|Capital||"Victoria", although in practice the area is known as Central|
|Currency||Hong Kong dollar (HKD)|
|Population||7,184,000 (2013 estimate)|
|Electricity||220V, 50Hz (UK plug)|
|Time zone||UTC +8|
Hong Kong (香港 Heūng góng in Cantonese, meaning fragrant harbour) is a place with multiple personalities, as a result of being both Cantonese Chinese and under a more recent contemporary ex-British influence. Today, the former British colony is a major tourism destination for China's increasingly affluent mainland population. It is also an important hub in East Asia with global connections to many of the world's cities. It is a unique destination that has absorbed people and cultural influences from places as diverse as Vietnam and Vancouver and proudly proclaims itself to be Asia's World City.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China is much more than a harbour city. The traveller weary of its crowded streets may be tempted to describe it as Hong Kongcrete. Yet, this territory with its cloudy mountains and rocky islands is mostly a rural landscape. Much of the countryside is classified as Country Park and, although 7 million people are never far away, it is possible to find pockets of wilderness that will reward the more intrepid tourist.
Hong Kong has a subtropical climate with at least one season to match your comfort zone. Boasting one of the world's best airports, it is the ideal stopover for those who wish to travel deeper into Asia.
While part of the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong operates as a Special Administrative Region with a high degree of autonomy, and so for most visitors it is effectively a different country. Visa requirements, laws, currency, culture and language are different from the rest of China. Since the handover from the British in 1997, Hong Kong has operated under a "One Country, Two Systems" principle, maintaining most laws and government structures from colonial times. Hong Kong enjoys many Western-style freedoms unheard of on the Chinese mainland, and many locals are proud of it. The ideals of a free and open society are firmly rooted here.
The area of Hong Kong was first incorporated into China during the Qin Dynasty in 214 BC and largely remained under Chinese rule until 1841 during the Qing Dynasty. Hong Kong Island became a British colony in January 1841, as a result of the defeat of the Qing Dynasty of China in the First Opium War. At the time the population of the territory was 7,450 people. After the defeat of China in the Second Opium War, the Kowloon Peninsula was then ceded to Great Britain in 1860. The New Territories were subsequently leased in 1898 to Great Britain for a term of 99 years.
When World War II broke out, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared that Hong Kong was an "impregnable fortress". However owing to Britain's main war effort in Europe, Hong Kong was not given sufficient resources for its defence. As a result, after just slightly more than two weeks of fighting, Hong Kong was surrendered to the Japanese on 25 December 1941 and occupation lasted until the end of the war. Upon the resumption of British control all restrictions on non-Europeans owning property on prime real estate land were lifted followed by an astonishingly swift post war recovery.
After the communists took control of mainland China in 1949, many Chinese people, especially businessmen, fled to Hong Kong due to persecution by the communist government. Unlike the restrictive policies imposed by the communists in China, the British government took a rather hands off approach in Hong Kong, as proposed by former financial secretary John James Cowperthwaite, which led to a high degree of economic freedom. Under such conditions, businesses flourished in Hong Kong and its economy grew rapidly, earning it a place as one of the East Asian Tigers. Today, Hong Kong is considered to be an industrialised and developed economy, and is one of the world's most important financial centres, along with the likes of New York and London.
The massive influx of mainland Chinese refugees led to the rise of the Kowloon Walled City, which was a horrendous convolution of maze-like alleys, utter darkness, cramped space, and unsanitary conditions. There was no effective police presence inside the city itself, and it was full of triad gangs, prostitution and unlicensed physicians practising there. The Walled City was demolished in 1993, and the Kowloon Walled City Park was built on the site.
In 1984 the Chinese and British Governments signed the Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, agreeing to return Hong Kong back to China sovereignty on 1 July 1997. Hong Kong became a special administrative region (SAR) of the Peoples Republic of China.
In accordance with the Joint Declaration, the Basic Law was enacted to serve in effect as a mini-constitution for the Hong Kong SAR. In theory, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy in most matters except foreign affairs and defence. In practice Beijing exerts much influence in the background, however citizens have been pushing for a more democratic regime and universal suffrage, including the recent Umbrella Protest in 2014 that is demanding the right to directly elect the territory's Chief Executive independently from Beijing.
Hong Kong mostly operates as a small country with its own currency, laws, international dialling code, police force, border controls and the like. It is also a member of international organisations that are normally restricted to sovereign states such as the WTO, APEC and the IOC. The Hong Kong flag is prominently flown throughout the territory, often alongside that of the Chinese mother country.
Hong Kong Island (香港島) gives the territory of Hong Kong its name and is the place that many tourists regard as the main focus. The parade of buildings that make the Hong Kong skyline has been likened to a glittering bar chart that is made apparent by the presence of the waters of Victoria Harbour. To get the best views of Hong Kong, leave the island and head for the Kowloon waterfront opposite.
The great majority of Hong Kong Island's urban development is densely packed on reclaimed land along the northern shore. This is the place the British colonisers took as their own and so if you are looking for evidence of the territory's colonial past, this is a good place to start. Victoria was once the colony's capital but has been re-branded with a more descriptive name, Central. Here you will find the machinery of government grinding away much as it always has done, except that Beijing, not London, is the boss that keeps a watchful eye. Seek a glimpse of government house (香港禮賓府) which was formerly home to 25 British governors and is now the residence of the Chief Executive CY Leung. Nearby, the Legislative Council (LegCo) continues to make the laws that organise the territory.
Rising up from Central is the Escalator and the Peak Tram. The famous 800 metre escalator passes through the hip district of Soho and takes you into the residential neighbourhood known as the Mid-Levels because it is half-way up the mountain. Up top is Victoria Peak, known locally as The Peak, the tallest point on the island where foreign diplomats and business tycoons compete for the best views of the harbour from some of the most expensive homes to be found anywhere. Most tourists do not go much further than the Peak Tram, but take a short walk to the top and you will escape the crowds and be rewarded with some of the best harbour views. It is worth investing in a good map from leading bookshops in Central if you want to enjoy some of the superb footpaths that criss cross the island.
The southern side of the island has developed into an upmarket residential area with many large houses and expensive apartments with views across the South China Sea. The island's best beaches, such as Repulse Bay, are found here and visitors can enjoy a more relaxed pace of life than on the bustling harbour side of the island. Wan Chai and Causeway Bay are the most visited neighbourhoods on the northern side of the island.
Kowloon (九龍) is the peninsula to the north of Hong Kong Island. With over 2.1 million people living in an area of less than 47 square kilometres, Kowloon is one of the most densely populated places on the planet, and has a matching array of places to shop, eat and sleep. Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀), the tip of the peninsula, is Kowloon's main tourist drag and has a mix of backpacker and high-end hotels. Further north, Mong Kok (旺角) has a huge choice of shops and markets in an area of less than a square kilometre. Kowloon side, as it is often known, managed to escape some of the British colonial influences that characterise the Hong Kong Island side. Kowloon real estate prices are the highest in the world, with multiple flats in West Kowloon setting worldwide records for their multi-million dollar prices thanks to their panoramic views of Victoria Harbour.
The New Territories (新界), so named when the British leased more land from China in 1898, lie north of Kowloon. Often ignored by travellers who have little time to spare, the New Territories offers a diverse landscape that takes time to get to know. Mountainous country parks overlook New Towns that have a clinical form of modernity that has attracted many to move here from mainland China. Public transport and taxis make this area surprisingly accessible if you dare to get out and explore this offbeat place. You will not find many idyllic villages, but once you get over the stray dogs and the ramshackle buildings you will doubtlessly find something that will surprise you and cause you to reach for your camera.
The Outlying Islands (離島) are the generic label for the islands, islets and rocks in the seas around the territory which is made up of a total of 236 islands. Lantau (大嶼山) is by far the largest of them and therefore often considered its own district. The Hong Kong International Airport is part of Lantau. Lantau hosts some of the territory's most idyllic beaches as well as major attractions such as Disneyland and the Ngong Ping cable car. Other islands include Lamma (南丫島), well known for its seafood, and Cheung Chau (長洲), a small island that used to be a pirates' den, but now attracts seafood aficionados, windsurfers and sunbathing day trippers.
The majority of Hong Kong's population are Han Chinese (95%), mostly of Cantonese ancestry, though there are also sizeable numbers of other Chinese groups such as Chiuchao (Teochews), Shanghainese and Hakkas. A significant number of Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese live here too, and many have families that have lived in Hong Kong for several generations.
The largest groups of recent, non-Chinese immigrants are Filipinos, Indonesians and Thais, of which most are employed as domestic helpers. On Sundays, being the free day of these domestic workers, they congregate in their thousands - mostly Filipinas - in Central and Admiralty and spend the day there together, sitting talking, eating and drinking wherever there is free room.
The territory is also home to a significant number of people hailing from Australia, Europe, Japan and North America, making it a truly international metropolis.
Due to its history as part of that region, the local culture in Hong Kong is similar to that of Guangdong province. However, due to over a century of British rule, the British have also left their mark on the local culture. In addition, due to its evasion of communist ideologies when the Cultural Revolution was taking place in the mainland, Hong Kongers have maintained many aspects of traditional Chinese culture which have largely disappeared in the mainland. In general, Hong Kongers have a somewhat paradoxical identity, regarding themselves as culturally and ethnically Chinese, but at the same time considering themselves distinct from the mainland Chinese.
Hong Kong has a humid subtropical climate. Summers are usually hot, lasting from June to September, with temperatures usually exceeding 30°C, while night-time summer temperatures do not drop below 25°C . The area, with most of southern China, is affected by typhoons. Typhoons usually occur between June and September, though some typhoons may affect Hong Kong as late as October. These can bring a halt to local business for a day or less (natural disaster).
Winters in Hong Kong are generally very mild, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C, although dropping further sometimes, especially in the countryside. Christmas in Hong Kong is considered warm compared to many Western countries. Chinese New Year is notorious for cold wet weather, because winter in Hong Kong tends to start out mild and dry and then turn cooler and wetter later.
Spring starts in Hong Kong from March to May and autumn starts from September to November with an average temperature of around 20 to 25°C. Autumn is considered a more comfortable season as spring tends to be more humid and rainy.
Although most buildings in Hong Kong have air-conditioning to cope with the summer weather, winter heating is something of a novelty. During the coldest days, most locals simply wear more layers, even indoors. In a restaurant, for example, it is not unusual to see customers eating with jackets and scarves on. Furthermore, some larger Chinese restaurants keep the air-conditioning on during winter, though the temperature in air conditioned shopping malls stays the same regardless of season or weather outside.
Its quick rise as an economic power and unique mix of East and West has made Hong Kong an interesting destination to write about. Much has been written about its history, politics, economy, culture and social matters, and it has figured as an ideal background in many fictional works as well. Reading some of these books enables you to further understand the culture of Hong Kong before actually visiting it.
- Myself a Mandarin (Oxford in Asia), Austin Coates. This book contains the memoirs of Austin Coates. Each chapter is an entertaining episode of the Englishman's time as a colonial magistrate in the New Territories district.
- East and West: China, Power, and the Future of Asia (Macmillan), Chris Patten. The memoires of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong. Published in 1998, Patten provides his account of Hong Kong in the final years before the handover to China.
- Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood (Bantam Books), Martin Booth. A well-written book that offers an insight into colonial life in Hong Kong through the eyes of a young English boy.
- Hong Kong: Epilogue to an Empire (Penguin Books), Jan Morris. In this well-written and detailed overview of the territory by a noted Welsh travel writer. Morris alternates chapters on Hong Kong's history with descriptions of its geography, economy, politics and society. The book includes descriptive portraits of some of Hong Kong's leading politicians and entrepreneurs.
- The World of Suzie Wong (Fontana Press) Richard Mason. A classic novel published in 1957, later adapted to film in 1960. Set in Hong Kong, it is the fictional story of a young expat's romance with a Chinese woman.
- Hong Kong Landscapes: Shaping the Barren Rock (Hong Kong University Press), Bernie Owen and Raynor Shaw. Beautifully illustrated, this is a fascinating guide to the territory's geology and geomorphology.
Film and cinema
- Chungking Express, 1994, Wong Kar-wai. The unrelated stories of two love-struck cops in Hong Kong. Its colourful and fast cinematography has been admired by Quentin Tarantino.
- The World of Suzie Wong, 1960. Based on the novel by Richard Mason, it is the fictional story of an expat's affair with a Chinese woman. The film has interesting footage of Hong Kong in the late 1950s.
For its electrical sockets, Hong Kong uses the British three-pin rectangular blade plug. Additionally, some hotels will have a bathroom with a parallel three-pin outlet which is designed for use with electric shavers, but might be used to re-charge a phone or rechargeable batteries. Electricity is 220 volts at 50 hertz. Most electronic stores will have cheap ($15–20) adapters that will allow foreign plugs to fit into British sockets, but be aware that these will not convert voltage or frequency.
|Hong Kong Island (香港島) (Central, East Coast, South Coast)
The site of the original British settlement and the main focus of most tourists. Most of Hong Kong's highest skyscrapers and the financial centre can be found here. Overall, Hong Kong Island is more modern and wealthy and considerably less dirty than the other areas of Hong Kong. The Peak is the tallest point on the island, with the best views and highest real estate values in the world.
The peninsula to the north of Hong Kong Island, with great views of the island. It offers a chaotic mix of malls, street markets, and residential tenements. It has a great view of Hong Kong Island. With over 2.1 million people living in an area of less than 47 square kilometres, Kowloon is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Kowloon includes Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀), the location of many budget hotels and Mong Kok (旺角), a shopping district.
|New Territories (新界)
Named by British officials when leased from the Chinese government in 1898, the New Territories contain a curious mix of small farms, villages, industrial installations, mountainous country parks and towns that have populations the size of some cities.
|Lantau Island (大嶼山)
A large island west of Hong Kong Island. You will not find many idyllic villages, but once you get over the stray dogs and the ramshackle buildings you will find beautiful mountains and beaches. The airport, Disneyland, and the Ngong Ping cable car are located here.
|Outlying Islands (離島)
Well-known weekend destinations for the locals, the Outlying Islands are most of the islands surrounding Hong Kong Island. Highlights include Lamma (南丫島), well known for its seafood and Cheung Chau (長洲), a small island that used to be a pirates' den, but now attracts seafood aficionados, windsurfers and sunbathing day trippers.
Hong Kong maintains a separate and independent immigration system from that of mainland China. If required, the Hong Kong visa has to be applied for separately from the mainland Chinese one, and there is no single visa that serves both areas. A visa is still required to enter mainland China from Hong Kong. Macau also requires its own visa.
See Entry requirements to Hong Kong for a list of visa requirements or visa-free stays by country of citizenship.
All visitors (regardless of whether visa-free or not) may be required to demonstrate evidence of adequate funds and confirmed booking for the onward journey.
Obtaining a visa
Foreign nationals who require visas for Hong Kong (if they cannot enter visa-free, want to remain for longer than permitted by their visa exemption, or want to work, study or establish/join a business) can either apply for one at a Chinese embassy or directly through the Hong Kong Immigration Department. Foreign nationals living in Macau who require visas for Hong Kong can apply for one at the Office of the Commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Foreign nationals living in mainland China may apply for a Hong Kong visa at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Guangzhou, or at the Office of the Government of the Hong Kong SAR in Beijing.
Travellers from mainland China
Leaving mainland China for Hong Kong is considered to be leaving China. If you wish to enter Hong Kong from China, then re-enter mainland China, make sure you have a multiple-entry Chinese visa.
Calculation of the visa exemption period
Expiry of the limit of stay is counted from the day after the date of entry. For example, if you have a 7 day visa and arrive on January 1st, you are allowed to stay until January 8th. If you are arriving late at night, you may want to wait until after midnight to clear immigration. Likewise, you may be able clear immigration just before midnight on the last day that your visa is valid and then take a flight or boat in the middle of the night on the next day. For more information, see question #11 of the Visa FAQs.
Regular visitors to Hong Kong
Save time if you are a regular visitor by registering to use the e-Channel. Instead of clearing passport control at a manned counter, you can avoid the queues by going through an automated barrier which uses fingerprint recognition technology.
APEC Business Travel Card
All holders of an APEC Business Travel Card can use the counters for Hong Kong residents at immigration control and can stay for up to 60 days in Hong Kong visa-free if their card has 'HKG' printed on the reverse.
Holders of Chinese passports need to apply for a appropriate entry permit (往來港澳通行證）to enter Hong Kong, except when transiting through Hong Kong, whereby visa-free access is granted for up to 7 days.
Holders of Macau permanent identity cards or Visit Permits with permanent resident status can enter Hong Kong visa-free for up to 180 days. Holders of Macao Visit Permits without permanent resident status can enter Hong Kong visa-free for up to 30 days. See Visit/Transit Arrangements to Hong Kong for Macao Residents for more details.
Residents of Taiwan are granted visa-free access to Hong Kong for 30 days if they have a 'Taibaozheng' (台胞证). Otherwise, a pre-arrival visa is required, which in many cases can be obtained through an airline company. See Arrangements for Entry to Hong Kong for Overseas Chinese and Chinese residents of Taiwan for more details.
All visitors to Hong Kong must complete an arrival card when clearing immigration and must return a departure card at immigration control when leaving Hong Kong - unless you are a Hong Kong resident (with a Hong Kong identity card or a passport with a residence/employment/study visa), a Macao permanent resident (with a Macao smart identity card) or a Chinese citizen (with a travel document （往來港澳通行證 or 因公往來香港澳門特別行政區通行證) issued by the Mainland China authorities).
Note that you are not able to take more than two tins (1.8kg) of powdered milk formula (such as baby formula) out of Hong Kong.
Day trips to Macau
Macau is a separate international destination and you will have to pass the standard immigration checks on your return, including the arrival card for entering Hong Kong.
Obtaining a visa to Mainland China
China Travel Services HK (CTS) has an office at the arrivals area of Hong Kong Airport and can process visas to China on the spot. A photograph will be required. Alternatively, the cheapest way to obtain a visa for mainland China is to apply for one at the Commissioner's Office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong, where a single-entry visa costs HKD200 and a double-entry visa costs $300 for most foreign nationals and takes 4 working days to be issued. The visa can be issued within 3 working days for an additional $200 or within 2 working days for an additional $300. See the price list for more information.
