It was 4am and a boisterous crowd had already started to gather outside the visa bureau in Beijing. The mood was jovial for such an absurdly early hour as strangers chatted and served each other tea and steamed dumplings. Perhaps it was because they were all going to a party. Destination: Hong Kong. The Public Security Bureau opened at 7am, two hours earlier than normal, to cater to the huge demand. By the time the giant doors swung open there were several hundred people in the queue. They were all taking advantage of the easing of the travel restrictions that came into force yesterday. People from Beijing and Shanghai can now join those from eight cities in Guangdong who can now travel to Hong Kong as individuals, rather than as tour group members. 'This is just wonderful,' said one man, beaming, at the front of the queue. His wife lives in Hong Kong and every time he wanted to visit her, he had to pay a travel agent for a full tour. 'Of course, I never went on the tour, so it was such a waste of money,' he said. One young woman said she had never wanted to visit Hong Kong before because she did not want to be restricted by a travel itinerary. 'I want to go and shop and have fun. Those tours are expensive and boring,' she said. Qun Meili, a 30-year-old marketing executive from Zhejiang province, said she would be going to Hong Kong with her boyfriend as soon as possible. 'It'll be great for us,' she said. 'I love to shop. My boyfriend loves to gamble. Hong Kong sounds like heaven. I'll spend a fortune,' she said, firing off the names of stores.