Welcome to the second installment of a new series on The Nanfang focused on travel in the Pearl River Delta. From time to time, our staff will be taking the various ferries, buses and trains connecting the cities in the PRD and writing full reviews with detailed information, so you know what to expect. Today is our second edition, focusing on the rail link connecting Guangzhou with Kowloon (Hong Kong). You can read other articles in the series here.
The Guangzhou-Kowloon Through Train (also known as the Kowloon-Canton Railway) has had a long history. After China’s reform and opening was launched by Deng Xiaoping following the Cultural Revolution, the Through Train from Hong Kong was one of the first modes of transport connecting China with the outside world.
The route has been a fixture ever since: while no longer the fastest trains in China (far from it), it gives people in the PRD easy access to the former British territory and allows Hong Kong business people to pop up to the PRD with ease for business meetings or leisure activities.
HUNG HOM STATION
We took the train from Hung Hom Station in Hong Kong en route to Guangzhou East Station. Hung Hom is located on the MTR East Rail Line in Hong Kong. (MTR’s website, complete with route maps and fare information, is here.) It’s the terminus of the line, which extends all the way to Lo Wu Station (border with Shenzhen) on the other end. Hung Hom is also an interchange station for the West Rail Line, which continues to East Sim Sha Tsui Station and all the way out to Tuen Mun. As the intersection between the East and West Rail Lines in Hong Kong and for intercity through trains to Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, it’s become a major transport hub in Hong Kong.
Hung Hom is on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, very close to the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. In fact, the station is walkable from the waterfront, and by taxi should take no more than 6 or 7 minutes (traffic congestion notwithstanding).
Unlike the glimmering new train stations in Mainland China, Hung Hom is showing its age, having been built in 1974. However, it’s still a a pleasant facility and was upgraded after the MTR took over the station operations from the KCR in 2008.
While not new, the station is still in good condition
Hung Hom has a number of food and beverage shops, as well as convenience stores, to stock up on food or reading material before boarding trains. It has a Maxim’s fast-food shop, McDonald’s, Starbucks, 7-11, and several Cantonese bakery shops and pharmacies. There are also several ATMs and money change facilities.
Intercity Through Trains serve Dongguan, Guangzhou, Foshan, Zhaoqing, Beijing and Shanghai. The PRD cities are all serviced on the same route, while separate overnight trains go to Beijing and Shanghai a couple of times a week.
Tickets to PRD cities are purchased on the ground level (street level). We purchased two tickets to Guangzhou East Station, the only station in Guangzhou served by the Through Train.
Most trains on the route are operated by Mainland China, while one double-decker train is operated by the MTR Corporation in Hong Kong. The MTR-operated train is known as the Ktt, and if it’s possible to schedule your trip around taking the Ktt, it’s highly recommended. The Ktt is a double-decker train that is a bit more luxurious than the other old trains that ply the route; furthermore, Ktt offers on board Wi-fi (with a PCCW account, which you can sign up for on board). If you don’t have the time to select the Ktt specifically, not to worry: the other trains are fine, and the trip only takes 90 minutes anyway.
Besides buying tickets at the ticket window, you can purchase them online here. We have included a full train schedule at the bottom of this post for reference.
It’s advisable to purchase your tickets one hour before departure time, although they sell tickets up until almost the last minute (don’t ask us exactly when, but we’ve purchased as late as 20 minutes prior to departure. We wouldn’t want to test it beyond that). Keep in mind extra time is needed because you’ll need to clear immigration prior to boarding the train. So make sure you have your Hong Kong departure form filled out and ready to show the immigration agent (it should be a carbon copy of your entrance form left behind in your passport when you entered the territory).
As mentioned before, the Ktt and Mainland trains are both different in terms of comfort and service, but both are just fine and will get you to your destination without too many problems. The seats are comfortable (if a bit ratty on the Mainland trains) and you’re entitled to a free bottle of Watson’s water. There is a dining car on the Mainland trains, with such a short journey not too many people use them. You can also order food items to your seat from the attendants.
Nearly all of the trains make a quick stop in Changping, which is in the greater Dongguan area. Changping is a factory area not really located close to anything; if you want to head into downtown Dongguan (Dongcheng District), you’re looking at about an hour in a taxi.
The journey from Kowloon to Guangzhou East takes about 1:35 minutes, but several journeys have stretched into two hours. This is largely due to rail traffic on the Mainland side of the border, but the journey time is also affected by Hong Kong traffic. The Through Train shares the same tracks as the East Rail Line domestic traffic, periodically resulting in some delays.
GUANGZHOU EAST RAILWAY STATION
Guangzhou East Station is one of Guangzhou’s main transport hubs. Trains depart and arrive here from all over China.
The terminal itself is conveniently located in Tianhe District in downtown Guangzhou (unlike the new high-speed trains to Shenzhen and Wuhan, which depart from Guangzhou South Station). It’s possible to walk to many Tianhe hotels from the station, but taxis are available, with queuing times ranging from almost nothing to 20 minutes or so.
If you are heading to Hong Kong from here, you’ll exit the taxi and take the escalator up to the Kowloon Through Train departure hall, where you can purchase tickets. It’s set above the domestic terminal, and is often much less noisy and crowded.
Take the escalator up to get to the Kowloon Departures Hall
It's much less noisy and crowded up here
Guangzhou East Station also has a number of eateries available, including a Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, and one of our favourites, Yonghe Dawang! (If you like greasy dumplings).
Guangzhou East is accessible by taxi, bus, and by Guangzhou Metro Lines 1 and 3.
There are a number of ways to get between the cities of the PRD, but the venerable Guangzhou-Kowloon Through Train is still the most convenient way to get between Guangzhou and Hong Kong. The primary benefit is downtown-to-downtown service; on the downside, the trains are sometimes old (if you don’t get the Ktt) and slow compared to China’s new high-speed rail system. Furthermore, departures aren’t as frequent on the Guangzhou-Kowloon route, so you’ll have to plan ahead.
An alternative is taking the train between Guangzhou and Shenzhen (1 hour travel time), and then walking across the border at Lo Wu into/out of Hong Kong. The MTR conveniently connects Lo Wu Station with the rest of Hong Kong. However, Lo Wu can sometimes be quite crazy and the journey in from Lo Wu takes more than an hour on the East Rail Line.
The Through Train route will likely become secondary in 2015/2016, when the new high-speed rail network will connect to the Kowloon waterfront. When that opens, it will only take 43 minutes to go from Guangzhou South to downtown Hong Kong. But until then, the Guangzhou-Kowloon Through Train is pretty much your only option.
Guangzhou-Kowloon Through Train Schedule
|Hung Hom Dongguan (Changping)/Guangzhou East
|Depart Hung Hom
||Arrive Dongguan (Changping)
||Arrive Guangzhou East
|Guangzhou East/Dongguan(Changping) Hung Hom
|Depart Guangzhou East
||Depart Dongguan (Changping)
||Arrive Hung Hom