Hong Kong is a great place to begin your journey through China. It will act like a buffer between the Western world and the extreme culture shock of mainland China. When you've had your fill of Hong Kong exploration, make your way to the closest subway station and head towards Lo Wu station near the city of Shenzhen in Mainland China. Soon, you will be entering into a country full of mysteries - and a lot less English - but you will be ready for the adventure with all the help from this post.
An important first step for anyone visiting Hong Kong and mainland China is to make sure that your passport and travel visas are well organized before you start your journey. This is important because you won't be able to travel between Hong Kong and China without going through separate immigration centres and passport agencies.
Chinese Visa Tip: We applied for our visa through our closest Chinese embassy, The Consulate General of the People's Republic of China - Toronto. Find the closest embassy to you with a simple Google search. You will have a few options to choose from on your visa duration, but it's important to make sure that you get multiple entries to the country!
The Hong Kong East Rail Line subway takes you right from the heart of Hong Kong to the border of mainland China. Stay on this subway until you get to the end of the line at Lo Wu station. At this terminal you will notice a long bridge crossing the Shenzhen River which acts as a border between the two countries. On the other side of the bridge you can see billboards and posters with Mandarin phrases which are noticeably different from the Cantonese signs you have gotten used to seeing in Hong Kong.
Border security is pretty standard at this checkpoint. You will be asked to place your belongings in an x-ray scanner and will provide your passport, visa and other documentation. The border agent asked me what hotels we were staying at, so make sure you have your itinerary handy!
Once in Shenzhen, you can board the subway to get to the Shenzhen North Train Station, which will give you access to the high speed rail that will take you deeper into China. This station has a huge main floor with dozens of train terminals on opposite sides. If you're hungry, don't worry, you will be able to choose from a handful of restaurants situated in the station.
TIP: The Shenzhen North Train Station will likely be the first place on your journey where you will discover squatting toilets. Make sure you take some extra time in the toilets to practice squatting here - and to get your balance - because the toilet quality gets worse the deeper into the country you go.
Grab a ticket from a booth to your destination. We boarded a train that took us to Guilin, but you have many options. Wait at the gate indicated on your ticket, and eventually an announcement will be made for passengers to board. This announcement will be made in Mandarin, so you pretty much have to just look around at what others are doing, and follow suit. Don't worry, you won't get too far if you try to board the wrong train because security is tight and you need to put your ticket into an automated machine.
Inside the train, the cabins are sleek and modern. There might be TV screens at the end of each cart displaying the train's speed and time of arrival. You will quickly leave the city, and find yourself among vast agricultural land, and rolling mountains. Perfectly straight rows of rice and sugarcane turn into rolling hills and sharp karst mounds in no time at all. Make sure to have your camera ready, your eyes will be glued to the window, and you may find yourself thinking "what did I get myself into".
If your first stop is Guilin:
Arriving in Guilin Station takes about 3 hours from the station in Shenzhen, this will probably be one of the shorter train rides you will embark on during your journey, so get used to it. Depending on which season you are travel in, be prepared to step out of the train and feel a wave of humid air. Wander through the crowd of taxi drivers, and find a bus station that will get you to your hotel or hostel in Guilin in no time!