Overview of Hong Kong
Hong Kong offers an unusual blend of natural beauty and advanced technology and is one of the most sought-after bucket list adventure destinations in the world. This city has something for adventurers from all walks of life and of all age groups. This amazing city is flooded with skyscrapers that seem to kiss the sky as well as historic trams that roar through the central part of the city.
Table of Contents
Hong Kong has a number of fine dining establishments. On the other hand, visitors also have the option of eating at a “dai pai dong,” which is a small food stand that can be found dotting the streets. Hong Kong boasts the very best shopping malls, massive structures that can satisfy all the shopping needs of the people coming from every corner of the world. One can also shop in small street markets that are sprawled all over Hong Kong. This extraordinary contrast provides visitors with a unique travel experience.
British influence is evident everywhere in Hong Kong starting from its system of education to its free-market economy. However, this city is essentially Chinese as can be seen by dim sum restaurants, Chinese medicine shops, and Chinese street vendors all over Hong Kong.
Initially, Hong Kong was established as an important trade center and a business hub. Today, this extraordinary city is the fourth-largest banking and financial center in the world as far as its external assets are concerned. It can be referred to as the Wall Street of Asia, owing to its increasing number of insurance, banking, publishing, and advertising establishments.
Hong Kong is also a leading exporter of garments, watches, and toys throughout the world and has become the eighth-largest trading economy in the world. Being a duty-free port, this city draws millions of people to have a memorable sightseeing and shopping experience. In the year 2003, tourism in Hong Kong suffered a setback, owing to an epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). However, the city soon recovered and today caters to over a million tourists every year.
History of Hong Kong
The existence of inhabitation in Hong Kong can be traced back to about five millennia as per archaeological studies that began somewhere around the 1920s. Neolithic artifacts that were found indicate a strong influence of northern Chinese cultures prevailing in the Stone Age. The discovery of an ancient tomb at Lei Cheung Uk in Kowloon signifies that the region was settled by Han Chinese in the seventh century AD. The Sung Dynasty (960-1279) marked the first significant migration from regions in northern China to Hong Kong.
In the year 1699, the British East India Company was successful in making its sea venture to China. This period witnessed the development of trade relations between Hong Kong and British merchants. The Chinese were defeated in the First Opium War (1839-42), and Hong Kong was surrendered to Britain in the year 1842 in compliance with the Treaty of Nanking. Britain expanded its territories by further adding Kowloon and Stonecutter’s Island in the year 1860. During the early 1900s, Hong Kong became a refuge for people who were expelled from China earlier. In the year 1912, the Chinese Republic was established.
As Japan advanced toward China, a large number of Chinese people came to Hong Kong. The population grew to a whopping 1.6 million people around the same time when World War II commenced. World War II disturbed life in Hong Kong, and by December 25, 1941, the British gave up the land to the Japanese military forces. U.S. submarines moved many Japanese planes to Hong Kong to strengthen their power for further attacks on the East Asian region. When Japan surrendered in 1945, the territory came back under British rule.
The Chinese civilians came back to this region, taking the population to around 1.8 million.
After 1949, when Mainland China came under the control of the Communists, more people migrated to China, increasing the population further. Various problems pertaining to housing, crime, and health surfaced in densely populated Hong Kong. In May of 1967, Hong Kong witnessed the riots and strikes that resulted from the Cultural Revolution in China.
After persistent negotiations that continued for many years, an agreement between Britain and the People’s Republic of China was finally reached on December 19, 1984. According to this agreement, Hong Kong, comprised of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories became a special administrative region of China. In compliance with a mutually agreeable policy of “One Country, Two Systems,” China gave considerable independence to Hong Kong and allowed the prevailing social and economic systems to remain intact for about 50 years. In the year 1991, Hong Kong won its first direct legislative elections.
Hong Kong Geography
The British Dependent Territory of Hong Kong comprised of Victoria, which is popularly called Hong Kong Island; the New Territories; the Kowloon Peninsula; and 235 outlying islands. The total area of the territory is about 1,078 square kilometers. Hong Kong lies along the southeast coast of China.
The total area of Hong Kong Island alone is around 77.5 square kilometers. The more urban areas lie along the northern shore. Mountains dominate the central part of the island and the region along the south coast. The majority of the Hong Kong region is the countryside, while 21 official country parks make up 40 percent of the rural land in this region.
