First Trip to Zhuhai China

My first trip into Zhuhai China included great shopping, great food, beggars and pickpockets. Zhuhai China is just over the border from Macau – in the Southeast part of China near Hong Kong. The strict visa restrictions have been lifted now that the Olympics are over so it’s a little easier for us Expats (Westerners living in China) to go back and forth over the border now. Photo above is the waterfront in Zhuhai, and you can see the buildings in Macau from this vantage point.

Immediately after entering through the Gonbei Gate (between Macau and Zhuhai) we were approached by beggars. They would follow you for a bit and tug on your arm. There is a large shopping area just over the border too. It’s right down the stairs as you exit the border gate – you can’t miss it. The stalls are indoor underground. Much like the booths I have seen in Mongkok, Hong Kong at the Ladies’ Market area – but it was a little cleaner being indoors. And not quite so much of the yelling and grabbing for your attention, although a little bit. The WORST place I have been for vendors yelling and grabbing you was Phuket, Thailand – it is really too much over there.

Before we had actually cleared the border gate a Chinese woman came up to us and told us “be very careful” and told us to watch our bags for pickpockets. A friend of ours, a Macau native, was our guide for the day and showed us her purse. It was slit down the side. A pickpocket had cut it the week before trying to get into her purse; but that happend in Macau at San Malo square. I have also heard of other people losing their wallets and bags in San Malo square. So we really had our guard up, we thought…

We started with lunch at a local Dim Sum restaurant on the waterfront. A short taxi ride for 10RNB, about $1.35US. I’m not much of an adventurous eater, but there was plenty of food I really liked. Even the salmon sashimi was excellent. We had congee soup, tea, custard tarts, shrimp dim sum, beef ribs – it was all good. And only cost about $12US each. Was told if he hadn’t gone crazy on Western style desserts, the meal might have only cost us about $5 a piece.

Back to the border gate for shopping. Zhuhai is the place to go for anything bootleg. We were instruced “assume everything is fake, nothing is real. In DVD stores you do not barter, but you can barter with vendors.” In Hong Kong a really good deal on a Rolex copy is $250HK ($31US). But in Zhuhai there are Rolex copies going for as low as $50RNB ($7US). Gucci, Diesel and Calvin Klein (or “Calven Kline”) are everywhere. A DVD goes for $8-12RNB ($1.10 to $1.60US). PC software (even Windows, XP and Photoshop) for $22RNB ($3.20US). The complete seven episodes of Seinfeld for $250RNB ($35US) and three seasons of Boston Legal for $150RNB ($20US). Of course everything for sale is bootleg. A complete set of PING golf clubs including bag with wheels at an OPENING price of $1350RNB ($170US roughly), which would probably easily go for $800RNB ($105US) or less.

We talked about the artists that create the originals of this merchandise. Like the research and development that goes into creating new lines of gold clubs. “It’s not the manufacturing that costs money, it’s the R&D”. And also about the actors and performance artists that are not making any money on the counterfeit items.

The other side of the coin is that very few Chinese residents could afford to shell out $150RNB ($20US) for the real deal. We were told that many day laborers in China make a MONTHLY salary of $800RNB ($105US). It’s a little difficult for us to understand that people can live on that. People have told us “Macau is expensive” but it doesn’t seem expensive to us. In fact, people will say “Macau is expensive, but not for you.” So we were really amazed how low the prices were in mainland China.

Zhuhai Macau Gonbei Gate
Zhuhai Macau Gonbei Gate

Gongbei gate between Macau & Zhuhai

Ok, so maybe you’re waiting for my pickpocket story. We left the main front shopping area at the border gate and walked a ways into town. Here were the typical outdoor street vendors with the cheezy stalls and cardboard tables with goods. A lot of the same stuff – but with the addition of animals (doves, turtles, rabbits, parrots, fish), everyday cheap clothes and stuff for the household.

As we made our way into the main square in Zhuhai we ended up walking down a sort of alley with a building to our left and a fence on the right. No vendors, just us walking down this about a block and I was at the rear of our wagon train. I have my backpack securely on one strap off one shoulder. I didn’t want to wear it on my back because of pickpockets. I feel a light tug, turn around and there’s this kid about 14 smoking a cigarette with his hand on the zipper of my backpack. I see red, I am SO pissed off – and this kid just looks at me like “what are you going to do?”. And he’s right, what WAS I going to do? Nothing, just kept walking. But after that we all held our backpacks backwards on our fronts like holding a baby. I am curious how long he was trailing us and waiting for the right moment.

