The World’s Most Modern City?

After some long-haul weekenders, we come back to our own doorstep. Many readers will have undoubtedly been to Shenzhen before, but how well do you really know what this blooming metropolis has to offer?

Just under forty years ago, Shenzhen was endowed with city status as its population reached one million. Last year that figure was just shy of thirteen million, making it one of the fastest growing cities in history. This was largely due to Shenzhen being the first established “special economic zone” within China—the nation’s initial response to compete with then British controlled Hong Kong. These days Shenzhen’s panorama of skyscrapers is starting to rival the grandeur of its former colonial sibling.

The population boom and heavy national investment naturally had a dramatic effect on Shenzhen’s economy. Through the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the city demonstrated a staggering 40% GDP annual growth average and as recently as 2017, its breakneck pace put its overall economic output at over $330 billion (higher than many European countries). As it stands today, Shenzhen is surpassed only by Beijing and Shanghai in terms of total GDP, and is home to many of the major banks along with Tencent.

Through the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the city demonstrated a staggering 40% GDP annual growth average and as recently as 2017, its breakneck pace put its overall economic output at over $330 billion (higher than many European countries).

It is easy to get swept up in the glitz and glamor of the city as it is today, but it also has its own fair share of ancient history. The area of Chiwan, near Shekou is recognized as being the final resting place of the last emperor from the Southern Song Dynasty. Legend has it that when chief minister Lu Xiufu realized that Kublai Khan’s Mongolian forces would take the area, he strapped seven-year-old Emperor Bing to his back and jumped off a nearby cliff as to avoid the indignity of capture. A dedicated tomb still remains in the location.

Shekou today is one of the most recently developed parts of the city with the ultra-new seaport terminal completed last year and ferries available to most ports in the Pearl River Delta. The area nearby known as “Sea World” is a must-visit place with countless shops, bars and restaurants all situated around a dry-docked ship that has been converted into an entertainment plaza. The only catch with Shekou is that it is a little inconvenient to get to from Dongguan—but plan for a few people to club together in a Didi and your problems are solved.

Shenzhen’s CBD in Futian is another favorite of mine. A quick high-speed train from Humen will get you there in half an hour and before you know it you can be in Coco Park, stood under the gaze of Shenzhen’s latest dominating skyscraper; the 599m behemoth that is the Ping’an bank building (4th tallest building in the world). September also saw the official opening of the high-speed connection from Futian to Kowloon in Hong Kong, which can now whisk you across the border in just 20 minutes.

One day is probably enough for Coco Park after a bit of shopping, dining and possibly clubbing, but if there is still some juice in the tank perhaps try the notorious “Windows of the World” entertainment park. Within just a few stops on the metro, you can see recreations of famous landmarks from around the globe, from the Eiffel Tower to the Sphinx. Added to this are other local hip areas such as OCT or Nanshan which have their own individual microcosmos of activity.

Tired yet? Salvation is at hand just a short way north-east up the coast, to Shenzhen’s beach resorts. Da Mei Sha is probably the best known with its swanky Hilton situated at the end of the shore, but personally I feel this beach can get a bit too crowded. Perhaps try something slightly lower key by means of Dongchong beach nearby. At around 500 meters long, it is lesser frequented by tourists and has many handy cheap rooms in the vicinity. The area also has heaps of little eateries for those woozy post-beach evening dinners and aperitifs.

Getting to the beaches of Shenzhen from Dongguan can be a bit troublesome if you don’t drive. I tend to make my way into Shenzhen and get the bus or take a Didi from there. It really could not be easier these days to get to Shenzhen; with numerous bus and train options you can be there in about an hour. Note well to always try and use small ticket outlets in your local area if going by high speed train. The last place anybody wants to find themselves is a queue in Humen station at the start of a trip!