Hong Kong Island is situated to the south of the Tropic of Cancer and is on a latitude similar to that of Hawaii, Calcutta, and Havana. The longitude of Hong Kong is the same as that of Bali, Perth, and Wuhan in central China. The South China Sea encloses the country’s southern coast. The region comprises a peninsular protrusion from the southeastern side of China, and there are several islands strewn off the coast. Owing to its wide harbors and deep waters, this region serves as a convenient passing point for various ships
The currency prevalent in this region is the Hong Kong dollar (HK$). Similar to the U.S. dollar, 100 cents make up one dollar. Bronze colored coins are issued by the government in the denominations of 10 cents, 20 cents, and 50 cents, while silver-colored coins are issued for HK$1, HK$2, and HK$5. Nickel and bronze-colored coins are issued by the government for HK$10. Currency notes are available in denominations of HK$10, HK$20, HK$50, HK$100, HK$500, and HK$1,000.
All the denominations except HK$10, are issued by The Bank of China. To exchange local currencies in Hong Kong, visitors will be charged a certain amount as a commission by banks and other establishments. Currency can also be exchanged in major hotels and retail outlets. However, it is advisable to find out about the exchange rate they offer, which is likely to be low. Generally, all moneychangers display the current exchange rates at their respective counters.
All major cards are widely accepted in Hong Kong. You can also find a large number of automated teller machines, or ATMs, in Hong Kong. Some electronic money machines of HSBC enable Visa and MasterCard holders to withdraw cash (HK$) around the clock.
Advanced technology is evident in all aspects of Hong Kong, including telecommunications. The telecommunication system in this region is highly sophisticated and the rates are very competitive. According to a survey, the estimated number of fixed telephone lines in Hong Kong is over 3.8 million, while the number of subscribers for mobile phone services is about 6.7 million.
The telephone code for Hong Kong is 852, and local phone numbers typically consist of 8 digits. While in Hong Kong, you can dial 999 for police, fire service, or ambulance. Mobile phone numbers also consist of eight digits and generally begin with 6 or 9.
In addition to getting excellent coverage for mobile phones in Hong Kong, you can also make calls from various pay-phones available throughout the region. Usually, the rate is HK$1 for making a local five-minute call. You can also stay connected with friends and family through emails, as there are plenty of cyber cafes available in Hong Kong.
Although sales tax is not applicable in Hong Kong, you may have to pay a 5 percent government tax on hotel accommodations. Generally, most of the luxury hotels apply a total surcharge of 15 percent, which includes a 5 percent government tax along with a 10 percent service charge.
The custom of tipping has traveled to China from the West, so it is customary to tip both hotel and airport porters. If you are asked to sit down at a bar to be served by a waitress, then you are expected to tip them. Alternatively, you can simply get your own drink. You may also tip if you are satisfied with the services in a hotel. Tipping taxi drivers is not mandatory. All hotels usually add a 10 percent service charge to your bill. If this amount is not included, you may want to tip around 10 percent.
Hong Kong enjoys four seasons, although the region experiences typhoons frequently. The climate is subtropical, owing to a wide range of temperatures and cold winters. Winters in Hong Kong, which last from mid-December to February, can be quite chilly. January is the coldest month. Spring in Hong Kong lasts from March to mid-May. The weather is quite warm with temperatures ranging from 64°F to 80°F, and the average humidity is 77 percent.
Many people avoid visiting Hong Kong during the transition from winter to spring due to fog, rain, and very little sunshine. The average rainfall per year is estimated to be somewhere around 87 inches, and the city receives most of its rainfall in the transitional period. The summer season in Hong Kong is from June to mid-September. The weather during this period is hot and humid. Temperatures range from about 78°F to around 91°F, and the humidity remains at around 86 percent. During autumn, the weather is dry and pleasant with temperatures ranging from 64°F to 82°F. The average humidity in this period is about 72 percent.
The meteorological department in Hong Kong is very efficient and regularly monitors the typhoon developments. The department informs people in case of an approaching typhoon, regarding its strength and severity. A rating of 1 indicates a typhoon with the lowest strength, while a rating of 8 indicates the most severe typhoon. If the signal is 8, you are likely to find most of the shops and outlets closed in this period. As one may expect, typhoons can also severely affect flight schedules.
