Review: MTR High Speed Rail first class (Hong Kong to Guangzhou)
With a journey time of under an hour from Hong Kong Kowloon to Guangzhou, why take a plane when you can take the train?
- Plenty of space to work and relax
- Much faster (and greener) than flying
- Guangzhou South station isn't at the CBD, so you'll have to change trains, or take a taxi
- Clear Chinese passport control in Hong Kong, and step off the train as a 'domestic' passenger
Guangzhou and Hong Kong have never been closer together: in just 51 minutes, you can be whisked from Kowloon to the home of the Canton Fair, and easily return the same day.
51 minutes is about as long as it'd take to hop aboard Hong Kong's Airport Express and check-in at Hong Kong Airport for a flight to Guangzhou, let alone actually get there – so for busy executives on the move, the MTR's High Speed Rail saves not only time, but hassle too.
Hong Kong West Kowloon station: arrival and ticketing
Being attached to Austin station on the MTR's West Rail Line, Hong Kong West Kowloon High Speed Rail station is easy to find: just follow the signs to departures, of which there are plenty.
Kowloon MTR station is also within walking distance, although isn't directly connected, as with Austin. It's an option to keep in mind if you're connecting to or from Hong Kong International Airport though, as the Airport Express has a stop at Kowloon.
In any case, you'll know you're approaching the right place when you emerge in a space with high ceilings and plenty of natural light.
Here at the station, you can either queue on the left to buy a ticket, or line-up on the right to collect one that's pre-purchased, such as is possible via the MTR website.
A first class ticket from Hong Kong to Guangzhou South Railway Station costs HKD$358 (about A$66), and with tickets in-hand, it's then through security.
Expect to pass through a metal detector and a baggage X-ray, just like at the airport, although there are no liquid restrictions, and no need to remove laptops from your bag at screening. Then, zip through Hong Kong outbound passport control, where e-Channel lanes are available for those who've registered.
Read: How to skip the queues at Hong Kong passport control
Other familiar touches include duty-free shops, and then Chinese passport control and Customs, which you clear before boarding the train in Hong Kong.
MTR Corporation usually recommends arriving at least one hour ahead of your train's scheduled departure time, as even with minimal queues and e-Channel access, the formalities took around half an hour to complete after arriving at the station.
Hong Kong West Kowloon Business Lounge
When departing Hong Kong, passengers travelling in first class, as well as business class and 'premium class', have access to a dedicated Business Lounge, found up the elevator after passport control.
The lounge is relatively basic and doesn't offer food – only chilled and boiling water, with a few teas available – although many of the seats have views out towards the central atrium:
Otherwise, it's a simple room with seats and functional WiFi, being a nicer place to await your train than out in the terminal itself, but not the type of lounge you'd arrive hours early to enjoy.
Do note, there are no sales of food and drinks after going through Chinese passport control. The duty-free shops, situated between Hong Kong and Chinese immigration, sell drinks and snacks, so if you're thirsty or peckish and want something other than water, take the chance to stock up.
MTR High Speed Rail: first class cabin
Boarding of the train begins punctually 15 minutes before departure. Take note of the gate number on your ticket, as there can be more than one gate for the same train service.
Travelling in first class, the gate number assigned was separate to the one used by most other passengers, which provided a form of 'priority boarding', and meant arriving on the platform much closer to the train carriage where first class was located.
On board, first class seating adopts a 2-2 layout. As you'd expect, this provides one passenger with direct aisle access, and the other with a window seat:
There's a fair amount of space between each row, and being assigned to a window seat, it wasn't difficult to access the aisle even with a passenger seated beside, who didn't have to move.
There's a fold-down tray table in front of you, which can be pulled towards you slightly, for convenience:
Power points are available in every row, catering for the standard UK/Hong Kong-style plug, as well as US, European and Chinese-type connectors.
While visually similar to Australian sockets, Aussie travellers may wish to pack one of those other adaptors as a just-in-case, as many Chinese power outlets can prove tricky, being ever so slightly a different size.
Television screens are also located throughout the cabin:
To tune in, there's a headphone plug with volume controls at each seat, with several channels of music available too. Here, you'll also find the switch for the seat's reading light, and the recline button:
Beyond that, there's at least one hook at each seat to keep your coat or jacket out of the way, joined by baggage racks above the seats and at one end of the cabin:
For comfort, a foot rest can be folded down as well:
These trains can travel at up to 300km/h: you can check your current speed via the screens in each car:
Finally, each seat is clearly labelled and seats are assigned, so when boarding the train or returning to your seat, just keep your eyes peeled for the seat numbers, which are above the windows:
MTR High Speed Rail: the journey
From Hong Kong West Kowloon to Guangzhou South railway station (Guangzhounan), the 'Vibrant Express' journey takes a mere 51 minutes, so there's no food or snack service here.
