Hong Kong (香港 Heūng góng in Cantonese, Xiāng gǎng in Mandarin, meaning fragrant harbour) is a place with multiple personalities, as a result of being both Cantonese Chinese and under a long-time British influence. Today, the former British colony is a major tourism destination for China's increasingly affluent 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 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 the Orient.
While legally part of China, Hong Kong is secluded from mainland China with a high degree of autonomy. The former colony has its own laws, separate immigration controls, and is officially bi-lingual (Cantonese and English). It also enjoys western style freedoms unheard of in the rest of China.
Hong Kong Island is the island that gives the Hong Kong SAR its name. Although it is not the largest part of the territory, it 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 opposite Kowloon waterfront.
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, then this is a good place to start. Victoria was once the colony's capital but has been rebranded with a more descriptive name, Central. Here you will find the machinery of government grinding away much as it always has done, except 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 man they call Bow Tie, the Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang. Nearby, the Legislative Council (Legco) continues to make the laws that organise the territory.
Leading up from Central is the Escalator and the Peak Tram. The famous escalator passes through the hip district of Soho and takes you into the residential neighbourhood known as the Mid-Levels because it is neither up nor down the mountain. Up top is 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 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 crisscross 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 eastern 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. While prices on Kowloon side tend to be cheaper, it is also less tourist-friendly and English proficiency is not as strong as on the Hong Kong Island side.
The New Territories (新界), so named when the British took 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 a generic label for the islands, islets and rocks in the south of the territory. Lantau (大嶼山) is by far the largest of them and therefore often considered its own district. Most people arrive here, as Hong Kong International Airport is on a small island just north 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 houses mostly windsurfers and sunbathing day trippers.
Archeological findings date the first human settlements in the area back to more than 30,000 years ago. It was first incorporated into China during the Qin Dynasty and largely remained under Chinese rule until 1841 during the Qing Dynasty, with a brief interruption at the end of the Qin Dynasty, when a Qin official established the kingdom of Nam Yuet, which later fell to the Han Dynasty.
In January 1841, as a result of the defeat of the Qing Dynasty of China in the First Opium War, Hong Kong became a British colony, under the Convention of Chuen Pi. After the defeat of China in the Second Opium War, the Kowloon Peninsula was ceded to Britain in 1860. In 1898, the New Territories were leased to Britain for 99 years.
When World War II broke out, Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, declared that Hong Kong was an "impregnable fortress". However, it was only a reality check for the British as most of their troops were tied down fighting the Germans in Europe, and Hong Kong was not given enough 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, making it the first time the British lost a colony to an invading force. After the war, despite American assuarances that Hong Kong will be restored to China, the British moved quickly to regain control of Hong Kong. However, they had lost their aura of invincibility and could not continue to rule Hong Kong the way they used to before the war, and all restrictions on non-Europeans owning property on prime real estate land were lifted. Hong Kong's post war recovery was astonishingly swift, and within 2-3 months, all post-war economic restrictions were lifted and Hong Kong became a free market once again.
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 mainland 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. In 1990, Hong Kong's GDP per capita surpassed that of Britain, the first time a colony's GDP per capita surpassed that of its colonial masters. Hong Kong is now the world's fourth largest financial centre after London, New York and Tokyo.
The massive influx of mainland refugees led to the rise of the Kowloon Walled City, which was a horrendous convolution of mazelike alleys, utter darkness, cramped space, and unsanitary conditions. Reports claim that dog meat was served and that unlicensed physicians practiced there. The Walled City was evacuated and subsequently 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, giving Hong Kong back to China on 1 July 1997. Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the Peoples Republic of China. Under the slogan "One Country, Two Systems", Hong Kong remains a capitalist economy without various restrictions that apply in mainland China such as news censorship and foreign exchange controls.
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 and defence affairs. In practice, it is more complex than that. On the one hand, Beijing exerts much influence, on the other, there are groups pushing for a more democratic regime and universal suffrage.
In many respects, little has changed since the handover to China in 1997. A chief executive, chosen by an elite electoral college, has replaced the Colonial Governor, Beijing's man has replaced London's man. What was once a British colony now looks like a Chinese colony. Although part of China, Hong Kong operates like a tiny 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 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 help. The territory is also home to a significant number of people hailing mainly from North America, Japan and Europe making it a truly international place.
There are four distinct seasons in Hong Kong. Hong Kong can be a little chilly in the winter (10°C) and hot and humid in the summer (33°C). The best times of year to visit are thus, spring (March-May), when the average temperature is around 25°C and autumn (September-December). Christmas in Hong Kong can be a delight with a fair chance of mild sunny weather that will appeal to those coming from colder northern climates. Typhoons usually occur between June and September and can bring a halt to local business activities for a day or less. The weather in winter is usually caused by the winter monsoon which brings dry cold winds from the north. In winter the air can be cold but the sun can still burn. Expect winter temperatures to rise to 22°C on sunny days and fall to under 10°C at night, especially when in mountainous areas. Chinese New Year is notorious for cold wet weather.
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, the lack of heating and thermal insulation can be a challenge, especially at bath time. Curiously, buses and many restaurants will continue to use air-conditioning to freshen the air, even on the coldest days.
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.
Weather— For those who are seeking warm, dry and sunny weather, the ideal time is October to December. Those who are wanting to escape the humidity of tropical climates will appreciate the cooler months of January to March. The temperature ranges from 9°C to 24°C during winter, and from 26°C to 33°C during summer. The humidity is typically high in the spring and worse in the summer, when high temperatures (usual maximum of 32-34°C) are often recorded.
Events — During Chinese New Year, whilst there are some extra celebratory events such as lion dances, fireworks, and parades, many shops and restaurants are closed for three to five days. The official public holiday lasts three days.
Culture lovers will be able to feast on a multitude of cultural activities from February to April. The Hong Kong Arts Festival, a month-long festival of international performances, is held in February and March. The Man Literary Festival, a two-week English language festival with international writers as guests, is held in March. The Hong Kong International Film Festival, a three-week event, is held in late March to early April.
Rugby fans, and those wishing to party, should come during the weekend of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens . This annual event brings many visitors in from around the world to celebrate the most entertaining installment in the IRB Sevens Series. It is a giant three day sellout event that takes place between the last days of March and beginning of April.
There is a second round of cultural activities in the autumn lasting till the end of the year.
Christmas is also a nice time to visit as many stores and shopping centres are nicely decorated, and the festive mood is apparent across downtown areas of the city. Major buildings facing the harbour are decorated in christmas lights to add to the festive spirit.
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 adapters that will allow foreign plugs to fit into British sockets, but be aware that these will not convert voltage or frequency.
Hong Kong maintains a separate and independent immigration system from that of mainland China. This means that unlike the mainland, most Western and Asian visitors including Americans, Japanese and Singaporeans do not need to obtain visas in advance. However, it also means that a visa is required to enter mainland China from Hong Kong. When entering Hong Kong, Macau residents may enter using their identity card while PRC citizens residing in mainland China need to apply for a separate visit permit, except when transiting Hong Kong to a third country (or vice-versa) where a visa-free access is granted for up to 7 days. Holder of ROC passport, if having a "Taibaozheng" (Entry permit for ROC citizens to Mainland China), can be granted visa-free access for 7 days. Otherwise, a pre-arrival visa is required. Detailed visa requirements are available from the Immigration Department . Those who require visas should apply for one at a Chinese embassy, but note that the Hong Kong visa has to be applied for separately from the mainland Chinese one. Anyone arriving at Hong Kong International Airport who requires an onward visa for mainland China, will find a kiosk in the foyer in the arrivals area that issues them. A photograph will be required and the staff will be happy to accommodate you.
Note that leaving the mainland for Hong Kong is considered to be leaving China, so you should apply for a multiple entry visa if you wish to enter Hong Kong, then re-enter mainland China.
