Gone are the days when Hongkongers headed to Shenzhen just to shop. In recent years, our northern neighbour has reinvented itself as a one-stop entertainment hub where it's possible to do pretty much anything you can do in Hong Kong, but make a much smaller dent in your wallet. So it's no wonder more and more people are spending nights across the border to explore the city's burgeoning attractions. A major beneficiary of the boom in cross-border tourism has been Shenzhen's spa industry, whose bathhouses are fast becoming an alternative to hotels, because they also offer overnight accommodation. A spokesman for Zhao Hua Blind Man Massage Centre in Luohu says the number of massage parlours has mushroomed. 'When we started, there were only a few,' he says. 'Now, they're all over the place.' About 90 per cent of Zhao Hua's clients are from Hong Kong and many have been customers since the centre opened in 1998. And as the number of spas has grown, so has their scale and what they offer. Chinese bathhouses, which are most numerous and flamboyant in the city's Luohu and Futian districts, no longer offer only themed spas, sauna and massage. Increasingly, they function as one-stop indoor resorts, offering all manner of pampering experiences. Queen Spa, probably Shenzhen's largest and swankiest bathhouse, offers a wide range of services - including beauty treatments such as manicures and pedicures - and facilities ranging from billiards rooms to cybercafes, bars, cinemas and karaoke rooms. Its decor is lavish and features jumbo-sized pools and spacious leisure areas. The 200 million yuan, five-storey leisure complex opened in 2004 to tap growing demand for relaxation among Hongkongers, who now make up 80 per cent of its clientele. It charges HK$168 for a massage - cheap by Hong Kong standards - and its sleeping capsules reach full capacity at weekends. 'We have a luggage storage service and don't make guests check out at noon,' says general manager Chen Bingqiang. 'Some people opt to stay with us rather than at hotels. They think it's much more fun.' Ricky Cheng Kwong-wong, general manager of the Hong Kong-headquartered Oriental Palm Spring International Club, which runs one of the ritziest bathhouses in Shenzhen's Huanggang district, says low prices aren't the only thing pulling in punters from Hong Kong. 'They value quality too,' Cheng says. 'When they realise you can get much better service and food for HK$3,000 here than in Hong Kong, it's no wonder more are coming.' Bathhouses used to be associated with prostitution and triads, but no more, he says. 'The central government is stepping up control over entertainment venues. Our image as a healthy, affordable, family-oriented hangout is clearer now. We're not just for rich businessmen, as we used to be.' Shenzhen has seen a steady growth in the number of visitors from Hong Kong since the road border crossing at Huanggang was opened around the clock in 2003. And soon Huanggang may well rival Luohu as a financial, business and transportation centre as the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line - a second railway link between Hong Kong and the mainland - nears completion. 'Huanggang will soon be the heart of Shenzhen,' Cheng says. The number of Shenzhen-bound Hongkongers rose to 23.7 million last year from 20.8 million in 2005, and more than 40 per cent of them stayed in the city for at least one night. They're also spending more, with each visitor bringing in an average of HK$353 last year, up from HK$320 in 2005. Visiting massage parlours is only part of the attraction. Golfer Lewis Leung Wai-yip says that for facilities, Shenzhen is a breath of fresh air after Hong Kong. 'There's only one public golf course in Hong Kong [Kau Sai Chau in Sai Kung] and it's difficult to book,' the real estate manager says. 'Other courses are membership-based, so they're expensive. In Shenzhen, I can try different golf courses for fun and it's cheaper.' The services that are laid on also make for a hassle-free experience. 'There are caddies on hand, so you don't have to drag your bag around the course as you do in Hong Kong,' he says. 'They also have some shops in Huanggang where you can store your gear and book the course.' Leung plays golf in Shenzhen two or three times a month. Although some clubs provide overnight accommodation, he and his friends prefer to stay in cheap hotels near restaurants, massage parlours and karaoke bars. 'It's much more special than doing a luncheon or a dinner party in Hong Kong,' he says. Many Hong Kong housewives and retirees also head to Shenzhen for reasons other than to shop or have their backs rubbed. Shirly Poon has been visiting the city for more than a decade to practise Cantonese opera in music studios, after learning from a local master. Although many opera fans stay overnight at massage parlours after practice, Poon prefers to limit her visits to day trips. She also likes the shops at Lowu Commercial City. 'The goods there are excellent,' she says. 'I got some beautiful costumes made and a Japanese-brand watch for a bargain price. I can't do that in Hong Kong.' For younger visitors tired of Hong Kong's clubbing scene, Shenzhen offers something new and exciting. 'Shenzhen has seen quite a bit of action lately,' says Derek Wong, PR manager at Lotion, a party organiser. 'I'd say most of these new clubs would easily trump most Hong Kong clubs in terms of lighting and audio design, and their DJs are up to par. The only thing lacking is probably an appreciative clientele.' Miyuki Chan Sze-yin hits Shenzhen once a week for 'cool parties and awesome music' that she can't find in Hong Kong. 'There are many interesting parties and the DJs are awesome,' she says. Chan says venues such as Richy, True Colour and Face Cafe are big draws for Hong Kong people, but her favourite haunt is the more multi-cultural U Bar. Like many other twentysomething girls, she also treats herself to a manicure when she can. American expatriate Brent Deverman, a party organiser and owner of entertainment website shenzhenparty.com, says that although the party scene is expanding, it's a pity that bar-hopping isn't as easy as it is in Hong Kong's Lan Kwai Fong. He also says the bar scene is becoming homogenised. 'They just copy what works and the innovative ones are gone,' he says. The Shenzhen bar and club scene is notoriously drug-ridden, although Deverman says 'the drug culture has probably moved more towards the private karaoke rooms and discos'. And although partying is great value for money (admission can be as low as HK$10), quality isn't guaranteed. 'The service isn't as good as in Hong Kong,' Deverman says. 'They don't have the 'customer is always right' attitude. The bartenders may also be less skilled, and using not very good ingredients.' Last year's Hong Kong Consumer Satisfaction Index rated Shenzhen shopping and entertainment in the bottom 10, compared with those in Hong Kong, so it may come as a surprise that Hongkongers are still flocking to Shenzhen in ever greater numbers. But the index shows a gradual rise since 2004, suggesting Hong Kong people are increasingly confident about popping across the border to shop and be entertained, says Geoffrey Tso Kwok-fai, an associate professor at the City University of Hong Kong's Department of Management Sciences. 'There are fewer negative reports about Shenzhen,' he says. 'Hygiene is better and the low prices are the biggest draw. There's also a wide variety of things to do and buy.' And Tso sees no sign of a let-up in the number of visitors. 'More and more Hongkongers will visit Shenzhen in the future because the transportation is convenient and more and more Hong Kong people own flats there.'