If you have goods that are banned or more than your allowance, you must declare them at the Red Channel when you enter Hong Kong - even when travelling from mainland China, Macao or Taiwan.
Meat, animal products, fish, rice, ozone depleting substances, items with forged trade marks and radio communication transmitting apparatus are banned goods and must be declared.
A traveller aged 18 or above is allowed to bring into Hong Kong - for his/her own use - as part of his/her duty-free allowance:
- 1 litre of alcoholic liquor with an alcoholic strength above 30% by volume measured at a temperature of 20°C
- 19 cigarettes OR 1 cigar OR 25g of cigars OR 25g of other manufactured tobacco
If the traveller holds a Hong Kong Identity Card, he/she must have spent 24 hours or longer outside Hong Kong to benefit from the duty-free allowance relating to alcoholic liquor.
Due to heavy demand from mainland China, the Hong Kong government has placed a restriction on the amount of baby milk powder formula that may be taken out of the territory. If you have friends or family in the mainland, then they may ask you to bring back as much formula as you can carry, however Hong Kong customs are very much looking for smugglers of this precious product.
For more information, visit the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department website.
Hong Kong International Airport
- Main article: Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong International Airport (IATA: HKG), also known as Chek Lap Kok 赤鱲角 (the name of the small island containing the airport), is located on Lantau in the west of Hong Kong. Designed by Sir Norman Foster it has since been named "World's Best Airport" by Skytrax 8 times.
To/from Shenzhen International Airport
To travel between Shenzhen Airport and Hong Kong:
- Direct buses operate between the airport and the Elements Shopping Mall, above the Kowloon MTR station. You can check-in and receive your boarding pass (except for China Southern Airlines passengers) at the check-in desk on the 1st floor of the shopping centre, opposite Starbucks. This in-town check-in is completely separate from the in-town check-in provided for Hong Kong International Airport. The cost of the service is $100 and the bus is advertised to take 75 minutes, but it usually takes 100 minutes. Buses run every 30 minutes from 06:30 to 19:00 from Hong Kong and from 10:00 to 21:00 from Shenzhen.
- A cheaper way is to take the underground (Shenzhen Metro) line 1 from the airport to the Luohu terminus (65 minutes, CNY9 or USD11.25), then pass through a long corridor and an international border gate (make sure to have your visa ready for this) and once in Hong Kong, hop on the East Rail suburban rail line to Hung Hom (43 minutes, HKD35). Total travel time from Shenzhen airport to Hong Kong is thus under two hours at the price of HKD46.25.
- An alternative to Luohu is "Futian Checkpoint" (called Lok Ma Chau on the Hong Kong side) which is served by the East Rail Lok Ma Chau Spur Line. The emigration queue at this control point is less crowded than Luohu. It takes about 48min from Lok Ma Chau to Hung Hom ($35).
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is a bit further away than Shenzhen, but has more flights and with direct coach connections to Hong Kong.
To/from Macau International Airport
It is also often cheaper to fly out of Macau International Airport (IATA: MFM). Air Asia has a hub at Macau from where it operates service to Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, among other cities.
To travel between Macau Airport and Hong Kong:
- With the Express Link service, you can transfer directly from airport to ferry (or vice versa) without going through Macau immigration.
Sky Shuttle operates a helicopter service every 30 minutes from the Terminal Marítimo in Macau to the Shun Tak Heliport (IATA: HHP) at the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island. The trip takes 15 minutes and one-way fares cost $4,100, plus $400 on public holidays.
Hong Kong is only a one-hour hydrofoil ride away from Macau and there are also good connections to mainland China. The main terminals are:
- Operating from Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier, 202 Connaught Rd (Sheung Wan MTR exit D) in Central.
- Operating from Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal, 33 Canton Rd (Tsim Sha Tsui MTR exit A1) in Kowloon.
By cruise ship
Star Cruises operates from the Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui. Cruise ships travel to Vietnam, mainland China and Taiwan. There are also long haul services all the way to Singapore via ports in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.
There are 6 land checkpoints between Hong Kong and mainland China. Be sure to note the opening hours of the border crossing before starting your journey. If you are driving across the border, you must have a set of plates issued by each of China and Hong Kong. Note that you will have to change sides of the road at the border since people in Hong Kong drive on the left, and people in mainland China drive on the right.
In addition to crossing the border on foot, another way to cross the border is to take a "Cross Boundary Coach". These buses operate between Hong Kong and several cities in mainland China and are usually easier than crossing the border via several transfers and several modes of transportation. For information on these bus services, see the website of each border crossing listed below.
- Lo Wu Control Point (train and pedestrian crossing): MTR trains from Tsim Sha Tsui East to run to Lo Wu run every 5-8 minutes. Shenzhen city centre lies just beyond the mainland China immigration checkpoint. This control point can only be accessed by the MTR East Rail Line and crossing the border can only be done on foot, unless you take a through-train from Hung Hom where the train will not stop at all. See "By train" section below. It is often congested with travellers during weekends and holidays, so if you want to avoid for the long queues, use the other control points. Visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the mainland China side for certain nationalities.
- Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point (pedestrian crossing): Northbound East Rail Line trains terminate here. It can also be reached from Yuen Long by KMB bus B1 or by GMB minibus #75. After crossing the double-decked Lok Ma Chau-Huanggang pedestrian bridge, passengers will find themselves at the Fu Tian immigration checkpoint of the mainland. On the Shenzhen side, Fu Tian Checkpoint metro station is located just after the immigration checkpoint. This control point is not popular and thus less crowded than Lo Wu.
- Lok Ma Chau Control Point (road, cross-boundary bus, and pedestrian crossing): This crossing consists of separate facilities for pedestrians arriving by bus and for road vehicles and is the only border control point which is open 24-hours per day. The Lok Ma Chau Public Transport Interchange can be reached via KMB buses 277, N277, 76K, and 276B. Alternatively, you can take express buses from Hong Kong directly to the control point. After passing through Hong Kong Immigration control, you must board the same bus at the other side of the control point, where you will be taken to Huanggang port in Shenzhen to pass through mainland China immigration control. A shuttle service, known as the "Yellow Bus" operates between the Lok Ma Chau Public Transport Interchange located at San Tin and Huanggang Port of the mainland side.
- Man Kam To Control Point (road and cross-boundary bus crossing): This crossing is mostly used by private vehicles and cross-boundary buses. See "By bus" section below.
- Sha Tau Kok Control Point (road, cross-boundary bus, and pedestrian crossing): Located furthest east, this control point can be accessed by taking a cross-boundary coach. It is far from the centre of Shenzhen and is relatively quiet. There are no mainland visa-on-arrival facilities. See "By bus" section below.
- Shenzhen Bay Port (road and cross-boundary bus crossing): This control point links Hong Kong directly with Shekou, Shenzhen. It can be used by private vehicles and cross-boundary buses. See "By bus" section below.
Note that in Hong Kong, bicycles are not permitted in all tunnels and on most highways. Therefore, Very few Hongkongers manage to use a bike as a substitute for public transport. However, roads in the country parks, because of the hilly landscape, are ideal for adventure biking. See Cycling in Hong Kong
Crossing the land border between Shenzhen and Hong Kong with a bicycle is possible as follows:
- Take the MTR train to the Lo Wu Control Point. Cycles are allowed on the train with a payment of between $20 and $40, depending upon the time of day, and provided that the front wheel is removed.
- GMB minibus #75 operates between the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point and Yuen Long for $7 and allows a folded bike with 50cm wheels. While most passengers take a bus connecting to urban areas, it's possible for bikers to take the "yellow bus" ($7) just to the other side of the border. There is not much luggage space on this bus and you may be required to disassemble your bike.
MTR runs all long-distance passenger services to Hong Kong, the central station is Hung Hom in Kowloon. There are up to 10 daily departures from Guangzhou via Foshan, journey time is about two hours. Overnight passenger trains run from Beijing and Shanghai every second day. Tickets can be bought online or at the station.
Alternatively it's possible to travel by high-speed train or overnight sleeper to Shenzhen, connected to vast array of Chinese cities, and then change to metro to reach Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has an excellent and cheap public transport system.
The Octopus Card (八達通, Bat Dat Toong in Cantonese,) is a prepaid debit card that can be used to pay for public transportation such as the MTR, trains, trams, buses and ferries. Most taxis do not yet accept although more will in future. Paying for public transport with an Octopus Card is usually at a discounted fare.
It can also be used to pay for items in convenience stores, supermarkets, fast food restaurant chains, many vending machines, all roadside parking and some car parks. It can also be used as an building access card. Some chain stores, such as Wellcome, offer discounts for paying with the Octopus Card. This is a great way to avoid carrying and counting coins.
Basic Octopus cards cost $150 for $100 in credit plus a $50 refundable deposit. A $9 service charge applies if the card is redeemed for the deposit within 3 months. The maximum value an Octopus card can carry is $1,000. The credit on the card can go negative. For example, you may pay for a ride costing $5 with only $2 of remaining value on the card (bringing the stored value to -$3) but you cannot use the card again until the value is topped up. The value of an Octopus card can go as low as -$35. Note that isn't really "negative", meaning you don't have to pay MTR back, since your $50 deposit secures it.
Your Octopus cards' balance is displayed on the reader after each use. The balance can also be checked, along with the last 9 transactions, using a small machine near regular ticket machines at MTR stations.
It is simple to top up your Octopus Card in $50 increments:
- "Add Value" machines, usually located next to regular ticket machines in MTR stations.
- Customer service centres at all MTR stations
- Merchants that accept Octopus (e.g. 7-Eleven, McDonald's, Wellcome, etc.). This is the best way to avoid queues at the MTR station.
It is not possible to top up with a credit card. Some Hong Kong credit cards have an Octopus Card top up facility although this is not available to cards issued elsewhere.
MTR Fare Saver Machines
There are several fare saver machines located in the MTR system. By tapping your Octopus Card at the reader on one of these machines, you will receive a $1-2 discount on your next MTR journey if such journey originates at the station where the machine is located.
By Mass Transit Railway
Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the fastest way to get around, but it does not offer the views of buses and trams and is more expensive. There are 4 underground lines (Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Island, and Tseung Kwan O lines), 4 Suburban rail lines (West, East, Tung Chung, and Ma On Shan lines), the Airport Express, and a network of modern tram lines in the North West New Territories.
The most important lines for many visitors are the busy Tsuen Wan Line (red), which runs from Central to Kowloon via tunnel and then down Nathan Road towards Tsuen Wan in the New Territories, and the Island Line (blue) which runs along the north coast of Hong Kong Island. The Tung Chung Line (orange) is the fastest route to Lantau and one of the cheapest ways to the airport via the S1 shuttle bus from Tung Chung MTR station. This line can also be used to change to the Disneyland Resort Line (pink) at Sunny Bay. All signs are in both Chinese and English and all announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. Staff in the station control room usually speak enough English to be able to help lost tourists.
Considerations when using the MTR:
- Hong Kong's suburban rail system is linked to two international borders with mainland China, at Lo Wu Control Point and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point, both on the East Rail Line. You pass through a short corridor and then through a large border gate before entering a long one-way corridor and emerging in mainland China, at a station for the Shenzhen Metro.
- The East Rail Line offers a first class car where the seats are wider and more comfortable. The fare is twice that of the regular cars on the same route, and you need to buy a separate ticket for this at a station's ticketing office or tap your octopus card at the designated reader before entering. Ticket inspectors conduct regular patrol in the carriage and passengers without a valid first class ticket will be fined $500.
- Most underground MTR stations have at least one Hang Seng Bank branch, which can serve as a meeting point.
- Note that in Hong Kong, the English name for the underground metro system is the 'MTR'. The term 'Subway' refers to underground walkways, as opposed to the metro system.
- Fares depend on distance. Credit cards are not accepted to pay for tickets or passes, except for rides on the Airport Express.
- Consumption of food and drinks and smoking are strictly forbidden in stations and in trains. Offenders are liable to a fine of $2,000.
- Disabled Access and Stroller Access is provided at the MTR stations, but it will likely require considerable extra walking, often from one end of an MTR station to another. For instance, the lift may be at one end of a platform at train level, whilst the lift to street level will be at the other end. Therefore, be aware that using lifts and wheelchair access will often require you to walk the length of the station 2 or 3 times, just to get from street level to your chosen train. There is usually one designated reader for wider (wheelchair/stroller) access, but often it is a long walk around the station or platform. Occasionally, there will be an MTR staff booth at a set of gates, but it depends on the individual staff member as to whether they will just tap your card on their terminal and let you through the goods entrance to the platform. If you need a stroller for getting around, it may be better to collapse your stroller, pick up your child and use the escalators and "regular" designated readers. Most Hong Kongers will use a small, lightweight, upright folding stroller (some as the Combi range, which appears to be most popular), than can be easily folded, carried and taken through the gates and escalators. You will also ensure that you aren't fighting for lift space with others who need it, such as wheelchair-bound persons and goods trolleys.
Operated by Hong Kong Tramways, the narrow double-decker city trams (also known locally as "ding ding") trundling along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island have provided cheap transport for over a century. Riding the tram is a great and cheap way to sightsee. For an excursion lasting 1 hour, board at the Kennedy Town Terminus and get a good seat on the upper deck. As the tram travels eastward, you will have an elevated view of Hong Kong Island and its different flavours, from bustling Hong Kong street life to its glitzy financial and shopping districts and, finally, a taste of suburban tranquillity.
- Trams are slower and bumpier than other modes of transport, and they are not air conditioned. Summer months can be very uncomfortable even with the windows open.
- They run 06:00-23:59.
- Passengers board at the rear and the flat $2.30 fare is paid upon getting off at the front of the tram. The fare is paid for by Octopus Card or coins (no change given)
- They are the favourite transport option on Sundays for Hong Kong's large foreign maid community and it is very difficult to either sit or stand on that day.
The Peak Tram, Hong Kong's first mechanised mode of transport, opened in 1888. The remarkably steep 1.7km track from Central up to Victoria Peak is worth at least one trip despite the comparatively steep price ($28 one-way, $40 return; return tickets must be purchased in advance). The tram turnstiles do take Octopus cards, which will allow you to avoid the ticketing line at the station.
The Peak Tram is likely to be crowded at night when the view of the city's skyline is magic, as well as on public holidays. Queues can be very long (waiting an hour is common at busy times), and a lot of pushing has been reported.
Note that the tram is not the only way to get to the Peak, and there are cheaper (but slower and still quite scenic) alternatives such as the #1 green minibus costing $8.4 & #15 double-decker bus costing $9.8 from Exchange Square Bus Terminus. These buses will often give you great views of both sides of Hong Kong Island on the way up.
MTR operates a tram system located in the northwest New Territories called Light Rail. It is a modern and fast tram system connecting Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, and Tin Shui Wai. It is also known as ding ding by local people. It has an open fare system, in which passengers are required to buy a ticket or tap an Octopus card at the station entrance before boarding, and ticket inspection is random. The area is seldom visited by foreign tourists but various sights are nonetheless accessible via Light Rail, such as numerous ancient walled villages (highlighted by the Ping Shan Heritage Trail), the Hong Kong Wetland Park, the beaches of Tuen Mun New Town, Yuen Long Town Centre, and seafood towns like Lau Fau Shan and Sam Shing.
There are three types of bus available in Hong Kong. For longer stays in Hong Kong you will find that it is often quicker to use the bus system than to use the MTR. While generally easy to use, signs in English can be sparse and finding your bus stop can get difficult. Buses are also the only public option for travelling around the south side of the island and Lantau.
The frequency of bus services however mean that it can also be the fastest way around as long as you master them correctly. Google Maps will actually let you know the best number bus to take from your current position to destination.
- The large double-decker buses cover practically all of the territory, stop frequently and charge varying fares depending on the distance. The first seats of the upper deck offer great views. The franchised bus operators in Hong Kong include Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) (and its subsidiary Long Win Bus), Citybus (CTB), New World First Bus (NWFB) and New Lantao Bus (NLB). Route and fare information can be found on the companies web sites. Alternatively it's also wise to install transportation apps such as "KMB & LW" and "CitybusNWFB" into your smartphone, to check fares outdoors if you'll use mobile devices regularly during your stay.
Fares will depend more on where you board rather than where you get-off (except for the cross-boundary route B2 and a few overnight buses) which means it is more expensive to board at the earlier stops rather than the later stops. Hence, bus rides which cross the harbour between Kowloon and the Island exceed $9 prior to the crossing. The fare is displayed on a digital display above the farebox - exact change, Octopus Card or a ticket purchased from a bus travel centre (only applicable to a few routes found at major transit hubs such as Star Ferry or Central Bus Terminus) must be used. There are plenty of bus routes that provide a fare discount for transferring with a particular set of routes; they're often confusing for visitors, however instructions are written on bus stop timetable leaflets. There are also some bus routes (especially the routes going to Stanley) which offer discount if a passenger gets off early and taps the Octopus card again prior to alighting.
There are announcements in Cantonese, Mandarin and English except for most buses on New Lantau Bus. To catch your bus go to the bus stop with the right number and when your bus approaches, raise your arm to hail the bus (like you would hail a taxi). Buses will only stop when requested so press the red buzzer (located by the exit doors and on the grab-rails) to signal to the driver that you want to alight. Always board at the front and alight from the centre door - unless the bus has only one door, or on the routes where you need to pay when alighting, in which case keep to the left.
- Van-sized public light buses carry a maximum of 16 passengers (seats only) and come in two varieties, red minibuses and green minibuses (the red buses are also called maxicabs); the colour refers to a wide stripe painted on top of the vehicle. Riding a minibus may not be easy for travellers, as it is required to call out the name of the stop or ask the driver to stop in Cantonese. (Just shouting 'Please Stop' loudly in English usually suffices) More and more red minibuses accept Octopus card, but still many do not accept Octopus but will give you change, while green minibuses do accept Octopus payment but cannot give you change if you pay in cash. The Hong Kong Island green minibus #1 down from the Peak to Central is particularly exhilarating. Red minibuses tend to have a more Chinese feel than green buses. Prices on red minibuses are often displayed only in Chinese numbers. The price displayed on a red minibus can legally vary according to the market price, so expect to pay more at busy times. Some people argue that the driving standards of red minibuses are lower than green minibuses; Minibus drivers generally drive fast, especially at night. Always use minibus seatbelts where available. You will notice that they all have an extra, large, digital speedometer in the cabin for the passengers to view, this is required by the government after a few fatal accidents due to speeding. Since the introduction of these passenger speedometers mini-bus accident rates have dropped.
