jazz Festival in autumn and the Tomorrow Music Festival in the springtime. His comrade in these endeavours is local oil painter Teng Fei, who runs the OCT’s other ultra cool establishment, the B10 Live House. “We like to bring different flavours to the city,” says Teng, “to educate people. You know this is a young city, it’s still growing.”

Indeed, the city seems to change by the season. The latest cool spot can be found in the chaotic urban village Baishizhou just next door to the OCT where a bunch of craft beer spots has opened-up, spearheaded by pioneer brew house Bionicbrew.

But if hedonism is more your thing head east down the metro line to Shopping Park on the edge of the CBD in Futian District to check out the city’s nightlife scene. It's crass, but the bar strip opposite the enormous mall Coco Park earned its riotous reputation for good reason with party-hard-dens like Viva pulling in the guys and gals nightly for cheap cocktails and crowded dance-floors.

Day 2

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Whether you spend your first night sipping IPA in Baishizhou, rocking to a band in the OCT or boogying your socks off in Coco Park, you’ll doubtlessly have a hangover to contend with. That leaves only two options: A) Sweat it off or B) Swim it off.

Option-A: Head to Luohu District where, bus 211 terminates in Wutong Mountain. This extraordinarily large and picturesque national park is a protected ecological area (the water flowing from the hills collects in Luohu Reservoir eventually feeding Hong Kong). It’s a tough climb up one of the Pearl River Delta’s highest peaks, but very worthwhile, as you traverse mountain streams, and ascend through jungle enshrouded mountain paths to enjoy soaring views from the summit. And when you’ve finished, hit the Wutong Mountain Art Town at the entrance of the park, a colourful village packed with Buddhist vegetarian restaurants – nutritious fodder earned after a long day hike.

Option-B: If you arrive during the humid summer months the beach is certainly preferable to any kind of hill climbs. The best bet is to skip the commercial bays Dameisha and Xiaomeisha and head straight to Dapeng on the city’s eastern periphery. Until recently this peninsula was still dominated by local fishermen and the only travellers venturing so far afield came to visit the Dapeng Fortress, a Ming Dynasty Hakka blockhouse designed to fend off Japanese pirates. But over recent years nearby Jinshuiwan has emerged as windsurfing mecca while typhoon lashed twin beaches of Xichong and Dongchong are nurturing a nascent surf community. There are guesthouses aplenty at both locales and palm-lined sands caressed by blue and white surf are virtually guaranteed.

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About the author

Thomas grew up beneath heavy clouds in the South Wales suburbs. After reading too many books, he decided to see for himself what this weird world had on offer. Now an itinerant traveler, writer and photographer usually lost somewhere in East Asia, he prints his musings in a number of notable publications and has contributed to several guidebooks including Rough Guides China and Dunhuang: A City on the Silk Road. When he's not wandering, he can sometimes be found practising mandolin in Beijing.


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