Hong Kong International Airport (IATA: HKG; ICAO: VHHH) which is also known as Chek Lap Kok 赤鱲角 (named after the small island it was built over), is the main port for visitors to Hong Kong by air. Designed by architect Sir Norman Foster, this modern and efficient building opened in July 1998 and has since been named "World's Best Airport" by Skytrax in annual ratings five times.
There are many direct flights to Hong Kong from every continent in the world. Most major cities in Oceania, Europe and North America are all served with at least one daily flight, and flights between Hong Kong and other major Asian cities are also frequent. Cathay Pacific operates one of the longest air routes in the world, linking Hong Kong and New York (JFK).
For destinations within China, it is often cheaper to fly from Shenzhen than from Hong Kong, as flights between the mainland and Hong Kong are considered to be international flights and priced accordingly. There are also flights between Hong Kong and several mid-Pacific islands and nations.
Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary airline Dragonair are Hong Kong's main carriers, with Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express providing some welcome competition.
There are two terminals, creatively called T1 and T2. Signs on approach to the airport by car/taxi list the terminals and check-in zones. The station is located between the two terminals, so follow the signs when you exit the station. Once checked-in, you can clear security at either terminal with an underground shuttle bus outside the security area. There are probably more shopping opportunities before security at T2, but its shops close earlier. There are lots of shopping opportunities after security as well. Travellers will find an efficient post office in the airport, providing boxes, wrapping material, scissors and tape. It might be more economical to send your excess luggage via surface mail than paying fees to the airline. Terminal 2 is a check-in only facility, all flights depart from Terminal 1.
There is a manned left luggage facility in the arrival hall, perfect for securely storing your luggage at the airport, for around $55-$80 per day (depending on duration). Opened 6:00AM to 1:00AM.
Overall, services at Chek Lap Kok are generally far better, or at least on par, with those at other major international airports.
The Airport Express is a fast and environmentally friendly form of passenger transport to and from the airport to Tsing Yi, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The clean, comfortable and efficient train departs every 12 minutes and takes approximately 24 minutes to reach Hong Kong station. All stations have staff to help you get heavy bags on and off of the train; there is no need to tip them. Each way costs $60-$100, or a round trip for $110-$180, depending on the distance travelled. If you buy your ticket from a machine you will have to pay the standard fare, however, if you travel with other people you can get a discount from the staff at the counter. If in doubt, ask the staff for advice before you hand over your money. After reaching your station, free shuttle buses connect to major hotels in Kowloon and Hong Kong island, or you can continue onward by MTR or taxi. Around half of the trip will be underground and some of the "above-ground" travel is through "covered" tracks.
If you wish for a leisurely scenic ride from the airport, you should consider taking a bus. There are two companies which run the airport buses to the city, Citybus ('CityFlyer') and Long Win. They will offer lush views of Lantau Island and traverse over the Tsing Ma Bridge, the seventh longest suspension bridge in the world.
Taking a bus to the airport is cheaper, but generally slower than the train. However, if the bus stops very near your hotel, this may involve less walking and less lugging than the Airport Express. For example, the A21 ($33) bus will take you down Nathan Road, Kowloon's main artery, stopping outside many hotels and hostels. Lines A10, A11 and A12 goes to Hong Kong Island ($48, $40 and $45 respectively).
Many locals save money by taking bus S1 from the airport to the Tung Chung MTR station ($3.50) and connect to the ordinary MTR for a cheaper ride to the city (Kowloon $17, Hong Kong $23). This interchange will involve about ten minutes walking. Free Airport Express shuttle buses can then connect you from Kowloon and Hong Kong MTR stations to various hotels in each area.
If you are on a budget, take an "E" (External) route bus rather than the "A" (Airbus) routes bus, which takes about 20 minutes longer (50-60 min instead of 35-40 min) and are about half the price (e.g. $21 for the E11 from Central). These 'External' buses are geared more for airport and airline workers, so they make several detours around Tung Chung and corporate offices. They will also give a nice tour around the airport island. However, E21 (Olympic MTR Station to Airport) takes more than an hour to the airport comparing to A21 (as E21 tour around not only airport island but Kowloon peninsula).
For a full listing of buses available at HKIA refer to the Hong Kong airport website .
A taxi from the airport to the city (Central/Mid-levels) will cost you around $350 depending on your exact destination. If you have three or more people travelling together, it is generally cheaper to travel by taxi than by Airport Express, but you may have a problem fitting so many bags into the taxi. Use a red taxi for destinations to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, Green taxis are restricted to the New Territories and blue taxis are for Lantau Island.
The official taxi fare table is available online. There is a large chart at the exit to the taxi stand showing the approximate fares to most destinations. The law is strict on taxi drivers who must charge according to the meter. According to the Hong Kong Transport Department, the first two kilometres costs $18, then $1.50 for each 200 metres. When the meter fare reaches $70.5, the cost for each 200 metres will change to $1.00 The meter fare does not include the luggage fee, toll fee, waiting fee or pet fee.
Taxis from the airport to downtown Kowloon can suffer from traffic congestion. If you are going to Hong Kong Island, tell the taxi driver to use the "Western Harbour Crossing" to avoid congestion, but this will attract an additional surcharge.
From the airport there are private cars and vans operating illegally as taxis. Do not take these as they are not licensed and in case of accidents, your insurance will not cover you.
If departing Hong Kong by air, you can check-in your luggage and get boarding passes at two MTR stations in the city. These stations serve as airport satellite locations with airline staff and ticketing booths. This is convenient for people wishing to spend precious final hours in the city instead of at remote Lantau Island where the airport is located.
The two MTR stations providing this service are Hong Kong (next to MTR Central station) and Kowloon (in West Kowloon). If you opt for these check-in services, you must first pay the fare for riding Airport Express (which is a faster but more expensive way of getting to the airport). With some airlines, such as Cathay Pacific, you can drop off your luggage up to one day before travel, get your boarding passes, go off on that last shopping foray, and then return to ride Airport Express to complete your Hong Kong adventure.
Usually there are some sort of Airport Express discounts offers, check the MTR Airport Express website for most up-to-date discounts.
Because flying from Hong Kong to the mainland is considered an international flight, flying around mainland China using Shenzhen Airport (IATA: SZX) is often significantly cheaper. Many hotels in Hong Kong offer a shuttle bus from the hotel direct to Shenzhen airport. In the recently completed Elements shopping centre above the Kowloon MTR station on the Tung Chung and the Airport Express line, there is a shop front waiting room where you can check-in and receive your boarding pass (although check in at this location is not available for China Southern Airlines passengers), and then board a bus direct to Shenzhen airport. This in-town check-in is completely separate from the in-town check-in provided for Hong Kong International Airport. Take the escalators up from the AE/MTR station to 1/F of the Elements Mall, turn right, and then it is opposite Starbucks. The bus uses the new western passage immigration facilities where both Hong Kong SAR and Chinese immigration formalities are completed under one roof. The cost of the service is $100 and the bus is advertised to take 75 minutes, but is more like 90 minutes in reality. Buses currently run every half an hour from 6:30AM to 7PM at Hong Kong side, and from 10AM to 9PM at Shenzhen side.
Because of higher fees at Hong Kong International Airport, it is often cheaper to fly out of Macau International Airport (IATA: MFM) . Air Asia has set up a hub at Macau and flies to destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok among others. Macau International Airport is easily reached by ferry from Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Hong Kong International Airport. With the Express Link service, you can even 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; ICAO: VHST) at the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island. The trip takes 16 minutes and one-way fares cost $2,200, plus $200 on weekends and public holidays.
Hong Kong is only a 1 hour hydrofoil ride away from Macau, and there are good connections to mainland China as well. There are two main companies handling the services, TurboJet and First Ferry. The ferries are comfortable and are a handy way of travelling in the region. The main terminals are:
The Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui is one of the hubs of Star Cruises . Cruise ships leave from here for various cities in Vietnam, mainland China and Taiwan. There are also long haul services all the way to Singapore via ports in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.
Crossing the border to mainland China puts you in Shenzhen, a well-developed boomtown. Please note that there are special visa regulations if you plan to visit Shenzhen.