After 18 minutes, this particular train (G6584) stops at Shenzhen and then continues to Guangzhou. If you're travelling only from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, be aware that you can't obtain a Shenzhen visa on arrival as you can at other land borders, because passport control takes place before boarding the train, and there's no visa-free facility.
Read: How to get a Shenzhen visa on arrival
With an 11:15am departure out of Hong Kong, my phone had switched to a Chinese network by 11:27am, and a few minutes later, the train emerged from its underground tunnel to reveal Mainland China.
Other than switching networks, phone service was uninterrupted throughout the entire journey, including when the train was within underground tunnels. WiFi is available too, but is only available for those with a Chinese mobile number, which the registration process requires.
Even so, at 51 minutes from beginning to end, there's very little time for much more than a few quick emails.
MTR High Speed Rail: arriving in Guangzhou
Having already cleared Chinese passport control on the ground in Hong Kong, you step off the train in Guangzhou as a 'domestic' passenger, so other than scanning your ticket to open the exit barrier, there are no further checks to complete.
However, as everybody else on the train is doing the same thing, the queues at the main exit can be long. Instead of waiting, just look further to the left or right for another barrier, as it doesn't matter where you exit, and will save some time.
Unlike taking the plane, arriving by train means you're already in town with your baggage in-hand, ready to carry on with your day: surely beating what's otherwise an hour-long flight, not to mention the time spent getting to and from the airport, and checking and collecting any baggage at each end.
Although the train still requires an early arrival, and the high speed rail station is south of the Guangzhou CBD, completing all the border formalities before the journey begins makes use of the time you'd otherwise spend waiting, so that when you arrive in Guangzhou, you're ready to roar: or attend the Canton Fair.
Read: 10 expert tips for attending the Canton Fair in Guangzhou
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of MTR Corporation.
Hi Guest, join in the discussion on MTR High Speed Rail first class (Hong Kong to Guangzhou)
Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer
02 Sep 2018
Total posts 156
How long was it to get to the actual city center where most hotels are, from the station?
24 Apr 2012
Total posts 2514
It takes about half an hour by taxi or metro to get from Guangzhou South to Canton Tower, which is the same as from the airport, but without having to clear passport control and Customs when you arrive, or collect any checked baggage: you're straight out.
Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer
21 Jan 2017
Total posts 51
I did this journery once, it was exactly 3 hours, from landing (not deplane) in HK to exiting the Guangzhou South station. It was very reasonable, however I'd probably spend my time in the Pier and board the ultra short KA HKG-CAN flight if possible since clearing HK customs and taking the metro to Kowloon West with luggage is not fun. I do agree that if you are in town already, taking the bullet train is a no brainer.
22 Sep 2017
Total posts 64
Also be aware of the 130cm (H+W+L) luggage size restriction.
Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer
23 Oct 2015
Total posts 27
West Kowloon was the worst experience I've had in 40 years travel. Hundreds of Chinese pushing and crowding through endless ticket, passport, luggage x-rays, HK immigration, Chinese immigration, final boarding checks --- all dragging trolley cases or strollers (there's no luggage check- in) through countless bottlenecks. All that to arrive at GZ South which is a 40 minute taxi ride into the city, so absolutely no net saving compared with the old train which lands right in the centre of GZ (and is still running.) I take the very comfortable 2 hour MTR Intercity 1st class evry time.
22 Jun 2016
Total posts 2
Completely agree with you. Went via Hung Hom to GZ, and station was empty, train was empty, Relaxing 2 hour trip. Wizzed through passport control. Fantastic! Stick with the old train.
04 Nov 2019
Total posts 1
The rail options depend on where in Guangzhou you need to be. As stated, the high speed rail drops at very south Guangzhou whereas the Through Train(runs hourly) stops at Guangzhou East (which is actually north!) This train takes 2 hours but similar price. Access through Hung Hom station which is a direct 60 minute bus ride from HKIA. Cash only on the bus is about HKD20. Immigration to China is quick and easy from Hung Hom however on my last trip, Guangzhou East station had a teck problem with ticketing and it took over 2 hours to queue for a manual ticket to return to Hung Hom. Allow plenty of time for ticketing or buy the day before. One way tickets only are sold!