What’s that old saying about “a day without sunshine”? For me, it goes something like “A day (trip) to Shenzhen is like a day FULL of sunshine”. I can’t imagine visiting Hong Kong without crossing the border for a day of bargain shopping at the LoWu Commercial Center. I've been shopping LoWu for years and have sorted out the good from the bad. Most shoppers equate LoWu with knock-offs and I must say right upfront that I don’t condone fake merchandise. For the most part, I think you get what you pay for and Fake is Fake.
“Missy, missy.. you want copy-bag, copy-watch”? No thanks, I want to have eyeglasses made for $50 a pair. I want to have dresses and jackets copied at a tailor for $12 and $20. I want to eat the best Peking Duck I’ve ever had. I want to buy yards and yards of freshwater pearls…. All at LoWu.
The vendors will hiss at you, grab you and drive you crazy, but if you can ignore their pleas and keep walking, you'll do just fine. Don't forget to bring a rolly-tote or small suitcase. You'll no doubt fill it up.
From Hong Kong, take the MTR from Hung Hom in Kowloon. The train costs about $12 for first class which gives you a comfy plush seat. Rush hours are crowded; at other times, standard service is fine and you should get a seat.
The train is easy to use and well marked; trains to Shenzhen leave every 15 minutes or so. The place to stand while waiting for the first class compartment is designated on the platform. Be sure to read the destination message on the front of the train before you get in, as the train will branch different directions for either LoWu or Lok Ma Chau. To avoid the crowds and arrive at a nicer station, you can go to Lok Ma Chau and take a taxi to LoWu.
CHINESE VISA AND PASSPORT REQUIRED
Because you are crossing the border into mainland China, it's not a breeze at either station. You need to have a visa stamp in your passport and to make it easy on yourself, get the visa before you leave the US. Your hotel concierge can do it for you in Hong Kong, but it will take a couple of days and will be very expensive.
Once you have the visa, here's the drill:
1. Get off the train. Follow the crowds. Stand in the line marked "Foreigners." Exit the Separate Administrative Region (SAR) by going through the formalities there.
2. Walk down a corridor and over a river into a second building and officially enter China with more lines, (again, marked "Foreigners"), more paperwork and your visa.
3. Change money, exit the immigration center. If you arrive at LoWu, you are 100m (328ft.) from the LWCC. It's that huge building just ahead on the right; again, follow the crowds. If you arrive via Lok Ma Chau, take a taxi to LoWu.
Going back to Hong Kong, it's the same thing. Allow about one hour each way for the formalities; it can take a couple of hours or less than 30 minutes, but that's rare.
LoWu FOR YOU, MISSY
The commercial center is a five story building with escalators that zigzag through an atrium leading to each floor. There are restaurants and toilets on all floors, usually in the corners, but you want to have lunch (order the Peking Duck) at Laurel on the fifth floor and use the restrooms there. Everything in the world is sold at LoWu, altho it known for copyright violations and you could get into hot water for bringing knock-offs back into Hong Kong. That said, it's time to shop.
Once in a shop, the vendor will either pull your chosen item off the wall or ask you to look at a booklet or catalog. You'll choose what you want to see and wait for the item to be retrieved by a runner. This takes time.
Once you have the merchandise in hand, it's time to bargain. This takes more time and is very tiring and emotional. I once took a Born to Shop tour group to LoWu and one of the shoppers felt faint and had to go outside for air (that shopper was my daughter, who was obviously not Born to Shop.)
I've had the thrill of comparing fakes and shopping for "inspirations"; now, it's the other stuff that gives me chills. Here are my faves:
Ya Qi Western Style Clothes (5th floor, #19) This tailor was discovered by Pam, one of the passengers on a recent Born to Shop tour. I handed over a pair of linen trousers and the tailor took me into the fabric mart portion of the 5th floor to Runxin Linen Shop. I chose six different linens each just under $10/meter. When I came back for the trousers (two days later), the pants were pressed and beautiful. Total price for the six pairs was just under $20 per pair. No deposit was taken for the tailor work but the fabric was bought in HKD cash. Be specific about when you plan to pick up your goods.
Mei/Sunlight Custom Tailor (5th floor, #70) This shop was recomended by a colleague in Hong Kong, a PR mover and shaker who uses Mei for her business attire and insists that Mei is a gem. I took a blazer with a somewhat complicated Euro design to her to copy. I was shown wools from a swatch book and chose what I thought was the best quality fabric. When I returned for the jacket, I saw that there was a flaw in the stitching on the collar and the fabric - so promising from the swatch - seemed cheap. Mei offered to redo the faulty stitching, but needed time which I didn't have. So, for $75, I have an okay jacket to wear with jeans. Next time, I will bring fabric from the US or Europe.
Kuang Jian Ming (5th Floor, just down the hall from Mei) I had no recommendation for this shop; it just looked like a winner. Again, I gave the tailor three pairs of pants to copy along with some fabric, and told him I wanted pockets added. He made a quick sketch which I approved and quoted me $8 per pair. I also gave him a simple straight lined linen dress and some fancy fabric I'd found in the fabric mart (same floor). It was $15 for the dress. This guy was great. The dress was sensational and the pants were perfect.
Joseph Glasses Trade (2/F, left side escalator) I had my prescription from my opthamologist in San Francisco, along with Tom's RX. I wanted to have a couple of pairs made for both of us and thought the frames in this shop were stunning. Tom has a wide face so the vendor had to pull out drawers to search for suitable options while I just grabbed frames from the wall and had a ball trying them on. I settled on two pairs for Tom (one frameless with silver temples, one a horn-like plastic) and three for me (all tortoisey, colored plastic, one with light tinted lenses). We both have simple prescriptions and after some serious negotiating, I purchased the five pairs for $250USD. I requested top quality scratch-proof lenses and when I picked up the glasses four hours later, they were perfect. If you're buying for someone who isn't with you, have their PD number (pupil distance) with you - very important!
There are two main jewelry sections in the building - on floors two and three. Both are crowded and crazy and the jewelry vendors are more agressive than others in the shopping center. I found several beautiful pearl necklaces and some cheapie earrings. Hard negotiating brought prices down about 75% from the initial offer. I paid about $10 for each necklace and $5 for the earrings.
HANDBAGS, WALLETS, LUGGAGE...
General Merchandise Square Mei Mei Leather Shop (5/F, left escalator, in the corner) I've been buying handbags, watches, wallets and suitcases from this vendor for about five years and like the quality of his goods. The shop is run by a young couple who speak flawless English and understand what you mean when you say "AAA quality". I once returned a watch that stopped running about a year after I bought it and it was replaced with no questions asked. After your shopping spree, ask the vendor to walk you down the hall to Laurel for lunch. He can whisper a word to the hostess and you'll be seated promptly.