There are six land checkpoints between Hong Kong and mainland China, namely Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, Sha Tau Ko and Shenzhen Bay. Lo Wu is a train and pedestrian crossing; Lok Ma Chau spur line is a pedestrian crossing; Lok Ma Chau and Sha Tau Kok are road, cross-boundary bus and pedestrian crossings; while Man Kam To and Shenzhen Bay bridge are road and cross-boundary bus crossings.
Please note that all the crossings, save for Shenzhen Bay Bridge, are located in the Frontier Closed Area and everyone is required to have a permit to be there unless crossing the border. Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau can be easily reached by train, but if you are just there to look around, be ready for some security questioning. It is also not easy to directly access the train departure area from the arrivals area.
There are some Cross Boundary coaches operating from the business districts in Kowloon or Hong Kong Island to the Chinese side of the checkpoint. If you take these coaches, there is no need to change for the yellow shuttle bus and hence it is a good choice for boundary crossing to avoid the queues.
There are 6 lines of short trip cross boundary coaches serves the port,
Except the route to Kam Sheng Road, 24 hour services are provided with half hourly or hourly departure in midnight and around 10-20 mins per bus during the day and evening.
Lok Ma Chau is a around-the-clock border crossing ; visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side (subject to nationality, at the present, applications from USA passport holders are not accepted).
Man Kam To control point can be accessed by taking the cross-boundary coach on the bus interchange under the shopping centre of West Kowloon Centre, Sham Shui Po (near Sham Shui Po MTR)in Kowloon, which costs $35, the bus calls at Landmark North also, which is just adjacent to Sheung Shui MTR Station, with section fare of $22. It is seldom crowded with travellers even during holiday periods. You can also enjoy the free shuttle service outside the Chinese checkpoint, which takes you to the central area of Shenzhen. However, no visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side, which means you need to arrange for your visa in advanced before arrival.
It is the best route to go to the downtown in Shenzhen especially during holidays.
Sha Tau Kok control point can be accessed by taking the cross-boundary coach on the bus interchange at Luen Wo Hui in Fanling and Kowloon Tong. It connects the eastern boundary of Hong Kong and Shenzhen and it is a bit remote from the central part on Shenzhen. As a consequence, only very few passengers choose to cross the boundary using this checkpoint. No visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side.
Coaches departs from Kowloon Tong MTR from 7:00 to 18:30 every 15 minutes which costs $20, which is also the cheapest direct coach to Shenzhen.
Shenzhen Bay control point links Hong Kong directly with Shekou, Shenzhen, and can be accessed conveniently by public buses. Route B2 departs from Yuen Long Railway Station via Tin Shui Wai Railway Station to Shenzhen Bay, while B3 departs from Tuen Mun Pier. There is also a express coach service departing from Sham Shui Po to Shenzhen Bay.
Travellers arriving to Hong Kong by bike, should carefully assess the feasibility of riding into the city from the border with mainland China. Bicycles are not permitted in all tunnels and on most highways. 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 from Shenzhen to Hong Kong with a bicycle is possible at some checkpoints:
MTR Corporation runs regular Intercity Passenger Train services from Hung Hom station on Kowloon side. The destinations are Guangzhou (East), Dongguan, Foshan and Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province, as well as Beijing and Shanghai.
There are numerous ways to get to Hong Kong Island.
The Star Ferry Star Ferry is the classic way to get to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. There are four routes operated by The Star Ferry company.
New World First Ferry New World First Ferry operates some other routes between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Fortune Ferry operates one route.
Coral Sea Ferry operates two routes between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
The Transport Department also provides an online directory on Hong Kong's ferry services.
Note that, due to an ongoing reclamation and redevelopment project in Central/Admiralty that includes a new waterfront, much of the shoreline is presently a mess and access to the ferries can be a little confusing — take heed of signs warning about the ever-shifting arrangements.
For details of cross-harbour buses, see the Hong Kong section.
Bus fares range from $9.30 to $11.10 for routes linking the urban areas in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Some routes heading for more remote places are charged at a higher fare.
From more distant points the three lines of the MTR crossing the harbour may offer a faster alternative.
If coming from the airport, the Airport Express's Hong Kong station is in the heart of Central.
The Octopus card (八達通, Bat Dat Toong in Cantonese,) provides instant electronic access to Hong Kong's public transport system. As the world's first contactless smart debit card, it can be tapped onto a reader to transfer fare from the passenger to the carrier. Those who are familiar with Singapore's eZ-Link card, London Underground's Oyster card or Japan Railway's IC cards will quickly understand the concept of the Octopus card. In addition to being used for all forms of public transport (except most of the red-top minibuses and taxis), Octopus is also accepted for payment in almost all convenience stores, restaurant chains like McDonald's and Cafe de Coral, many vending machines, all roadside parking and some car parks. Some housing estates and schools use the card for identification at entry.
When travelling by MTR and some bus routes, payment by Octopus card can sometimes be cheaper than cash because carriers frequently offer discounts to Octopus users (such as the route between the airport and the city). There's really no reason to get one if you are in Hong Kong for a short time, however, if your itinerary includes daily use of ferries, buses, minibuses and the MTR then you will wish you had one.
Basic Octopus cards cost $150, with $100 face value plus $50 refundable deposit. A $7 service charge applies if the card is returned in less than three months for the refundable deposit. The maximum value an Octopus card can carry is $1,000. The Octopus card also allows its remaining value to go negative once before topping up. For example, you may pay for a ride of $5 with a remaining value of $2 on the card (bringing the stored value to -$3) but you cannot use the card again until the value is topped up. The negative value of an Octopus card can go as far as $35. Note that isn't really "negative", meaning you don't have to pay MTR back, since your $50 deposit secures it.
The Central to Mid-Levels escalator, at 800 metres long, this is the longest outdoor, covered, escalator system in the world. When travelling downhill on the escalator, there is a machine, where you can touch your Octopus card, and your next MTR journey will have a $2 discount. The escalator runs downhill from 6AM to 10AM and uphill from 10:30AM to midnight every day.
Your Octopus cards' balance is displayed on the reader after each use. The balance can also be checked, along with the last several transactions, using a small machine near regular ticket machines at MTR stations.
For travellers, there are three convenient ways to refill a card:
Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) underground and overground network is the fastest way to get around the territory, but what you gain in speed you lose in views and (at least for short distances) price. There are ten lines, including the Airport Express, plus a network of modern tram lines operated by the MTR in the North West New Territories. The Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR), including its link to the mainland border at Lo Wu (Shenzhen), was merged into the MTR in 2007 and now operates as a integral part of it.
The most important lines for many visitors are the busy Tsuen Wan Line (red), which tunnels from Central to Kowloon and down Nathan Road towards Tsuen Wan in the New Territories and the Island Line (blue) which runs along the north coast of the Island. The new Tung Chung Line (orange) is the fastest route to Lantau and one of the cheapest ways to the airport when coupled with the S1 shuttle bus stationed at Tung Chung MTR station. The line also provides a link to Hong Kong Disneyland via a change at Sunny Bay station. The East Rail Line (light blue) is handy for heading up to mainland China by rail. All signs are bilingual in Chinese and English and all announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin and English so tourists should not have a problem using the rail system. Should you get lost, staff in the station control room usually speak some English so they would be able to help you out.
Most underground MTR stations have one Hang Seng Bank branch (except for the massive Hong Kong/Central station, which has two). Since they're a common feature, unambiguous and easy to find, they're a good place to tell people to meet you.
Note that in Hong Kong, a subway is an underground walkway, not an underground railway, and signs for "subway" will just lead you to the other side of the street. Look for the MTR logo instead.
Fares depend on distance. Credit cards are not accepted to pay for tickets or passes except for rides on the Airport Express Line.
In addition to the Airport Express Octopus (see above), you can also buy a 24-hour pass for $50 at any MTR station; however, this pass is not valid on the Airport Express line.