- The MTR also maintains a fleet of feeder buses. MTR passengers can enjoy a free feeder service if the bus trip is paid for on an Octopus card along with a connecting railway journey (except taking K12 on holidays).
Note that if paying in cash, the exact fare is required and no change can be given. Paying by Octopus is much more convenient. The exception to this rule is if you use a red minibus; Octopus cards are not accepted on red minibus services, but they do give you change.
There are six independent route numbering systems, applying to: buses (i) on Hong Kong Island, (ii) in Kowloon and the New Territories, and (iii) on Lantau Island; green minibuses (iv) on Hong Kong Island, (v) in Kowloon, and (vi) in New Territories and several exceptional auxiliary bus routes. Red minibuses do not usually have a route number. This leads to duplication of routes in different regions. Although the Transport Department has been working on unification of the route numbers, they are still a little bit messy at the moment. If you are confused a bit by the numbering of routes, here is a suggestion: just remember the route number of buses in Hong Kong Island/Kowloon/New Territories only whenever it is necessary. In other special circumstances, ask the driver or the station staff for the Lantau buses and green minibuses and they can answer you.
Generally you need not mention which district the route belongs to when you are asking for directions (almost all people will assume you are asking for the route which runs in the district you are in, e.g. if you ask for bus route #2, locals will assume you are asking for bus route #2 running in Kowloon if you are in Kowloon), but you really need to mention whether the route is by bus or minibus when you ask, since in some cases both buses and minibuses can have the same route number in the same area which are actually different routes. (e.g. there are both bus route #6 and minibus route #6 in Tsim Sha Tsui, which are actually different routes).
A large fleet of ferries sail between the many islands of Hong Kong. The granddaddy of them all and an attraction in itself is the Star Ferry, whose most popular line travels between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central from early morning until late at night, and offers amazing views (especially when coming from Tsim Sha Tsui). The Star Ferry is an icon of Hong Kong heritage and has carried passengers for over 120 years. Taking its 11-minute ride across the harbour and catching some misty breeze is considered a "must do" when visiting Hong Kong. Navigation enthusiasts will also not want to miss the sight of the crew using a billhook to catch the thrown rope as it moors at the pier, a practice unchanged since the first ferry ran in 1888.
Upper deck seats cost $2.50 on weekdays and $3.40 on weekends while the lower deck cost $2.00 on weekdays and $2.80 on weekends, both payable with Octopus, cash (no change given) or by onsite vending machine. The Star Ferry also operates between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai but only offers upper-deck seating. A 4-day tourist ticket is also available for $25.
Ferries to Lamma, Lantau and other islands depart from a variety of ports, but the largest and most important terminal is at Central adjacent to the Star Ferry. Ferries are usually divided into fast ferries and slow ferries, with fast ferries charging around twice the price for half the journey time, although not all destinations offer both kinds of service. Example fares for trips from Central to Yung Shue Wan (Lamma) are $10/15 slow/fast, and to Mui Wo (Lantau) $10.50/$21. Note that all fares increase by around 50% on Sundays and public holidays.
Taxis are plentiful, clean, and efficient. They are extremely cheap compared to many other large cities.
There are three types of taxi in Hong Kong, easily identified by their colours: red, green and blue, all of which serve the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland. Be aware if you are choosing from one of the three kinds of taxis when you are finding your way out of the airport. When in doubt, just take a red taxi. Rates for each type of taxi are published online
- The Urban (red) taxis can travel anywhere within Hong Kong, and are the most expensive. The meter starts at $22.00 for the first 2 kilometres, plus $1.60 ($1 after the fare reaches $78) for every 200m or minute of wait time thereafter.
- New Territories (green) taxis are slightly cheaper than the red ones but are confined to rural areas in the New Territories, the airport, and Hong Kong Disneyland.
- Lantau (blue) taxis are the cheapest of the three but operate only on Lantau Island, including the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland.
Considerations when riding taxis:
- Wearing of seat belts is required by law, the driver has the right to refuse carrying the passenger if they fail to comply.
- Tipping is usually not required or expected, however the driver will usually round the fare up to the nearest dollar.
- Drivers are required to provide change for $100 notes, but not for higher denominations. If you only have a $500 or $1000 note and are going through a tunnel, let the driver know beforehand and he will change it when paying at the toll booth.
- Some taxis accept credit cards and Octopus cards to avoid hassles with small change; these are usually indicated by a sticker in the windshield.
- There are no extra late-night charges nor peak-hour surcharges. However, baggage carried in the boot ("trunk" if coming from North America) will cost you $5 per piece, except for wheelchairs. No charges are levied for travel to/from the airport or within downtown but all toll charges for tunnels are added to the bill. The driver will normally pay on your behalf at the toll booth and you just need to reimburse him before alighting.
- Harbour crossing passengers (Hong Kong Island to Kowloon or vice versa) are expected to pay the return tolls. But you can use this to your advantage by picking a homebound taxi from a cross-harbour taxi rank in places like the Star Ferry pier or Hung Hom station. In these cross-harbour taxi stands only single toll charge will be applied to the taxi fare.
- All taxi drivers are required to display inside the vehicle an official name card that includes the driver's photograph and the license plate number. Unless a taxi has an out of service sign displayed, they are legally required to take you to your destination. They are also required to provide you a receipt upon request. If you think you have been "toured" around the city, or if they refuse to either carry you to your destination or provide for a receipt, you may file a complain to the Transport Complaints Unit Complaint Hotline (Voice mail service after office hours) at 2889-9999.
- All taxis are radio equipped and can be reserved and requested via an operator for a token fee of $5, payable to the driver. You are unlikely to need to call a taxi, though, as they are plentiful.
- It is good practice to get a local person to write the name or address of your destination in Chinese for you to hand to the taxi driver, as many drivers speak limited English and Mandarin. For example, if you wish take a journey back to your hotel, ask a receptionist for the hotel's business card.
- Learning some Cantonese pronunciation for your location will help (especially as some names such as Hung Hom, don't sound in Cantonese like they are written in English). "Do" (said like "Doe" - a deer, a female deer, with a middle tone) and "Gai" (said more like "Kai" with a rising tone) are the Cantonese words for Road and Street respectively. If you can pronounce your suburb and local road correctly, this will help considerably. Nevertheless, even if you don't, most taxi drivers know enough English to communicate the basics. Be aware that buildings might have an English name used by foreigners and a different English name used by locals. The HSBC building in Central is called "Hong Kong Bank" by taxi drivers for example.
Considerations when driving in Hong Kong:
- Renting a car is almost unheard of in densely populated Hong Kong. With heavy traffic, a complex road network, rare and expensive parking spaces, and well-connected public transportation, renting a car is very unappealing. However, renting a car should not be ruled out if you intend to spend a significant amount of time hiking and camping in the countryside. Expect to pay over $600/day even for a small car.
- The legal age for driving passenger cars in Hong Kong is 18, the same as the Mainland. However, you must be 21 in order to drive commercial vehicles.
- Hong Kong allows most foreigners to drive with an International Driving Permit (IDP). In fact, if one possesses a driving licence which is written in English, he/she can drive in Hong Kong for a temporary period of time. Anyone who drives for more than 12 months is required to get a Hong Kong licence issued by the Department of Transport.
- Hong Kong uses traffic rules and signs similar to the United Kingdom.
- The majority of Hongkongers will exceed the speed limit by around 10km/h which is the tolerated threshold. There are many speeding cameras on most major highways.
- Traffic lights are always observed.
- Wearing a seatbelt is mandatory for every passenger who has a seatbelt provided.
- Rush hour traffic can be severe around the Cross Harbour Tunnel, which is generally congested 08:00-11:00 and 16:00-22:00 and even sometimes right up until midnight.
- Many drivers will not signal before changing lanes.
- Traffic rules are enforced seriously and the penalty for breaking rules can be severe.
- Signs are written in both Chinese and English.
- Traffic in Hong Kong moves on the left (the steering wheel is on right hand side), same as United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Thailand and Singapore, but opposite to mainland China.
Driving across the border
It is unlikely that you will be able to drive across the border to mainland China. If you wish to drive into mainland China then your vehicle must have a second set of number plates issued by the Guangdong authorities. These are issued in limited numbers to people investing in the mainland, and the price for a second hand plate can be as high as $300,000. You will also need to acquire a mainland Chinese driving licence. Hong Kong, Macau or foreign licences will not be accepted. You will also need to change sides of the road at the border.
In general, although cycling is possible, Hong Kong is not a bicycle-friendly place because of its hilly landscapes, government policies, air pollution and a general lack of consideration by many motorists. Locals sometimes cycle on the pavements if they are not crowded, although most of time, pavements are too crowded even for pushing your bike. If you plan to use busy urban roads you should be fit enough to keep up with the traffic, which moves surprisingly quickly.
A network of tarmac cycle tracks sprawl across the New Territories making it relatively easy to bike for longer distances. There are also several mountain-bike trails in the country parks, although a permit is necessary to bring your bicycle into the parks. Visitors should comply with the Road User's Guide which is based on the United Kingdom Highway Code.
Bike rental is available in several locations across the territory. Popular rental spots include Cheung Chau, Mui Wo (Lantau), Sha Tin, Tai Po Market, Tuen Mun and Ma On Shan. Rental fees are typically $40-60 a day for a standard entry-level mountain bike, or around $150 per day for a higher-spec mountain or road bike.
Basic rules to follow:
- Cyclists are not allowed by law to ride on highways and tunnels, which are well patrolled.
- It is an offence to be drunk in charge of a bicycle.
- By law, you're required to have a front and rear light.
- Electronic bike conversion systems are not allowed. The police have a strict enforcement policy on this offence.
- The maximum penalty for riding on pedestrian roads is $500 or a three month jail sentence. Usually offenders get a warning, but the Hong Kong Police do occasionally have an annual, or bi-annual crackdown.
- For folding bike users, sometimes a bus driver will tell you that it's not allowed, but if you talk to them nicely they will usually let you board. A bicycle bag that makes your bike look like ordinary luggage can make your life a lot easier.
Bicycles on public transport
Folding bicycles are permitted on all public transport, provided that they are folded.
- MTR: Non-folding bicycles are permitted to travel on the MTR system. Travel in the first or last carriage and remove the front wheel.
- Ferries: Bicycles are permitted on board slow ferries including the Star Ferry, but are not permitted on the Fast Ferries.
- Taxis: Most taxi drivers will carry bikes in the boot if the front wheel is removed. Some drivers will carry your bike for free, others will legitimately charge extra for 'excess baggage'.
The world's longest outdoor escalator travels from Central through Soho to the residential developments of the Mid-levels. The escalator moves down in the morning rush hour but up the rest of the time, and using it is free — in fact, you can even get Octopus credits from machines along the way for being willing to use your feet!
The escalator cuts through some of the oldest streets found anywhere in Hong Kong, so if you are happy to take a chance and just wander and explore the back streets you are likely to find something of interest that dates back to colonial times. The immediate area to the east of the escalator was once reserved for the exclusive use of Chinese people.
- See also: Cantonese phrasebook
Hong Kong's official languages are Cantonese and English.
Cantonese is the main language spoken by locals. The Hong Kong variant is basically the same as in Guangzhou on the mainland but tends to incorporate some English words and slang, which frequently sounds strange to other Cantonese speakers. (Like "我唔sure得唔得", means "I am not sure if it's okay") Cantonese is the lingua franca in many overseas Chinese communities and Guangdong and Guangxi province. Like all Chinese languages, Cantonese is a tonal language and definitely not easy for foreigners to master, but locals always appreciate any effort by visitors to speak it, so learning a few simple greetings will get you acquainted with locals much more easily.
Unlike Hanyu Pinyin - standard romanization system for phoneticizing Mandarin, Cantonese so far hasn't developed a well recognised romanization system and local people seldom bother to learn them. However, some accurate phonetics system do exist for learners, such as the Yale system or Jyutpin.
唔該; m' goi
Just one Cantonese word that will go a very long way in and around Hong Kong. Learn this word and you can use it to say please, thank you and excuse me. M̀h'gōi rhymes with boy and should be said with a cheery high tone rising at the end. Give it a go.
As a former British colony, English is the most common second language, and while it is far from ubiquitous, your chances of encountering an English speaker in Hong Kong are still much better than in other East Asian cities. Education in English begins in kindergarten, and fluency in English is often a prerequisite for securing a good job. As a result, English is spoken fluently by most professionals and business people. In contrast, English proficiency tends to be more limited among the average working class person, particularly outside the main tourist areas. In addition, while many people can understand written English pretty well, they may not necessarily be comfortable speaking it. Nevertheless, most locals under the age of 40 (and many over that as well) know enough English for basic communication, while younger locals under the age of 30 often speak good English. To improve your chances of being understood, speak slowly, stick to basic words and sentences and avoid using slang.
As English is an official language of Hong Kong, government offices are required by law to have English-speaking staff on duty. There are two terrestrial English language TV stations: TVB Pearl and ATV World. English-language films in cinemas are almost always shown with the original soundtrack and Chinese subtitles, though children's films, especially animations, are often dubbed into Cantonese. British English is still widely used in Hong Kong, especially in government and legal documents. In the media, the South China Morning Post and both terrestrial TV channels use British English. Place names, such as Victoria Harbour (not Harbor) serve as a record of Hong Kong's colonial heritage. Also, modern buildings, such as the International Finance Centre (not Center) maintain the tradition of using British spellings. Most secondary and tertiary institutions adopt English for instruction, even though in most cases lectures are conducted in Cantonese.
It is also important to note that many English street names are seldom used among local people including those who can speak fluent English. Before you go anywhere, ask hotel staff to write down the street names using Chinese characters.
Although the majority of Hong Kong people are not fluent in Mandarin, they can usually understand it to some degree. Mandarin has been compulsory in all public schools since the handover, and with the huge influx of mainland tourists many people in the tourist industry will often speak Mandarin. Most shops in the main tourist areas as well as all government offices will have Mandarin-speaking staff on duty.
All official signs are bilingual in Chinese and English. Under the "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong continues to use traditional Chinese characters, and not the simplified Chinese characters used in the mainland.
Hong Kong doesn't have street benches to sit down. Whilst "sitting down areas" are around, these are generally infrequent. Additionally, restaurants (especially cheap and quick ones) will prefer quick table turnover. All this adds up to spending a considerable amount of time on your feet in any given day. Make sure you have a pair of comfortable shoes, as even a good pair of shoes will still leave your feet sore after a full day on your feet.
- Hong Kong Culinary Tour — gives a short tour to discover the unique cuisine of Hong Kong
- Hong Kong to Kunming overland — covers one route to or from Hong Kong
A list of guided tours is available on the website of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
Get a stunning view of Hong Kong Island on Victoria Peak atop the giant, wok-shaped Peak Tower! Ever since the dawn of British colonisation, the Peak hosted the most exclusive neighbourhood for the territory's richest residents. Local Chinese weren't permitted to live here until after World War II. The Peak Tower has an observation platform and a shopping mall with shops, fine dining, and museums. Read more at Hong Kong/Central#Victoria Peak.
Horse racing is serious business in Hong Kong. There are live broadcasts over the radio and many people bet regularly. When people are listening to the races, whether in a taxi or restaurant or on the streets, expect no conversation or business to transpire for the 1-2 minute duration of the race.
With the exception of a summer break between mid-July and mid-September, horse races take place on Wednesdays and on weekends, at either Sha Tin in the New Territories or Happy Valley ($10, Wednesday nights) on Eastern Hong Kong Island. Both racing locations are easily accessible by MTR but Happy Valley is the more convenient, historic, and impressive location. See the online schedule.
Get a local to explain the betting system to you. Read Racing Post by the South China Morning Post on race days for a guide to the race. A beer garden with $40 draft beer, plenty of expatriates, and racing commentary in English is at the finish line of Happy Valley. Bring your passport and get in at the tourist rate of just $1 (compared to $10 for locals).
Betting can also be placed at any of 100+ branches of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, a nonprofit charitable organization and the only institution permitted to conduct legal horse-racing in the territory. Expect long lines and big crowds.
There are many traditional heritage locations throughout Hong Kong.
In New Territories you will find Ping Shan Heritage Trail passing by some of the most important ancient sights, the walled Hakka village of Tsang Tai Uk, Fu Shin Street Traditional Bazaar as well as a number of temples including Che Kung Temple, Man Mo Temple and the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas. In Kowloon you will find the Kowloon Walled City Park at the location of the former Kowloon walled city. And on Lantau you will find the Stilt houses in Tai O, Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha Statue.
There are a variety of museums in Hong Kong with different themes. Arguably the best museum is the Hong Kong Museum of History in Kowloon, which gives an excellent overview of Hong Kong's fascinating past, not the typical pots-behind-glass format of museums you find elsewhere in China. Innovative galleries such as a mock-up of a colonial era street make history come to life. Allow about two hours to view everything in detail.
Kowloon also has a number of other interesting museums including Dialogue in the Dark, which is an exhibition in complete darkness where you should use your non-visual senses with the help of a visually impaired guide, the International Hobby and Toy Museum, which exhibits models, toys, science fiction collectibles, movie memorabilia and pop-culture artifacts from around the world, Hong Kong Museum of Art, which is a fascinating, strange and elusive place exhibiting Chinese ceramics, terracotta, rhinoceros horn and Chinese paintings as well as contemporary art produced by Hong Kong artists, Hong Kong Science Museum, primarily aimed at children, and Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre.
Central also has its share of museums including Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, which shows how the healthcare system evolved from traditional Chinese medicine to modern Western medicine, and Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre.
New Territories has the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, which will appeal to those who have a serious interest in Chinese culture, and the Hong Kong Railway Museum.
Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kong is not all skyscrapers and it is worthwhile to go to the countryside (over 70% of Hong Kong), including the country parks and marine parks. Many are surprised to find that Hong Kong is actually home to some stunning landscapes and breathtaking scenery.
- Lantau Island is twice as big as Hong Kong island and is well worth checking out if you want to get away from the bright lights and pollution of the city for a spell. Here you will find open countryside, traditional fishing villages, secluded beaches, monasteries and more. You can hike, camp, fish and mountain bike, among other activities.