Best Times to Go
Weather-wise, the months of October, November, and most of December are the best times to visit Hong Kong, as they offer clear skies and bright sunlight. If you want to witness Hong Kong’s famous Chinese New Year festivals, late January and early February is the best time to go. Hotels offer substantial discounts during the off-season.
What to Wear
Light casual clothing is best suited for Hong Kong’s climate. Carry a light sweater wherever you go because all buildings in Hong Kong are air-conditioned. Women are advised to wear t-shirts, long skirts, and modest clothing and to avoid short skirts and halter tops. See-through clothing is prohibited in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok has a large number of domestic and international airlines that serve the airport. You can take a taxi, bus, or the airport express train to get to the internal urban areas.
Almost all of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories are covered by bus routes, with double-decker and single-level buses. Kowloon Motor Bus, New World First Bus, and Citybus provide extensive bus services to cover these regions. New Lantao Bus and Long Win Bus operate on Lantau Island, North Lantau, and the airport, respectively.
The roads in Hong Kong are of outstanding quality and all road signs are in English to facilitate easy movement around the city. Renting a car is extremely simple in Hong Kong. Most of the major car rental companies, such as Avis, Hertz, and Budget, have at least one outlet in Hong Kong. They offer a range of cars, from small family cars to more luxury and vintage models.
Taxis can be your best bet to reach any destination in Hong Kong. The taxi service in Hong Kong is very good and reasonable, and taxis are found easily all over the region. A lot of taxi drivers in Hong Kong can speak English, although it is advisable to write down your destinations in correct Chinese. It is important to have Hong Kong dollars while traveling by taxi.
The taxis come in red, green, and blue to signify the area in which they operate.
To commute in Hong Kong (except Tung Chung Road and the southern part of Lantau Island), you will travel in a red taxi. The taxis that operate in rural areas in the New Territories are green. You can commute about Lantau Island in a blue taxi.
All these taxis carry passengers to and fro from the Hong Kong International Airport. You can hail a taxi anywhere on the street, although there are certain restricted areas where taxis cannot stop for a pick-up or a drop-off. These areas are usually indicated by double yellow lines. The law requires that all passengers wear a seat belt for safety purposes.
The taxis in Hong Kong are regulated by law, so you will see a taxi driver identity sign displayed on the dashboard. Generally, the latest taxi fares are listed on the inside of the taxi and you can refer to it to ensure that you pay the correct fares. You can refer to a meter and ask for a receipt just in case you need to track down the taxi for some reason.
Facts & Figures
- Official Name: Hong Kong
- Passport/Visa Requirements Visitors from a large number of countries who have a valid passport can enter Hong Kong for a period of 90 days without obtaining a visa. To stay for a period longer than 90 days, you need to obtain a visa prior to your journey to Hong Kong. You can check with any Chinese embassy or consulate to obtain current information about passport and visa requirements applicable in your country. Visitors from certain countries do not require a visa for a one-month stay in Hong Kong.
- Population: around 7.4 million
- Language: Chinese (Cantonese) and English are the two official languages.
- Predominant Religions: People in Hong Kong enjoy religious freedom, and some of the prominent religions in Hong Kong include Taoism, Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Sikhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism.
- Time Zone: GMT/UTC +8 (no daylight savings time)
- Voltage Requirements: 220-Volt / 50-Hz system
- Telephone Codes: 852-country code. City code is not required.
- One of Hong Kong’s major exports is human sewage, which the Chinese use to fertilize farmlands.
- The city has the most Rolls Royces per capita.
- Hong Kong has some of the world’s longest outdoor escalators.
- Rice is the diet staple of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong: Culture
Hong Kong is the ideal place to witness the east meeting west. Hong Kong has assimilated European as well as oriental customs and traditions in equal measure, resulting in a one-of-a-kind cultural extravaganza. Buildings selling traditional Chinese art may be made in a colonial British fashion. People have Chinese green tea at high noon as well as during evening teatimes. Vendors sell Chinese noodles adjacent to the Macdonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The modern and traditional sects exist astonishingly close together in Hong Kong. The people have held on to their values as they have entered an age of colossal shopping and an incessant flow of partying and revelry. Traditional Chinese medicines using dried plants, animals, and rocks as ingredients are still very popular despite the advances of modern medical services. The local film and music industry has kept up with western cinema and pop and rock music.
