We love Shenzhen. This city of more than 14 million people has long been considered a playground for Hongkongers, where you can haggle over handbags, spend the day getting your nails done, and (if you’re a spiky haired teenager) party the weekend away in one of the city’s many vast nightclubs. But there’s much more to it than triple A-grade copies. With its world-class galleries and several artist villages ranging from original works to top-quality reproductions, there’s tons of culture to be found in the SEZ. Shoppers looking for something far removed from train station squabbles should check out the mega malls, offering everything from homewares to electronics. Regardless of whether you want to hit the spas or try some of the impressive cuisine from all over China, you’ll find it all in our guide to Shenzhen.
1. Clamber around on a decommisioned Soviet aircraft carrier
Fans of military history should definitely make a trip out to Minsk World, arguably one of the strangest theme parks you’re likely to find in Shenzhen—and trust us, that’s saying something. Minsk is the name of an old Soviet-era aircraft carrier, which is now docked here as a permanent exhibition space, showcasing various artifacts such as planes, helicopters and PLA machinery. Visitors are free to roam around the flight deck and on certain floors of the vessel. For a small fee, you can even take a boat ride round the starboard side to get a glimpse of The Minsk in all its glory. Staff march around dressed in military-like uniforms, and will stage musical performances throughout the day.
Jinrong Rd, Shatoujiao, 0755-2535-5333, www.szminsk.com
2. Get lost in geek heaven
SEG Electronic Market
SEG is the biggest electronics mall in the area. Be warned that means there’ll be a lot of hawkers out front determined to sell you their pirated software and laptops. Once inside, you’ll find a large variety of more genuine products mostly divided by floors. The first two sell electronic components like switches, tapes and conductors – so stay away unless you’re a serious nerd or in the business. Instead, head up to the third to eighth floors for laptops and computer accessories like hard drives, memory sticks, GPS receivers and MP3 players. On the fourth floor, you’ll find products from big brand names like Samsung and Sony. Be warned: they aren’t necessarily as cheap as those in Hong Kong—some may even be more expensive now considering the rising value of the Yuan. Don’t forget to bargain, bargain, bargain.
46 Huaqiang Bei Lu, Futian
3. Actually walk on some grass
Fairy Lake (Xianhu) Botanical Garden
Beyond the towering shopping malls of Luohu, much of Shenzhen is actually very green and beautiful. For just RMB 20, you can spend the day at one of the city’s best parks. Pack a picnic and wander through the picturesque gardens; cross the Chinese bridges the span the lakes; meander through the labyrinth and gawk at the hundreds of bursting blooms in the orchid garden. Best yet, you can pay homage to one of China’s greatest leader, Deng Xiaoping, by paying a visit to the tree he planted to honor the opening of the park. A stroll around the expansive park hand-in-hand is definitely a treat for couples—no wonder why there’s no shortage of wedding photo shoots here.
Fairy Lake Botanical Garden (Xianhu Zhiwuyuan), No.160 Liantangxianhu Rd., 0755-2573- 8430
4. Trick out your house
Century Furnishings Central Mall
Interior furnishing and furniture fans will enjoy a trip to this sprawling complex of strip malls, split into A, B and C areas (each area is as humongous as our Convention Centre in Wan Chai, so happy walking). Peruse the showrooms of furniture styles, from quaint American country to gaudy, gilt-painted monstrosities straight out of Louis XVI’s palace. For Asian-influenced pieces, there’s everything from antique Qing to modern Chinese minimalism. There are door handles in one wing, ceramic tiles in another. Want Egyptian hieroglyphics on your wall, or a bathroom like a Ming tomb? It’s all there (made in Shandong though). Area C, with all the remarkable designer knockoff lamps, is especially popular with the locals. A word of caution though: while the selection is unrivalled, it’s not particularly cheap. You have been warned.
Shennan Dalu, Futian District, 0755-8731-0111, www.sz-sjzx.com.
Near the Xiangmihu metro station
5. Soak up some culture
OCT Art & Design Gallery
A quintessential part of the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (O-CAT), this gallery is located right next to the renowned He Xiangning Art Museum. The 3,000 square-meter space, with a modern exterior made of hexagonal glass steel, was renovated from an old warehouse, and is one of China’s most prominent venues to showcase cutting-edge design ideas. Its current creative exhibition, "What’s Next 30×30,” features more than 30 artists and designers including Stefan Sagmeister (Austria), Tsai Ming-liang (Taiwan) and Hong Kong’s Anothermountainman (aka Kung Chi-shing) will run till May 25.