Operated by Hong Kong Tramways , the narrow double-decker city trams (sometimes known in Cantonese as "ding ding") trundling along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island are a Hong Kong icon and have provided cheap transport for over a century. Trams are slower and bumpier than other modes of transport, and they are not air conditioned. But the route along the length of Hong Kong Island's centre covers many places tourists would want to see. With a flat fare of only $2, it's the cheapest sightseeing tour around. A suggested sightseeing option lasting over an hour is to board at the Kennedy Town Terminus where you can be sure to get a good seat on the upper deck. As the tram traverse eastward, you will have an elevated view of the island and see its different flavours, from bustling Hong Kong street life to its glitzy financial and shopping districts and, finally, a taste of suburban tranquility. Passengers board at the rear and the fare is paid upon alighting at the front of the tram. Exact change and Octopus cards are accepted. Trams run 6:00AM to midnight.
In a league of its own is the Peak Tram , Hong Kong's first mechanised mode of transport, opened back in 1888. The remarkably steep 1.7 km track up from Central to Victoria Peak is worth at least one trip despite the comparatively steep price ($25 one-way, $36 return; return tickets must be purchased in advance). The tram turnstyles do take Octopus cards, which will allow you to avoid a stop at the ticketing line at the station. During public holidays and other similar occasions the Peak Tram is likely to have very long queues of people waiting to board. Note that the tram is not the only way to get to the Peak, and there are cheaper (but slower and less scenic) alternatives such as the number 1 (green minibus) & number 15 (double-deck bus) that cost $8.4 and $9.8, respectively, from Exchange Square Bus Terminus.
There are three types of bus available in Hong Kong, operated by a multitude of companies. While generally easy to use (especially with Octopus), signage in English can be sparse and finding your bus stop can get difficult. Buses are pretty much your only option for travelling around the south side of the island and Lantau.
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 subsidary Long Win Bus), Citybus , New World First Bus and New Lantao Bus . Route and fare information can be found on the companies web sites. Fares will depend more on where you board rather than where you get-off which means it is more expensive to board at the earlier stops rather than the later stops. The fare is displayed on a digital display above the farebox - exact change, Octopus Card or a ticket purchased from a bus travel centre (found at major transit hubs such as Star Ferry or Central Bus Terminus) must be used. Unlike mainland China, there are no annoucements (except KMB/Long Win Bus who has annoucements in Cantonese, Mandarin and English) and buses will only stop when requested - when your bus approaches, raise your arm to hail the bus (like you would hail a taxi), and when alighting, press the 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 only has one door, 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 customary to call out the name of the stop or ask the driver to stop in Cantonese. 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 can not 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 is 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 payment is made by Octopus. The route K16 is especially useful for tourists who need to go to Tsim Sha Tsui from the New Territories and mainland China by rail.
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.
Route numbering is independent in six regions: bus on Hong Kong Island/ in Kowloon and in New Territories/ on Lantau Island, green minibus on Hong Kong Island/ in Kowloon/ in New Territories and several exceptional auxiliary buses route (red minibuses does not have a route number). This leads to duplication of routes in different regions. Although the Transport Department of Hong Kong Government has been working on the unifying of the route numbers, it is 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 to mention which district the route belongs to when you are asking for directions (almost all people will assume you will 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 will asking for bus route #2 running in Kowloon if you are in Kowloon), but you really need to mention whether the route is bus or minibus when you ask, since in some cases both bus and minibus can have 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 vast fleet of ferries plies 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 eleven minute ride across the harbour and catching some misty breeze is considered a "must do" when visiting Hong Kong.
Upper deck seats cost $2.50 while the lower deck cost $1.80, both payable with Octopus, cash (change given) or by onsite vending machine. The Star Ferry also operates between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai.
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 quite 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. The Urban (red) taxis can travel anywhere within Hong Kong, and also the most expensive. The meter starts at $18.00 for the first 2 kilometres, and a further $1.50 for every 200m thereafter, and $1.00 each ticking when the fare goes above $70.50. NT (green) taxis are slightly cheaper than the red ones but are fundamentally confined to rural areas in the New Territories, the airport, Hong Kong Disneyland. Lantau (blue) taxis (the cheapest of the three) operate only on Lantau Island (including the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland). Be particular cautious if you are choosing from one of the three kinds of taxis when you are finding your way out of the airport, though there is usually attendants there to assist you. When in doubt, just take a red taxi.
The 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.
There are no extra late-night charges. Baggage carried in the boot ("trunk" if coming from North America) will cost you $5 per piece and all tolls are payable, except for wheelchair.
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 show a their name, in both Chinese and English, and the license plate number inside the vehicle. 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. Nevertheless, even if you don't, most taxi drivers know enough English to communicate the basics.
Renting a car is almost unheard of in densely populated Hong Kong. With heavy traffic, a complex road network, as well as rare and expensive parking spaces and well-connected public transportation, renting a car is very unappealing. If you must, expect to pay over $600/day even for a small car. Hong Kong allows most foreigners to drive with an International Driving Permit (IDP). Anyone who drives for more than 12 months is required to get a Hong Kong license issued by the Department of Transportation.
Nevertheless, while there is public transport in the more remote areas, frequencies tend to be more limited, and you may have to wait for a long time to get a taxi. Therefore, driving should certainly not be dismissed out of hand, especially if you intend to spend a significant amount of time hiking and camping in the countryside.
Traffic rules are enforced seriously and penalty for breaking rules can be severe. Signs are written in both Chinese and English. Unlike mainland China, traffic in Hong Kong moves on the left, a part of its British legacy.
If you wish to drive to mainland China, your vehicle must have a second set of number plates issued by the Guangdong authorities. Their issues are limited to mainly investors and the price for a second hand plate can be as expensive 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.
Bicycles are usually only seen as a substitute for short journeys and walking. This is especially so on Hong Kong Island and the busy parts of Kowloon, due to the heavy traffic, fast speed of vehicles, steep hills, narrow streets and an absence of bicycle lanes. 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. If you plan to use busy urban roads you should be fit enough to keep up with the traffic, which moves surprisingly quickly.
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 $20-30 a day for a standard entry-level mountain bike, or around $150 per day for a higher-spec mountain or road bike.
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.
Basic rules to follow:
Folding bicycles are permitted on all public transport, provided that they are folded.
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.
Almost no portrait of Hong Kong could be complete without its magnificent skyline. Best is to go to the Avenue of Stars at Tsim Sha Tsui or Victoria Peak. You may choose to take the Star Ferry which runs frequently from Tsim Sha Tsui, Central, Wan Chai, Kowloon City, and Hung Hom.
Hong Kong Tourism Board offers many walking tours. Starting from 1 October 2010, the following participation fees have been implemented:
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, where local Chinese weren't permitted to live until after World War II.
At the Peak, the Peak Tower serves not only as an observation platform, it also doubles as a shopping mall offering shops, fine dining and museums. The Peak Tram runs from Central to the bottom of the Peak Tower. Although views of Kowloon and Victoria Harbour can be stunning, be prepared for the view to be spoilt by air pollution. There is no point in spending extra money to visit the observation deck of the Peak Tower. There are a number of nice walks around the Peak Tower the offers similar, if not nicer, views of all sides of the island. You will be able to catch a laser show at 8PM every night.
Although the Peak Tram offers a direct route to The Peak, a more picturestque and cheaper (though slower) way of reaching it is by taking bus 15 (not 15C) from the Star Ferry pier in Central. Not only is it cheaper but, as the bus snakes up the mountain, you can enjoy beautiful views of both sides of Hong Kong island and passing the territory's priciest neighbourhoods.
The racing season runs from September to June, during which time racings take place twice weekly, with the location alternating between Shatin in the New Territories and Happy Valley near Causeway Bay MTR station. Both racing locations are easily accessible by MTR but Happy Valley is the more convenient, historic and impressive location (although live races only take place here on Wednesday nights). For only a $10 entrance fee, a night in Happy Valley can be filled with rowdy entertainment. Get a local Chinese gambler to explain the betting system to you and then drink cheap draft beer. Be sure to pick up the Racing Post section in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday to guide you. A beer garden with racing commentary in English is available at Happy Valley near the finish line where many expatriates congregate during the races. One good tip: bring your passport and get in at tourist rate of $1.
