Taking the HK-GZ bullet train

Anyone who travels frequently around the Greater Bay Area has probably grown accustomed to taking one of the many high-speed trains that criss-cross the region. For first-time visitors, it’s usually a fun experience, and it’s something that everyone living in the GBA needs to try at least once.

Of course, there are bullet trains, and then there are bullet trains. Some go at a maximum of 160kph, like the ones running between Zhuhai and Guangzhou. Others are a bit slower, like the Kowloon-Canton Through Train between Hunghom and Guangzhou. There is only one line currently running through the region that runs at speeds up to 350kph – a true bullet train. That is the one from Kowloon West up to Guangzhou South, where it connects to the national High Speed Railway network running to other provinces around China.

Traveling on this line is indeed a fun experience. It’s also a time-saving experience for people in a hurry: the fastest trains get to Guangzhou South in 46 minutes. But there are some important points to remember for first-time users that can make the experience more pleasant. They are as follows:

  • Book online: We have found Ctrip.com to be the easiest and most customer-friendly user experience. Go online or download the app, sign up, and buy a ticket in just a few clicks. It is best to do this online, because the trains can fill up on some days and at certain times. You will get an email with your reservation number. But you can’t yet (at time of writing) use it to board the trains – you still need to pick up a paper ticket at the station. (We will update this once that is ready – the train authorities say they are working on it.)
  • Time needed at the station: Some guides suggest you give yourself more than an hour before departure. We don’t think so – at least, there is no need to panic if you arrive late. Kowloon West is easier to navigate than Guangzhou South, but it has the immigration facilities for both HK and the mainland to pass through. If you arrive at either station with 30 minutes to go before departure, you can still make it. This is one of the best reasons to take the train rather than fly in China: the stations are downtown and don’t require longer than a few minutes to walk from the gate to your seat before liftoff. You just need time to collect the tickets and pass immigration/security checks. AND: they leave on time, unlike most flights in China.
  • Picking up the tickets for departures in Kowloon West: It’s a piece of cake to use the self-service ticketing machines located in the main lobby of the station – but only for holders of Home Return Permits (i.e. Chinese). Passport holders still need to go to the ticketing window and deal with a human. Lines are not usually very long, but give yourself an extra 15 minutes for this part, just in case.
  • If you are leaving from Guangzhou South: Keep in mind that Guangzhou South is a long car ride from the main CBD area of Tianhe. And once you have arrived there by car or taxi, you will need 15 minutes just to go downstairs to the ground floor before coming back up again once you have your ticket from the machines. It’s a huge station and you need a bit of time to find the kiosks and then walk back upstairs to the departure hall. Passport holders will need longer – 30 minutes is good – to go and see a human at the ticketing counters, which are near Exit B on the ground floor. There are also security checks to go through, both on the ground floor and on the departures level. But the good part is you don’t have to pass through immigration – that happens in Kowloon.
  • Warning: DO NOT GO on these trains at peak times of the year, i.e. CNY, May 1, Oct 1, etc. The station is a zoo!
  • On board: Sit back and relax. Watch the countryside whizz by. Buy a coffee from the trolley pushed by the seldom-smiling woman. Plug in your charger and connect to the free WiFi. Take a nap.
  • Arrival in Kowloon: Don’t forget to hold on to your paper ticket!! After you have passed through immigration for both the mainland (exit) and HK (entry) you might think you are done … but then you hit the exit turnstiles and need to insert your ticket to pass through. WARNING: If you have lost your ticket, you will need to go back and get another one to exit. It is hou ma fan! After that, you just follow the signs to the MTR or taxis.
  • Arrival in Guangzhou South: Because you have already cleared customs in HK, you just step off the train and head straight to the taxi lines, or to the Guangzhou Metro downstairs. If you are going elsewhere in China, you go to the platform that has your connecting train.
  • COMING SOON: In October, a new railway line is scheduled to open that will connect Guangzhou South with Guangzhou East, the main station located in the city’s Tianhe CBD. That ride will apparently take less than 15 minutes. At the time of writing, a trip on the Metro, with many stops and line-changes, will take more than an hour from Guangzhou South to Guangzhou East.

Safe trip!