How easy is it to get to China from Hong Kong?


It's not that long ago that the notion of just popping across the border into China was unimaginable. And, in fact, many folk tend to leave China off their RTW itinerary – not least because of the difficulty with visas.

Yet liberalisation means that it's surprisingly easy to pop into China nowadays. British nationals flying through Beijing or Shanghai en route to somewhere else can take a 72-hour stopover within the city limits without arranging a visa in advance. Since Beijing's city limits are big enough for a visitor to knock off the Great Wall AND the Forbidden City while in transit, that's certainly not to be sniffed at: do note that the “Transit Without Visa” is for 72 hours, not 73 hours, and certainly not three days.

For folk just looking to dip a toe into mainland China, or tick China off a bucket list of countries, the Chinese government issues five-day visas to the city of Shenzhen, right next door to Hong Kong, at the border. Catch the MTR to Lo Wu; queue up, fill in forms and hand over around 400 Hong Kong dollars (£35 or so); then walk across the border to Shenzhen, and hop onto Shenzhen's metro system at Luohu. And, yes, Luohu and Lo Wu are the same place, and written the same way: Mandarin-speaking mainlanders pronounce it Luohu, while Cantonese-speaking Hong-Kongites call it Lo Wu.

Note that, as with the Beijing and Shanghai transit passes, the 5-day Shenzhen visa restricts you to the Shenzhen city limits, and cannot be extended. If you want to leave Shenzhen, or stay more than five days, you'll need a bona fide tourist visa, which can also be arranged in Hong Kong: overstays can result in anything from a slapped wrist to a £500 fine to a prison sentence with heavy fine depending on how the authorities feel at the time.

Now, there is plenty to do in Shenzhen, from shopping at the thriving fake markets and factory outlets – the city was China's first Special Economic Zone – to art galleries, spas, beer gardens, theme parks, restaurants and museums, including one on an aircraft carrier. And this bustling, warm, relatively Westernised city makes a great, easy introduction to mainland China.

But what if you want to see more than just Shenzhen? A myriad agencies in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) backpacker district can help arrange tourist visas to China for periods from 30 days to 90 days. Many even offer a same-day service, although it's wise to allow three working days in case of problems: most Hong Kong guesthouses have their own favoured visa agent.

Now, it's not always necessary or cost-effective to use an agent to arrange a visa. But spending a little extra cash on a good visa agent in Hong Kong will vastly cut down on the amount of paperwork required to score a Chinese visa. Chinese embassies and consulates overseas have been known to request proof of both confirmed flights and solid hotel reservations for every single night of your itinerary BEFORE they approve your visa: good agencies will typically take just a passport and a form (and, sometimes, copy birth certificates for children).

Whichever visa you go for, opt for the maximum length of time you could possibly need. Arranging a China visa within Hong Kong is easy but extending one in mainland China is hell on earth.



Published by Stuart Lodge

In praise of Singapore


After months bouncing around on dirt tracks in tuk-tuks, lugging bags onto sampans and ferries, and navigating sidewalks cluttered with plastic chairs and infested with open manholes, sometimes that humble invention, the pavement, can seem a rare and beautiful thing.

Yes, a pavement! A pavement with no holes! A pavement along which one can walk without watching the ground! A pavement that gives onto – oh, joy of joys! – an escalator, which leads down to a subway, where – oh, sweet bliss! - a train arrives, on time, and goes where it says it will on the map. Which, helpfully, includes English.

Now, it's easy to write Singapore off as dull. Although, in my opinion, any city-state that places a pair of giant spiky bollocks on one side of the bay, adds three pillars with a giant banana on them in the middle of the bay, then follows that up with 50-metre tall light-up trees is very far from dull. Bonkers, yes. Authoritarian, yes. Dull, no.

Of course, as David Whitley has so accurately pointed out, Singapore society tends to the dictatorial. Yet, while the great dictator Mussolini never did make the trains run on time – though he crafted some world class propaganda about it – the late Singaporean autocrat Lee Kuan Yew did exactly that.


Here's the thing about Singapore, you see. Everything works. The trains run on time. Power-cuts don't happen. You're never without phone signal. There's always an internet connection and it's always fast. There are regular traffic lights, which drivers obey, taxi drivers know the way – and use the meter! -  and you can walk down the street without circumnavigating food carts, open sewers or disabled beggars. You can go to the beach without child sellers thrusting ropy bangles in your face, buy bus tickets without someone grabbing at your bags and attempting to extort a porter's fee, and purchase anything you would like to buy without haggling.

Further, you can go shopping! Yes, Singapore's malls are soul-destroying. But, oh boy! There are women's clothes in sizes larger than 10 (XXL, as we call it in most of South-East Asia), or 12 (XXXL); there are kids sandals, and flip-flops and trainers for giant Western man feet; there are moisturisers without whitening agents, Western high street brands, and Kinokuniya, an absolutely world class bookshop. Foodwise, Singapore is heaven: craft beers and artisan cocktails, chicken rice and chilli crab, kaya butter toast and roti chennai plus whichever of the world's gadzillion cuisines you've been craving lately.

And the airport! From the free massage machines, X-Box and movies to the rooftop swimming pool, the nap zone, complete with beds, and the outdoor smoking area with sunflower garden, Changi really is something special.

Now, this all may sound a bit dull. And it IS a bit dull. But sometimes – especially when you've been doing some fairly hardcore overlanding – the manicured ease of Singapore just hits the spot. There's plenty to do in the Big Durian, of course: museums and parks, zoos and temples, theme parks and mangroves. But I always find that, when in Singapore, I spend most of my time doing what Singaporeans do: eating and shopping.


Get Singapore included as a multi-stop on our Australia and New Zealand Downunder Deal here

Check out our 4 day stopover package here Ask your consultant for details

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Published by Stuart Lodge