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Getting Around the SEZ - Intro to Shenzhen's Districts

 2017-06-06    ThomasIronmonk    Tips    Shenzhen    2903  

Shenzhen can feel like an overwhelming place for newly arrived visitors. After all, it’s a startlingly unique metropolis due to its age and the rapid rate of its construction. Unlike most cities with an old natural center to gravitate to – usually centered on a waterway – Shenzhen is high-rise sprawl, China-style. Add to this view the uneven rate and quality of development in each district and Shenzhen could almost be deemed an amalgamation of distinct cities, a chaotic world rolled into one.


What you need to know is that the three principle districts that hug the border with Hong Kong are home to around ninety per cent of the places and things you’ll want to see. This is the old “special economic zone” which once required a special permit to enter. Indeed, the barbed wire fencing and checkpoints can still be seen though now people can travel freely between guannei and guanwai. Beyond the SEZ the manufacturing lands that define the regional economy sprawl northwards. But within the zone, in the districts of Luohu, Futian, and Nanshan, a China shop-front has been constructed that is shiny, glitzy, prosperous and fun. Each district has its charms and is large enough to warrant at least a day to explore.



As you cross the border from Hong Kong, Luohu (or Lo Wu) can feel a tad intimidating with touts hawking baby milk formula, electronic goods, off-the-metre-cabs or the ubiquitous massage – Luohu is home to many spas of varying quality. Ignore these hustlers, but perhaps not the district’s “gray area” economy which can be found in the Luohu Commercial City. Here you’ll find everything from faux Prada bags to fine jade jewelry.

Luohu is a real transport hub, and just opposite the checkpoint, you’ll find Shenzhen Train Station, Luohu Bus Station and taxi rank. If you intend on sticking around, however, walk north past the Shangri-La Hotel onto Renmin Nan Lu. Here you’ll find a plethora of eating options, mostly of the Cantonese or South Asian variety (curry fiends take note). You’ll also find some fancy malls including the International Trade Centre, one of China’s oldest as indicated by photographs of Deng Xiaoping on his 1992 southern tour which are exhibited just outside.

Further north, you’ll arrive at Dongmen; a bustling redevelopment of Shenzhen’s old town that has become textile emporium par excellence. Snack vendors sustain the consumer orgy, and it’s worth stopping by for some shrimp on a stick or spicy fried spuds.

Turning west towards the Grand Theatre you’ll come upon Luohu’s two tallest towers the Kingkey 100 and Diwang, which can both ascended in order to enjoy staggering views of the city. But a Luohu tour wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Lizhi Park. Also fronted by a Deng Xiaoping portrait, this quaint green space has a moon bridge, lake, well-tended gardens, and is a popular kit flying space for locals.



Futian is the glossier younger brother of old Luohu. This is where the white-collar crowd gravitate to sip cocktails in the many fancy bars between Shopping Park and Convention & Exhibition Centre. A plethora of five star hotels cluster around the Central Business District which hosts many a trade fare. Moving north you’ll discover Shenzhen’s new stock exchange building and the world’s largest underground railway station. This district also administers Huaqiangbei, the world's largest electronics market.

But it’s not all about the money. Further north you’ll find Shenzhen Library, Shenzhen Concert Hall and Shenzhen Book City in an area that attracts flocks of culture vultures to purchase the latest novel, grab a coffee or take in a classical performance. This neighborhood, around Children’s Palace, is just south of Lotus Mountain Park, a gorgeous urban lung with a small peak crowned by the city’s mascot, you guessed it, a giant bronze Deng Xiaoping.



Nanshan is one of Shenzhen’s most diverse districts. On its eastern periphery, the OCT Loft is the city’s cultural heart, with venues like B10 and Old Heaven hosting touring bands and artists. Nearby, the OCT Bay is a more family friendly locale with restaurants aplenty and a nightly light and dance performance on its lake. Along the coast here you’ll also discover the Mangrove Park, a large stretch of coastal greenery that offers a great bicycle ride.

Heading southwest, you’ll eventually come upon Nantou Ancient City, the last remnants of an old walled city that once administered the imperial salt trade in the south. Then, at the other end of Nanshan is Shekou, another old part of the city that is now a port, fishing harbor, and major expat hub. Foreigners generally gravitate to Seaworld where a host of international style restaurants, bars, and hotels line this peninsula at the mouth of Pearl River. 

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