9009 Shennan Rd., Overseas Chinese Town, Nanshan District, 0755-3399-3222, www.oct-and.com
6. Be the boy in the bubble
Shenzhen Culture Park
Like many, we’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a hamster. Hoist yourself into a giant inflatable bubble and run around on the lake at the Shenzhen Culture Park, and afterwards, solemnly vow never to put your pet into a transparent ball again.
Shenzhen Culture Park, Renmin Gongyuan Lu
7. Take a walk along the beaten path
Dongmen Shopping District
For many, the Dongmen shopping district is the only reason to come to Shenzhen. Established 300 years ago and therefore also known as “Laojie” (meaning Old Street—hence the name of the metro station nearby). It’s one of the best places for cheap tech and has a thriving market in DVDs and console games of dubious origins: just USD$0.75 for major console games, and USD$0.90 for a DVD. The next question is whether you can get your bounty back across the border, especially now that police have stepped up custom checks. The choice is yours.
8. Enjoy a little slice of Europe
You could lose yourself for days at OCT East—a massive entertainment theme park covering over nine kilometers of lush greenery in Dameisha, a beachy resort town in eastern Shenzhen. Combining two theme parks, three “scenic” towns recreating historical European townships (hence the full name: Overseas Chinese Town), and four resort hotels, a temple and an ancient Mandarin mansion to boot—it’s easy to see why families spend entire weeklong holidays here. For a break from the kiddie rides and swan-shaped paddle boats, go for a game of golf at one of the two 18-hole golf courses, take a dip in the onsite hot springs or unwind with a steaming cup of Chinese tea at one of the many pavilions surrounded by a tea plantation inside the Tea Stream Resort Valley.
OCT East, East Dameisha, Yantian District, 0755-8888-9888, www.octeast.com
9. Relax a bit
Shenzhen Lizhi Gongyuan (Lychee Park)
Shenzhen Lizhi Gongyuan is a quiet botanical oasis in the middle of the city, famed for its beautiful lychee trees and scenic landscapes. Themed gardens, majestic pavilions and lush greenery dot this sprawling park, which is home to more than 30 different species of pretty plants. Besides the plump and juicy lychee trees, you’ll also be able to find ferns and cocoa plants at Lizhi Gongyuan. The gorgeous Lake Lihu is accessible at the southern edges of the park, with quaint little bridges and pathways built across. Lizhi Gongyuan is a breath of fresh air after a tiring shopping excursion, or even a reason on its own for a visit to the city.
1001 Hongling Zhong Lu, Futian District, 0755-8209 5655
10. Sink a couple of pitchers
The Kingway Beer Garden
Local beer Kingway is brewed in Shenzhen, and unusually for a Chinese beer, a) there’s no formaldehyde in it and b) it’s drinkable. And at this open-air beer garden behind the brewery itself, the beer is sold by the pitcher, and incredibly cheap. It’s a beer garden-cum-hawker center, with some decent basic food available to those who want it – but the beer definitely takes pride of place in between the satay sticks and the dice games. If you stay late enough, it’s a sure bet that your drunker-than-you neighbors will come over and start toasting you for any reason at all. Getting there is a taxi ride and a bit of luck, as it’s actually in a large open space surrounded by buildings, but go down the alley to get there and you’ll see a motley collection of chefs shucking the scallops you’re about to eat.
1 Buxin Dongchang Lu, Luohu, 0755-2551-6328
11. Ride the rollercoasters
Shenzhen’s answer to Ocean Park, Happy Valley is a massive amusement park divided into nine zones: Sunshine Beach, Shangri-La Woods, Typhoon Bay, Goldmine Town, Playa Maya Water Park (open in the summer only), Happy Times, Mount Adventure, Spanish Square and Cartoon City. There are more than 100 amusements here, including several large rides that are not for the faint-hearted—many of which have been brought in from overseas. Our personal favorite is the river rapids ride, where you don a raincoat and get pelted with other visitors armed with water cannons as you pass by. There’re also the obligatory street-side performances to watch out for, including acrobatics, extreme sports, break dancing and magic displays. Entrance is RMB170 for adults and RMB85 for children over 1.1 meters tall. Kids shorter than that go in for free.
