Go Travel China | A guide to the Guangzhou – Kowloon (Hong Kong) KCR railway line

The most efficient way to travel between Hong Kong (香港) and Guangzhou (广州) in mainland China is the Canton – Kowloon Railway line (KCR).

At the moment, trains leave from Hong Kong’s Hung Hom station (红磡) on the Kowloon side and arrives at Guangzhou’s East station (广州东站). The the twelve daily trains between the two cities are a lifeline to many China-bound travellers, locals and expats who regularly head to the former British colony to stock on safe food, medicines, milk powder, luxury brand or simply enjoy a welcome week-end break.

In 2015, the completion of the west Kowloon train terminal (near the ICC tower) will contribute to intensifying the traffic between the two cities.

Here is the complete train timetable between Hong Kong’s Hung Hom station (红磡) in Kowloon and Guangzhou East.

MTR has an ‘Intercity Through Train’ app on iOS (also available on Android) that allows travellers to check timetables and even book tickets (an option I have never tested).

KCR ticket

Advantage of the line :

It saves time at the immigration counter, it provides a direct link between the two cities and an alternative to the overcrowded border crossings of Shenzhen’s Luo Hu (罗湖) a.k.a Luo Wu in Cantonese and Luo Ma Zhou (落马洲) a.k.a Lok Ma Chau in Cantonese on the Hong-Kong side and called Huanggang (皇岗) or Futian Port (福田口岸) in Mandarin on the Shenzhen side in mainland China.

Going to Shenzhen and beyond?

KCR trains are a direct link between Hong-Kong and Guangzhou. They do not stop in Shenzhen. If you are going to Shenzhen, you’ll have to take the East Railway line departing from Hung Hom (红磡) in Kowloon.

Both entry ports into China (Luo Hu and Futian) are connected to Shenzhen subway system. You can thus easily reach Shenzhen North Station (深圳北) for high-speed trains and Shenzhen Bao’an aiport (深圳宝安机场).

There are buses to different parts of Shenzhen, Guangzhou and other cities in Guangdong that leave from different parts of the city (specially around Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok). If you decide to travel by bus, the easiest way to find a coach is to go to the Elements Mall (stop at Kowloon Station on the Tung Chung Line or at Austin on the West Railway line, but there is a bit of walk) and look for the Mainland Coach Terminal on the lower ground.

The Futian - Luo Ma Zhou (Lok Ma Chau) border terminal seen from the Shenzhen side

The Futian – Luo Ma Zhou (Lok Ma Chau) border terminal seen from the Shenzhen side

Preparing your trip: what you should know

  • Trains get full fast during week-ends and during the Canton Fair (three phases twice a year), buy your ticket in advance (you cannot buy them more than 18 days in advance). Passport or ID is not required to buy tickets at the time of writing for KCR trains. Booking via the MTR Intercity Through Train is available on your smartphone (I never tested it).
  • There are two types of ticket counters at Guangzhou East station : one where you can buy tickets in RMB only (人民币) and another one where you can buy tickets in Hong Kong Dollars only (港币). In Hong Kong Hung Hom, tickets are sold in Hong Kong Dollars only. In both station, you can buy tickets up to 18 days in advance.
  • There are three KTT (with premium class and ‘first class’ seats which are actually second class seats) and nine common trains (with a unique ‘first class’). The three KTT have more comfortable and wider seats. The advantage of riding on the KTT’s premium class is  that the train doors open near the only exit. This gives passengers a fair advance in getting quickly to the immigration counter (the Chinese immigration makes a difference between Chinese nationals and Foreigners, while the Hong Kong immigration has a line for Hong-Kong residents and for visitors which include both Chinese national and Foreigners. Queues are therefore longer on the Hong Kong side).
  • Frequent users of the KCR start queuing early to exit the train (as early as Shatin 沙田 on the Hong Kong side and after Machong 马桶 on the Guangzhou side). If you are in a hurry when getting in Hong Kong (if you want to catch a flight at HKIA) and are not in the premium class, get as near as cars 4 and 5 to exit near the escalators).
  • Most trains (except the T808 and T814 from Hong Kong and the T817 and T811 from Guangzhou) stop in Dongguang Changping Stations (常平站).
  • There is one train daily (T804 departing at 10:52 AM from Hong Kong) that goes further into Guangdong province with stops in the nearby cities of Foshan (佛山) and Zhaoqing (肇庆). From Zhaoqing, the T806/3 departs at 3:30 PM.
  • There are direct Beijing West (23.5 hours) and Shanghai-bound (18.5 hours) trains departing from Hong-Kong. Trains are available from Hong-Kong only and operate on alternate days.
Towards the Hong-Kong-bound trains' waiting room at Guangzhou East train station

