Malaysia trip SIDEBAR 2: the Hong Kong-mainland ferry

This is another sidebar, and I’m breaking the chronology of my tale by skipping momentarily the Singapore and Kota Kinabalu portions of my trip. Please be patient. I’ll get to them soon enough.

GUANGZHOU — I’ve been to Hong Kong several times now. Usually, I take the high speed rail to Shenzhen, then the metro to border control, walk across the bridge to HK border control, then use the MTR to get around. While this is inexpensive, the worst part is having to queue up for two passport checks, which usually takes an hour all told.

This time, I wanted to try something different — the ferry.

When I booked by hotel in Hong Kong, I chose the Butterfly on Waterfront, which is very close to the Macau-HK Ferry Terminal. I had been considering visiting Macau before returning to the mainland, but decided to stay an extra day in Hong Kong instead.

[Butterfly on Waterfront is described as a “boutique hotel,” which is a fancy way of saying “your room is small, but trendy!” Room rates are between $80-120 a night, which is cheap by HK standards, and for that price I got a very comfortable room with a desk, window seat and a view of Victoria Harbor. Plus, each room has a free smartphone with free calls and Internet that you can take around town with you. I had booked it two nights, but liked it so much I stayed another day.]

Naively, I assumed the ferries to the mainland would have a terminal near this ferry port. Nope. The China Ferry Terminal is across Victoria Harbor, in Kowloon. Having never been to that port before, I took a half-day to go explore — kind of a dry run for my departure.

Star Ferry Terminal, on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbor

Star Ferry Terminal, on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbor


I took the Star Ferry across the harbor to Kowloon, and walked to the China Ferry Terminal. It’s inside a shopping mall, China Hong Kong City. Departures are from the first floor (which in the USA would be called the second floor). I was surprised by how empty it was. No mobs of travelers, and no long queues to buy tickets.

Wow.

CKS Ferry ports

CKS Ferry ports

There are several departures each day to different ports in and around Guangzhou. I bought a ticket for the following day to Lianhuashan port, in Panyu district, near the center of the map at left. The ferry operator, CKS, offers a free shuttle bus from the terminal there to the nearest metro station, Shiqi.

The Hong Kong terminal, meanwhile, is very close to the Austin station on the Hong Kong MTR West Rail Line. So, while taking the Star Ferry would be cool and all that, I opted to take the MTR from my hotel to the terminal.

This took about an hour and fifteen minutes. I arrived about an hour early, so I could have breakfast and coffee at (yes) Starbucks. At boarding time, the queue was incredibly short (for China) for check-in, passport check and security check. Effortless, in fact.

Waiting area for the ferries. Note the lack of crowds.

Waiting area for the ferries. Note the lack of crowds.

I had bought a second class ticket for a 1:30 pm departure. First class and VIP ticket holders are on the upper deck, and probably have cleaner windows. Second class was nearly empty, and I assume the cabin above was likewise. The trip took about two hours, and I was in my hotel in Guangzhou by 5 pm.

A ferry similar to the one I boarded. These are waterjet catamarans, not the swoopy hydrofoils.

A ferry similar to the one I boarded. These are waterjet catamarans, not the swoopy hydrofoils.

Second class cabin of our ferry, the Nan Gui.

Second class cabin of our ferry, the Nan Gui.

So, the ferry option was not much faster than the overland route I had taken before, but so much more relaxing. Plus, there were no long queues. That in itself has convinced me the ferry is way to go to Hong Kong from now on. It’s more expensive than braving the Shenzhen and Hong Kong metros (HK$220 compared to HK$20, or about US$28 for the ferry ticket), but well worth the added expense.

Unfortunately, it was raining when I left Hong Kong, and the second class cabin windows were none too clean. So, I don’t have any lovely photos of the harbor or the shores of the Pearl River. Next time I hope conditions will be better.

Looking aft on the Nan Gui. Because of the poor weather and dirty windows, the view is not spectacular.

Looking aft on the Nan Gui. Because of the poor weather and dirty windows, the view is not spectacular.

For the nautical minded, our ferry was the Nan Gui, built in 1992 by Austal of Australia. It’s a waterjet-propelled catamaran, with a passenger capacity of 338, powered by twin diesel engines. It’s not a high speed hydrofoil ship. Top speed is 38 knots, and I estimated our speed was about 30 knots (34 mph or 56 kph). The ride is surprisingly quiet.

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