Betting can also be placed at any of 100+ branches of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Expect long lines and big crowds. The Hong Kong Jockey Club is a nonprofit charitable organization and the only institution permitted to conduct legal horse-racing in the territory.
Be aware that horse racing is a religion in Hong Kong with live broadcasts over the radio. Large segments of the adult population will place bets and there will be no shortage of racing tips from punters. Just remember that 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.
The most effective way to know how Hong Kong people live is to observe the local life of an ordinary Hong Kong resident. Just wander and observe - and don't worry - most areas in town are safe.
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 Tien 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 includes 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, 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.
Travelling on a bus or a tram is ideal for looking at different sides of Hong Kong. Not only it is cheap to ride on a bus or a tram, it also allows you to see completely different lifestyles in different districts in a short time. Below are some recommended routes.
These two are rickshaw-themed double deckers going to main heritage spots on Hong Kong Island, such as LegCo in Central and the University of Hong Kong. A day pass cost $50, and you can hop on and hop off at any stop.
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 two dollars per trip for an adult and one dollar for Senior citizens (age 65 or older) and children.
It is recommended to ride from as far as Kennedy Town in the west, to as far as Shau Kei Wan in the east, in order to get a strong contrast of "East meets West" and "Old meets New".
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.
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 8:00PM. This is the world's "Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show" as recognised by the 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.
For most Hong Kong people Cantonese is their mother tongue. It is more or less the same as the Cantonese spoken in Guangzhou, but the Hong Kong version tends to incorporate some English words and slang, which may sound strange to other Cantonese speakers. Cantonese is the lingua franca in many overseas Chinese communities and Guangdong and Guangxi province. Like all the other Chinese "dialects", Cantonese is a tonal language and definitely not easy for foreigners to master, but locals always appreciate any effort by visitors to speak the local lingo, so learning a few simple greetings will get you aquainted with locals much more easily.
Unlike Pinyin - standard romanization system for phoneticizing Mandarin, Cantonese so far hasn't developed a well recognized 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. Like Taiwan, Hong Kong continues to use traditional Chinese characters and not simplified characters as used in the mainland, though almost all locals are able to read simplified Chinese. All official signs are bilingual in both Chinese (traditional) and English.
Just one Cantonese word that will go a very long way in 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.
English is better understood and spoken by people in the tourist areas. As a second language, English is less well spoken compared to the likes of Singapore, Malaysia, India and the Philippines, although still used much more widely than in Thailand, mainland China, Korea and Japan. Education in English begins in kindergarten, and fluency in English is often a pre-requisite 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 are able to understand written English pretty well, they may not necessarily be comfortable speaking it. Nevertheless, most adult locals under the age of 40, including many shopkeepers and taxi drivers, know enough English for basic communication. To improve your chances of being understood, speak slowly, stick to textbook-esque phrases and avoid using slang.
English remains an official language of the SAR and so 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. 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.
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 to anywhere, ask hotel staff to write down the street names using Chinese characters.
Most locals are not fluent in Mandarin, but can comprehend it to some degree. As written Chinese is more or less the same regardless of the spoken variant, Mandarin speakers who are able to read and write in Chinese characters will be able to make themselves understood very easily. Mandarin is compulsory in all government schools, so many younger locals will be able to speak fairly decent, albeit heavily accented Mandarin. Mandarin proficiency has been improving rapidly since the handover, and tourists from the mainland are now the biggest spenders in Hong Kong, so almost all shops in the main tourist areas, as well as all government offices will have Mandarin-speaking staff on duty.
Ride the tram between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan. The journey takes round 80 minutes and costs $2. The Hongkong Tramways run between the West and East of Hong Kong Island. Starting from the old district Kennedy Town, you can see the residental 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) and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 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 Dept. 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 as well as take a trip to Yung Shue Wan. When you reach here look out for the signposts while exploring the beach. This walk is hardly around 20 minutes.
If your hotel does not have a pool or you have concerns about swimming in the sea, then public swimming baths are a great place to cool off when the heat and the humidity is too much to bear. Swimming pools are built and maintained to a very high standard in Hong Kong and cost very little to use ($19 for adults and $9 children). Swimming pools are great places for young children to play and most pools cater for their needs with shallow pools and fountains. All swimming pool complexes offer swimming lanes and swimming clubs for serious swimmers.
The Kowloon Park swimming pool complex (Tsim Sha Tsui MTR exit A1) is centrally located and offers visitors a wide range of services. Indoors is a main pool that is Olympic sized, 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. Outdoors, during the summer season, they have four 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.
The pools in Kowloon Park open at 6:30AM and close at 10PM. There are session breaks when the centre closes for lunch at 12PM until 1PM and then it closes for another hour from 5PM to 6PM. Most public pools in Hong Kong have similar opening and closing times.
Family changing rooms are available in addition to the regular changing rooms. Males and females have separate changing areas but changing rooms do not offer much privacy between users of the same sex. Swimmers are expected to provide their own towels and toiletries. A $5 coin is needed to operate a locker or you can provide your own padlock (you can get back the $5 coin after you unlock the locker, its right behind the keyhole). An Octopus card or coins are needed for payment to enter the complex.
There are six public pools on Hong Kong island and a further 12 are located across the Kowloon peninsula. More pools of the same high standard are to be found in the New Territories. The pool located in Victoria Park is perhaps the least good because of its ageing facilities and close proximity to a major elevated highway.
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 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:
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.
Hong Kong Outdoors is packed with information on hiking and camping, and other great things to do and places to go in the wilderness areas of Hong Kong.
Horse racing may get all the media attention, but mahjong (麻雀 ma jeuk) also forms an integral part of Hong Kong gambling culture. Mahjong also has had 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 ubiquitous in Hong Kong, though they do not advertise their services openly and many require a fair amount of effort to find. They also have many unwritten rules that visitors may find hard to understand.
Betting on world-wide football matches is also available at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
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.
The official exchange rate is fixed at 7.80 HKD to 1 USD, 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 faster ways 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.
Avoid changing money at the airport since the rates there are extremely uncompetitive. Also if asked by a merchant whether to charge a credit card with local currency or foreign currency, always choose local currency as you will then have the currency exchange done by the bank which will give a much better rate.
Many tourists opt to use their ATM debit cards instead of carrying cash or traveller's cheques. Using this method, the exchange rates and fees are comparable to exchanging cash at big banks. However, 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. Also, be mindful of withdrawal limits imposed by your bank.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) issues the new purple plastic $10 notes while the rest are issued by three banks (the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, also known as the 'Hong Kong bank', Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China). The old green paper $10 notes issued by HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank remain legal tender. The style of notes varies a lot between banks though the colour and size are about the same for notes of the same denomination. The larger the denomination, the larger the size of the banknotes. Banknotes come in denominations of:
Some shops do not accept $1000 notes due to counterfeiting concerns.
The coins come in units of
varying in a descending size (except $10 coin).
Since September 1997, the use of the small coins and change has been reduced due to the innovation of the Octopus card. Originally used just for fare payment for the MTR and buses, it now is used all over the city, for purchases in any amount at convenience stores, fast food restaurants, pharmacies, vending machines, etc.
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 Octopus Card is the norm.
Merchants will require that the credit cards be signed and will compare your signature with the card and do not ask for picture ID.
Foreigners may open bank accounts in Hong Kong, though a proof of address is required. As your passport usually does not show your address, you should also bring something that shows your address such as an ID card or a bank statement.
Hong Kong is expensive by Asian standards especially the cost of accommodation. A traveller on a bare bones budget can probably survive with $150 for a day if you are willing to stay in some of the cheapest accommodation in Hong Kong which could be as cheap as $60 per bed but the quality is not what everyone can tolerate.
