Guide to Using the Guangzhou–Kowloon Intercity Through Train
Political reunion between Hong Kong and Guangzhou may have unfortunately resulted in various socio-political tensions. For tourists, however, it means increased opportunities to visit the Middle Kingdom while touring the Pearl of the Orient. One popular and convenient excursion is Guangzhou, the southern cultural and financial stronghold of China. Here’s one way to travel between Hong Kong and Guangzhou—the Guangzhou–Kowloon Intercity Through Train service.
The Guangzhou–Kowloon Intercity Through Train is a service jointly operated by Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation and Guangzhou Railway (Group) Corporation. To be clear, it is not the only land transportation route between the two metropolises. Nor is it the cheapest or the fastest. However, it is undoubtedly the most convenient. A simple and comfortable ride brings you from the heart of Hong Kong right to the gates of Guangzhou downtown.
(This guide describes a roundtrip originating and ending in Hong Kong.)
Booking a ride on the Intercity Through Train is a relatively easy affair. Online booking, in English, is available at the official MTR website.
Note, however, that you cannot print your own tickets upon confirmation of purchase. You must bring the credit card you booked with to one of four collection points in Hong Kong.
- Intercity Through Train Customer Service Centre at East Rail Line Hung Hom Station (Operating Hours: 6:30 am - 8:05 pm )
- Ticket Offices at East Rail Line Mong Kok East, Kowloon Tong and Shatin Stations (Operating Hours: 7:00 am - 7:00 pm)
- Tourist Services at Island Line Admiralty Station (Operating Hours: 8:00 am - 7:30 pm)
- Light Rail Customer Service Centres at Tuen Mun Ferry Pier and Tin Yat Stop (Operating Hours: 7:00 am - 9:00 pm)
For my own journey, I collected at Admiralty Station on a Saturday afternoon. The Tourist Services outlet was easily located. There was also no queue and all that was needed was indeed just the credit card I booked with.
Alternatively, you could also book via any of the travel agencies listed on this MTR guide page. Do be aware that these agencies might charge handling fees.
Lastly, some websites have stated that it’s possible to buy tickets at Hung Hom Station on the day of travel. I’ve seen the outlet for this and there was no crowd. However, for ease of mind and planning, I strongly recommend getting tickets beforehand.
Important Information About Immigration Procedures
Before all else, some information regarding immigration procedures.
Whatever their current political relationship, think of Hong Kong and China as two separate political entities. Do so and you will find movement between them no different from the procedures between different countries.
Both require respective arrival and departure slips to be filled in at border controls.
Your luggage would also be checked in the same way as at airports.
Being “different” countries, entry into Hong Kong does not assure entry into China. Depending on your nationality, length of stay and purpose of visit, you might need a visa. Do check carefully beforehand.
Journey From Hong Kong to Guangzhou
The starting point for this journey is Hung Hom Station in Kowloon, which is conveniently accessible by subway. During my visit, several parts of it were under renovation. However, there were still plenty of signs for passengers catching the Intercity Through Train.
Don’t be alarmed by the unmoving lines at the supposed boarding gate. Passengers are held here till 45 minutes or so before departure. Once the gate is opened, passengers quickly proceed through security and border checks. In my case, I got through both in less than 15 minutes.
Incidentally, it is strongly recommended that passengers reach Hung Hom Station 45 minutes before departure. Personally, I find this to be a sensible and ideal timing to aim for.
In summary, I would say the journey is easy and smooth, and very similar to cross-border train journeys in other countries. Train attendants helpfully hand out immigration slips. Food and beverages are also available during the ride. In the case of the latter, it is ordered and served at your seat, restaurant style.
Arrival at Guangzhou East Railway Station
The arrival procedure at Guangzhou East Railway Station is the opposite of that at Hung Hom. You go through customs before security checks. Once through, just follow the crowds and you’re in Guangzhou. For me, I was enjoying a puff by the roadside, a mere 15 minutes after alighting.
About Guangzhou East Railway Station
While Guangzhou East Railway Station isn’t exactly located in downtown, it’s the next best thing.
The station is but a few subways stations away from various tourist hotspots of Guangzhou.
Guangzhou East Railway Station is also the northern terminus for Line 1 of Guangzhou Metro. You can easily access attractions such as Tianhe City, Yuexiu Park, and Shangxiajiu Shopping Street using this line. Being the terminus station, it also means … you are likely to get seats!
Line 3 also passes through Guangzhou East Railway Station. This is the Canton Tower access line. Please note, though, that Line 3 tends to be very, very crowded.
Last but not least, the station is surrounded by numerous shops and hotels. Staying here could be convenient for short visits. Just drop off your luggage and you’re ready to explore the city.
Luggage Tip: Don’t unpack in any way if your hotel requires a metro ride to other areas. Guangzhou has implemented airport-style baggage screening at many metro stations. They are fast moving but would be awkward if you have multiple bags.
The KTT Service and Travel Classes
There could be some confusion regarding the name of this service. Often, it is also referred to as the KTT service. On the MTR website, it’s called the MTR Intercity Through Train.
If you would refer to the MTR webpage on travel class differences, “KTT” services are those operated by Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation. They use a different double-deck train. Unlike the Guangzhou Railway operated trains, they also provide not one but two travel classes. As of late 2017, there are three KTT services each day either way of the route.
Various online reviews have highlighted that the Intercity Through Train service tends to be late. Unfortunately, this was the case for me whether to or from Guangzhou. Both rides started and ended 10 – 15 minutes late. As I was on holiday, this didn’t matter to me. However, if you have important timings to keep to, you probably should factor this into consideration.
Journey From Guangzhou to Hong Kong
The journey back to Hong Kong is pretty much the same as the journey from, but in reverse. The only thing to note is where to find the correct waiting area at Guangzhou East Railway Station.
Pros and Cons of Taking the Guangzhou–Kowloon Intercity Through Train
As mentioned, the Intercity Through Train is hardly the only land transportation route between Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Another way is to take Hong Kong’s East Rail Line to Luohu Station, then switch to a bullet train service between Shenzhen and Guangzhou South Railway Station. The bullet train part of this journey requires less than half the time required by the Intercity Through Train.
That said, there are still some advantages to using the Intercity service.
- Its streamlined online ticketing service is easy to use.
- It is more convenient and less stressful as there is no need to change trains.
- There are dedicated areas at both Hung Hom Station and Guangzhou East Railway Station, with English signs. You cannot possibly get lost.
- Guangzhou East Railway Station is closer to downtown than Guangzhou South Railway Station.
- The Intercity trains are, on the whole, modern and clean. There isn’t much scenery to appreciate during the journey, but it’s perfect for napping.
On the other hand, the cons are:
- It’s more expensive compared to other routes.
- Don’t expect Japan Rail levels of punctuality.
- You’d need to reach the station early to comfortably pass through security and customs.
- If you are accessing Hung Hom Station via the MTR Tsuen Wan Line, note that the walk between Tsim Sha Chui Station and East Tsim Sha Chui Station is substantial, even with travellators. This is not obvious on the MTR map.