- In the waters just off Tung Chung on Lantau Island, live the Chinese White Dolphins. These dolphins are naturally pink and live in the wild, but their status is currently threatened, with it current population estimated to be between 100-200.
- The Sai Kung Peninsula in New Territories is also a worthwhile place to visit. Its mountainous terrain and spectacular coastal scenery make this a special place. There are both challenging and more relaxed routes.
- Hong Kong Wetland Park in New Territories is a relaxing park set amidst an ecological mitigation area. One can stroll along a network of board walks or explore the large visitors centre/museum.
- North East New Territories is also famous for its natural environment. Yan Chau Tong Marine Park is in the North East New Territories. A few traditional abandoned villages are connected with hiking trails in the territory. North East New Territories is a famous hiking hot spot for the locals.
- Short hiking trails (2 hours) can be found on Hong Kong Island and the New Territories. You can even hike up to the Victoria Peak.
- Some outlying islands are worth visiting, e.g.: Lamma Island, Cheung Chau, Ping Chau, Tap Mun, Tung Lung Island.
- Hong Kong Disneyland Resort opened in September 2005. It is on Lantau Island, about 12 km east of Hong Kong International Airport. The resort also features a Disneyland park, two resort hotels and a lake recreation centre. Though significantly smaller in size than other Disneyland-style parks elsewhere, the park is undergoing an expansion to offer more attractions (including the recently opened Toy Story Land and Grizzly Gulch). It offers some great attractions and short queues most of the year (except the week of Chinese New Year, Easter, Halloween and Christmas season).
- Ocean Park is on the southern side of Hong Kong island, and is the park that grew up with many local Hong Kong people. With roller coasters and large aquariums altogether, it is still packed on weekends with families and tourists. The cablecar is an icon. For many, the chance to see Hong Kong's pandas would be a deciding factor. Young adults will be attracted to the wider range of rides.
- Ngong Ping 360 on Lantau Island is a Buddhist themed park that features Imperial Chinese architecture, interactive shows, demonstrations, restaurants and coffee shops. The highlight of this trip is the longest cable car ride in Hong Kong that affords stunning views. The ride also takes you to the largest outdoor seated Buddha.
Seeing different sides of Hong Kong by public transport
Travelling on a bus or a tram is ideal for looking at different sides of Hong Kong. Not only is it cheap, it allows you to see completely different lifestyles in different districts in a short time. Below are some recommended routes.
- KMB Route 270A. Starts from the downtown in Jordan, Kowloon. It goes along Peninsular Kowloon and heads through the New Territories. Then it goes into Sha Tin. Afterwards it goes through Tai Po Road, where you can see many traditional Chinese villages and the scenic Chinese University of Hong Kong. The bus further goes to Tai Po and you can see the traditional Market. After Tai Po, the bus again passes through the countryside and eventually reaches its terminus at Sheung Shui (below Landmark North), which is near the Hong Kong - Shenzhen boundary. The journey takes 80 minutes and costs $13 for the whole journey with an air-conditioned bus. The Hung Hom bound train back to the city can be taken from Sheung Shui.
- NWFB Route 15 starts from Central (Exchange Square) to The Peak. It is an alternative way for getting to The Peak by bus rather than by Peak Tram. Your journey to Hong Kong will not be complete unless you have visited Victoria Peak. You can see the beautiful view of Hong Kong Island, Victoria Harbour and Kowloon Peninsula along the Stubbs Road during the journey. When you arrive, there are two shopping malls: The Peak Tower and The Peak Galleria, which provide restaurants, a supermarket, and souvenir shops for your convenience. In addition, you can visit Madame Tussauds Hong Kong and see if the mannequins look to be the real deal. Direction: you can take MTR and get off at Hong Kong station. You can approach Hong Kong station by the underpass from Central station. After that, follow the exit B1 to Exchange Square and you will see the bus terminus. You can also get off at Admiralty station. Then, follow the C1 exit towards Queensway Plaza. Make a right after you exit the station, and you will see the bus stop. After you get on the bus, just stay on until it arrives to The Peak bus terminus. The bus fare is $9.8 and it takes about 30 minutes for the journey.
- Citybus Route 973 Route 973 starts from the Tsim Sha Tsui East Bus Terminus which is located at the Concordia Plaza, which is directly opposite the Science Museum at Science Museum Road. It goes along Salisbury Road, where the Avenue of Stars, The Space Museum and the Art Museum are located. Later it goes to University of Hong Kong, which is the most prominent and the oldest university in Hong Kong after crossing the Western Harbour Crossing. It later passes through the countryside of the southern part of Hong Kong . It will reach the Hong Kong southern side, where the Jumbo/Tai Pak Floating Restaurant is located at Aberdeen. Not long after, the bus passes by a football field, from which it is a 5–10 minutes walk to Ocean Park. Finally, the bus passes by the beautiful sandy beach of Repulse Bay, before it finally arrives at its terminus station at Stanley Village, where the famous Murray House and the Stanley Village Market are located. The fare is $13.6 and it takes about 95 minutes for the journey.
- NWFB Route H1, H2
These two are rickshaw-themed double deckers going to main heritage spots on Hong Kong Island, such as the Court of Final Appeal (previously LegCo) in Central and the University of Hong Kong. A day pass costs $50, and you can hop on and hop off at any stop.
- Take a tram journey on Hong Kong Island.
The tram system refers to is Hong Kong Tramways, a slow yet special form of transport running on Hong Kong Island. It has been operating since 1904 and is an obvious relic of the British administration. A trip on a tram is a perfect way to have a leisurely tour around Hong Kong Island's major streets and to have a glimpse of the local life. Fares are relatively cheap, just $2.30 per trip for an adult and one dollar for senior citizens (aged 65 or older) and children pay $1.20.
Note that the low price makes it attractive to housemaids on their Sunday day off, and it can be so crowded that it is very difficult to squeeze on or off. A relaxing tram journey would be better for a weekday.
A new, modern, tram system operates in the north west New Territories and serves New Towns between Yuen Long and Tuen Mun. Few tourists will be inspired by these trams but they may appeal to trainspotters.
Avenue of Stars and A Symphony of Lights
Hong Kong's version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Avenue of Stars celebrates icons of Hong Kong cinema from the past century. The seaside promenade offers fantastic views, day and night, of Victoria Harbour and its iconic skyline. This is the place to have your picture taken by a professional photographer who is experienced in night photography. The Avenue can be reached from the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station or the Star Ferry.
The Avenue of the Stars is also a great place to see A Symphony of Lights, a spectacular light and laser show synchronised to music and staged every night at 20:00. This is the world's "Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show" as recognised by Guinness World Records. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the light show is in English. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday it is in Mandarin. On Sunday it is in Cantonese. While at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, spectators can tune their radios to FM103.4 MHz for English narration, FM106.8 MHz for Cantonese or FM107.9 for Mandarin. The same soundtrack can be accessed via mobile phones at 35665665 for the English version where normal telephone rates apply. However, whilst the show is not such a big deal, during festival times the light show is supplemented by fireworks that are worth seeing.
Festivals and events
Lunar New Year dates
The year of the Horse started on 31 Jan 2014
- Chinese (Lunar) New Year (農曆新年). Although this may seem like an ideal time to go to Hong Kong, many shops and restaurants are closed during the first 3 days of the Chinese New Year, so visitors will not see Hong Kong at its best. However, unlike Christmas in Europe where you can hardly find shops open, department stores, supermarkets, and Western fast-food restaurants generally remain open, so you can still get food and daily products easily during the Lunar New Year period. The week or two leading up to the Chinese New Year as well as the period from the 3rd to the 15th day are good times to soak up the festive mood and listen to Chinese New Year songs being played in the shops. There are some celebratory events such as lion dances, fireworks, and parades.
- Spring Lantern Festival (元宵節). If you go to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, you will be able to experience this traditional Chinese festival. A number of beautiful lanterns can be found in the park at this time.
- Ching Ming Festival (清明節). This festival in Spring is also known as grave sweeping day. To show respect to the deceased, family members go to the grave of their ancestors to sweep away leaves and remove weeds around the grave area. Paper offerings are also burned, such as fake money.
- Cheung Chau Bun Festival (長洲太平清醮). This takes place on the tiny island of Cheung Chau. In the past the festival has involved competitions with people climbing bun towers to snatch buns. After the unfortunate collapse of a bun tower in 1978, due to an overload of people, the competition was abandoned. It was resumed again in 2005 with better safety measures.
- Tuen Ng Festival (端午節). This is a festival in memory of a national hero from the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. Dragon boat races are typically held during this festival and glutinous rice dumplings, usually with pork fillings, are eaten by many.
- Hungry Ghost Festival (中元節). This festival runs throughout the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It is believed that the gates of hell open during this period and hungry ghosts are allowed to roam freely into our world. Though not a public holiday, this is the time where one can see many people perform various rites to appease the wandering ghosts, such as offering food and burning joss paper. One can also see traditional performances such as Chinese opera which are held to appease these ghosts.
- Mid Autumn Festival / Moon Festival (中秋節). This festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. Moon cakes which contain lotus seed paste and duck egg yolks are a popular delicacy. Many Western people will find the traditional mooncake hard to appreciate, so you might like to try the ice-cream version as well. The festival is also known as the lantern festival and various parts of Hong Kong will be festooned with decorative lanterns which set the night scene ablaze with colour.
- Chung Yeung Festival (重陽節). Is a day also known as Autumn Remembrance, which is similar to Ching Ming in spring, where families visit the graves of their ancestors to perform cleansing rites and pay their respects. As the weather cools down during this part of the year, hiking is a good activity to do during this holiday.
- Halloween (萬聖節). Halloween has grown rapidly in popularity and many people dress up to party till late. Trick or treat is not common but most restaurants and shopping centres are decorated and have special programmes. For young adults and teenagers, Ocean Park and Disneyland is the place to be for Halloween fun. It is not a public holiday.
- Christmas (聖誕節). Christmas is celebrated Hong Kong style. The city is adorned using traditional Western Christmas decorations. Many shopping centres, such as Pacific Place, offer ample opportunities for children to meet Santa. Most shops and restaurants remain open throughout Christmas. You should expect large crowds out shopping for the Christmas sales.
- New Year's Eve (元旦除夕). New Year's Eve in Hong Kong is something to check out if you are seeking a carnival experience. Hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets to celebrate the New Year is truly an unforgettable time. There are all-night services on the MTR, night-buses, and of course, many taxis. Fireworks go off on the harbour front, which a lot of people attend to watch on both sides of the harbour: Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon side) and Central (Hong Kong Island). The young adults and older adults decide to party with the rest of Hong Kong at the hot-spots such as Causeway Bay, Lan Kwai Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui. Many people dress up and attend private parties and others flock to the streets to enjoy the atmosphere. Police patrol around popular areas to make sure the city is a safe party-zone. Hong Kong people are not great drinkers and most of them stay dry for the night. Drinking alcohol on the street is uncommon. So visitors who drink should moderate their behaviour or risk being screened out by the police as the only drunks in the crowd.
- Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. This annual event brings many visitors from around the world to celebrate the most entertaining installment in the IRB Sevens Series. It is a giant three day sell-out event that takes place between the last days of March and beginning of April.
- Hong Kong Summer Spectacular.Dragon Boat Race, music festivals, summer sales, as well as book exhibitions, Anime Fair, all in the hottest summer parties and coolest carnival!
- Hong Kong Summer Pop Music FestivalEvery summer, the Hong Kong Summer Pop Music Festival gathers top musicians who bring spectacular performance!
- Hong Kong Arts Festival, a month-long festival of international performances, is held in February and March.
- Man Literary Festival, a two-week English language festival with international writers as guests, is held in March.
- Hong Kong International Film Festival, a three-week event, is held in late March to early April.
Ride the tram between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan. The journey takes around 80 minutes and costs $2.30. The Hong Kong Tramways run between the West and East of Hong Kong Island. Starting from the old district Kennedy Town, you can see the residential areas, followed by the Chinese herbal medicine and dried seafood wholesalers in Sai Ying Pun - Sheung Wan. Then the tram goes in the famous Central district with high rise commercial buildings and banks. Wan Chai and Causeway Bay are the districts popular with shoppers and are always crowded with people at all times. Travelling further east are North Point and Shau Kei Wan areas, which are of completely different styles from that in Central and Causeway Bay.
Hong Kong is one of the main centres of Chinese pop culture with a huge and vibrant entertainment industry, and is home to many famous singers and actors such as Jackie Chan, Andy Lau, Wong Ka Kui (Beyond), Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and locally Eason Chan, just to name a few. In addition to the locals, any foreign bands touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to perform in Hong Kong, and concerts by famous singers are often a sell out affair.
You are never far from the sea in Hong Kong and going to a good beach is only a bus-ride away. However, if you want a really good beach, then it is worth making the effort to travel, possibly on foot, and seek out the beaches of the New Territories. With more than 200 outlying islands, as well as an extensive coastline that is jam-packed with impressive bays and beaches, you will surely come across some good looking beaches to while the whole day away. Hong Kong's urban beaches are usually well maintained and have services such as showers and changing rooms. Where beaches are managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, shark nets and life guards are present. Dogs and smoking are not permitted on these beaches.
The best beaches to use include:
Repulse Bay is a large urban beach on the south side of Hong Kong island. It has recently had money spent on its facilities and will appeal to those who have young children.
Middle Bay is popular with gay people and is a 20 minute walk from the crowds at Repulse Bay. Middle Bay has lifeguards, showers, changing rooms, shark nets and a decent cafe serving drinks and snacks.
Shek O is a beach popular with many young Hong Kong people. It is away from the bustle of the city but is well served by restaurants and has a good bus service from the north side of the island. The Thai restaurant close to the beach is worth a try.
Big Wave Bay This beach is smaller than others on Hong Kong Island but still has good services which include a number of small cafes close to the beach. Big Wave Bay, as the name suggests, has the sort of waves that appeal to surfers. From Big Wave Bay it is possible to take the coastal footpath to Chai Wan where you can find the MTR and buses. The walk to Chai Wan is about one hour, or more if you are not used to the steep climb up the mountain.
Hung Shing Yeh Beach is highly regarded as the most popular beach and is located on Lamma Island. This beach is Grade 1 and shows off powdery, fine sand as well as clear water. This beach is well-appointed by means of changing facilities, a barbecue area, and a refreshment kiosk. To arrive at this beach, take the ferryboat from Central Pier to Yung Shue Wan. Expect to walk around 20 minutes from the ferry terminal to the beach (buses and taxis are not an option on Lamma).
In addition to pools in many hotels, there are several public swimming pools scattered across the territory. Entrance costs $19 on weekends/$17 on weekdays for adults and $9 on weekends/$8 on weekdays for children, usually only payable by Octopus Card or by coins. Swimming pools are child-friendly with shallow pools and fountains. All swimming pool complexes are well maintained and offer swimming lanes, hot showers, lockers ($5 coin deposit or padlock required), both family and same-sex changing rooms (limited privacy), and most have swimming clubs for serious swimmers. Swimmers are expected to provide their own towels and toiletries.
Most pools open at 06:30 and close at 22:00. They generally close for lunch around 12:00-13:00 and then again from 17:00-18:00.
- Kowloon Park Swimming Pool Complex (Tsim Sha Tsui MTR exit A1) is centrally located and offers visitors a wide range of services and includes an indoors Olympic-sized pool, a slightly smaller training pool, a diving pool, and a leisure pool for younger swimmers. During the summer months, the indoor pools are air-conditioned, whilst in winter the water is heated. During the summer season, there are four outdoor leisure pools to meet the needs of all ages. In summer, the pool is popular with teenagers but all age-groups make good use of the pools. A limited number of sun loungers are available.
You can rent out a Junk Boat for a sailing trip with your family and friends. A typical junk boat can accommodate more than 30 people and can be rented for the day to take you on a tour of your choice. Sai Kung is a popular spot for the trip to start and you can sail to nearby beaches for a more secluded time. A cheaper alternative is to hire a much smaller water taxi (水道) to take you to where you want to go.
Hiking and Camping
Hiking is the best kept secret in Hong Kong, it is a great way to appreciate Hong Kong's beautiful landscapes that include mountains, beaches and breathtaking cityscapes. The starting points for many hiking trails are accessible by bus or taxi. Hiking is highly recommended for active travellers who want to escape the modern urban world.
Hiking in Hong Kong can be strenuous because of the steep trails, and during the summer months, mosquitos and the hot, humid, weather combine to make even the easiest trek a workout. It is highly recommended that you wear suitable clothes, and bring plenty of water and mosquito repellent. It is fairly unlikely that you will have a close encounter with venomous snakes, although they are present in most rural areas. Most local people choose the winter months to undertake the more demanding hiking trails. If you are not especially fit you might plan your route so that you take a bus or taxi to the highest point of the trail and then walk downhill.
Campsites in Hong Kong are plentiful and free of charge. Most are located within the country parks and range from basic sites serviced with only with a drop-toilet, to those that provide campers with modern toilet blocks with cold showers. Some sites have running water and sinks for washing dishes. A few campsites have places to buy drinking water and food, whilst many are serenely remote. Weekends and public holidays are predictably busy, especially in the more accessible places close to roads. Many Hong Kong people like to camp in large groups, talk loudly and stay awake until very late, so if you are noise sensitive try to find a remote campsite or learn to keep your temper.
There are four major trails in the Hong Kong SAR:
- Lantau Trail on Lantau.
- Hong Kong Trail on Hong Kong Island.
- Maclehose Trail through the New Territories. Oxfam organises an annual charity hike of this 100 km trail every November. Winning teams finish in around 11–12 hours but average people take 30–36 hours to finish the whole trail, which starts from the eastern end of the New Territories (Sai Kung) to the western end (Tuen Mun).
- Wilson Trail starting on Hong Kong Island and finishing in the New Territories.
Hong Kong has some exceptional rural landscapes but visitor impact is an issue. Please respect the countryside by taking your litter home with you. Avoid using litter bins in remote areas as these are not emptied on a regular basis and your litter may be strewn around by hungry animals.
Regulated gambling is legal in Hong Kong:
- Horse racing is the most popular and is further detailed above.
- Football betting is legal only at branches of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Betting on other sports is prohibited.