After that I really felt like we all had a big bullseye on us. We didn’t see many other Westerners on our little day trip – Maybe 10 all day. The traffic patterns in Zhuhai are also very crazy to what we are used to. We saw people seriously almost mowed over by a moped. It was a little scary for us. We realized we have been very insulated by living in Macau, which in 2008 is now a reasonably safe place to live.

I definately would not go to Zhuhai in the future alone, and I would be very careful about your belongings. Not just careful – I would lock everything up and keep it in front of you at all times.

Our guide also told us not to stand very close to the street when waiting for taxis on the sidewalks. She said it’s not uncommon for a moped to blaze by and grab your bags as they pass.

Another local tip: If you do buy DVD’s in Zhuhai, make the merchant play them on their DVD player for you. Have been told it’s very common for merchants to sell DVD’s and software that don’t work.

Guandong Province - China
Guandong Province - China

The other side of Zhuhai? One of Zhuhai’s international accolades include “the Best Model of International Residential Environment Improvement” awarded by the United Nations. It’s also known as a city of gardens and flowers.

Our guide told us that anytime you have a border between two countries, there are always going to be problems like pickpockets, scams and saavy vendors. Made me think of Tijuana, Mexico back near home in the US. When you cross the border you are very vulnerable. And as I learned recently from a local Macau native: “Americans are very vulnerable targets because they have good hearts and are very naiive.”

I think that’s all true. Looking forward to when I’m more “seasoned” in Asia and don’t keep getting taken left and right. But being a Ghylo American, I think my chances are slim…

8 thoughts on “First Trip to Zhuhai China

  1. Very interesting. I am visiting Zhuhai in October for a “look see”. My husband and I may be moving there for 3 years for his job. I’m excited and scared at the same time. We are applying for letter of invite and visa at the moment. The company will provide us with culture and language training. I would love to be able to hook up with some americans who can show us the ropes. Husbands company has people there and they will be taking us around for 10 days, we will be visiting HongKong on our own. Any advice would be great. The pickpocket thing bums me out but its nice to know and be aware of. Thank you for that.

  2. Hi Cyndi,
    Well now, I’ve lived in China for another year since this original post and have been to Zhuhai another 10 times since then, so I can add a little more info. And now I go to Zhuhai with friends that are Chinese, and I speak a little Mandarin – so the experience has a different flavor.

    Same warning flags around Gongbei border gate: Pickpockets and beggars everywhere, so carry your bags in front of you. Be on HIGH alert.

    But away from the border area and traveling with mainland Chinese – I have found Zhuhai to be an extremely charming city. You can get a one hour massage from a TRAINED masseuse for 30RMB (4 dollars USD). (In my initial post I called the currency “RNB” I guess I was confusing it with “Rhythm and Blues” – It’s “RMB”, or Renmenbi.)

    There are quite a few Western English teachers in Zhuhai. I found that when I can speak a little Mandarin and am out of the border gate area, people are VERY nice and try to make you feel welcome. Westerners have a reputation here for being very friendly, honest, and of course lots of money – so merchants are very nice.

    Some things I’ve done in Zhuhai that were very fun:

    BEACH – There’s a public beach area with restaurants and you can rent various crazy and zany watercraft to putt around in, including funny little paddle boats that have water pistols attached.

    WATER PARK – In English it’s part of the “LOST CITY” – It’s not on the world scale of water parks in Disneyworld Florida or the water park in Ghuanzou, but it’s very fun, inexpensive, and includes a cheezy haunted house which amused me to no end. Make sure you wear a swim suit. I wore shorts with a zipper and was not able to ride the more turbulent rides.

    SPAS – There are massage parlors and spas everywhere in Zhuhai. Very inexpensive, 30RMB (4 dollars USD) for one hour massage. They also have facials and everything else you can imagine. Very clean and legit places. Also when you get a haircut in Zhuhai you can get a body and head massage before with a facial. Very fun stuff.

    FOOD – I don’t like the food so much in Macau. But the food in Zhuhai is AWESOME. Lots of spicy food that’s very easy for Westerner’s to eat. And so cheap you’ll be in heaven. I ordered 5 main dishes, drinks and two gigantic desserts at a restaurant and paid $150RMB ($20USD). You can have a GREAT meal in Zhuhai for 50RMB ($7USD).