Backpackers with a less tight budget should expect to spend at least $150 for a bed and $500 for a room. Family travellers should expect at least $1000 for accommodation per night.
The cheapest food available will cost you around $20-40 for a serving, although in mid-range restaurants, $150-200 per head is common.
Tipping is only practiced in limited situations by local people and it's not expected for every little service such as a taxi driver, or a waiter. Unlike Japan, where it can be offensive to tip, 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 joints, 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 complusory nor expected. 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 bills 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.
Exceptionally, on important occasions, such as a wedding party or similar big gala event, local people 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 price. 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 and European clothing and cosmetics but price could be higher than where they were imported from.
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 picture ID. In addition, merchants will not accept credit cards with a different name that 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 tiles . 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 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 hided 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.
Computers- The base price of computer equipment in Hong Kong is similar to those in other parts of the world, but there are substantial savings to be hand 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 Cafe 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. 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, many locals head across the border to Shenzhen for cheaper bargains. There is also Citygate Outlets, an extremely large factory outlet mall located near Tung Chung MTR station on Lantau Island. It houses various brands, ranging from Giordano to Adidas to Coach.
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 insure you are purchasing genuine items.
Street markets are a phenomenon in Hong Kong, usually selling regular groceries, clothes, bags or some cheap electronic knockoffs.
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, 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.
Although the law is strictly enforced, tourists traps are usually designed by villains who are experts at exploiting gray 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.
Many shops are reluctant to refund if you just don't like what you bought. They are more willing to exchange products that haven't been tampered with or replace defective goods.
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.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
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, it is a good place for homesick travellers who have had enough of Chinese food. If you can afford it, you can also find some Western restaurants that are featured in the Michelin guide to Hong Kong.
Magazines for local gourmets are published every week and the Michelin Guide for Hong Kong has been published since 2008. According to Restaurant magazine in 2010, four of the best 100 restaurants in the world are in Hong Kong.
A long queue seems to be a local sport in all good restaurants during the peak hours. You need to register first, get a ticket and wait for empty seats. Reservation is only an option for upmarket restaurants.
While dining out, you may meet some local people who haven't cooked at home for a decade, eating in restaurants is not cheap by Asian standards, although it is still cheaper than Europe and North America.
To stuff your stomach in a grassroots Chaa Chan Teng (茶餐廳) (local tea restaurant), expect to pay $10-20 for milk tea or coffee, $8-10 for a toast and $25-50 for a dish of rice with meats. Wonton noodles generally cost $20-30. McDonald's, once the cheapest worldwide a decade ago, sells a Happy Meal set for around $20-25. Other basic restaurants can usually be found in wet markets or outdoor locations, and cost about $100-$150 per person.
In midrange and upmarket restaurants, prices are hard to generalise. In a hotpot restaurant, $100-150 per head is common, and $200-400 per person is also expected for better choices of food. Sushi is popular with many locals and prices usually start at $100-200 in a self-service bar to several hundred dollars for a tiny portion of high quality food.
Western restaurants, especially in Soho in Central, where rental payments are skyrocketing, tend to be particularly expensive, and $300-$500 per head is common. Fine dining restaurants, usually located at five-star hotels, can cost $500-$1500 per person, more if you are a wine enthusiast. Wine choices in these places are on par with any 5-star hotel.
Chinese food is generally eaten with chopsticks, but don't expect restaurants serving western food to supply chopsticks; dinners will routinely use 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:
See also Chinese table manners for more details. While certain etiquette is different, Chinese manners for using chopsticks apply to Hong Kong too.
Dim sum (點心), literally means 'to touch (your) heart', is possibly the best known Cantonese dish. Served at breakfast and supper, 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 is pork roasted over an open fire or a huge wood burning rotisserie oven. 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.
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, it's 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.
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, walnuts or sago which are usually sticky in texture. 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.
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 hot milk 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.
Showing signs of British colonial influence, tea time (Ha ng 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' milk 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. Mandarin duck (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.
Street food is thriving in this territory. Local specialities include curry fish meat balls (咖喱魚蛋), fake shark fin soup (碗仔翅) made with beans and vermicelli noodles and fried three filled treasures (煎釀三寶, vegetable filled with fish meat).
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 $200 per head for a very basic dinner, to $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.
While Hong Kong has long banned dog 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 tourists may need to be cautious in expressing their views about the declining shark population.
While dining out, it is easy to find places selling mains for well under $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 $30, with standardised English menus for easy ordering. Mid-range restaurants generally charge in excess of $100 for mains. Whilst at the top end, restaurants, such as Felix or Aqua, can easily see you leave with a bill in excess of $1500 (including entrées (appetizers), mains, desserts and drinks).
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.
Hong Kong also has a staggering range of international restaurants serving cuisines from all over the world. 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 concerned with bars and clubs and on Friday and Saturday nights especially can become crowded with revellers. Top chefs are often invited or try to make their way to work in Hong Kong.
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 snails. Local people often go to the market everyday to buy fresh ingredients, just like the restaurants.
Cooked food centres (大牌檔 daai6 paai4 dong3) 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, , Park N Shop, , and CRC 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.
Traditionally, in much of China, people are more likely to drink tea, rather than alcoholic beverages. Many east Asian people are predisposed to alcohol intolerance, a condition that often manifests itself as the so-called 'Asian flush'. Nevertheless, many Chinese people do drink but don't expect the binge-drinking culture found in some western countries. 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 eateries do not sell alcohol.
If drinking alcohol is not your thing, then Hong Kong might be described as a teetotaler's paradise. Many places offer a good range of non-alcoholic drinks, including extravagant mocktails that might seem more like a dessert. Such drinks are often consumed with a thick straw and may contain a variety of exotic sweet ingredients.
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, but don't expect the drunken brawls and rowdiness that you might be used to back home. If you come to Hong Kong, and get drunk, you will certainly risk drawing considerable attention to yourself if you cannot hold your drink.
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.
Drinking out in Hong Kong can be expensive, especially if you choose imported drinks in fashionable western-style bars. 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 such as Circle-K, and supermarkets all sell a reasonable range of drinks. In Lan Kwai Fong, the 7-Eleven there is a very popular 'bar' for party-animals on a budget.
Tsing Tao (pronounced 'ching dow') is a famous pilsner beer that began life in 1903 in the former German colony of Qingdao. Here, German brewers began production to meet the needs and palates of European expats. Other brews that are widely available include, San Miguel, Carlsberg and Blue Girl. Beers and rice wines produced for the market in mainland China are popular and are sold at competitive prices in supermarkets. There is no longer any tax on wine or beer in Hong Kong.
Check the district pages of this travel guide for recommended bars.
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. There is certainly no gay area as there are in Japanese and many Western cities. Dim Sum magazine, available for free in most cafes, eateries bars and clubs, is Hong Kong bilingual's GLBT 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 GLBT community in Hong Kong is gaining ground now more than ever. 2009 was an active year for the community, which saw event after event being led by different people and groups, pushing forward its visibility and tolerance among the general public.
The Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is one of the longest running GLBT events in Hong Kong, and indeed in Asia. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2009, it brings to Hong Kong various international and regional GLBT films. The festival is usually held in November.
Hong Kong held its second Gay Pride ever on 1 Nov 2009, attracting over 1,800 people, gay and straight, to the event. There were participants coming in from mainland China, Taiwan, Malaysia and even Australia and the United States. It is held usually at the end of the year (late November-early December).
For those who like to party in the sea in sexy speedos (and bikinis), try to time your visit during Flotilla. Flotilla started almost as a gay pride in the sea in 2006, where junk boat party loving Hongkongers rent out junk boats in groups and throw themselves a fabulous party in the sea. 2008 saw over 20 boats anchored in the same bay, there were even boats targeted particularly for lesbians and bears. Both Flotilla 2006-2008 were held in May, while the one in 2009 was moved to October.
Hong Kong Disneyland also saw its first Gay Day in December 2009. Participants were asked to wear red and were given schedule on the particular showing for the event. This event, though, was not organised by Disneyland.