- Lottery is also legal only at branches of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Marksix is a popular game costing $10 per bet. You pick 6 of 49 numbers, and the lottery result will be announced on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends that don't have horse racing scheduled.
- Mahjong (麻雀 ma jeuk) also forms an integral part of Hong Kong gambling culture, although it is often informal and difficult for foreigners to get involved with. Mahjong has a strong influence on Hong Kong pop culture, with a history of songs and films based on a mahjong theme. The game played in Hong Kong is the Cantonese version, which differs in rules and scoring from the Japanese version or the versions played in other parts of China. Mahjong parlours are plentiful, although hard to find, in Hong Kong. They also have many unwritten rules that visitors may find hard to understand.
Hong Kong has 9 universities. The University of Hong Kong is considered one of Asia's top universities. Other highly rated universities in Hong Kong include the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Most universities have exchange agreements with foreign universities, offering a good opportunity to study in Hong Kong. Courses for exchange students are often conducted in English.
Some of the universities and private institutions offer Cantonese lessons for foreigners. This is a good way for those living in Hong Kong for an extended period of time to learn the local language. Like Taiwan and Macau, but unlike mainland China, the script taught is traditional Chinese.
Although Mandarin is not the language of Hong Kong, it is nevertheless very important and most people will speak it to some degree for dealing with the mainland. It also happens to be much easier to learn than Cantonese. The universities and institutes do offer short and long term Mandarin language courses, and although more expensive than the mainland it is much easier to arrange travel and stay in Hong Kong.
Unless you are already a citizen or permanent resident of Hong Kong then you will need an employment visa in order to work. This usually involves potential employers making an application to the Immigration Department on your behalf; crucially you should have skills that are probably not available from the local job market. Spouses of employment visa holders can apply for a dependent visa that has no limitations for working within Hong Kong, although it will terminate at the same time of the visa of the main holder.
Citizens of the People's Republic of China also require an employment visa in order to work in Hong Kong. Spouses who are citizens of the People's Republic of China will also face issues in obtaining a dependent visa unless they have been living outside the People's Republic of China for more than one year.
In 2006, the Hong Kong Government introduced a new program called the Quality Migrant Application Scheme which targets highly skilled workers (preferably university educated) to come and settle in Hong Kong and seek employment. For more information, visit the website of the Hong Kong Immigration Department. Hong Kong does feature a small ESL market, teachers will typically need a Bachelor`s Degree and a TESOL certification. ESL teachers in Hong Kong can expect to earn $12,000 - $25,000 (monthly) and will usually teach 30 to 40 hours a week. Contracts will sometimes include accommodation and airfare.
You are eligible to apply for permanent residency after living in Hong Kong on a temporary permit for 7 years or more continuously, which allows you to live and work in Hong Kong indefinitely with no restrictions. Note that you have to be physically residing in Hong Kong during this time without any long absences. Permanent residency can also be obtained by investing a large amount of money in a local business. Check with the immigration department for more details.
Young people between 18 and 30 years old who are citizens of Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea are eligible to apply for a 12 month working holiday visa, allowing them to take up temporary work and a short period of study in Hong Kong. Visit the Immigration Department's website  for more information.
The Hong Kong dollar (港幣 or HKD) is the territory's official currency and is the unit of currency used throughout this travel guide. In Chinese, one dollar is known formally as the yuen (圓) and colloquially as the men (蚊) in Cantonese. You can safely assume that the '$' sign used in the territory refers to HKD unless it includes other initials (e.g. US$ to stand for US dollar). The HKD is also widely accepted in Macau in lieu of their home currency at a 1:1 rate.
The official exchange rate is fixed at HKD7.80 to USD1, although bank rates may fluctuate slightly. When exchanging currency at a big bank, be prepared to pay a small fixed commission, usually about $40 per transaction. If exchanging large amounts, this commission will have a negligible impact on the transaction. If exchanging small amounts, it may be advantageous to exchange at one of many independent exchange shops found in tourist areas. Although their exchange rates compared with big banks are slightly less favourable for you, most do not charge a commission. They may also be more convenient and a faster way to exchange (no queues, located in shopping centres, open 24 hours, etc.). However, be wary of using independent exchangers outside banking hours because, without competition from big banks, their rates may become very uncompetitive.
Try to avoid changing money at the airport or at most hotels since the rates offered there are usually extremely poor. Note that street money exchange vendors will often offer different rates and you may be able to save around 10% if you can compare several different places rather than using the first one you see. The worst rates will be similar to those found at the hotels.
ATM debit cards have exchange rates and fees are comparable to exchanging cash at big banks. Be aware that some smaller banks do not accept ATM cards from overseas customers. The best banks for foreign tourists to use are HSBC, Hang Seng and Standard Chartered, and ATM machines from those banks are widespread and can be found at any MTR station.
Banknotes are actually issued by multiple banks in Hong Kong (HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of China) and all can be used anywhere in Hong Kong. They come in denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000.
It is rare to come across a $1000 note and some shops do not accept them due to counterfeiting concerns.
The Queen's head
You will often encounter coins issued before 1997 that feature the former head of state, Queen Elizabeth II of England. These are completely legal tender in Hong Kong and will probably remain in circulation for quite some time yet.
Coins come in units of $10, $5, $2, $1, 50¢, 20¢ and 10¢. Typically you will want to avoid change less than $1 because there are not many things to buy with coins under that. An Octopus Card is the best way to avoid dealing with small change.
Automated Teller Machines (ATM's) are common in urban areas. They usually accept VISA, MasterCard, and to certain degree UnionPay. Maestro and Cirrus cards are widely accepted also. They dispense $100, $500 or rarely $1000 notes depending on the request. Credit card use is common in most shops for major purchases. Most retailers accept VISA and MasterCard, and some accept American Express as well. Maestro debit cards however are not widely accepted by retailers. Signs with the logo of different credit cards are usually displayed at the door to indicate which cards are accepted. For small purchases, in places such as McDonalds or 7-Eleven, cash or an Octopus Card is the norm though some of these outlets can accept credit cards for smaller purchases. Sometimes, the merchant can give you a choice of whether to charge your credit card purchase directly to your home currency or Hong Kong dollars. Choosing which currency to directly charge the purchase to won't matter for small amounts but for larger purchases it may be worth it to consult your credit card's policy on them converting foreign exchange transactions.
Merchants will require that the credit cards be signed and will compare your signature with the card and do not ask for picture ID. The 'chip and pin' system for credit card authorisation is not used in Hong Kong.
Opening a bank account in Hong Kong is a straightforward process, requiring a proof of address and a corresponding ID. A Hong Kong identification card (of any type) will make the process much easier, although foreign visitors are allowed to open bank accounts as well using their foreign address. Hong Kong banks will have English speaking staff available.
Some banks can also provide accounts and UnionPay credit cards in the Chinese RMB currency, which can then be used when travelling in mainland China.
Hong Kong is expensive by Asian standards, with the cost of accommodation especially high. A comfortable mid-range hotel room will cost at least $800 a night, although those who are really on a shoe-string budget could find something for less than $200 for just a bed in a hostel.
Transport is however relatively cheap, with most public transport journeys costing just a few dollar. Even taxis won't break the bank with short journeys costing about $30, although crossing the harbour will add another $80 to your tab.
Eating out in Hong Kong is generally cheaper than in Western countries, and prices start from about $20 per serve for a basic meal of porridge or noodles, although in mid-range restaurants, $150–200 per head is common. At the other end of the spectrum, fine dining can also be very expensive, and prices on the order of $1000 per head or more are not unheard of.
Finally it is worth noting that Hong Kong does not have a sales tax and therefore general prices for moderately expensive items (such as western Shampoo, mobile phones etc) will be less than the same products on the mainland.
As a general rule, tipping is not customary in Hong Kong, though people will not reject any tips you care to hand them. Tipping is a matter of personal choice, but visitors should take into account that locals usually do not leave a tip. Visitors should also know that it is common for bar and restaurant owners to keep some, or all, of the money given as tips.
In cheaper restaurants, tipping is not expected at all and it will be considered unusual not to take all your change. In medium-to-upmarket restaurants, a 10% service charge is often compulsorily added to your bill and this is usually regarded as the tip. You may wish to tip on top of the service charge for good service, but it is neither compulsory nor expected; to give it more chance of reaching the staff tips should be given in cash not as additions to a credit card bill. It is also common for midrange Chinese restaurants to give you peanuts, tea and towels and add a small charge to the bill. Known as "cha-sui money" (money for tea and water) it is considered to be common practice. So, unless the charge is excessive, tourists should accept it as part of the cost of the meal. Sometimes, restaurants will deliberately give customers change in coins, when notes should be given; it is your choice to either take all your change or leave a small tip.
Tipping is not expected in taxis but passengers will often round up the fare to the nearest dollar. During a typhoon, when any loss is not covered by insurance, a tip will be expected, or the taxi driver will ask you to pay a surcharge. In hotels, a guest is also expected to tip at least $10–20 for room service, and porters also expect $10–20 for carrying your bags. Bathroom attendants in luxury restaurants and clubs might also expect you to leave a few coins, but it's socially acceptable not to tip.
Do not under any circumstances try to offer a tip to a government employee, especially police officers; this is regarded as bribery and is strictly illegal, and doing so will most probably result in you being arrested.
Exceptionally, on important occasions, such as a wedding party or similar big gala event, local people hosting such events do tip substantially more than ten percent of the total bill. The money is put into a red envelope and given to the manager.
Fierce competition, no sales tax and some wealthy consumers all add up to make Hong Kong an excellent destination for shopping. Choices are plentiful at competitive prices. Lookout for watches, camping equipment, digital items and special cosmetics.
Popular shopping items include consumer electronics, custom clothing, shoes, camping equipment, jewellery, expensive brand name goods, Chinese antiques, toys and Chinese herbs/medicine. There's also a wide choice of Japanese, Korean, American and European clothing and cosmetics but prices are generally higher than in their respective home countries.
Most shops in Hong Kong's urban areas open at about 10AM until 10PM to midnight every day. High rental costs in Hong Kong, ranked second worldwide according to Forbes, makes it no surprise that the best bargain shops could be located anywhere except the ground floor. Shops recommended by local people may even be up on the 20th floor in a building that won't give you a hint that it's a place for shopping.
Many shops will accept credit cards. In accepting credit cards, the merchant will look carefully at the signature rather than looking at photo ID. In addition, merchants will not accept credit cards with a different name to the person presenting it. All shops that accept credit cards and many that don't will also accept debit cards and ATM cards as payment. The term used for debit card payment is EPS.
In the old days, Hong Kong was a good place to buy cheap knockoff, fake products and pirated videos and software. Today, Hong Kong residents often buy these items in Shenzhen just across the border in mainland China.
Antiques and Arts Head for Hollywood Road and Loscar Road in Central. Here you will find a long street of shops with a wide selection of products that look like antiques. Some items are very good fakes, so make sure you know what you are buying. Try Star House near the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui for more expensive items.
Books Hong Kong houses a fair choice of English books, Japanese, French titles, and huge range of uncensored Chinese titles. Prices are usually higher than where they import but it is your last hope to look for your books before heading to China. Try Swindon Books on Lock Road in Tsim Sha Tsui and Page One in Times Square (Causeway Bay) and Festival Walk (Kowloon Tong). Dymocks, an Australian bookshops, has eleven stores, including in IFC and the Princes Building. For French books, visit Librairie Parentheses on Wellington Street in Central and Japanese books are sold in Sogo Shopping Mall in Causeway bay. The biggest local bookshop chain is the Commercial Press and they usually have a cheaper but limited English titles. For looking for Chinese books, local people's beloved bookshops are all along Sai Yeung Choi Street. Called Yee Lau Sue Den (Bookshop on second floor), they hide themselves in the upper floor of old buildings and offered an unbeatable discount on all books.
Cameras Reputable camera stores are located mainly in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok but tourist traps do exist, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui. The basic rule is to avoid all the shops with flashing neon signs along Nathan Road and look for a shop with plenty of local, non-tourist, customers. Only use recommended shops, as shops such as those on Nathan Road are likely to disappear on your next visit to Hong Kong. For easy shopping, get an underground train to Mongkok and head to Sai Yeung Choi Street, where you might find some of the best deals. The Mong Kok Computer Centre and Galaxy Mall (Sing Jai) are always packed with local people. Several camera shops like Man-Sing and Yau-Sing are known for their impolite staff but have a reputation for selling at fair prices. In the 1990s and early 2000s, most shops didn't allow much bargaining, but this has changed since 2003 with the influx of tourists from mainland China. While it is hard to tell how much discount you should ask for, if a shop can give you more than 25-30% discount, local people tend to believe that it's too good to be true, unless it's a listed seasonal sale. While Hong Kong might offer favourable prices, it is always worth checking prices at Hong Kong based e-commerce such as DigitalRev or Expansys that might ship products to your hotel within a day or at least use their price to bargain with retailers.
Computers The base price of computer equipment in Hong Kong is similar to that in other parts of the world, but there are substantial savings to be had from the lack of sales tax or VAT. The Wanchai Computer Centre, Mongkok Computer Centre and Golden Computer Arcade on Sham Shui Po are all a few steps away from their corresponding MTR stations. Also electronic equipment is available at the large chain stores such as Broadway and Fortress which are located in the large malls. The major chain stores will accept credit cards, while smaller shops will often insist on cash or payment by ATM card.
Computer Games and Gaming Hardware If you are interested in buying a new PlayStation, Nindendo DS and the like, the Oriental Shopping Centre, 188 Wan Chai Road, is the place to go. Here you will definitely find a real bargain. Prices can be up to 50% cheaper than in your home country. Be careful to compare prices first. There are also a few game shops in the Wanchai Computer Centre. The back corners in the upper levels usually offer the best prices. You might even be lucky and find English speaking staff here. However, be careful to make sure that the region code of the hardware is compatible with your home country's region code (Hong Kong's region code is NTSC-J, different from mainland China) or buy region code free hardware (like the Nintendo DS lite).
Music and Film HMV is a tourist-friendly store that sells a wide range of more expensive products. For real bargains you should find your way into the smaller shopping centres where you will find small independent retailers selling CDs and DVDs at very good prices. Some shops sell good quality second hand products. Try the Oriental Shopping Centre on Wanchai Road for a range of shops and a taste of shopping in a more down-market shopping centre. Alternatively, brave the warren of CD and DVD shops inside the Sino Centre on Nathan Road between Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei MTR stations. Hong Kong has two independent music stores. White Noise Records in Causeway Bay and Harbour Records in TST. Hong Kong's leading department store Lane Crawford has CD Bars in its IFC and Pacific Place stores and there's a good CD bar at Saffron Café on the Peak.
Camping and sports A good place to buy sportswear is close to Mong Kok MTR station. Try Fa Yuen Street with a lot of shops selling sports shoes. There are also many shops hidden anywhere except the ground floor for selling camping equipment. Prices are usually highly competitive.
Fashion Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon and Causeway Bay on the island are the most popular shopping destinations, though you can find malls all over the territory. In addition to all the major international brands, there are also several local Hong Kong brands such as Giordano, Bossini, G2000, Joyce and Shanghai Tang. The International Finance Centre in Central has a good selection of haute coutre labels for the filthy rich, while for cheap knock-offs, Temple Street in Mong Kok is the obvious destination, though prices are not as cheap as they used to be and these days, most locals head across the border to Shenzhen for cheaper bargains. There is also Citygate Outlets, an extremely large factory outlet mall containing most of the major foreign and local brands located near Tung Chung MTR station on Lantau Island. Tourist going to Ladies Market or any markets nearby should be aware that there are no price tags on items show. Most of the time, the price the merchant will quote you is double the price. Haggle with them and ask to reduce the price at least by 50%. In fact similar clothing items (lower price but fixed) can be found in brick and mortar shops nearby too (e.g. Sai Yeung Choi street)
Tea Buying good Chinese tea is like choosing a fine wine and there are many tea retailers that cater for the connoisseur who is prepared to pay high prices for some of China's best brews. To sample and learn about Chinese tea you might like to find the Tea Museum which is in Hong Kong Park in Central. Marks & Spencer caters for homesick Brits by supplying traditional strong English tea bags at a reasonable price.
Watches and jewellery Hong Kong people are avid watch buyers - how else can you show your wealth if you can't own a car and your home is hidden at the top of a tower-block? You will find a wide range of jewellery and watches for sale in all major shopping areas. If you are targeting elegant looking jewellery or watches try Chow Tai Fook, which can be expensive. Prices vary and you should always shop around and try and bargain on prices. When you are in Tsim Sha Tsui you will probably be offered a "copy watch" for sale. The major luxury brands have their own shops that will ensure you are purchasing genuine items.
Shopping malls are everywhere in Hong Kong. Locally renowned ones are:
- IFC Mall. Located near the Star Ferry and Outlying Islands Ferry Piers in Central. Has many luxury brand shops, an expensive cinema and superb views across the harbour from the rooftop. Can be reached directly from the Airport via the Airport Express and the Tung Chung line.
- Pacific Place. Also a big shopping centre with mainly high-end brands, and has a wonderful cinema. Take the MTR to Admiralty.
- Festival Walk. A big shopping centre with a mix of expensive brands and smaller chains. It has an ice skating rink, cinema and one of Hong Kong's three Apple Stores. There is also a bus terminal within the mall complex. Take the MTR East Rail to Kowloon Tong.
- Cityplaza. A similarly large shopping centre, also with an ice-skating rink. To get there, take the MTR to Taikoo on the Island Line.
- Landmark. Many luxury brands have shops here Gucci, Dior, Fendi, Vuitton, etc. located at Central, Pedder Street. It used to be a magnet for the well-heeled but has since fallen behind in its management.
- APM. All new 24hr shopping centre in Kwun Tong. Take the MTR to the Kwun Tong station.
- Harbour City. Huge shopping centre in Tsim Sha Tsui on Canton Road, to get there take the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui, or take the Star Ferry.
- Langham Place. A huge 12 storey shopping mall adjacent to the Langham Place Hotel in Mong Kok. Mainly contains trendy shops for youngsters. Take the MTR to the Mong Kong station and follow the appropriate exit directions.
