Once a year, I’ll visit clients in Guangzhou.
Last year, we bought tickets via online site and took the intercity train from Hung Hom Station in Hong Kong to Guangzhou East Station. It was a comfortable 2-hour train ride and Guangzhou East station is 20-minute car ride from the city centre where my client’s office is.
New High Speed Rail
This time, I decided to try out the new high speed rail which departs from Hong Kong West Kowloon Station to Guangzhounan Station. The ride itself is shortened to 1 hour and 8 minutes with some stops in between but the station in Guangzhou is located further away from the city centre which takes around 40 minutes.
Prior Planning and Online Ticket Purchase
We had to arrive at the client’s office at 11:30am so we decided to take the 9:16am train which will arrive at Guangzhounan at 10:22am, giving us some buffer time for any possible traffic jam.
I bought the tickets online via the official website in advance, paid with my credit card. We had to register the passenger name and passport number when purchasing the ticket online too.
For the ticket collection, we are required to provide the original documents, i.e. passport to get the tickets 45 minutes before departure time.
Our hotel is located at Hong Kong Island so I thought it may take maximum 45 minutes to cross the sea to Kowloon area but fortunately, with the advice of our HK colleague, we took the tunnel so the ride by car was 15 minutes.
Arriving at West Kowloon Station
Once you arrive at West Kowloon Station, you will be greeted by the endless ticket purchase counters. It’s always nice to see new stations, clean and bright.
The signboards were clear with very helpful staff so it was not difficult to find the counters for ticket collection which were located further inside from the ticket purchase counters.
Start of the long list of checkpoints
With the tickets collected, we started our journey of checking points. First, we will pass through the checkpoint with staff to check your ticket and passport.
Next will be a security checkpoint for your bags after the gate where you just insert your train ticket. Once done, you can proceed to the departure area.
Then taking a long escalator downwards, we go to the floor with the immigration channels to exit Hong Kong. I registered for e-channel the previous day at Hong Kong Airport considering frequent travels, so we could use the e-channel this time too.
Once out of Hong Kong, we arrive at the duty-free zone before arriving at another security checkpoint and China immigration.
Chinese Immigration Area
I have to join the lane for foreigners, filling in the arrival form. At the counter, we will provide our fingerprints and facial photo. I’m always cursed because somehow the machine can’t read my fingerprints at the first go.
Anyway, I managed to pass this not without the officer asking me if I have a Chinese name. I always say no since my passport only has my English name and I am not sure why they ask if I have a Chinese name.
Proceed to Boarding area
Next, we arrive at the boarding area. The gates are open 15 minutes before departure time, and we were 45 minutes earlier so we simply found some seats to sit down and wait.
After waiting for 45 minutes, we can finally board our train! It was a smooth, no-hassle experience so far.
I bought tickets for first class which is around 368HKD to have a little more space and comfort but I will imagine the seats for second-class which are 100HKD cheaper are comfortable enough for an hour+ ride too.
I had wanted to work in the train but the pull-out tray seems a little flimsy for my laptop and connection was unstable even when there is free wifi so I decided to just relax and enjoy my ride.
Unfortunately, as it is with all kinds of travel unless you can book the entire cabin to yourself, it’s up to luck that there will be rowdy passengers. Halfway through the trip, there was a family boarding and sitting behind me. They were speaking loudly, doing video calls with relatives or friends, etc. I kind of mastered my inner peace towards noise so I was meditating well but my neighbour seems annoyed and put on headphones to block out the noise.
Arriving at Guangzhounan Station
After 1 hour plus, we arrived at Guangzhou nan station and alighted.
What a huge station!
This station is huge and we had to walk to another end of the station to exit and get the taxi. I think it probably took 10 minutes for us to find the way while walking towards the taxi stand.
Continuous walking to taxi stand
Cashless payment apps are king in China.
I was fortunate to be traveling with my colleague who could use all the cashless payment apps in China so taxi payment was pretty much settled by her and her Alipay.
It took us around an hour in the midst of the traffic jam to get to the city centre. The taxi ride was hot and stuffy. The AC is so weak that it cannot combat the 33 degrees temperature and high humidity of this day. I had to meditate and make sure I don’t pass out due to heat stroke.
Along the way, I spotted an interesting doughnut-shaped building, which I later found out is called Guangzhou Circle, designed by Italian architect, Joseph di Pasquale. I thought it looks like Chinese coin, and had something to do with fengshui. No surprise when I further read that apparently when this is reflected in the water, it will form the lucky number, 8.