A smoking-ban came into effect in 2007. The ban includes 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 $30-60 for a pack of 20. Most popular brands include Marlboro, Salem and Kent which are sold at $39. There are also some cheaper brands catering for smokers on a budget. Hand-rolling tobacco is not common and is only available in specialty shops.
With more than 50,000 rooms available, Hong Kong offers a huge choice of accommodation from cheap digs to super luxury. Most places are linked by the excellent public transport system that ensures all attractions are close at hand but budget travellers who are spoiled by cheap prices in many Asian countries are often shocked by the accommodation cost in this international city where rental payment is as high as London and New York.
Anything under $700 is considered budget. While it is possible to have a dorm bed for $70-150 and a double room for $200-500, you should not expect anything except a bed. Accommodation with reasonable space, decoration and cleanness is usually priced from $150-250 up for a bed and $800 for a room.
Most super-budget guesthouses are located along Nathan Road between Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. Expect a tiny, undecorated room and little else. Some bathrooms are shared and noise could be a problem for light sleepers. Single rooms with private bathrooms run for about $150-$250 a night.
Two popular guesthouse clusters are inside Chungking Mansions (nicknamed Chungking Jungles by some local people) and Mirador Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui. Located in the city centre and regarded as a slum by local people, it is home to tight budget travellers from Europe, America, India and Africa. Your friends in Hong Kong will probably be shocked when hearing that you choose to stay there and it is true that there are considerable negative reviews on those guesthouses, but it is the place packed with most of the cheapest (and the worst) accommodation. Brush aside the gloomy environment, the annoying fake watch sellers and disturbing pimps, the well-patrolled place in the heart of Hong Kong is safe. Just bear in mind that $100 for a dorm bed and $300 for room is still low in Hong Kong. Keep your expectations as realistically low as possible.
Cheap guesthouses can also be found in Causeway Bay, a place popular with young backpackers with less of a budget. They are $50-$100 more expensive than those in Kowloon but they are more likely to provide free internet and better environment.
For affluent travellers, Hong Kong houses some of the best world class hotels that run a fierce competition for your wallets by offering a pick-up service by helicopter, a Michelin star restaurant and extravagant spas and all possible comforts to picky customers. Major international chains are also well represented. Five-star hotels include The Peninsula, Four Seasons, Le Meridien, W , InterContinental, JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton, Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental and rooms usually start from $3000.
There are also some four star hotels such as Marriott, Novotel and Crowne Plaza and prices start from around $1500 up, depending on the season.
The government maintains an online list of licensed hotels and guesthouses and many of them join various travel booking networks which will provide the most updated prices.
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 runs seven youth hostels. All of them are located outside the city and expect extra budget from $100 to $300 for a cab when public transport service is closed. All but the one on Hong Kong island also have a strict curfew rule and have a daily closing time in which hostellers ought to leave the site between 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.
When choosing the locations to stay, try to pick one near to the MTR (metro) stations. When the metro service is closed at 1am, they are likely to be connected by 24-hour bus services. Hotels are also available in outlying islands such as Lamma Island and Cheung Chau, but it is probably not an ideal option for nightlife travellers.
Hong Kong's country parks also provide 39 camping sites . The facililties are on a "first-come-first-served" basis and vacanies are running out soon during weekends and public holidays. You are not allowed to camp other than in a designated camp site which can be identified by the sign board erected by the Country and Marine Parks Authority. According to some Wikitravellers, the park is frequently patrolled by the Authority staff and they are strict at penalizing an offence.
Education is taken very seriously in Hong Kong and the territory has a total 9 universities, of which the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology are considered to be world class and attract students from far and wide. Most of these universities have exchange agreements with foreign universities, and these are a good way for one to experience living in Hong Kong for up to a year if your university has an exchange agreement with one of them. Courses for exchange students are often conducted in English.
Visitors to Hong Kong will soon notice that school children wear 'British-style' uniforms that have been adapted to the sub-tropical climate. It is a tradition for school students to sell 'flags' and collect money for charity on a Saturday morning.
Hong Kong, together with nearby Macau, are the only places in the world where Cantonese is still taught in schools. Some of the universities in Hong Kong offer Cantonese lessons for foreigners, and these are 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 the traditional Chinese script.
You will need an employment visa in Hong Kong to take up any paid employment, even if you are from Britain or mainland China. This usually involves any potential employer 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. In June 2006 the Immigration Department revived a rule that allows the spouse of anyone currently working legally in Hong Kong to get a "dependent visa". This allows the spouse to take up any employment they wish, without having to seek approval from the Immigration Department. Unfortunately, a dependent visa is not available if the spouse is from mainland China, unless they have been living abroad for more than one year.
In 2006, the Hong Kong government introduced a new program called the Quality Migrant Application Scheme which targets skilled, preferably university educated, labour with good knowledge of languages to come and settle in Hong Kong and seek for employment. For more information, visit the Hong Kong Immigration website. 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 – 40 hours in a week. Contracts will sometimes include accommodation and airfare.
With an effective police and legal system, Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world. Needless to say, low crime does not mean no crime, and there is no excuse to ditch your common sense. Although local people feel safe to carry 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.
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, 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.
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.
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 stopped by the police there is no great need; most visitors choose to keep their passport in a safe place.
You are expected to cooperate with the police during their investigations, and understand that they may search your pockets and bags. By the 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 likely to agree 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 is likely to be taken seriously.
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 maybe out patrolling accident black-spots. It's is not uncommon to see local people waiting to cross an empty road - when this happens, you should also wait because it maybe that they have noticed that the police are patrolling the crossing.
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 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.
Several hikers have lost their lives in the wilderness in the past decade. Hikers should equip themselves with detailed hiking maps, 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.
Natural disasters are not usually a major issue in Hong Kong. There are no nearby fault lines, so earthquakes are rare and relatively mild when they do happen. The main hazards that Hong Kong faces are typhoons and floods.
Typhoons normally occur during the months of May to November, and are particularly prevalent during September. Whenever a typhoon approaches within 800km 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/hour, 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/hour 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.
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.
Healthcare standards in Hong Kong are on par with the West, and finding a reputable doctor is not much of problem should you get sick. Doctors come in two flavours: those that practice traditional Chinese medicine and 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 that 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. Most surgeries and hospitals will accept credit cards. 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.
Tap water in Hong Kong has been proven to be drinkable, but some 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 living in an old building with outdated plumbing and poorly maintained water tanks. Bottled water is widely available but remember that Hong Kong's landfill sites are filling up fast and plastic bottles are a major environmental problem.
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, whilst the summer monsoon can bring cleaner air off the South China Sea.
Many travel guides written about Hong Kong during the 1980s and 1990s had remarked on the rudeness of Hongkongers. While understandable, courtesy in the city has improved dramatically in recent years. And these days, Hong Kong consistently ranks highly among Asian cities when it comes to customer service. Sometimes, there could be crowds of people pushing and shoving and neglecting to say "please" or "sorry". It is unusual for someone to hold doors for strangers. Don't expect the supermarket or bank cashier to ask about your day or to make chit-chat. In non-tourist areas, staff in shops and restaurant might not even say "thank you" when you pay. However, don't take this personally. This apparent 'rudeness' is not menacing or mean-spirited. Hong Kong is a fast-paced society where people often neglect pleasantries for efficiency. It does not originate from an abundance of aggression or the desire to offend. If anything, Hongkongers usually go out of their way not to offend. For example, you will rarely hear people debate politics in public or confront strangers on their conduct. They want to go merrily and speedily on their way with the fewest obstacles. It is generally considered strange to strike up pleasantries with a stranger, or to thank a bus driver. Saying "good morning" to a person you don't know at a bus stop will probably be viewed with some apprehension.