- Elements. Located directly above Kowloon Station, this mall is mostly comprised of luxury brand shops and restaurants. There is a cinema, ice rink, an airport express station where you can check into your flights and a long distance bus station for the mainland. Hong Kong's tallest building, the International Commerce Centre (ICC), is attached to this mall.
- Times Square. A trendy multi-storey shopping mall with some luxury brands, with food courts at the lower levels, and gourmet dining at the upper stories. Take MTR to Causeway Bay, and exit at "Times Square". Definitely attracting a younger crowd, this mall is very crowded on weekends and a popular meeting place for teenagers.
- Citygate Outlets. Located right next to Tung Chung MTR Station & directly connected to the Hotel Novotel Citygate Hong Kong, the Citygate is an outlet mall with tonnes of mid-priced brands, some of them being Adidas, Esprit, Giordano, Levi's, Nike, Quiksilver and Timberland. Many of the items are cheaper although also often out of season. Note that most items purchased here cannot be returned or refunded.
- Laforet. Island Beverly and Causeway Place. Best places to find cheap stylish clothes, Asian style. Mostly girls clothes, but also bags, shoes and accessories, highly recommended if you are looking for something different. Immensely popular with teenagers. These three shopping malls are all near exit E, Causeway Bay MTR station.
- New Town Plaza. A 9 storey shopping mall covering 1,300,000 m² retail area in Shatin, New Territories. Diverse variety of shops, consisting of sports brands, luxury brand shops, cuisines from countries in different continents, sports, etc. can be found in the mall, which is estimated to be one of the malls with the highest footfall. The mall is linked with a number of shopping centres nearby, including Phase 3 of New Town Plaza with a Japanese style Department store, YATA. 30 bus lanes are available for accessing the shopping mall. Taking the MTR East Rail to Shatin is another possible way.
Street markets are a phenomenon in Hong Kong, usually selling regular groceries, clothes, bags or some cheap electronic knockoffs.
- Ladies Market- don't be fooled by the name. It is for both sexes for finding cheap clothes, toys, knockoff and fake labels. Located in Mong Kok and accessible by MTR or bus.
- Temple Street - Sold items are the same as in the Ladies Market, but there are more street food vendors, a handful of fortune tellers and a few Chinese opera singers. Illustrated in hundreds of cantonese films, this street is seen as a must by most tourists.
- Flower Market - Prince Edward. Follow your nose to the sweet scents of a hundred different varieties of flowers.
- Goldfish Market- A whole street full of shops selling small fish in plastic bags and accessories Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok.
- Bird Market- MTR Station Prince Edward, exit "Mong Kok Police Station". Walk down Prince Edward Road West until you reach Yuen Po Street "Bird Garden".
- Apliu Street- MTR Station Shum Shui Po, this is the place where you can find cheap computer goods, peripherals and accessories. However, this is the worst place to buy a mobile phone, as they tend to be even more dodgy than small stores in Mongkok.
- Stanley Market- A place for tourists rather than locals, shops sell everything from luxury luggage items to cheap brand name clothes. Accessible with the number 40 minibus from Causeway Bay. Also, no.6 and 6A bus from Central, and no. 973 bus from Tsim Sha Tsui.
- Textiles - Sham Shui Po MTR exit. Several square blocks around Nam Cheong St. (between Cheung Sha Wan Rd. and Lai Chi Kok Rd.) hold dozens and dozens of wholesalers to the textile trade. Although they are looking for big factory contracts, most shops are friendly and will sell you "sample-size" quantities of cloth, leather, haberdashery, tools, machinery and anything else you can think of to feed your creative impulses. Ki Lung Street has an outdoor street market selling smaller quantities of factory surplus cloth and supplies at astoundingly low prices. Haggling is not necessary.
Discounts and haggling
Some stores in Hong Kong (even some chain stores) are willing to negotiate on price, particularly for goods such as consumer electronics, and in many small shops, they will give you a small discount or additional merchandise if you just ask. For internationally branded items whose prices can be easily found (i.e. consumer electronics), discounts of 50% are extremely unlikely. However, deep discounts are often possible on merchandise such as clothes. However, if there is a shop that is selling goods with a 50% discount, most local people will likely avoid buying there because it's too good to be true.
Electronics stores are often packed together in the same place, so it is often easy to spend a few minutes comparing prices, and to know the prevailing international prices. Start by asking for a 10 to 20% discount and see how they respond to you. Sometimes it maybe appropriate to ask "is there any discount?" or "do I get any free gift?". It is sometimes possible to get an additional discount if you pay cash because credit card companies charge 3% on your bill.
The reputation for being a shopping paradise is well deserved in Hong Kong and, added to which, it is also a safe place to shop. Overcharging is seen as an immoral business practice by most local people, and is unlikely to spoil your holiday. Plenty of hotlines are available for complaints.
In areas crowded with tourists, traps do exist. They are often nameless consumer electronics stores with attention grabbing neon signs advertising reputable brand names. Many traps can be spotted if they have numerous employees in a very small store space. Often, several of these stores can be found in a row, especially along Nathan Road, in Kowloon and in parts of Causeway Bay.
One trick is to offer you a low price on an item, take your money only to 'discover' that it is out of stock, and then offer you an inferior item instead. Another trick is to give you a great price on a camera, take your credit card, and before handing over the camera convince you to buy another "better one" at an inflated cost. They may also try to mislead you into buying an inferior product, by claiming that it is a quality product.
One trick specially encountered in electronics shopping are missing items from the box, such as batteries, etc. Once you realize that an important item is missing and come back to the shop to get it, it will be offered at an inflated price. Reputable shops open the box that you will get in front of you and let you take a look to make sure everything is in there and even switch on the equipment before you pay.
Watch out for persons (usually of Indian subcontinental descent) who approach tourists in the busier areas of Kowloon. They do spot Westerners from a great distance and will make a direct line toward you to sell you usually either a suit or watch ("Genuine Copy" is the a phrase often used). Learn to spot them from a distance (since they are already looking for you), make eye-contact, put up your hand and definitively shake your head. Good, strong body language in this regard will help you be approached far less often.
Although the law is strictly enforced, tourist traps are usually designed by villains who are experts at exploiting grey areas in the law. Remember, no one can help you if unscrupulous shop owners haven't actually broken the law.
The official Hong Kong Tourism Board has also introduced the Quality Tourism Services (QTS) Scheme that keeps a list of reputable shops, restaurants and hotels. The shops registered usually cater only to tourists, while shops that offer you the best deals usually don't bother to join the programme.
Watch out for people (mostly southeast Asian descent) around tourist areas road asking you where you're going. Don't tell them which hostel or hotel you're searching for, otherwise they will offer to "take you there".
Supermarkets and convenience stores
Like many crowded urban areas where most people rely on public transport, many Hongkongers shop little and often, so therefore there is an abundance of convenience stores which can be found on almost every street corner and in most train stations. These include 7-Eleven, Circle K (known as 'OK' by the locals) and Vanguard. Convenience stores are more expensive but are normally open 24-7 and sell magazines, soft drinks, beer, instant noodles, packaged sandwiches, microwavable ready-meals, snacks, contraceptives and cigarettes. Many stores have an in-store microwave for preparing ready-meals as well as hot water for preparing instant noodles and instant tea/coffee, and also provide chopsticks for eating food on the go.
Park 'n' Shop and Wellcome are the two main supermarket chains in Hong Kong and they have branches in almost every neighbourhood, some of which open 24-7. In urban areas, some stores are located underground and tend to be very small and cramped, although they have a much wider product choice and are somewhat cheaper than the above convenience stores. City'super, Great and Taste are expensive upmarket supermarkets that focus on high-quality products that are aimed towards a more affluent market. Apita and JUSCO are large Japanese-style supermarkets with a wide product selection and food courts. The YATA department store in Shatin also offers a Japanese-style supermarket experience.
- See also Hong Kong Culinary Tour
Cuisine plays an important part in many peoples' lives in Hong Kong. Not only is it a showcase of Chinese cuisines with huge regional varieties, but there are also excellent Asian and Western choices. Although Western food is often adapted to local tastes, Hong Kong is a good place for homesick travellers who have had enough of Chinese food. The Michelin guide to Hong Kong is considered to be the benchmark of good restaurants. Open Rice also provides a great directory of local restaurants. This is a fairly safe way to find a few "hole in the wall" style restaurants or eating places, whilst still experiencing good, local food. According to Restaurant magazine, 4 of the best 100 restaurants in the world are in Hong Kong.
You may meet some local people who haven't cooked at home for a decade. Locals love to go out to eat since it is much more practical than socializing in crowded spaces at home. A long queue can be a local sport outside many good restaurants during peak hours. Normally, you need to register first, get a ticket and wait for empty seats. Reservations are usually only an option in upmarket restaurants.
Chinese food is generally eaten with chopsticks. However, restaurants serving western food usually provide a knife, fork and spoon. Do not stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice, as this is reminiscent of incense sticks burning at the temple and has connotations of wishing death on those around you. In addition, chopsticks should not be used to move bowls and plates or make any noise. Dishes in smaller eateries might not come with a serving spoon, although staff will usually provide one if you request.
A few Hong Kong customs to be aware of:
- To thank the person who pours your tea Cantonese style, tap two or three fingers on the table. The legend suggests a story involving a Chinese emperor travelling incognito and his loyal subjects wanting to kowtow (bow) to him without blowing their cover — hence the "finger kowtow".
- If you want more tea in the pot, leave the lid open, and it will be refilled.
- It is not unusual for customers to rinse their plates and utensils with hot tea before starting their meal, and a bowl is often provided for this very purpose. This is due to the fact that cheaper restaurants may often have washing residues on dishes or utensils.
- Except for very expensive places, there is no real dress code in Hong Kong. You will often see people in suits and others in t-shirts in the same restaurant.
See also Chinese table manners for more details. While certain etiquette is different, Chinese manners for using chopsticks apply to Hong Kong too.
Local foods, eating establishments, and costs
You can usually tell how cheap (or expensive) the food is from the decor of the restaurant (menus are not always displayed outside restaurants). Restaurants in Soho in Central, in 5-star restaurants, or in other high-rent areas are usually more expensive than restaurants that are off the beaten path. It is easy to find places selling mains for well under HK$80, offering both local and international food. Local fast food chains such as Café de Coral and Maxim's MX offer meals in the vicinity of HK$30, with standardised English menus for easy ordering. Yoshinoya (a Japanese chain) sell Japanese style Gyudon (beef and rice) and Teriyaki-style Chicken (with rice or noodles) for a very reasonable price. Mid-range restaurants generally charge in excess of HK$100 for mains. At the top end, restaurants, such as Felix or Aqua, can easily see you leave with a bill in excess of HK$1500 (including entrées (appetizers), mains, desserts and drinks).
Dim sum 點心
Dim sum (點心), literally means 'to touch (your) heart', is possibly the best known Cantonese dish. Served at breakfast and lunch, these delicately prepared morsels of Cantonese cuisine are often served with Chinese tea.
Dim Sum comes in countless variations with a huge price range from $8 to more than $100 per order. Common items include steamed shrimp dumplings (蝦餃 har gau), pork dumplings (燒賣 siu mai), barbecued pork buns (叉燒包 char siu bau), and Hong Kong egg tarts (蛋撻 dan tat). Expect more choice in upmarket restaurants. One pot of tea with two dishes, called yak chung liang gin is a typical serving for breakfast.
Siu Mei 燒味
Siu mei a general name for roast meats made in a Hong Kong style, including roast pork belly, roasted over an open firepork (叉燒 char siu), roast duck or chicken. With the addition of a slightly crispy honey sauce layer, the final taste is of a unique, deep barbecue flavour. Rice with roasted pork (叉燒 char siu), roasted duck, pork with a crisp crackling, or Fragrant Queen's chicken (香妃雞), are common dishes that are enduring favourites for many, including local superstars.It is recommended to taste the roasted pork with rice in 'Sun-Can' of PolyU.
Cantonese congee (juk) is a thin porridge made with rice boiled in water. Served at breakfast, lunch or supper, the best version is as soft as 'floss', it takes up to 10 hours to cook the porridge to reach this quality. Congee is usually eaten with savoury Chinese doughnuts (油炸鬼 yau char kway) and steamed rice pastry (腸粉 cheong fun) which often has a meat or vegetable filling.
Hong Kong has several restaurant chains that specialise in congee, but none of them have earned the word-of-mouth respect from local gourmets. The best congee places are usually in older districts, often owned by elderly people who are patient enough to spend hours making the best floss congee.
When asked what food makes Hong Kong people feel home, wonton noodles (雲吞麵) is one of the favourite answers. Wonton are dumplings usually made from minced prawn but may contain small amounts of pork.
Rice pastry is also a popular dish from southern China. Found particularly in Teochew and Hokkien areas in China, its popularity is widespread throughout east Asia. In Hong Kong, it is usually served in soup with beef and fish balls and sometimes with deep-fried crispy fish skins.
Tong Sui 糖水
A popular Cantonese dessert is a sweet soup called tong sui (糖水, literal: sugar water). Popular versions are usually made with black sesame paste(芝麻糊), walnuts (核桃糊) or sago (西米露) which are usually sticky in texture. Other traditional ones include red bean paste(紅豆沙), green bean paste(綠豆沙) and tofu pudding(豆腐花). Lo ye (撈野) is a similar dish. Juice is put into a ultra-cold pan to make an ice paste, it is usually served with fresh fruit and sago.
Tea cafes & tea time 下午茶
Hot milk tea Hong Kong style
You might expect that after more than a century of colonial rule tea might be served British style - well, almost. Order a cup of hot Hong Kong tea (熱奶茶) in a traditional cafe and what you will get will be a cup of the strongest brew imaginable. With the addition of evaporated milk, this is not a drink for the faint-hearted.
A uniquely Hong Kong-style eatery starting to make waves elsewhere in Asia is the cha chaan teng (茶餐廳), literally "tea cafe", but offering fusion fast food that happily mixes Western and Eastern fare: innovations include noodles with Spam, stir-fried spaghetti and baked rice with cheese. Usually a wide selection of drinks is also available, almost always including the popular tea-and-coffee mix yuenyeung (鴛鴦), and perhaps more oddities (to the Western palate) like boiled Coke with ginger or iced coffee with lemon. Orders are usually recorded on a chit at your table and you pay at the cashier as you leave.
Showing signs of British colonial influence, tea time (Hang cha) plays an important role in Hong Kong's stressful office life. Usually starting at 2PM to 3PM, a typical tea set goes with a cup of 'silk-stocking' tea, egg tarts and sandwiches with either minced beef, egg or ham, but without vegetables and cheese.
Similar to Malaysian 'teh tarik', Hong Kong's variation shares a similar taste. The key difference is that a sackcloth bag is used to filter the tea leaves and the tea-dyed sackcloth resembles silk stockings, giving the name 'silk-stocking milk tea'. Milk tea, to some Hong Kong people, is an important indicator on the quality of a restaurant. If a restaurant fails to serve reasonably good milk tea, locals might be very harsh with their criticism. Yuanyang is also a popular drink mixed with milk tea and coffee.
A signal to tell you teatime has come is a small queue lining up in bakery to buy egg tarts (a teatime snack with outer pastry crust and filled with egg custard). Don't attempt to make a fool of yourself by telling people that the egg tart was brought to Hong Kong by the British - many locals are assertive in claiming sovereignty over their egg tarts. When a long-established egg tart shop in Central was closed due to skyrocketing rental payments, it became the SAR's main news and many people came to help the owners look for a new place.
Sample as many different egg tarts from local shops and find the best in your local area.
To stuff your stomach in a grassroots Chaa Chan Teng (茶餐廳) (local tea restaurant), expect to pay HK$10-20 for milk, tea or coffee, HK$8-10 for a toast, and HK$25-50 for a dish of rice with meats. Wonton noodles generally cost HK$20-30.
The cheapest food is in the popular street stalls. Most of the people working there do not speak much English and there is no English on the menu. However if you could manage to communicate, street-style eating is an excellent way to experience local food. Point, use fingers (or Cantonese numbers) and smile. They're usually willing to help. Local specialities include curry fish meat balls (咖喱魚蛋), fake shark fin soup (碗仔翅) made with beans and vermicelli noodles, egg waffle (雞蛋仔), fried three filled treasures (煎釀三寶, vegetable filled with fish meat), fried intestines on a stick, fried squid or octopus and various meats on sticks (such as satay style chicken).
Most major fast food eateries are popular in Hong Kong and have reasonable prices. McDonald's sells a Happy Meal set for around $20-25.
Seafood is very popular and is widely available. The best places to eat seafood include Sai Kung, Sam Shing, Po Doi O and Lau Fau Shan in the New Territories and Hong Kong's islands, particularly Lamma and Cheung Chau, are abound with seafood restaurants. Seafood is not cheap. Prices range from HK$200 per head for a very basic dinner, to HK$300-500 for better choices and much more for the best on offer.
Expect to find a mismatch between the high prices for the food and the quality of the restaurant. Sometimes the best food is served in the most basic eateries where tables maybe covered in cheap plastic covers rather than a more formal tablecloth. Often, Cantonese people value the food more than the decor. If one of your travelling companions does not like seafood, don't panic, many seafood restaurants have extensive menus that cater for all tastes. A number of seafood restaurants specialise in high quality roast chicken that is especially flavoursome. Many exotic delicacies like abalone, conch and bamboo clam can be found for sale in many seafood restaurants but you might want to avoid endangered species such as shark and juvenile fish.
Sushi is very popular and there are several all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants with reasonable prices.
While Hong Kong has long banned dog and cat meat and has strict rules on importing many meats of wild life animals, snake meat is commonly seen in winter in different restaurants that bear the name "Snake King". Served in a sticky soup, it is believed to warm your body.
There's an ongoing debate over the consumption of shark fin in Hong Kong, which is the biggest importer of this exotic cuisine. Commonly served at wedding parties and other important dining events, shark fin is served in a carefully prepared stew usually at $80 per bowl to $1000. The consumption of shark fin is a controversial topic and the Hong Kong WWF is campaigning against consumption of this endangered species.
Besides exotic meats, you will also see chicken feet, pig's noses and ears, lungs, stomachs, duck's heads, various types of intestines, livers, kidneys, black pudding (blood jelly) and duck's tongues on the Chinese dining tables.