    GO KARTS – Not far from the border gate is a Go-Kart track in the basement of a building. It’s very fun for about 40RMB for 15 minutes. I’ve also heard there’s an outdoor racetrack that has little sports cars with MAJOR cc engines – a real sports track that people test cars on. Have to find out where that is.

    BAR STREET – “Bar Street” is the street with all the lights on the sidewalks and a mix of Western style restaurants and bars. On this street includes the 88 Club and the Red Bar – you have to check both those out, especially the 88 Club.

    HOTELS – You can get a nice room in Zhuhai for 100RMB ($12USD). Most of the beds in China have hard mattresses and the showers are a little funky to get used to – but there’s no bugs so it’s all good.

    Of course, when I go there with Chinese I have no problems at all and nobody scams me. I have found it a great place to practice my Mandarin – and if while practicing Mandarin you are also buying goods or services, they are more than happy to help you along.

    I think you’ll love Zhuhai, and hope that you pop over the border to say hello to us in Macau, and Cirque Du Soleil at the Venetian!

  3. Hi Conrad,

    Thanks for sharing with us your experiences in Zhuhai.

    We have crossed over to Zhuhai from Macau twice before but so far, we’ve just restricted ourselves to the huge underground shopping centre at the Border Gate.

    We want to venture further for our next trip, and maybe stay over for a day or two. Can you please recommend a good hotel near the Macau Border Gate, restaurants, what to do etc for a short 2-day trip? Would you advise that we book with a local tour agent? Or are taxis safe and reasonable?

    Would appreciate your advice and recommendations on which restaurants/hotels/tour agent to go to. Many thanks.

    Regards.
    Joyce

  4. im just read all comments from American people ,witch is visit Zhuhai.i realy dont know what they espect in Zhuhai.i was been in Zhuhai last month,and i was realy enjoy.People is realy friendly/some american is scare,i dont know why?/everywhere is clean,/not like in America, dirty/shopping center between Zhuhai and Macao is realy clean and you can found there everything what you need ,for cheap price.restourant is realy nice with good food.Nobody steal from me anything and not try,american watch so many crime movies i think.i like so much Zhuhai and im feeling so good in that city.im not rich but im not looking for room for 12 dollars when you have hotel with five star for 40 dollars per night.Zhuhai,beatifull city with frendly people,clean and with more than 100 islands,,people come and enjoy.Peter from Melbourne ,Australia

  5. Hi all i read your comments totally . Zhuhai is nice small city, closer to Macau and HK. Otherwise they have delicious cooker on road my favorite is aubergine. Zhuhai is more safe then shanghai about thief. only be carefull when you go KFC and Mcdonalds !! thief choose crowd place for steal womans bag or your wallet.

  6. Hello,

    It was really great to read all comments and thanks for the tip. We are planning to visit Macau and would love to stop over at Zhuhai for a couple of days. Last year I was in Macau but just for a day trip. This time I would love to stay for 2 nites. Can someone let me know the names of locale travel agent that can provide us with package deals. Any help will greatly be appreciated.
    Have a great one!

    Lizzy fr Toronto Canada

  7. hello, i’m local people in Zhuhai. Its very interesting comments about Zhuhai from foreigner sight. In fact, the local people will not steel sth from your bag, they are friendly, warmhearted. Don’t buy anything like luxury brand in Zhuhai except in the Shopping mall. The local people such like me always shopping in Macao. In my opinion, HK, Macao its cheaper than mainland because of the taxes. We have heavy taxes when impact goods from other places. If you want to have trip here, islands, hotsprings and there will be an ocean park in Hengqin,Zhuhai. You can search the info in goole like Changlong,Hengqin. Oh, about the money askland mentioned that RMB it means REN MIN BI(it means:people’s money). I like the weather here also the foods. (Maybe im Chinese, i like the Chinese cuisine.)By the way, Zhuhai is a safety city, i never been stolen sth from others.Today, they are a lot of foreigners to choose Zhuhai to live in.

    i wish my tips can help you.

  8. Can some one please help to tell me.. Where is go karting?

    GO KARTS – Not far from the border gate is a Go-Kart track in the basement of a building.

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