Hong Kong is a huge city with lots of fun things to do and interesting things to see.
Hong Kong is an island still technically run by China, but operates pretty independently. Hong Kong has it’s own currency, the Hong Kong Dollar, it’s own flag, and doesn’t require a tourist visa to visitors from the United States like mainland China does.
It’s pretty easy for travelers from the United States to get to Hong Kong. It’s become a huge airport hub for Asia, and even home to Hong Kong Airlines. You’ll find direct flights to Hong Kong from the west coast of America and Canada.
Whether you make Hong Kong an extended stop during a trip somewhere else or it’s for a dedicated vacation, you’ll find a lot to do in Hong Kong.
You’ll definitely enjoy your trip, but there are a few things you should know before you go to Hong Kong!
1. Public Transportation is Super Easy.
Buy a transporation card, called an Octopus card, from an information desk inside any train station. You can add money to it on the spot (with cash) or refill it at a 7-Eleven or Watson’s drug store with a credit card.
Busses, rail cars, trains, and ferries can take you just about anywhere and usaally only cost between $.25 and $1 USD per trip!
2. They Have Uber.
There are lots of modes of public transportation and taxis, but also Uber. Uber is often barely more expensive than a multi-person trip via bus or train would be, but cheaper than taxis. Drivers usually speak enough English to help you, but the Uber system automatically sends where to pick up and where to go so there’s no need to fear a language barrier.
Be warned that sometimes the pick up location on Uber gets jumbled, so you may end up needing to call your driver to arrange a specific spot once they are in the vicinity.
3. Malls are EVERYWHERE!
Many train stations are underneath major shopping malls. This is nice in summer months as you can walk a block or so from the station to your destination inside a cool mall.
If you’re in Hong Kong specifically for a shopping holiday you will be very pleased! Most malls carry major international designers which can be difficult to find otherwise!
4. People are Super Fashionable
Not surprising considering how many malls are around Hong Kong, people in the city are very fashionable! You’ll see clothes, bags, and accessories you may have never seen before. Personally, I felt out of place around all of the beautiful clothes and stylish fashions in my western skinny jeans and t-shirt!
5. Watch for Mystery Drips
Due to the dense population of the city, space is at a premium. Apartment complexes are built on top of businesses in tall buildings. Residents from the second floor and up use window box A/C units which occasionally drip condensation.
Watch for drips and puddles along the sidewalk. You don’t want to get hit with mystery juice!
6. Get a Temporary SIM Card for Your Phone
Your phone plan may or may give you any service while travelling to Hong Kong. We chose our plan based on it’s awesome coverage worldwide, but we were only allotted slow internet and no calls. We decided to upgrade our phones temporarily by using a local SIM card!
Go into any electronics store (there are plenty) and say you want a new SIM for your phone. We got a SIM card for 5 GB of fast data and local calls (which turned out to be pretty useful) for the week we were in town which cost us around $5USD.
7. Many Places Only Take Cash
And you have to get it from a money exchange counter. Banks won’t let you take out money unless you have an account with them, so bring cash to exchange!
8. 7-Eleven is EVERYWHERE
But don’t expect Slurpies. This is a good place to try local candy and foods and refill your Octopus card, though!
9. Lack of Personal Space
This is pretty common knowledge. People will rush you in line, will be seated right beside you at open chairs in restaurants, and may try to sneak pictures (or straight out ask you for pictures) of you or your kids. It doesn’t really hurt anyone, just be aware.
10. There’s Lots of Smoking
It’s kept outside of restaurants and stores, at least.
11. They Use Tons of Product Packaging.
It’s true! If you buy a box of cookies they are likely to be individually placed on tissue paper inside a compartment box with more tissue paper inside closed with stickers and tied with a ribbon inside another bag with more paper and stickers.
Seriously. And there are very few public recycling bins. You’ll feel so wasteful.
12. Don’t Drink the Water.
Officials say that Hong Kong has some the purest sourced water in the world, but the way it’s transported is questionable. Most people advise travelers to buy bottled water from reputable sources (check labels to ensure it was bottled outside of China) and not to take ice from public places.