Due to the large number of foreign residents in Hong Kong, there are many restaurants that serve authentic international cuisine at all price levels. This includes various types of Indian, Thai, Japanese and European foods. These can often be found in, though not restricted to, entertainment districts such as Lan Kwai Fong, Soho or Knutsford Terrace. Of these, Soho is probably the best for eating as Lan Kwai Fong is primarily saturated with bars and clubs. Top chefs are often invited or try to make their way to work in Hong Kong.
Home-dining is catching on to be a very popular trend in Hong Kong. BonAppetour is a great way to discover local chefs who would love to have you over for an evening dinner. It's a great way to make friends over home-made food, and company.
Barbecue (BBQ) meals are a popular local pastime. Many areas feature free public barbecue pits where everybody roasts their own food, usually with long barbeque forks. It's not just sausages and burgers - the locals enjoy cooking a variety of things at BBQ parties, such as fish, beef meatballs, pork meatballs, chicken wings, and so on. A good spot is the Southern Hong Kong Island, where almost every beach is equipped with many free BBQ spots. Just stop by a supermarket and buy food, drinks and BBQ equipment. The best spots are Shek O (under the trees at the left hand side of the beach) and Big Wave Bay.
Wet markets are still prevalent. Freshness is a key ingredient to all Chinese food, so frozen meat and vegetables are frowned upon, and most markets display freshly butchered beef and pork (with entrails), live fish in markets, and more exotic shellfish, frogs, turtles and sea snails. Local people often go to the market everyday to buy fresh ingredients, just like the restaurants.
Cooked food centers
Cooked food centers are often found in the same building as some of the indoor wet markets. Tables that were once located on the street have been swept into sterile concrete buildings. Inside, the atmosphere is like a food court without the frills. Cooked food centres provide economic solutions to diners, but you might need to take along a Cantonese speaker, or be brave.
Supermarkets include Wellcome and Park N Shop. Speciality supermarkets catering to Western and Japanese tastes include City Super and Great. 24 hour convenience stores 7-Eleven and Circle K can be found almost anywhere in urban areas.
As with the rest of China, tea is a popular beverage in Hong Kong, and is served at practically every eatery. Chinese teas are the most commonly served, though many places also serve Western-style milk tea. In summer 'Ice Lemon Tea' is a common option that is rather bitter and needs some sugar to counter this.
Some Chinese people do drink a lot but generally speaking there are many neighbourhoods in Hong Kong without much in the way of a bar or pub. Drinking alcohol with food is acceptable, but there is no expectation to order alcohol with your meal in any restaurant. A number of popular restaurants do not sell alcohol because of a licence restriction.
Lan Kwai Fong (Central), Wanchai and Knutsford Terrace (Kowloon) are the three main drinking areas where locals, expats and tourists mingle together. Here you will certainly find a party atmosphere, and can expect to see many 'merry' expats in these areas. LKF and Wan Chai are particularly rowdy yet run places to party. The minimum age for drinking in a bar is 18 years. There is usually a requirement for young adults to prove their age, especially when going to a nightclub. The accepted ID in clubs is either your passport or a Hong Kong ID card. Photocopies are rarely accepted due to minors using fake documents.
Some clubs in Lan Kwai Fong have imposed a dress code on customers and tourists are of no exception. As a general rule, shorts or pants that are above knee length should be avoided.
Drinking out in Hong Kong can be expensive. Beer usually starts from $50 for a pint and more in a bar popular among expats. However, away from the tourist trail, some Chinese restaurants may have a beer promotion aimed at meeting the needs of groups of diners. In cooked food centres, usually found at the wet markets, young women are often employed to promote a particular brand of beer. Convenience stores and supermarkets sell a reasonable range of drinks. The 7-Eleven in Lan Kwai Fong is a very popular 'bar' for party-animals on a budget.
During Wednesdays and Thursdays Ladies night applies in some bars in Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong, which in most cases means that women can enter bars and clubs for free, and in some rare cases also get their drinks paid for the night. At weekends, several bars and clubs in these areas also have an 'open bar' for some of the night, which means you can drink as much as you like.
San Miguel (Cantonese name: Seng Lik), Tsing Tao (Ching Dou), Carlsberg (Ga Si Bak), Blue Girl(Lam Mui), Heineken(Hei Lik) and Sol are popular in the town. There is no longer any tax on wine or beer in Hong Kong.
- Individual listings can be found in Hong Kong's district articles
With more than 50,000 rooms available, Hong Kong offers a huge choice of accommodation from cheap digs to super luxury. However, budget travellers who are spoiled by cheap prices in the rest of Asia are often shocked that the accommodation cost in Hong Kong is closer to that of London and New York.
While it is possible to get a dorm bed for HK$120-150, a single room for HK$270-400, and a double room for HK$400-500, you should not expect anything in these rooms except a bed, with barely enough space in the room to open the door. Accommodation with reasonable space, decoration, and cleanness is usually priced from HK$150-200+ for a dorm bed, HK$450-600 for a single room, HK$700 for a double room, and HK$800 for a triple room.
Most cheap guesthouses are located along Nathan Road between Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. Expect a tiny, undecorated room with just enough room for a bed. Bathrooms are often shared and noise could be a problem for light sleepers. Be sure to read the online reviews before booking as bed bugs, dirty beds, and unclean bathrooms have been reported. Keep your expectations as realistically low as possible.
Popular guesthouse clusters are inside the 17-floor Chungking Mansions Tower (Nathan Road 36-44) (重慶大廈 in Chinese, nicknamed Chungking Jungles by some local people), Mirador Mansions (美麗都大廈) in Tsim Sha Tsui, and New Lucky House (華豐大廈) (15 Jordan Road). These towers are all located in the city center and close to the buses to/from the airport. While these towers are regarded as slums by the locals, if you ignore the fake watch sellers and disturbing pimps, the towers are well-patrolled and safe.
Another cluster of hostels and guesthouses can be found on Paterson Street near Causeway Bay. While not as centrally-located as the mansions, the internet connections are more reliable and the rooms are generally clean. However, they are still small and cramped. Do not expect a great atmosphere or spacious rooms.
Notice that some drab "guesthouses", especially those in Kowloon Tong, Mong Kok, and Causeway Bay, may actually be love hotels.
The Hong Kong Youth Hostel Association operates 7 youth hostels. All of them are located outside the city and cost HK$100-$300 to reach via taxi when public transport service is not operating. All but the one on Hong Kong Island also have strict curfew rules and require guests to leave the site from 10:00 to 16:00 (13:00 - 15:00 on public holidays). Free shuttle bus service is provided by several hostels but the service stops at 10:30pm.
The government advises travellers to stay in hostels with licences, this website may help you a lot: The Office of Licensing Authority maintains an online list of licensed accommodation establishments.
There are 41 camping sites in Hong Kong. The facilities are on a "first-come-first-served" basis and places are booked quickly during weekends and public holidays. You are not allowed to camp other than in a designated camp site (identified by the sign board erected by the Country and Marine Parks Authority) and this rule is strictly enforced.
If the mansions and hostels are too cramped for you, Hong Kong is a good place to spend a bit extra and get a proper hotel room. Many rooms in basic business hotels in the city center can be had for HK$700 per night.
For affluent travellers, Hong Kong houses some of the best world class hotels that run a fierce competition for your wallets by offering pick-up service by helicopter, a Michelin star restaurant, and extravagant spas. Major international chains are also well-represented. Five-star hotels include The Peninsula, Four Seasons, Le Meridien, W, InterContinental, JW Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Shangri-La, and Mandarin Oriental. Rooms usually start from HK$3,000.
There are also some four star hotels such as Marriott, Novotel, and Crowne Plaza. Prices start from around HK$1,500, depending on the season.
Hong Kong is one the safest cities in Asia, if not the world.
With an effective police and legal system, Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world. However, pickpockets are not uncommon in Hong Kong, especially in crowded areas. Needless to say, common sense should be used as you do in other parts of the world. Although local people feel safe carrying a knapsack with a wallet inside, one should be wary in crowded areas where pickpockets are likely to strike, particularly at the main tourist attractions. Do not wave your wallet in public, show the cash inside, or let people know where you keep your wallet.
Although Hong Kong Island, parts of the New Territories and the Outlying Islands, including Lantau Island, are the relatively safe parts of Hong Kong, exercise caution when travelling to Kowloon. Even tourist areas, such as Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok, have had a bad reputation for crime by Hong Kong standards. As they are relatively poorer areas, alike other parts of Kowloon, there is a higher crime rate, involving pickpockets, and infamously acid spills in Mong Kok. When travelling away from Hong Kong Island, avoid revealing items that would identify you as a tourist frequently, such as cameras, backpacks, electronics, flashy clothing, and avoid carrying large amounts of money.
Hong Kong films have often portrayed triads (三合會) as gun wielding gangsters who fear nobody, but that only happens in the movies. Even in their heyday, triads tended to engage only in prostitution (which is legal itself, but organised prostitution, i.e. pimping or brothels, is not), counterfeiting or loan-sharking and lived underground lives, and rarely targeted the average person on the street. Just stay away from the triads by avoiding loan sharks and illegal betting, and they will not bother you.
Call 999 when you urgently need help from the Police, Fire and Ambulance services. Hong Kong has a strict service control system, so once you call 999, the police should show up within 10 minutes in most cases, usually less. For non-emergency police assistance, call 2527-7177.
It have become increasingly common for some random strangers or shop keepers to offer "discounts" on their products. The key to avoid tourist traps is "if it sounds too good to be true, it is". For more detailed discussion, see China#Shopping.
There are some shops near hotel areas or tourist sites that are set up solely for tourists. These shops are rarely visited by locals and the products are usually low in quality with a high price. Examine the products carefully and look for any poorly printed labels and packages.
Most travellers who have got into trouble with the law are involved with illicit drugs. Drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA) and marijuana are subject to tight control and tourists risk immediate arrest if they are found in possession of even small amounts of banned substances. Most Hongkongers tend to have strong negative views against narcotics, including 'soft' drugs such as marijuana.
Under Hong Kong law, local residents are required to carry Identity Cards with them at all times, and the police frequently carry out spot checks when they have "reasonable grounds for suspicion". Tourists are advised by the government to carry their passports but unless you think you are highly likely to be stopped by the police there is no great need; most visitors choose to keep their passport in a safe place. People will not target you because you are dressed well. People in Hong Kong often dress up. Caucasians are rarely targeted by policemen for ID checks. South Asians, especially Pakistanis and Nepalis often get targeted by policemen. As long as you dress well (this does not mean formally), you are unlikely to be targeted
You are expected to cooperate with the police during their investigations, and understand that they may search your pockets and bags. By law, you can reject a request to search your bags and body in public. You also have the right to refuse to answer any questions, to contact your embassy and to apply for legal assistance. The police are obligated to comply with your request but they may detain you for up to 48 hours.
Discrimination is known to happen. People with a good educational background and reputable jobs are usually better treated by the police, while young people, those from developing countries and western countries with loose regulations on drugs may experience more frequent checks. The police and the government are exempt from the Race Discrimination Ordinance. However, there is a law to ban any form of police brutality, including verbal attacks and any use of foul language. Call 2866-7700 for the official Independent Police Complaints Council and report the officer's badge number displayed on his/her shoulder. The complaint will be taken seriously.
Traffic rules are seriously enforced in Hong Kong. Penalties can be stringent, and road conditions are excellent, although road courtesy still has room for improvement. However, the driving speed can be so fast as to create higher death tolls when accidents happen.
Signage on the roads in Hong Kong is similar to British usage. Zebra lines (zebra crossings) indicate crossing areas for pedestrians and traffic comes from the right. To stay safe, visit the Transport Department's website for complete details.
Crossing the road by foot should also be exercised with great care. Traffic in Hong Kong generally moves fast once the signal turns green. To help both the visually impaired and even people who are not, an audible aid is played at every intersection. Rapid bells indicate "Walk"; intermittent bells (10 sets of 3 bells) indicate "Do Not Start to Cross"; and slow bells indicate "Do Not Walk".
Jay-walking is an offence and police officers may be out patrolling accident black-spots. It is not uncommon to see local people waiting to cross an empty road - when this happens, you should also wait because it may be that they have noticed that the police are patrolling the crossing. The maximum penalty for jay-walking is HKD 2000.
A smoking-ban came into effect in 2007. The ban includes all indoor areas and a number of outdoor locations such as university campuses, parks, gardens, bus stops, and beaches. As from 1 July 2009, the smoking ban has been extended to include places for adult entertainment such as bars, clubs and saunas. If you are undercover, you probably should not be smoking. Expect to pay a substantial fine of up to $5,000 if caught smoking in the wrong place. There is also a penalty of $1,500 for dropping cigarette butts.
In a move to discourage smoking, tourists are only allowed to carry no more than 19 duty-free cigarettes or 25g of tobacco products since August 2010. The government has also banned the sales of tobacco products in duty-free shops on arrival gates. Offenders can be charged for cigarette smuggling and the penalty can be tough. According to one local account, a man was fined $2000 after being found guilty of carrying five packs of cigarettes. Illegal duty-free cigarettes can be seen for sale in several locations, such as in night markets, but both the buyer and seller may be charged for smuggling. Be aware that the police are known to launch frequent raids at any time. Once caught, ignorance is not an accepted defence.
Cigarettes in Hong Kong cost around $50 for a pack of 20. Most popular brands include Marlboro, Salem and Kent which are sold at $50 something, the second highest in Asia after Singapore. There are also some slightly cheaper brands catering for smokers on budget. Hand-rolling tobacco is not common and is only available in specialty shops.
Hong Kong is ranked as the world's 13th "cleanest" region in the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International which aims to put an end to corruption, above the U.S and most European countries such as Germany and France.
In Hong Kong, corruption is a serious offence. Unlike mainland China, money given for unfair competition is regarded as corruption, regardless of who the recipients are. Trying to offer a bribe to police officers or civil servants will almost certainly result in arrest and a prison sentence.
The territory has a powerful anti-corruption police force: the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which has been taken as a role model by Interpol and the United Nations. A number of countries, such as Australia, have adopted the Hong Kong system to combat corruption.
Although Hong Kong usually has at least one protest per year (particularly in late June/July in urban parts of Hong Kong Island, namely Central, Wan Chai or Causeway Bay), they usually do not heavily impact the average tourist in Hong Kong. Just stay away from large crowds of protesters and policemen, though it is safe to say that the demonstrations are rarely as violent as those in other countries.
As of 2014, there is increased agitation for 'Universal Suffrage' for electing the Hong Kong Chief Executive (leader of the city), with many people demanding that the process has no interference from the Communist Party in China. Demonstrations around this have been very large but peaceful up to now, although as elections draw nearer there is the potential for violence between police and protesters. At the time of writing (November 8th 2014), the Chinese Government has completely rejected the protesters' demands, and the list of Chief Executive candidates will be approved by a pro-Beijing committee. This led to significant protests that initially involved riot police and tear-gas, with tens of thousands of protestors having areas in Central and Causeway Bay occupied. Smaller scale protests are continuing.
Several hikers have lost their lives in the wilderness in the past decade. Hikers should equip themselves with detailed hiking maps, a compass, mobile phones, snacks and adequate amounts of drinking water. Most areas of the countryside are covered by a mobile phone network but in some places you will only be able to pickup a mobile phone signal from mainland China. In this case, it is not possible to dial 999 for emergency assistance. A number of emergency telephones have been placed in Country Parks; their locations are clearly marked on all hiking maps.
Heat stroke is a major problem for hikers who lack experience of walking in a warm climate. If you plan to walk a dog during the hot summer months, remember that dogs are more vulnerable to heat stroke than humans and owners should ensure their pets get adequate rest and water.
The cooler hiking and camping season in October to February is also the time of the year when hill fires likely strike. At the entrances to country parks you will likely observe signs warning you of the current fire risk. With an average of 365 hill fires a year, you should take the risk of fire seriously and dispose of cigarettes and matches appropriately. According to some hikers' accounts, in places where fires and camping is not allowed, the Staff of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) will most likely fine an offender.
While it's generally very safe to hike, the countryside can provide shelter to illegal immigrants and a few cases of robbery have been known. However, the police do patrol hiking routes and most major paths do offer the security of fellow hikers.
Typhoons normally occur during the months of May to November, and are particularly prevalent during September. Whenever a typhoon approaches within 800 km of Hong Kong, typhoon warning signal 1 is issued. Signal 3 is issued as the storm approaches. When winds reach speeds of 63–117 km/h, signal 8 is issued. At this point, most nonessential activities shut down, including shops, restaurants and the transport system, offices and schools. Ferry services will be suspended, so visitors should return to their accommodation as soon as possible if they are dependent on these boat services to reach a place of safety. Signal 9 and 10 will be issued depending on the proximity and intensity of the storm. Winds may gust at speeds exceeding 220 km/h causing masonry and other heavy objects to fall to the ground. During a typhoon, visitors should heed all warnings very seriously and stay indoors until the storm has passed. Remember that if the eye of the storm passes directly over there will be a temporary period of calm followed by a sudden resumption of strong winds from a different direction.
The city's infrastructure has adapted to typhoons well over time, and it is relatively safe place to be even with the most severe typhoons.
Some taxis are available during signal 8 or above, but they are under no obligation to serve passengers as their insurance is no longer effective under such circumstances. Taxi passengers are expected to pay up to 100% more when a typhoon strikes.
Rainstorms also have their own warning system. In increasing order of severity, the levels are amber, red and black. A red or black rainstorm is a serious event and visitors should take refuge inside buildings. A heavy rainstorm can turn a street into a river and cause serious landslides.
The Hong Kong Observatory is the best place to get detailed weather information when in Hong Kong. In summer a convectional rainstorm may affect only a small area and give you the false impression that all areas are wet.
The quality of medical care in Hong Kong is excellent but expensive for tourists who are not qualified to get a government subsidy. In cases of emergency, treatment is guaranteed, but you will be billed later if you cannot pay immediately. As a tourist, you are required to pay $570 for using emergency services ($100 for Hong Kong residents). Waiting times at hospital emergency rooms can be lengthy for non emergency patients, since people are prioritised according to their situation. If you have a problem making payment in public hospitals, you can apply for financial assistance but you will need to prove your economic status to social workers based in the hospital.
