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Shantou, (汕头; Shàntóu), known as Swatow in the local dialect, is a coastal city and Special Economic Zone in Guangdong Province in China. It is located in the east of the province near the border with Fujian. It has a population of around 5,500,000 as of 2015 and a booming economy.


Shantou Prefecture in red, Guangdong in white

The city came to prominence during the 19th century when it was established as one of the treaty ports for trading with the West. In the 1980s it was designated as one of China's Special Economic Zones with tax breaks and other government measures to encourage development. See List of Chinese provinces and regions for more detailed explanations of "treaty port" and "special economic zone" if required.

Overseas visitors are not common in the rural areas around Shantou, and those of non-Chinese ethnicity will definitely be an attraction to residents. Those unaccustomed to this may feel intimidated. However, this is a very friendly type of attention, and unless you really dislike interaction with people you don't know, this will almost certainly be a highlight of your trip. Do not be surprised if people want their picture taken with you, or if they yell to friends and family to come look at you as well.


As with elsewhere in mainland China, standard Mandarin is the only language taught in schools and the main language in the official broadcast media so expect all educated people to be fluent in Mandarin. The Teochew (潮汕片) variant of Minnan (Southern Min 闽南语) is the main language here, and it is only marginally mutually intelligible with mainstream Minnan (闽台片泉漳话) (Hokkien-Taiwanese). Teochew (潮汕话) differs from mainstream Minnan (闽南话) spoken in the neighbouring Southern Fujian and Taiwan significantly in pronunciation, and use of slang which are unique to the area. Locals who speak the Teochew (潮汕话) dialect can understand a fair bit of the mainstream Minnan (闽南话) albeit with some difficulty, as most do not necessarily speak it.

The locals are very proud of their local language, despite government attempts to standardise Mandarin as a common language. Most people of the Chaoshan region speak both the local dialect and Mandarin daily. Any attempts to speak mainstream Minnan (闽南话) (although Teochew 潮汕话 is preferred) will be met with encouragement, and may even get you preferential treatment in shops and restaurants. If you are a Mandarin-speaking foreigner, you will be able to communicate with locals and get around as most services have staff who speak Mandarin.

English is not widely spoken, though staff at the higher end hotels will be able to speak English. As Shantou is part of Guangdong province and the influence of the Cantonese language media, many people speak Cantonese as a third language.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

The airport which serves Shantou is called Jieyang Chaoshan International Airport (IATA:SWA) which in 2011 replaced Shantou Waisha Airport and hence the new airport uses the old airports IATA name, SWA, which has domestic connections with most of the major Chinese cities. It also serves international flights to Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, etc.. One can take a taxi or airport express bus from the airport. The airport express bus drops passengers off in Shantou Railway Station, Golden Golf Hotel (Shantou-East line) and Oversea Chinese Hotel (Shantou-West Line). The price of the ticket is 20 CNY.

Via Guangzhou

Guangzhou Baiyun Airport offer Intercity Bus service. You can stay at Shantou Tourist General Corporation.

Via Shenzhen

Shenzhen Bao'an Airport doesn't offer Intercity Bus service like Guangzhou. You can transfer via high speed railway from Shenzhen to Shantou.

Via Xiamen

There is also an airport in Xiamen.

By train[edit]

A high-speed bullet train line connecting Xiamen to Shenzhen via Shantou is now in service. Beyond Xiamen, it continues along the coast all the way to Hangzhou and Shanghai. From the ends of that line, there are good connections almost anywhere in China. It will take about 2.5 hours from the Chaoshan High Speed Rail Station (the closest one to Shantou, about 1 hour from city center by Bus #181, 10 Yuan) to Shenzhen North Station; 1.5 hours from Chaoshan High Speed Rail Station to Xiamen North Station. Public bus is available from Shantou city center to the railway station. The economy class ticket price from Shantou to Shenzhen is less than 100 CNY.

It is reported that Shantou Railway Station in Shantou Urban area will connect to the Xiamen-Shenzhen High speed railway at the end of 2017. The train station is now in refurbishing as of Feb 2017.

If you want to travel slowly or cheaply, the following choices may still be available:

no. type start station destination total terminal
K688 Quick, Air Conditioning Chongqing North Chongqing Shantou 29h41min Shantou
T8379/T8380 Express, Air Conditioning Guangzhou East Guangzhou Shantou 8h6min Shantou
K800 Quick, Air Conditioning Wuhan Wuchang Shantou 18h30min Shantou

By bus or car[edit]

Zhuhai (8 hours, ¥160), Guangzhou, Shenzhen (4-5 hours, ¥150) or Xiamen (4 hours, ¥100). There is fairly new highway that is on par with U.S or European expressways running between Shenzhen and Shantou (and beyond). However, food and gas stops are limited so make sure your gas tank is full if you opt to pass a fueling station. Note that restrooms are far below Western standards as well, particularly if you are female.

Some Hong Kong residents prefer to drive these highways in groups of 3-4 cars, as robberies sometimes take place along the road.

The Shantou Regency Hotel operates a coach service from Hong Kong. It takes 5.5 hours and costs ¥180 or HKD200. This can rise to HKD320 or ¥300 during the Lunar New Year period. Tickets can be purchased from the China Travel Service HK and one may board the bus in Sheung Wan, Yau Ma Tei or Fanling Station.

Get around[edit]

Shantou public buses can be highly variable and service frequency can depend on the whim of the operators, particularly during evening festival dates. Recorded announcements are made over the speaker system in Mandarin and Teochew, however the frequent use of the horn and general noise can make it difficult to understand.

