And Why Trains and Buses Are NOT Your Best Option
If you’re the “mitigating risks” and “travel in luxury” kind of businessman, do yourself a big favor:rent a private car and avoidcross-border buses and the Intercity Train when crossing the border from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. Harsh as it may sound, you’ll not only be wasting time with these pedestrian modes of travel, you’ll also be paying for them in spades with headaches, delays, and stress.
Yes, it could be done. But attempting cross-border travel from Hong Kong to Guangzhou via the Intercity Through Train or a cross-border bus is neither simple norhassle-free as most make it out to be.
Business travelers using these modes of transportation face four challenges that could turn a productive trip into a nightmare even before they get to Guangzhou –getting on the Intercity Through Train; transporting extra luggage; avoiding interruptions from border checks and visa delays;and overcoming language barriers when getting around by taxi.
1. Getting on the Train
One of my biggest problems with riding the Intercity Through Train when travellingbetween Hong Kong and Guangzhou is getting on it, in the first place.
As arguably the most popular form of cross-border transportation, tickets for the Intercity through Train can sell out fast, especially during China’s trade show season.
However, even outside trade show season, business travelers are stillhassled when purchasing tickets, since they will have to be at the Hung Hom Station (where you will board the train to Guangzhou) at least one hour before departure time to make room for immigration. Although this seems a lot more convenient than the border checks for cross-border buses (as you will see below), one hour is still a long time to waste standing in line at the train station.
2. ExtraLuggage Concerns
Extra luggage is rarely a big deal for travelers. However, when you’re crossing the border into Guangzhou, something as trivial as an extra suitcase could be a burden.
Taking the cross-border bus will have you hauling your luggage the entire time you go through immigration checks at the border. That means carrying them when you get off the bus at the checkpoint, while going through immigration, and then back up the bus for the China leg of your transfer. Depending on which border crossingyou take, you might have to go through this process twice, giving you and your arm muscles quite a workout.
The Intercity Through Train, on the other hand, has strict limits on how much luggage travelers can carry, and requires anything extra to be placed under consignment for a fee.
3. Border Formalities and Visa Delays
Apart from the workout you get while hauling luggage, business travelers are also likely to spend more time than anticipated when going through passport controls and border checks.
When crossing the border, travelers will be facing multiple queues from customs to the taxi stand. Although this may not seem like much, businessmen with strict itineraries could find themselves behind schedule once multiple 15-minute delays pile-up. Try going through immigration during the biannual China Import and Export Fair (Canton Fair) in Guangzhou, and you’re looking at a mountain of delays with the surge in travelers.
In addition, when you consider the reality that (no matter what other websites say)you cannot get an “express” China visa, applied for in Hong Kong,within the same day – you’ll be pushing your schedule further behind if you have to conform to train and bus timetables, too. Plus, there’s alwaysa risk that you’ll miss the last scheduled trip for the day, if your visa isn’t ready.
4. Getting Around By Taxi
With the language barrier, it’s almost impossible to get around Guangzhou by taxi if you don’t speak Cantonese or at least have your destination written down in Chinese.
There’s a reason that language barriers are always mentioned when talking about China – it’s because it is so intimidating, pervasive and unimaginable, that experts cannot emphasize it enough. So, when you get off the Intercity Through Train or cross-border bus and have to hail a taxi to drive you to your hotel, be prepared to go around in circles for a good half hour before your taxi driver stops, looks at you while sweating profusely and gives you his best deer in headlights impression to indicate that he has no idea where you want to go.
If that doesn’t get your blood pressure up, imagine going through all that, only to realize half an hour later that your hotel was actually just a few blocks from where you hailed the taxi. The only thing worse is if you were hauling your luggage, while running up-and-down the streets tohail the taxi. Hardly an ideal way to start a business trip.
The Hassle-Free Way of Gettingfrom Hong Kong to Guangzhou
When travelling from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, renting a private car is, by far, the easiest and most stress-free way to cross the border. Granted, it’s a lot more expensive compared to the Intercity Through Train and cross-border buses, but with the extra room for luggage, more convenient border checks, flexible timetable, and local drivers with at least functional English-speaking skills, it’s thebest option for business travelers.
During one of my China trips for example, I arranged for a limousine to take me straight from my hotel in Hong Kong right to the front door of the hotelI will be staying at in Guangzhou.
I spent $389 USD (roughly $3,000 HKD) for the limousine service, which got me a late-model Toyota Alphard. It’s a 6 or 7-seater luxury minivan that’s big enough for up to 6 passengers and their luggage. Split 4 or 6 ways, it actually turns out to be a good deal.
Even when travelling alone, the fact that it only took us 2 ½ hours to get to Guangzhou, (including time spent at the border crossing, which involved me staying in the car while driving directly to the checkpoint) makes it worth it. And because it’s a private rental, I had the luxury of deciding what time I wanted to leave for Guangzhou – a critical consideration if you’re on a schedule.
In other words, the entire trip was effortless. No running around hailing taxis, playing charades with the taxi driver. No trying to catch the next train or bus. No hauling my luggage everywhere. No long queues at the border crossing. And most importantly, because it was a relaxed and stress-free trip, I was still in the mood to go about my business after only a quick stop at the hotel. The only way I could top that was if I flew First Class from Hong Kong to Guangzhou.
A Word Of Warning
Like most services in China, not all things are created equal. So when renting a private car for your cross-border trip from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
1. Don’t believe everything you read on the website. Just because a website is in English, it doesn’t mean that the company’s drivers can speak English too. Or that the pictures of vehicles in the website are of the actual car you’re renting. Be critical about everything you read and always double-check the details before committing to their rental services.
2. Make sure that your private car and driver are both licensed to cross the border. Apart from driving on different sides of the road, the Hong Kong and Guangdong Governments also have different sets of licenses and permits for both drivers and vehicles. So check thatall the required approvals to cross the border are in order. Just in case you’re wondering, an International Driver’s License won’t work either.
3. What time you cross the border matters. When scheduling your itinerary, keep in mind that not all border crossings are open 24 hours. Most of them (including the Shenzhen Bay/Shenzhen Wan Kouan Crossing) operate between 6:30 AM until midnight, though. So try to keep within these hours to avoid delays at the checkpoints.
Unless you’re the adventurous business traveler who revels in experiencing China the way locals do, and have all the time in the world waiting for train schedules, lining-up for immigration queues and playing charades with your taxi driver, do yourself a big favor and rent a private car.
It’s not only faster and more convenient, but the hassles you can avoid while crossing the border more than make up for the higher price. Besides, wouldn’t you rather experience crossing the border from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in comfort?