To be fair, we had a drink blended with local ice on our trip and never felt any affects from it, but you can’t be too safe!
13. More People Speak English Than You Realize
English used to be taught in schools in Hong Kong since it was a commonwealth or dependent territory of the British Empire until 1994. Because of their history with England, many older people speak basic English pretty well! Nowadays there are a lot of international jobs in Hong Kong, so younger people are learning English to keep up with the market.
This doesn’t mean everything will be simple if you speak English, it simply means you should be able to get your point across to someone wherever you happen to be.
So don’t think you can get away with talking about someone when they’re standing right next to you (which isn’t nice to do, anyway).
14. It’s Crowded!
This also should go without saying, but it affected our trip so I’m going to say it, anyway.
Expect crowds everywhere you go. Expect busy public transportation. Expect crowded sidewalks you always have to sidestep. You may get lucky and have a more private experience based on where you go and time of day, but be prepared for lots of people just in case!
15. It’s Greener Than You Think
Not “green” as in environmentally friendly (no way), but “green” as in nature. Hong Kong is an island surrounded by other islands and full of parks. You’ll find beaches for swimming, hills to hike and bike, and opportunities to escape city life and sit by a tree.
If you are someone who appreciates a little nature time during your city vacation you’ll definitely be able to recharge in Hong Kong! Take a look at an expanded Google map to see what I mean!
16. It’s Safe to Eat Street Food
In fact, if you don’t eat street food you’ll be doing yourself a huge disservice during your trip to Hong Kong!
While you shouldn’t drink the water or accept ice in public places, food stalls typically use hot water to prepare food which kills the dangerous bacteria. Just make sure your food stall produces steam if you’re eating cooked food.
Be on the lookout for unique dessert stands, too! You’ll be able to find frozen fruit on a stick, ice cream inside bubble waffles, crazy donuts, and more. These are all safe! And so good. So, so, so good.
17. The Airport is Far Away From the City
This is good to be aware of if you’re arriving at night. Plan for an extra 1-2 hours to get checked bags and go through security. If that will put you at an arrival close to midnight you may want to spend your first night at an airport hotel!
We arrived at 9:00 pm but didn’t leave the airport until 11:30 pm, and it took a long time to track down our Uber driver. Our son (and us) were asleep in the Uber on the way to our AirBnB, which made the night pretty stressful. In retrospect I would have booked a closer hotel for that night so our first impressions of Hong Kong weren’t negative!
18. Be Careful About Buying Electronics
It’s understandable to want to capitalize on being so close to the world’s leading manufacturer, but that doesn’t mean everything around Hong Kong is legit!
You can find SD and small electronics at the Ladies Market in Kowloon or other outdoor vendors, but don’t be surprised if those products are not as advertised. If you care about using something long-term get it from one of the many malls in Hong Kong! If you are tempted to get something on the street check it’s packaging carefully. If it’s in cheap plastic or uses poor English grammar or spelling that’s a good sign it’s poor quality. This doesn’t always work, though, as many plants are able to copy packaging pretty well with bad products!
19. Prepare for the Weather
We weren’t prepared for just hot hot and humid Hong Kong would be when we visited in July. We were so miserable (and grew up in the American Southeast, so are pretty used to heat and humidity!) that we almost always hated being outside. We went outside anyway, of course, but would immediately be soaked from head to toe with sweat. We ended up taking at least one shower per day and had to do laundry twice in 6 days.
In addition to wearing light weight clothes we also suggest carrying an umbrella with you. It’s as if the sky is so full of humidity it just collapses. Heavy clouds may or may not lead to rain- you really never know. Rain could last a few minutes or a couple of hours. It’s best to be armed with a small umbrella (sold at convenience stores everywhere pretty cheap) just in case, since you’re likely to do a lot of walking to get where you want to be.
We hope you enjoy the vibrant city of Hong Kong! It’s a magical, bright, lively place that has something to offer everyone. As long as you’re prepared and know what to expect you’ll love your vacation to Hong Kong!
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