One common cause of sickness is the extreme temperature change between 35°C humid summer weather outdoors and 18°C air-conditioned buildings and shopping malls. Some people experience cold symptoms after moving between the two extremes. You are recommended to carry a sweater even in the summer-time.
Heat stroke is also common when hiking. Carry enough water and take scheduled rests before you feel unwell.
Find a doctor
Healthcare standards in Hong Kong are on par with the West, and finding a reputable doctor is not much of a problem should you get sick. Doctors are of two types: those who practise traditional Chinese medicine and those who practise the Western variety. Both are taken equally seriously in Hong Kong, but as a visitor the assumption will be to direct you to a Western doctor. Doctors who practice Western medicine almost always speak English fluently, but you may find the receptionist to be more of a challenge.
Seeing a doctor is as easy as walking off the street and making an appointment with the receptionist. Generally you will be seen within an hour or less, but take note of the opening times displayed in the window of the doctor's office. A straightforward consultation for a minor ailment might cost around $150 to $500, but your bill will be inclusive of medicine. In Hong Kong, it is normal for a doctor to sell you medicine. Many surgeries and hospitals will accept credit cards, although check beforehand since sometimes only cash is accepted. Expect to pay more if you visit a swanky surgery in Central. Check the directory  maintained by the Hong Kong Medical Association for further information. Help finding general practitioners, medical specialists and dentists might also be available at your consulate.
Note that finding a doctor on a Sunday can be difficult, and hospital A&E rooms will have very long queues on a Sunday.
Although Hong Kong is regarded as one of the most developed regions on Earth, with one of the highest Gini co-efficients in the world, drinkability of water may vary around parts of Hong Kong. Tap water in Hong Kong has been proven to be drinkable, although most of the local people still prefer to boil and chill their drinking water when it is taken from the tap. The official advice from the Water Board is that the water is perfectly safe to drink unless you are in an old building with outdated plumbing and poorly maintained water tanks. Bottled water is strongly recommended by locals but remember that Hong Kong's landfill sites are filling up fast and plastic bottles are a major environmental problem, so use recycling bins where provided.
Despite Hong Kong's name meaning "fragrant harbour", this is not always so. Air pollution is a big problem due to a high population density and industrial pollution from mainland China. During periods of very bad air pollution tourists will find visibility drastically reduced, especially from Victoria Peak. Persons with serious respiratory problems should seek medical advice before travelling to the territory and ensure that they bring ample supplies of any relevant medication.
Pollution is a contentious topic in Hong Kong and is the number one issue among environmental campaigners. Much of the pollution originates from factories in mainland China and from Hong Kong motorists. Levels of pollution can vary according to the season. The winter monsoon can bring polluted air from the mainland, while the summer monsoon can bring cleaner air off the South China Sea.
The air is noticeably less foggy after rainy days.
Hong Kong has significant cultural differences from mainland China due to its heritage. The bulk of the population are descendants of ethnic Chinese who fled the PRC and found safety in Hong Kong during the colonial era. Locals in Hong Kong have maintained many aspects of traditional Chinese culture that have been abandoned in the mainland, including religion, holidays, music, traditional writing and the use of a regional language (Cantonese). In addition, due to its history, British influences have also been incorporated into the local culture. After it was handed back to China in 1997, the city has maintained an independent and reputable English legal system, effective anti-corruption measures, free press and currency.
Hong Kong University surveys the population regularly about identity, and finds that only a minority of citizens identify themselves as Chinese citizens, with most considering themselves part of a distinct Hong Kong identity. This sense of a separate identity has tended to become stronger over the years of polling. Mainland officials seem both bemused and outraged by the growth of such subversive beliefs by seemingly disloyal Hong Kong.
Hong Kong also has a significant minority of Permanent Residents who are not PRC citizens, and are not ethnically Chinese, but are recognised as de-facto citizens by the Basic Law. This includes descendants of British and Gurka populations from the colonial era.
The Sino-Hong Kong relationship, as always, is a contentious and complicated issue. Locals in Hong Kong generally do not deny their Chinese roots, and they do take pride in being culturally and ethnically Chinese; any racist remarks against Chinese people or crude remarks on traditional Chinese customs will certainly offend Hong Kong people. On the other hand, many locals consider the mannerisms of mainland Chinese to be crude and uncivilised, and there have been some simmering tensions between locals and mainlanders in recent years as a result of these cultural differences. You will hear the phrase "Mainland China" (Daai luk) or "Interior Land" (Noi dei) a lot from Hong Kong people, who seek to distinguish themselves, both culturally and politically, from other Chinese. Generally speaking, it is best not to get into a discussion about mainland Chinese with local Hong Kong people.
Many world religions are practiced freely in Hong Kong, and discussing religion with local Hong Kong people is usually not a problem. The Chinese majority generally practise Chinese traditional religion, Buddhism and Taoism. Buddhism, like elsewhere in Asia, Swastikas are used in Hong Kong as a religious symbol for Buddhists, as well as the Hindu minority.
Christianity is followed by 10% of the population, with English language services being available all over the territory. Hindu's and Muslims also came here from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan as part of the British Empire, and the Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre is famous for prayer and research.
The Falun Gong religion is officially allowed in Hong Kong, unlike the mainland where it is banned. The group often quietly demonstrate against the Chinese Communist Party outside tourist hotspots, where there are often also quietly counter protested by pro-Beijing Hong Kong residents who do not tolerate their opinions.
In Hong Kong, freedom of speech and the press are protected in law. Hong Kong people are free to criticize their government. Websites are not blocked. Hong Kong bookshops house vividly colourful collections of books about the communist regime and many sensitive political issues. Media, despite the growing concern about self-censorship, are diversified to deliver different voices.
Although freedom is secured, Hong Kong people are particularly sensitive about any changes that may affect the freedom they have enjoyed. Once regarded as apolitical and pragmatic, Hong Kong people are also more active in discussing politics, especially the introduction of universal suffrage for electing the Chief Executive.
Major political rallies take place every year on 4 June commemorating the bloodshed at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The 1st July commemorates the SAR's reunification with China, but after more than 500,000 people took to the streets demanding universal suffrage in 2003, this public holiday has become a symbolic day of protest every year.
Local political parties are broadly split between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps. While many desire universal suffrage, a right that Beijing has promised but thus far refused to grant, many also try not to offend the mainland as Hong Kong's prosperity is thought to depend on further economic integration with China. The differences can also be observed on many topics such as the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, independence of Tibet and Taiwan, and democracy in China. In Hong Kong where information is freely circulated and people are well read, political opinions are extremely diverse. After all, the city has been served as an information hub for China (and Taiwan before the 1990s) to competitively circulate both propaganda and "dissident views". In Hong Kong, discussing politics may lead you into a debate, but not any trouble.
Unlike Taiwan, the independence movement has never been widely discussed before and after 1997 and it has hardly gained any public support. Hong Kong people, despite apparently sounding "dissident" and "un-Chinese" on many topics, hardly deny that they are ethnically Chinese who have the same affections and sentiments as other Chinese people.
Manners and Etiquette
Hong Kong is a fast-paced society where the phrase "m goi" (唔該, "m" sounds like "hmm"), which literally means "I should not (bother you)", is used pervasively in a situation that you would say "Excuse me" or "Thank you".
The "M goi" (I should not) mentality extends to a way that they don't want to bother anyone as long as possible. When you get a cough, always cover your mouth with the inner side of your elbow, as that area of your arm does not frequently come in contact with other people, thus avoiding the spread of pathogens. When having a fever, wear a mask. Spitting and littering, an offence subject to a penalty of $1,500, is considered rude because it disturbs others. Hong Kong is noisy due to its huge population density but adding more noises, which will certainly disturb others too, is not welcome. Speaking vociferously over the phone on the bus, for example, will be viewed as egocentric and boorish.
Queue jumping is a taboo and you may be denied service if you do so, because everyone wants to go orderly and speedily on their way with the least disturbance. When smoking in front of a non-smoker, always ask for a permission because they may think you are trying to seriously disturb their health. Many smokers will just walk away to smoke, even in a place where smoking is legally allowed.
Unlike public transport in some large cities such as Tokyo or London, where it is common to see passengers eat or drink (even in a cautious manner that keeps the surroundings clean), such behaviour is strictly prohibited in all areas of MTR stations, train compartments (except intercity trains), and most buses. This is due to concerns about maintaining cleanliness of public facilities, and there have been cases where misbehaving mainland Chinese visitors have been scolded by locals after refusing to stop consuming food and reacting to locals rudely. Drinking a few mouthfuls of pure water is usually tolerated, but it would be common for a local passenger to politely ask you to stop consuming or even dispose of your food if you're eating it obviously (for example, eating a hamburger and holding a coke). If this happens, just obey the request and reply politely, and you'll always be out of trouble.
While Hong Kong has a generally good reputation when it comes to customer service, it is considered strange to strike up pleasantries with a stranger unless they are pregnant, disabled or senior citizens who are obviously in need. Saying "good morning" to a person you don't know at a bus stop will probably be viewed with suspicion. It is unusual for people to hold doors for strangers, and supermarket staff or bank cashiers seldom ask about your day. Staff in shops and restaurants might not even say "thank you" when you pay.
Superstition is part of the Hong Kong psyche and it can be observed everywhere. Many buildings are influenced by the Fengshui principles which refer to a decoration style that blends the Five Elements (Gold, Wood, Water, Fire, Earth) together, which will turn out to bring you luck, fortune, better health, good examination results, good relationships, and even a baby boy, according to their believers.
Many buildings come without 14th and 24th floors, which phonetically mean "you must die" and "you die easily". They love the numbers 18 (you will get rich), 369 (liveliness, longevity, lasting), 28 (easy to get rich), and 168 (get rich forever).
Hong Kong people love to joke about their superstitious thoughts but that doesn't mean they ignore them. When visiting your friends in Hong Kong, never give them a clock as a gift because "giving a clock" phonetically means "attending one's funeral". No pears will be served in a wedding party because "sharing a pear" sounds like "separation". Some people refuse to open an umbrella indoor because a ghost spirit, who is thought to fear sunshine, will hide themselves in it. Breaking a mirror will bring you 7 unlucky years.
When you give or receive a business card, always do it with both hands and with a slight dip of your head or you will be seen as either disrespectful and ignorant, even if you are a foreigner. Welcoming someone should also be done with a slight dip of the head and with a customary firm handshake, but there is no need to bow.
You will find that the cashier may hand you receipts or change with both hands too. This is considered a gesture of respect. Because you're the patron, it is up to you to do the same or not when handing cash to the cashier.
When the thermometer hits 30 degrees Celsius, expect to see many local people wearing warm clothing - this is to protect against the harsh air-conditioning often found on public transport and in places like cinemas and shopping malls. This is actually wise, since the extreme change in temperatures can make people feel ill.
In contrast, when the temperature starts to go under 20 degrees Celsius, people start wearing very warm clothing to protect themselves from the 'cold'.
Hong Kong women are known for their fairly conservative dress code, although wearing halter-necks and sleeveless tops is not uncommon and acceptable, while teenagers and young adults can very frequently be seen wearing hot pants or short shorts. Public nudity is prohibited. Being completely naked on the beach is also prohibited.
The dress code for men, especially tourists, is less conservative than it used to be. Even in 5-star hotels, smart casual is usually acceptable; although you might want to make your own enquiries in advance before dining in those places. Tourists from colder climates sometimes assume that wearing shorts in the tropics is a sensible idea, but hairy knees can look out of place in urban Hong Kong.
Gay and Lesbian Hong Kong
Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1991. The age of consent between two males is 16 according to the ruling by the Hong Kong Court of Appeal in 2006, while there is no law concerning that between two females. Same sex marriages are not recognised and there is no anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of sexuality. The display of public affection, while not common, is generally tolerated, but it will almost certainly attract curious stares. Gay bashing is unheard of, although an effeminate boy could be a target for school bullying.
Hong Kong people generally respect personal freedom on sexuality. The prominent celebrity film star, Leslie Cheung, openly admitted that he was bisexual but his work and personality are still widely respected. His suicide in 2003 shocked many, and his fans, mainly female, showed considerable support for his partner.
While gay pride parades have recently been held in Hong Kong, there is no obvious gay community in daily life. Coming out to strangers or in the office is still regarded as peculiar and most people tend to remain silent on this topic.
Gay bars and clubs are concentrated in Central, Sheung Wan, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui (TST). The quality of these venues varies considerably and will perhaps disappoint those expecting something similar to London, Paris or New York. Dim Sum magazine, available for free in most cafes, eateries, bars and clubs, is Hong Kong's bilingual LGBT magazine which gives a pretty good idea about gay and lesbian parties and events happening in Hong Kong. There's also a gay and lesbian section in HK Magazine (free, only in English) and TimeOut Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is one of the longest running LGBT events in Hong Kong, and indeed in Asia. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2009, it brings various international and regional LGBT films to Hong Kong. The festival is usually held in November. Hong Kong also held its second Gay Pride event in 2009, attracting over 1,800 people.
Postal services are efficient and of high quality. Post offices are ubiquitous and coin-operated stamp vending machines provide service when the post offices are closed. You can also buy stamps in sets of 10 from many convenience stores such as 7-Eleven or Circle K (OK). Postal rates are viewable online.
Unlike in Mainland China, the Internet access is not filtered in Hong Kong. All web sites are accessible in Hong Kong.
Internet cafes are rare as most people have smartphones and wifi-enabled devices. When available, internet cafes charge HK$20-30 per hour.
Many operators offer temporary 3G plans for as little as HK$78 per week. Obtaining a sim card is quick and hassle free - just go to a mobile phone shop, and buy a card. No registration is needed.
Essential Mobi rents data-enabled devices to travelers needing constant internet access.
Free wifi is available at most hotels, shopping malls, coffee shops, the airport, certain MTR stations, government buildings, and public libraries.
You can also pay for access at commercial hotspots managed by PCCW and Y5ZONE. The cost is approximately HK$70 per week.
Hong Kong's country-code is 852 (different from mainland China (86) and Macau (853)). Local phone numbers (mobile and landlines) are typically 8 digits; no area codes are used. All numbers that begin with 5, 6, 8, or 9 are mobile numbers, while numbers beginning with 2 or 3 are fixed line numbers. For calls from Hong Kong, the standard IDD prefix is 001, so you would dial 001-(country code)-(area code)-(telephone number). Note that calls to Macau or mainland China require international dialling. For the operator, dial 1000. For police, fire or ambulance services dial 999.
Hong Kong has a world class communications infrastructure. Mobile phone usage is cheap.
Hong Kong has many mobile operators. The best choices for tourists are Three, SmarTone and CSL/one2free. All three operators offer prepaid SIM cards in micro, nano, and standard sizes. Recharging your credit can be done online with a credit card (both Three and one2free will accept credit cards from anywhere, though Three imposes a two-day delay on any online credit card recharge while one2free is instant) or by purchasing vouchers from retail stores, resellers, convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and supermarkets. Unlimited data plans cost around HK$28 per day. Some operators, such as One2Free, offer unlimited 3G access for a week for $78. LTE is also available from some carriers. China Mobile offers a HKD $80 card that includes 5 days of 4G access, though their network type is not accessible to all phones.
Mobile phone numbers have eight digits and begin with 5, 6, or 9. Note that the telephone system is separate from Mainland China, and using Chinese SIM card would incur roaming charges. Subscriptions are available that cover both Hong Kong and mainland China, although these are longer term contracts.
Samsung Galaxy Note or Nexus phones can be rented from counters A03 or B12 in the Arrivals Hall of Hong Kong International Airport for HK$68 per day, which includes all local and international calls, 3G internet access, and a built-in city guide.
Note that all mobile phone companies charge for BOTH incoming and outgoing calls (similar to USA, but different from most European countries, Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea). Coverage is excellent, except in remote mountainous areas. Almost all operators provide a good signal, even when underground in such places as the MTR system, on board trains and in cross-harbour and other road tunnels.
Coverage is decent across all Hong Kong operators, comparison of the coverage and speeds of the networks can be found on Hong Kong Coverage maps created by OpenSignal. In general Hong Kong has advanced mobile infrastructure with the second fastest LTE in the world.
For those traveling to the mainland, it is possible to buy dual-number SIMs that assign numbers on both sides of the border as well as discounted pricing on mainland use.
Landline phones for local calls are charged on a monthly basis with unlimited access, but be careful that hotels may charge you per call.
Payphones are available at the airport, shopping malls, government buildings, and MTR stations and cost HK$1 for a local call for 5 minutes. If you don't have a mobile phone and need to make a short local call, most restaurants, supermarkets, and shops will allow you to use their phone if you ask nicely.
The most useful diplomatic mission in Hong Kong is the Chinese office that can provide visas for visiting mainland China. The normal visa service takes four working days including the day when the application is submitted but an express service of two or three working days is available for an extra fee. Visa waiting times can be over an hour and there is only one location (walking distance but not close to Wan Chai MTR), so using a travel agent on your behalf (for an additional fee) can be more convenient.
Although the official embassies for China are in Beijing, the separate nature of the special administrative region means that many consulates in Hong Kong operate almost as full embassies from the perspective of the traveller in terms of assistance and visa needs.
- Macau, the former Portuguese colony and largest gambling haven in the world, is just an hour away by TurboJet ferry. Ticket prices start at $141 for the one-hour ride to Macau. The ferry building is near the Sheung Wan MTR station on Hong Kong Island. Less frequent ferries are also available from New World First Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon and the Hong Kong International Airport (for flight connections only).
- Zhuhai in mainland China, across the border from Macau, is 70 minutes away by ferry.
- Shenzhen, mainland China's boomtown just across the border, can be reached by MTR train services in about 40 minutes. The train is convenient if you are keen on shopping as it terminates in the Lo Wu commercial centre. Another alternative, especially if you are starting from the island, is the ferry to Shekou, which takes around 50 minutes and costs around $100. Note that if you aren't a Hong Kong, Japanese or Singaporean citizen, you will need to pre-arrange a visa to enter Shenzhen.
- Guangzhou, capital of mainland China's Guangdong Province, can be reached by train within 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on Guangdong Line. If you are on a budget, many cross border buses are available throughout Hong Kong. The trip will take more than 3 hours, including going through customs at the border and changing buses. Check bus schedules and fares online .
- Taiwan, a less visited destination that is both a world-class technology hub and a great example of traditional Chinese culture.