Hong Kong is not a touchy-feely kind of place, but times are changing. In the last decade, perhaps due to increased tourism and international trade, courtesy in Hong Kong has changed dramatically. Now, when you enter a department, convenience or chain clothing stores, staff will greet and thank you for your patronage or visit, even if you haven't bought anything. Wherever tourists or Western people congregate, you can expect courtesy meeting Western expectations.
When you give or accept a business card, you must do it with both hands and with a slight dip of your head. Welcoming someone should also be done with a slight dip of the head and with a customary firm handshake. However, don't bow, this isn't Japan.
You will find that, in tourist areas, the cashier may hand receipts or change with both hands too. This is considered a gesture of respect. Because you're the patron, you are not expected to do the same when handing cash to the cashier.
Hong Kong has significant cultural differences from mainland China both due to past British influences and its evasion of communist ideologies. In particular, as Hong Kong was once a British colony, it was largely spared the Cultural Revolution that devastated much of the mainland. Today, while Hong Kong people seldom deny their Chinese heritage, many consider themselves to be a pioneer in developing a new Chinese culture that readily mixes and adapts both western and Asian trends. Showing Hongkongers that you understand that there are cultural differences with the mainland will go a long way in aquainting yourself with them.
For instance, spitting on the pavement, although common on the mainland, is considered uncivilised in Hong Kong. Spitting is against the law and carries a fixed penalty fine of $5,000. As a visitor, you should be mindful of the volume of your voice when speaking in public. Speaking or laughing vociferously on the bus, for example, will be viewed as uncouth.
When the thermometer hits 30 degrees 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 likes cinemas.
Hong Kong was once known for its fairly conservative dress sense, but these days, women wearing halter-necks and sleeveless tops can be easily spotted. It seems Hong Kong females are interested in up-to-date clothing even if it's inappropriate for the weather conditions (for example, wearing warm winter long boots in summer). Public nudity is illegal, so women can't go topless on the beach.
The dress code for men, especially tourists, is less conservative than it might have been. Even in 5-star hotels, smart casual is usually acceptable; although you might want to make your own enquiries in advance. If in doubt, wear long trousers rather than shorts: 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.
In Hong Kong, freedom of speech and the press are protected in law. Unlike mainland China, people are free to criticise their government. Websites are not blocked and the Internet is used to access the full range of political views and opinions. In recent years, people, once regarded as apolitical and pragmatic, are now more active in discussing politics, especially the political reforms aimed at introducing universal suffrage for electing the Chief Executive.
Spirited but peaceful public protests occur, particularly in front of the Central Government Offices in Central. Major political gathering or protests take place every year on 4th 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, this Public Holiday has become an annual opportunity to protest in favour of electoral reform.
Politics is split between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps. While many desire universal suffrage, a right that Beijing has 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.
It may be argued that, Hong Kong people seldom deny their Chinese nationality and many, including pro-democracy parties, will see it as a defamation if accused of supporting independence for Hong Kong. Unlike Taiwan, the independence movement has never been widely discussed before and after 1997 and it has hardly gained any public support.
In Hong Kong, you don't need to avoid political discussion and talking politics won't lead you into any trouble.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1991, making it one of a few former British colonial jurisdictions in Asia to have done so. The age of consent between two males is 21, while there is no law concerning the age of consent between two females. Same sex marriages performed overseas are not recognised in Hong Kong and there is no anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of sexual orientation. Holding hands, kissing or displaying public affection, while not common, are generally tolerated, although it may attract curious stares. Gay bashing is almost unheard of, though an effeminate boy could be a target for school bullying.
Overall, Hong Kong people tend to respect personal freedom on sexuality but also tend to remain silent. While gay pride parades have recently been held in Hong Kong, there is no obvious gay community in daily life, and same-sex marriages are not legally recognised. Coming out to strangers or in the office is still regarded as peculiar. One notable example was the prominent celebrity film star, Leslie Cheung, who was in the closet for much of his career. Although known to many to be gay, most Hong Kong people respected him and his work. His suicide in 2003 shocked many, and his fans, mainly female, showed considerable support for his partner.
Hong Kong has communications facilities as modern as anywhere in the world. The cost, particularly for mobile phone users, is one of the cheapest globally.
Postal services are efficient and of high quality. You will find post offices in major city areas and outside of opening hours, coin-operated stamp vending machines. You can buy stamps (sets of ten stamps of $1.4, $2.4, $3) from many convenience stores such as 7-Eleven or Circle K (OK). It is relatively inexpensive to ship your purchases back home from any Post Office.
Hong Kong has one of the highest penetrations of broadband in the world. The high penetrations make internet cafes not a notable scene even in a tourist area and they mainly gear towards local young gamers. Some require a deposit, usually around $100 and price up from $20-30 per hour.
For simple internet access, try free terminals in cafes such as Pacific Coffee Company and some shopping malls, the airport, the MTR (e.g. Wan Chai station, Central Station, Tsim Sha Shui Station) and public libraries.
Free Wi-Fi access is available at most government premises including the airport and public libraries; see the Hong Kong Government Wifi website for locations. Twenty minutes of free daily Wi-Fi is available at Starbucks and most McDonald's; no purchase is necessary.
PCCW and Y5ZONE sell Wi-Fi access for a flat daily, weekly or monthly fee ($158 and $98 per month for PCCW and Y5ZONE, respectively) charged to your credit card or mobile phone bill (if you have one in Hong Kong). However, Y5ZONE offers 20 minutes of free internet access for your device before requiring you to pay. Both services are accessible at many fast food restaurants and coffee shops. Although more expensive, PCCW's signal is more ubiquitous and can also be received in many MTR stations, convenience stores and phone booths. Prepaid Wi-Fi access cards are somewhat expensive in Hong Kong and not worth the trouble unless you don't want to use your credit card to buy a subscription. Most hotels these days, even down market ones, provide Wi-Fi access to their guests.
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 total of 11 different mobile operators, of which CSL is the largest. If you have a GSM handset (GSM 900, 1800) or W-CDMA (UMTS or 3G-GSM) handset, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card to use in your phone. They can be bought for cash at most convenience stores. Cheaper 2G (from any provider) and newer 3G cards (CSL, New World, 3) are available, but both are relatively inexpensive. A card with a value of around $48 should be sufficient unless you are making international calls (CSL provides IDD Pre-paid SIM at ralatively cheap rate) or you plan on using data services (CSL's Next G HSPA mobile broadband SIM is most likely cheaper at $38 per day than using the hotel's internet connection). Most cards provide standard services such as SMS, voice mail, and video call (CSL, and New World have 3G capability if you mobile phone supports). Discounted prepaid SIM Cards can be purchased in Ap Liu Street in Sham Shui Po, and in Sin Tat Plaza in Mongkok (83 Argyle Street, between Tung Choi Street and Fa Yuen Street). Cheap GSM and 3G phones can be purchased here as well (be careful, some phones sold here are 3G only). Mobile phone numbers have eight digits and begin with 5, 6 or 9.
For those on short visits, international roaming is available in Hong Kong onto its GSM 900/1800 and 3G (UMTS/W-CDMA) networks, subject to agreements between operators. For those coming from the mainland, some China Unicom SIMs will provide Hong Kong roaming at purchase time, and China Mobile provides a dual-number service which results in cheaper rates than straight roaming.
Although the mobile phone toll in Hong Kong is one of the lowest in the world, all mobile phone companies charge for BOTH incoming and outgoing calls (similar to USA, but different from most European countries, Japan, Taiwan or Korea). Coverage is generally excellent except in some remote mountainous areas, and is available on almost all operators even when underground, including the whole MTR system, on board the trains and cross-harbour tunnels.
Landline phones for local calls are charged on monthly basis with unlimited access, but be careful that hotels may charge you per call.
Payphones are available and $1 is for a local call for 5 minutes. If you don't have a mobile and need to make a short local call, most restaurants, supermarkets and shops will oblige if you ask nicely.
Public payphones are becoming more and more difficult to find on streets nowadays, but MTR stations usually have public phones. The airport has a courtesy phone just before you step out of the glassed area after the customs - you cannot go back there once you have left.