DEPARTURE POINT Hung Hom Station is in Kowloon, accessed by MTR via the West Rail line. To get there from Hong Kong Island take the Tsuen Wan Line to Tsim Sha Tsui, follow the signs for East Tsim Sha Tsui station (a ten-minute walk), and travel one stop on the West Rail line to its terminus at Hung Hom. Exit C will bring you to the concourse for the Intercity Through Train. There are 12 trains per day between 0725 and 2000, making this a convenient transit option – especially as you can buy your ticket at Hung Hom as late as 20 minutes before departure.
CHECK-IN I arrived an hour early for train number Z804, scheduled to leave at 1052 and arrive in Guangzhou at 1251. Security and immigration processing was not open for this train until 1000, so I went for a coffee just over the road in the shopping mall between Fortune Metropolis and Harbour Plaza Metropolis hotels.
At 1010 I came back, and less than five minutes saw me through the virtually empty customs and immigration area. The departures hall is a functional but slightly rundown space – there’s plenty of seating and a large duty-free shop, but not much else. My laptop prompted me to join the “MTR FreeWifi”, which took a little time but worked, albeit slowly – you get five free 15-minute sessions per day, taken concurrently (but requiring reconnecting as each session expires) or at different times.
BOARDING At 1035 the gate was opened for boarding – it was simply a case of following the crowd down a short escalator directly onto the platform where the train was waiting. There were 12 carriages, and I was in Car No 7, seat 52.
There is seating capacity for 72 in each carriage, which all have their own wash basin area and separate (squat) toilet as well. It took a few minutes for everyone to place their bags either in the luggage racks near the door for oversized bags, or the overhead shelf above the seats (you are allowed 20kg free per person). However, it was an orderly process, and the train pulled away from the station exactly on time.
THE SEAT Although the ticket is called “first class”, effectively this is economy class seating. That said, unlike on planes, there’s no particular need to squeeze seats into a set space, and as a result seat width and pitch is very generous – I had around 15cm of space between my knees and the seat-back in front of me, and I could stretch my feet out as far as I wanted underneath the seat.
There is a recline button on the armrest but actually the seats do not recline – given the two-hour journey time and comfortable seating position with good cushioning, though, this was not a problem.
A heavy, metal table slid up and out of a frame on the seat-back in front; its sturdy construction was appreciated when compared to the lightweight plastic tables found on aircraft.
A free “Railfi” wifi service is available to those with a mainland or Hong Kong mobile phone: simply connect through your device’s settings page, enter your mobile number, receive the verification code and enter that on the wifi page. I connected fine on my iPhone, but my laptop would not open the connection page properly – no field to enter your mobile number showed up – which was a shame.
I had a window seat, which offered excellent views through the huge, clean windows… and had the added advantage of two power sockets in the wall beneath the window – a two-pin and an angled three-pin.
THE JOURNEY Soon after the train departed Hung Hom, a uniformed member of staff walked up and down the single aisle offering tea or coffee for sale. This continued at 15-minute intervals throughout the journey, and a trolley was also brought along offering noodles, snacks, water bottles and juice. I was given an arrivals card to fill in, and information announcements were all made in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
The train was smooth and quiet; the passengers slightly less so, with some children singing loudly and a group of elderly Chinese enjoying a boisterous discussion that I think involved an amusing incident with a “gweilo” or foreigner. Curiously, while I might be inclined to have been irritated by so much noise on a plane – I was trying to work, after all – the atmosphere on a train is very different, much more relaxed and accommodating. I found I wasn’t bothered at all. My only real complaint was a slight stuffiness in the carriage – the air conditioning did not seem to be powerful enough to keep cool air circulating.
The train took almost 45 minutes to reach the Lo Wu border between Hong Kong and mainland China, travelling relatively slowly through the built-up areas. However, once through into Shenzhen it picked up speed and apart from a single stop at Changping at 1204, it sped swiftly through the countryside and new towns of Guangdong province before slowing as it entered Guangzhou.
ARRIVAL We pulled into Guangzhou East station on time at 1251 – impressive. However, getting off and up the stairs to the immigration hall took ten minutes, and only two counters were open to foreigners so another ten minutes was spent there and passing through the security process afterwards. I was out and straight into the subway by 1315.
VERDICT A speedy, efficient way to travel between Hong Kong and Guangzhou. This isn’t a luxury experience by any measure, but it is comfortable, and for sheer convenience it is probably the best option if your business requires you to visit both cities. The clockwork-like operation from start to finish shows how far Chinese rail has come in the last decade.
PRICE A one-way “first class” ticket – the only class the train offers – costs HK$210 (US$27), and can be bought online, at Hung Hom Station or from Travel Service Centres at select MTR stations around Hong Kong (including Mongkok, Admiralty and Tuen Mun).