Overseas Chinese Town, Nanshan District, 0755-2694-9184, sz.happyvalley.cn
12. Learn some history
Splendid China Folk Village
At the 30-hectare Splendid China Folk Village, you’ll be able to see China’s cultural treasures in miniature version, all in one place and ready for you to explore at RMB120. Reduced at a scale of roughly 15:1, the replicas of landmarks such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace are now conveniently available in Shenzhen’s own Futian district. Tombs, caves and even Buddha structures from different corners of the country are also on display. Apart from the Miniature Park, Splendid China also houses a Chinese Folk Culture Village showcasing the country’s 56 different ethnic groups. Each group is represented by a beautiful village, and there are dance and music shows daily in each village given by authentic ethnic performers.
Overseas Chinese Town, Nanshan District, 0755-2660-6526, www.cn5000.com.cn
13. Unwind at a mega-spa
Move over Queen Spa: the biggest and brightest relaxation venue in Shenzhen’s formidable lineup of mammoth massage parlors is the Water Cube. Located right next to Lok Ma Chau station, Water Cube offers a full range of spa treatments and facilities, all in brand spanking new and (relatively) classy surroundings. Relax in the vast indoor Jacuzzi, take a private bath or simply go for a foot massage. You can even get your hair cut, enjoy a round of mahjong, have a full-on Chinese banquet or even shoot some pool—all while wearing a snazzy set of PJs, of course.
1-6/F, Gangchenghuating Building, Yunong Village, Futian District, 0755-8329-6666, www.slfspa.com
14. Get your drink on
Coco Park Bar Street
A shopping complex in the city center, Coco Park is one of the hippest spots in town. Besides countless shops and restaurants, the entire east side of Coco is a bar street with massive open-air drinking areas, popular among youngsters and expats in town. You’ll have no problem finding bars of different styles and vibes; get some friends together and there will be a sizzling party that goes from a quiet post-dinner catch-up to after-midnight mayhem.
Fuhua 3rd Rd., Futian District
15. Get a portrait
Dafen Art Village
If your walls at home are looking plain and drab, forget the generic “pebble” paintings you get in Ikea—hop in a cab and head out to the Dafen Art Village. Consisting of several blocks lined with galleries and workshops (some of which serve excellent coffee), this is the place to come for oil paintings for just about any occasion. You’ll find many reproductions of modern Chinese artworks (some wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood Road gallery) as well as abstract pieces, replicas of works by everyone from Da Vinci to Liechtenstein, paintings suitable for kids’ bedrooms and landscapes—in short, there’s something for just about everyone. Don’t see something you like? You can have a painting commissioned based on a photograph or picture. Always wanted a six-foot high painting of yourself riding a horse? Here’s where you’re gonna get it. Prices are extremely reasonable too—we decorated our whole house with paintings from here—some of them four-foot high—for just RMB900.
Longgang, Buji (say “Dafen Youhua Cuun” to your taxi driver; it should take about half an hour from Luohu in a cab)
16. Go nuts for knickknacks
Light Industrial Products City (Yizhan Centre)
Give your home a revamp by heading to mega mall complex Yizhan Centre for some stylish knickknacks and decorative items. These large multi-level shopping towers have virtually everything, from cushions, lamps, crockery and accessories to whimsical pieces, such as a life-sized horse sculpture donning a lampshade as a hat. There’s one floor dedicated to top-quality silk flowers; another to vases and other pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in Indigo. Be sure to keep your eye on the prize because you can easily get lost in the maze of shops. Unlike Luohu, shopkeepers here are much more friendly and easygoing, but be sure to haggle down inflated prices. For the best way to get there, join a daytime shopping tours organized by the Australian Association of Hong Kong (www.ozhongkong.com, 2530-4461). They start the journey from a meeting point in Central and shuttles shoppers directly to the house wares district (near Liyuan Lu and Meiyuan Road) by coach. If you’re done with the decor, the Association also offers organized tours for Dafen Artist Village. Besides picking up a trolley full of goodies for the house, there’ll also be some lovely ladies to spend the day with.
Yizhan Centre, Meiyuan Rd., Luohu District, www.yizhanzx.com
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