11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Hong Kong
Having spent the majority of my life in Hong Kong, I feel it is my duty to appoint myself an enthusiastic ambassador for this beautiful city. There are some common misconceptions about Hong Kong (no, it’s not part of Japan – and yes, I have actually been asked if I speak Japanese on multiple occasions) but also some cool facts that you might not know. If you’re planning a visit to Hong Kong, here are 11 things you should know before your trip!
Visiting Hong Kong for the first time? Click here for 8 Essential Things to Do for First Time Visitors to Hong Kong!
1. Not just a concrete jungle
It’s often referred to as “the New York City of Asia”, but in actuality it’s more like a tropical island with a splash of skyscrapers. Hong Kong is famous for its spectacular skyline (it has more than 1200 skyscrapers, more than both New York and Tokyo), but did you know that there are beaches, national parks, marine parks, mountains and waterfalls just a hop and skip away from the CBD? In fact, although Hong Kong is considered a metropolis, out of the total 1,108 square kilometres of land, about three-quarters is countryside! If you are an avid hiker then you are in luck, as Hong Kong has more than 50 hiking trails for you to explore.
2. Hong Kongers speak Cantonese, not Mandarin, and many people speak English!
If you didn’t already know, Hong Kong used to be a British colony and was handed back to China in 1997. It is now a “Special Administrative Region” under China and the primary language spoken by Hong Kongers is a dialect of Chinese called “Cantonese”. It sounds fairly different to Mandarin in the sense that you might not be able to understand Cantonese fully if you speak Mandarin, and vice versa. Because of its status as a former British colony, many people also speak English fluently. Again – I do not speak Japanese, though I wish I could! Here are some handy Cantonese phrases you should add to your vocabulary: “jo sun” = good morning; “mm goi” = thank you/excuse me; “lei ho” = hello.
3. Ridiculously easy and cheap to get around
Hong Kong has one of the most efficient public transportation systems in the world. You often have 3 or 4 different transportation options to get from point-to-point and the coverage network covers almost every corner of Hong Kong (including the outlying islands). We’ve got taxis galore, an awesome subway system (the MTR), ferries, buses, minibuses, trams, trains and an airport railway system – prices are incredibly cheap (unlike some places – *cough* Australia *cough*) and Hong Kong is also very walk-able. In fact, Hong Kong is one of the least car-dependent cities with 90% of daily commuter journeys on public transport!
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4. No open-bottle law
That’s right! Like many places, the drinking age is 18+ but there is no open-bottle law which means you can walk around and drink a bottle of cider or bring a pitcher of white sangria to the beach! Most convenience stores also sell a range of alcohol so if you’re traveling on a budget this is a great option – just buy a bottle of Pimm’s and some lemonade and head to the beach or park for a fun afternoon!
5. Hong Kong Island is only one of more than 230 islands that make up Hong Kong
There’s also Lantau, Cheung Chau, Lamma and Peng Chau to name a few. These islands are easy to get to and are great day trip destinations for hikes, seafood dinners and slightly less-crowded beaches.
6. So many amazing restaurants and bars!
Hong Kong is paradise for foodies – from cheap and cheerful meals to Michelin-starred restaurants – there is something for everyone! Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest per capita concentrations of eateries – there is 1 restaurant for every 300 people! Feel like having Lebanese food? Done. Or maybe some tasty Asian dessert dishes? Want a bowl of fresh Vietnamese pho? No worries. How about some hot steaming Cantonese dim sum? Yep! Or a big Wagyu beef burger with all the toppings? We’ve got you covered. Want some recommendations from a local? Head over for parts 1 and 2 of my top restaurant recommendations in Hong Kong!
There are amazing cocktail lounges and rooftop bars in Hong Kong, and almost every place offers a great happy hour promotion: here are my favorite joints!
7. A/C, A/C, everywhere
Hong Kong is humid, like all the time. Which means that most places are air-conditioned to help prevent mould and excessive sweating (I’m not kidding). Almost every indoor space is freezing cold, year-round, which means you should always carry a light cardigan or scarf with you.
8. Shops and restaurants open until late
One of the biggest things that I had to adapt to when I was living overseas or traveling abroad was shops closing at 6 or 7 PM. In Hong Kong, it is not uncommon for shops and malls to stay open until 10 PM or later! This means that the streets are always bustling with people and you can always pick up something from the shops last-minute or grab a late night snack.
9. Stand on the right, walk on the left!
When you are walking anywhere that has escalators or a moving walkway/sidewalk, remember to stand on the right and let people pass you on the left! People (myself included) get extremely annoyed when people block the left side of the walkway and it’s always a telltale sign that you’re from out of town.
10. One of the best airports in the world with flights to almost anywhere
Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok International Airport is one of the best airports in the world. Fact! You can fly to almost anywhere in the world from Hong Kong (more than 100 airlines operate 1,100 daily flights to and from 190 destinations worldwide) and the airport itself is extremely easy to get to from downtown (24 minutes on the airport train!). Let me let you in on a secret: Cathay Pacific Fanfares. Every Tuesday, Cathay Pacific releases tickets to select destinations at heavily discounted prices. If you know you are flying into Hong Kong and want to nab yourself a cheap ticket then keep your eye on the website! This is also a great option if you have a flexible travel schedule and don’t mind buying a ticket last-minute.
11. Hong Kong is amazing for street photography
Hong Kong is, without a doubt, one of the most diverse and exciting places in the world. Every corner is photogenic and is the perfect blend of East meets West. If you love street photography then you’re going to fall head over heels for this vibrant city.
What are some other things about Hong Kong that you think travelers should know? Share your thoughts in the comments section below! Looking for some off-the-beaten-path things to do in Hong Kong? Read my latest article here.
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