Journey Woman

PEOPLE Magazine Article

Bargain Shopping in Shenzen, China

ourneywoman Ellen McNally is a Canadian citizen who has lived in Hong Kong for over 14 years. She has been a market researcher for the last twenty years, a shopping expert in her part of the world and the author of, "Shop in Shenzhen, an Insider's Guide." We asked Ellen to share some of her shopping expertise with women travelling to Hong Kong and China. Ellen writes:

When Hong Kong locals want to find fabulous shopping deals, they go to Shenzhen, the Chinese city on the border of Hong Kong. Just 40 minutes by urban (MTR/KCR) train from the centre of Hong Kong, this Chinese border town offers up bargains not seen in Hong Kong for over 20 years. In the past year alone, Hong Kong shoppers have spent the equivalent of US$3.9 billion buying up good quality products made in China. That's a lot of shopping!

Imagine 1500 small shops...

The best and easiest place to shop, especially if you are short of time, is Lowu Commercial City, a sprawling shopping center with close to 1500 small shops selling everything from dinosaur eggs (yes! real dinosaur eggs!) to high fashion leather handbags. The mall is in a sleek blue glass building at the exit of the Chinese border crossing.

While it's relatively safe, the usual travelling rules apply: dress down, leave your jewelry at home, shop with a belt bag and bring a bag on wheels for your purchases.

Take the urban train (MTR or KCR depending on your location) to the Lowu stop. A return trip will cost you anywhere between US$5 to US$12.

Pack your passport and visa...

You'll need your passport and a visa to cross the border into China. If you don't have a visa, you can obtain a one-journey (US$20) visa to Shenzhen at the Chinese border crossing at Lowu, which is exactly where the urban train drops you off. If you plan to return a second time, then you will need to obtain this visa a second time as well. For British passport holders, the visa fee is US$58.

A note of caution though -- by exception, US passport holders must already have their visas before reaching Lowu or they'll be fined. In Hong Kong, they should apply for it at the China Travel Service (there are a few branches in the city) or at the Chinese Government Office in Wanchai North and wait 1 1/2 to 2 days for it to be processed. One-journey, two-journey or multiple-journey visas can be obtained here.

You'll be overwhelmed...

At Lowu Commercial City, the shopping mall, and throughout Shenzhen, Hong Kong dollars are the preferred currency. At LCC, you'll receive your change back in Hong Kong dollars but elsewhere in the city, change will be in Chinese Yuan.

The minute you walk into the mall, touters for all kinds of goods and services, from manicurists, to sellers of pirated goods, restaurant hostesses, massage centers, and tailors compete with each other for your attention. Shopkeepers hang out of their doors trying to persuade you to take a look. Everyone wants your business and everyone is friendly. Be prepared to be overwhelmed and unable to make decisions until the last few panicky hours, when you finally get the knack of it and try desperately to make up for lost time before taking the train back to Hong Kong.

You'll get lost...

The LCC shopping mall is a virtual maze. You'll get lost -- a lot. And you will waste too much time finding your way back to your favorite shops (but that's all part of the game). Shops only display a shop number and not a store name. When you see a shop you like, make sure to ask for a business card. Since everything is in Chinese on the card, except for the shop number, make sure to write down what it was you liked there so you can find it again. If you can't find it, try to find your way to the bubble lift on each floor in the center of the mall. This is where the floor plans are displayed.

Going to the tailor...

One of the biggest draws at LCC is going to the tailor's. You can have clothes tailored quickly and for a fraction of the price charged anywhere in the western world. Getting the finished product can take from a few hours to a few days. Many tailors can be found in stalls surrounding the huge Fabric Market on the 5th floor, on the far right as you exit the bubble lift. Tailors usually have assistants walking around the 60 or so fabric stalls looking for business. Check that they speak English and let them introduce you to their tailor. There are tailors on other floors as well. Look for Rosie at 3120 or Helen (Shop 35B) on the 5th floor behind the electronic section.

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