On many services, one needs to notify the bus driver verbally if they would like to alight as the buzzers are inoperable.

Metered taxis exist, but rarely will the driver use the meter. The fare needs to be negotiated, preferably before the trip to avoid arguments later.

Traffic in Shantou, as is common in this part of China, is chaotic at best. Do NOT expect vehicles to stop at red lights, as motorcycles and bicycles regularly go through red lights without slowing down. Also, do NOT expect vehicles to go with traffic, as cars, motorcycles, and bicycles regularly go AGAINST the flow of traffic (e.g. going southbound in a northbound lane). Furthermore, do NOT expect only pedestrians on sidewalks, as cars, motorcycles, and bicycles regularly zip along the sidewalk as if it is just another lane on the road. Also, watch out for motorcyclists who do not even slow down at red lights, with one hand on the steering handle and the other with a cell phone, talking. However, with all this, there are fewer accidents that one may expect given this chaos, mainly because people do slow down if they see you.

There is self-service rented bike available in Shantou city center, starting from early 2017. Tourist can use it to tour in the city area, and the rent rate is cheap. However, you may need to register in the Chinese bike renting apps on your mobile before you using it.

See[edit][add listing]

Zhenguo Temple
  • The old town ("), (In the western part of central Shantou). Most of the lovely historic buildings are so dilapidated that it seems like a European city that has been bombed. They are slowly being torn down and replaced with ugly modern buildings, so see it while you can! The one section that is marked for preservation is the part that is next to the renovated post office and the Shantou Founding Museum (see below)  edit
  • Shantou Museum (“汕头博物馆), (In a large building near Zhongshan Park). Should be open by now. This museum has the space for an impressive collection, but not all the exhibit halls are open. There are exhibits on Buddhist figurines and sculptures, paintings and calligraphy, ceramic wares, and relics recovered from a Ming Dynasty commercial vessel that was discovered in 2007 just a little way southeast of Shantou. Past temporary exhibits include photos of Shanghai of a bygone era  edit
  • Buddhist Pagoda Mountain, In Chenhai.  edit
  • Coastal defense fort. There is not much to see here, but you can smell some interesting strains of mold inside, or go rollerskating in the middle of the fort (with Chinese techno music of course). A fort by the sea, with replica cannons. You may be able to smell some interesting strains of mold inside, admire the moat and bridges, or go rollerskating in the middle of the fort (with Chinese techno music of course)  edit
  • Cultural Revolution Museum (Wenge Bowuguan). A surprisingly candid and straightforward representation of events. This is in the Tashan scenic zone, north of central Shantou, not to be confused with the other Tashan scenic zone, south of central Shantou. Other than a few sculptures, there's not much to see unless you can read Chinese.  edit
  • The former residence of Chen Cihong, (North of central Shantou. If you go by bus, be sure to ask when the last trip back into town is, though if you miss it, you might still be able to catch a different bus by walking to the highway). A mansion (or a mini-palace) built in the early 20th century, still pretty much intact.  edit
  • Nan'ao Island. This is one of the most beautiful islands in China. It is not popular yet, mostly because of its inconvenient transportation. However, due to that, the island still hasn't been overdeveloped and has kept its original view. Here you can not only get the most gorgeous sea view but also a taste of the real life of fishermen in China. Besides that, it is a fantastic place to taste all kinds of seafood. The transportation in the island is not that convenient but you can hire a car to drive you around it for whole day. The fee is usually cheap. It cost about 200-250 yuan a day.  edit

Do[edit][add listing]

Buy[edit][add listing]

Eat[edit][add listing]

Lots of local food available which is also famous in China, including Beef Balls (牛肉丸), Baked Oyster Cakes (蚝烙, Oh Lua in Chaoshanese), Seafood, etc.

  • Lianhua Vegetarian Restaurant (莲花素食府 Lianhua Sushi Fu), Haibin Road, Dayang Group Building, west wing, 8530028, 8520098. Vegetarian chain restaurant also found in Chaozhou and Jieyang.  edit

Drink[edit][add listing]

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Home Inn business hotels are a good choice for short and long term visitors. Rooms are new and clean and prices are around USD 30 per night.


  • Yi Jia Hotel, on Changjiang street 17 (汕头宜家酒店 长江路17) Really difficult to spot since it's on the 14th floor but this hotel is quite nice for the price. Rooms are large and well designed. 110/night double room 150/night triple room
  • The hotel directly opposite the bus station is of acceptable standard. Rooms are clean and have TV, air conditioning and bathtub. ¥158 per night.
  • Chinese brand budget hotel including Hanting, HomeInns, etc. are available in most area in Shantou, rate is generally less than 200 CNY per night.


  • Junhua Haiyi Hotel, Shantou City Center. The hotel is rated four stars, managed by Meritus.
  • Golden Golf Hotel, Jinsha Road, Shantou City Center. The hotel is rated four stars and established by 1990.
  • Shantou International Hotel, Jinsha Road, West of Shantou City Center. The hotel is rated four stars, has 30 years history and refurbished & reopened in 2016.
  • Mid-range hotel is generally rated at 350 CNY per night.


  • Sheraton Shantou Hotel, Changping Road, Shantou City Center, the hotel is rated five stars.
  • Regency Hotel, Changping Road, East of Shantou City Center. The hotel is rated five stars and close to Shantou Railway Station.


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