Pearl River Delta
Economically and linguistically, the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau — located on opposite sides of the mouth of the Pearl — are very much part of the PRD. However, they are administratively and politically quite different. This article therefore does not include them.
The itinerary a week near Hong Kong is mainly about travel in this region.
Shenzhen and Zhuhai are Special Economic Zones (SEZs) where various government programs encourage investment.
This region has always been one of China's major centers for foreign trade, from the days of the Maritime Silk Road through the era of tea clippers and into recent times.
Guangdong province produces about a third of China's total exports. Most of these are from the Delta. The region is often referred to as "the world's workshop." The largest product groups are clothing and electronics but the industrial base is extremely diverse and the range of products manufactured is enormous.
In 1978, a small processing workshop making handbags for export to Hong Kong opened in Dongguan. This was the first export processing business in China. From then on, as Deng Xiaoping's "reform and opening up" policies went into effect the Delta underwent absolutely frenzied development, partly fueled by heavy Hong Kong, Taiwanese and foreign investment. There was also significant investment and massive migration from other parts of China.
During these decades, GDP growth in industrialized countries was generally 0 to 4% a year. China managed 8 or 9% overall national growth every year for decades. The Delta was the fastest-growing region at around 15% a year! That is, GDP doubled every five years from sometime in the 80s until 2008. Shenzhen, the showcase city of the Pearl River Delta likes to brag it is "the fastest growing city in the fastest growing region of the fastest growing province of the fastest growing country in the world."
Part of the "opening up" was creating Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to encourage investment. Two of these — Shenzhen and Zhuhai — are in the delta. Both have undergone phenomenal growth, from fishing villages in the 70s to bustling modern cities today.
The Delta was hit hard by the world economic slowdown and the collapse in exports around 2008, but has mostly recovered.
The language of the region is Cantonese. However, as anywhere in mainland China, Mandarin has been the language of education and government for decades, so it is also very widely spoken. In Shenzhen and Zhuhai, Mandarin predominates because of massive migration from other regions.
English is more commonly spoken here than in most regions of China, due partly to the influence of Hong Kong and partly to the extensive foreign trade connections in the region. However, it is still not all that widespread; you can expect reasonable English from staff in many hotels and tourist shops, but generally not from a taxi driver or the waitress in a local restaurant.
Other foreign languages — anything from Swedish to Swahili — are sometimes heard; this is a very cosmopolitan region. However, none are widespread or very useful for travellers.
Guangzhou and Hong Kong both have major international airports. Both are new; Hong Kong's opened in 1998 and Guangzhou's in 2004. Both have many international flights.
Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Macau also have large modern airports, all built or greatly expanded since 1990. Some of the international low-cost carriers fly to Macau or Shenzhen because these airports have lower landing fees than Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Zhuhai handles almost exclusively domestic flights.
The region is also well connected to the rest of China by road and rail.
The entire region is well connected by highways and any city or town in the region is easily reached by bus. Driving yourself is not recommended; see Driving in China.
Guangzhou is a major rail hub with connections to anywhere in China, including to Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Recently the Guangzhou-Shenzhen line has been upgraded to form part of China's high-speed rail network. The high-speed Guangzhou-Zhuhai line opened in early 2011, but only to Zhuhai North station, a considerable distance from downtown. An extension to Gongbei (downtown Zhuhai next to the Macau border) and Zhuhai Airport is scheduled to go into service in 2012.
There is a good system of passenger ferries, mostly fast hydroplanes, connecting the main cities on the Pearl River estuary — Hong Kong and Shenzhen on the East side, Macau and Zhuhai on the West. There are also some helicopter links, fast and convenient but very expensive. See the "Get in" sections of city articles for details.
All the cities have good local bus systems (but watch for pickpockets) and plentiful taxis. Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong also have subways. See the "Get around" sections of city articles for details.
The Philippino brand San Miguel has breweries in Hong Kong and Foshan. Their beer is quite popular with expats and travellers in Guangdong.
The area is heavily infested with pickpockets. There is some risk of typhoons in summer, especially near the coast.