Towards the Hong-Kong-bound trains’ waiting room at Guangzhou East train station

Guangzhou East Train Station : chaos near the platform

Hong Kong-bound trains depart from Guangzhou East Station in Tianhe urban district (天河区). Badly organised and poorly managed, this train station is the epitome of Guangzhou.

  • For no discernable reason, in May 2014, most of the entrances and exits were sealed off in a clumsy and illogical attempt to control passengers’ flow. The second floor entrance / exit no longer exists and the only entrance is the ‘gate 1’ (1号门口) on street level where passengers have to submit to an airport-like screening of their luggage. With employees dozing off and playing with their mobile phone behind their computers and farmers in uniforms who grab your pockets with a turned-off screening device, entering Guangzhou East Train Station has become a frustrating and lengthy process.
  • If you get there via the Guangzhou subway system. Use line 1 and 3. It will probably take more time to find your way into the train station than riding a taxi during rush hours. Good luck.
  • Hong Kong-bound train’s waiting halls are on the third floor. Follow the “广九线” signs. On the second floor you’ll find the ticket counter (I do recommend to buy your tickets in advance, specially for week-end trains who fill up very quickly. Expect to queue 10-20 minutes if nobody cuts in front of you). Take another escalator to the top. Gates open 45 minutes before your scheduled train departure.
  • Friendly tip : if you need to use the washrooms, be psychologically prepared to ask yourself : “how come that a long and brilliant civilisation like China that has invented paper-making, printing, gunpowder and compass has not yet been able to invent clean toilets and hygiene in an international building?”
  • Immigration : Passengers have to go through immigration (do not forget to fill your Departure Form. Blank forms should be available). After immigration, you will have to re-screen your luggage for the immigration people who sometimes stop you with a “hey” and ask you to open your bag. No English spoken (of course).You then arrive to a second waiting room where gates open 10 minutes before scheduled train departure time. Once in the train, you’ll finally be able to enjoy cool air (because there is none in the train station).
  • Taxis from Guangzhou East : queue forms on street level outside the main exit. Expect to wait 15 minutes on average before getting into a taxi. Luggage : Guangzhou’s taxis trunks are very small and if you are a group of two or three people or more with big suitcases, it may be a headache to fit everyone and everything in the car.


Hung Hom Train Station

  • The Hong Kong side is cleaner, more organised and more efficient than the Guangzhou side. It’s the same system, except that you have to screen your bags just once before the immigration counter.
  • Leaving Hung Hom : Hung Hom is connected to the rest of the city with buses, subway and taxis. Everything is well-indicated.
  • Riding HK buses, you will have to go out and cross the skybridge. Timetables and detailed bus route are found at the top of the stairs going to the street level. If you are connecting to the airport, you can take the bus A21. Faster, but more expensive is to take a taxi to Kowloon Airport Express station (around 40 HK$ depending on the amount of luggage in the back) and then hop on the Airport Express train (20 minutes, one train every 9 minutes for 90 HK$).
  • Riding the MTR subway system, once you passed through immigration, turn left into the main hall. There are two lines available from Hung Hom. One going to the New Territories via Mong Kok East, and the Tsuen Wan-bound West Railway Line  via Tsim Sha Tsui East (if you need to transit in Tsim Sha Tsui to take the red Tsuen Wan line, note that you need to buy two tickets : one from Hung Hom to Tsim Sha Tsui East, and another one from Tsim Sha Tsui station – 10 minutes walk via connecting underground passageway.
    For taxis, take the first entrance you see in front of you upon exiting the immigration counters. There are also cross-tunnel taxis if you go to the island. Beware you board Kowloon and cross-tunnel taxis from two different taxi stops.


There are 6 comments

      1. Patrick Johnston

        It was the late 1980s. There may have been a border crossing available but it wasn’t easy and mostly the big attraction was getting bused out to a lookout where you could look across the border to Shenzhen.

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