We spend an hour plus for our lunch meeting with an important client before we decided to head out to the train station.
Here comes the start of the nightmare.
We had prior experience traveling from Guangzhou East station to Hong Kong Hung Hom Station so we decided there’s a train we could catch at 14:04 and though it will take us 2 hours back to HK, the car distance to this Guangzhou East station should be around 20-30 mins.
Unfortunately by the time we reached, the gate has closed for this train and our next available train is 20:30.
No way we will be stuck in this station for the next 6 hours so we had to travel to Guangzhou nan station to catch the 17:35 train which will take us back to HK West Kowloon Station by 18:22.
Terrible Taxi Ride
It’s a terrible 40-minute taxi ride from Guangzhou East station to Guangzhounan Station, with sudden swerves and brakes. It also had a really bad sweaty smell which I have to tell myself to ignore if not I’ll just pass out.
Lousy ticket booking app
In the meantime, we were trying to book our tickets online but when in China, you can only book the tickets from this lousy Chinese website which takes a long time to load and when finally I wanted to register myself, I realize they need a China mobile number!
The HK website is not mobile compatible and tickets can only be collected at West Kowloon Station. What?!! After several tries, we decided to just pray that we can get tickets at the station.
Arrival at Guangzhounan Station finally!
We arrived at the station and saw long lines at the ticket counters. Luckily we found a priority counter meant for passengers heading to HK.
It was a funny experience when we had people trying to jump the line asking for visa or refund at the same counter. People don’t seem to read the instructions but my colleague and I were too “soft” to be alerting them. It takes their own kind to remind these people angrily that the line is meant for those going to HK.
We were also shouted at from someone behind us for letting the guy in front of us buy his tickets to other regions and not HK. And the guy just standing behind us offered to explain that next time you don’t have to queue if you see someone trying to buy tickets for other regions because those who are going to HK have the priority. You have to give it to those guys for their own interpretation. And in a twisted way, I actually think those guys are nice to give us these explanations.
Once we have the tickets, we proceed to pass the manned gates for the officers to check our tickets and also security checkpoints.
We were then greeted by pools of people waiting for their trains. There are children playing and running around. Others were treating the common area as their living room.
This is what we call 人山人海.
Mind you, this was a normal weekday, with no special occasion. I can imagine how chaotic it is during Chinese New Year when everyone is fighting to go home.
We tried to seek some space on the second floor where we can have more breathing space, and there is a Starbucks cafe.
Toilet Panic Disorder
Before that, we decided to drop by the toilet and I was rudely reminded how much I don’t enjoy at all. First, the pungent smell, then a mother letting her child pee at the washing basin, poop on the floor, auntie doing her business without closing the toilet door facing outside, no toilet paper, people who don’t know how to flush or too weak to flush?! The list is endless and my heart was aching and yearning for toilets in Japan.
Oasis(?) in Starbucks
We headed back to Starbucks after traumatic toilet experience. The cafe was with little or no air conditioning, seats were full but we found some common long table space to stand. We were desperate to charge our smartphones after the frantic using to search for tickets online.
After ordering our drinks and finding some spots to charge our phones with the power sockets under the table, a guy beside me stood up and told me to sit as he’s leaving. Savior! A seat finally!
My colleague found another spot where we can both sit down so we decided to move over, and I had to bring over some of our stuff while she was reserving that spot and she signaled to me about something and another guy at the long table pointed at her phone which is still charging. I’m grateful for helpful people in the midst of this chaos.
We sat there for an hour working on our laptops while enduring some loud, heavily accented conversation plus loud pop music in the next seat. I think it’s a skill to talk and listen to music both at the same time.
Finally boarding time!
Approximately 30 minutes before departure time, we headed to the much-dreaded toilet again. Once done, we went over to the boarding gate where there is already a line.
Where’s the queue?
We were waiting for the boarding gate to open at A14 but the line at A15 was shorter so my colleague went over to ask if the shorter line is also for boarding the same train and it seems like we can line up there too so we went over. When the gate is open and the line starts to move, others not in line start to move in from the sides. I forgot it was meaningless to queue up in this country.
Smooth ride back to Hong Kong
Anyway once we made ourselves comfortable in the train, it was a quick 47-minute ride back to West Kowloon without any stops in between. I’m so grateful to be back in Hong Kong again after a crazy day of travelling and lots of Chinese encounters and culture shocks.
Important advice to self
Be sure to buy round trip tickets and get all the tickets collected at West Kowloon Station at the same time to avoid all the panic and hassle to buy return tickets!