Reflective of its culture, Hong Kong’s music is an amalgamation of various regional and foreign influences. Classical Chinese music, which involves melodies sung to traditional instruments, such as the dan bau, erhu, guzheng, pipa, and xiao, is mainly a part of tourist attractions in hotels and nightclubs.
The most popular forms of music in Hong Kong are those born out of a fusion of oriental and western schools. Cantopop and Mandopop are terms used to refer to pop songs sung in Cantonese and Mandarin. These songs are a rage on the island. Many times, famous pop songs will be translated into Cantonese and released as cover-versions by local artists. As early as the 1980s, local Cantopop artists had begun singing in English, and today a typical Hong Kong pop album will contain songs in both languages.
Before pop music came onto the scene, Hong Kong was renowned for Cantonese Opera. Many artists from the island even performed in places like the United Kingdom and the United States. Very often, western operas were translated into Cantonese and played out as comical satires.
Even after the end of the British occupation, English remains an official administrative language in Hong Kong, next to Chinese. Although Mainland China has a larger number of Mandarin Chinese speakers, Hong Kong seems to favor Cantonese. However, Mandarin has become increasingly popular in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover.
Regarding religion, Hong Kong is multi-faceted. People of every major religion find a representation in the population of Hong Kong. A large number of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus reside on the island adding to its cultural diversity. Unlike Mainland China, where religion is largely suppressed, Hong Kong gives its people complete religious freedom.
Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism are the three main religions of Hong Kong. Of these, only Buddhism originated outside China. It was established in India, although the largest percentage of followers now exists in China. Buddhism preaches peace and non-violence while urging people to seek out their inherent Buddha-nature. It is not unusual to see groups of people chanting Buddhist prayers, meditating, and congregating to learn more about Buddha’s life.
Taoism was founded in China around the sixth century of the Common Era. The popular Yin Yang symbol finds its origin in this religion, which teaches principles of humility and simplicity. Taoism states that the world functions with the help of two opposite yet complementary forces, Yin and Yang, and, accordingly, most practices of the religion have opposing features and characteristics. Unlike Buddhism, Taoists pray to various deities, such as the Jade Emperor and the gods of health, wealth, and literature.
Confucianism has long been considered a philosophy rather than a religion. However, the people choose to worship the founder, Confucius, as a God. The religious practices have metaphysical principles, such as the appeasement of nature’s spirits and respect for the laws of the universe.
One very prominent religious practice in Hong Kong is ancestral worship, which all people, regardless of religion, perform. The Chinese believe that the soul of the dead remains with the body until it decomposes. To ensure that the soul moves on to the underworld and does not remain with the living as a malevolent specter, ritual offerings of grain and wine are made at their graves. Another combined religious practice is the worship of the protector god of seafarers in the form of Tin Hau or Hung Shing, which is very important to the fishing community of Hong Kong.
The Chinese have a twelve-year cycle with each year represented by a different creature. During the New Year, Hong Kong’s every street, every corner, and every house are lit up with songs, laughter, and celebrations. Parades and parties are held all over the town with traditional dragon dances and fireworks.
Che Kung is the Chinese god of gambling, and his feat, on the tenth of February, is considered a very lucky day for gamblers. Many people visit the Che Kung temple in the New Territories of Hong Kong to gain some luck before they go off to bet their money.
The first full moon after the New Year is the time for evil spirits to wreak havoc among the people. They are prevented from their agenda by colorful lanterns being lit up all over the city. Thousands keep vigilance on the streets all through the night, holding up beautifully decorated Chinese lanterns.
This is an ancient celebration that has been commemorated on the outlying island of Cheung Chau in the past century. A tall bamboo tower is erected and covered with sweet buns while the whole town fasts and prays. At midnight on the third day, young men climb up the tower and pluck off the buns so as to distribute them among the people.
Gautum Buddha’s Birth Anniversary
This is an important religious event where many gather to offer prayers and services. The best places to catch these ritualistic ceremonies are 10,000 Buddhas Monastery at Sha Tin, Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, Miu Fat Monastery at Tuen Mun, and Chi Lin Nunnery on Diamond Hill.
Tuen Ng Dragon Boat Festival
This Tuen Ng Dragon Boat Festival day commemorates the spirit of a young man who drowned himself to protest the government’s atrocities back in the third century. Elaborately decorated dragon-shaped boats take off from Tai Po and Sha Tin in a fast and furious race. International teams occasionally participate in this event, which is broadcast worldwide.
Fall Crab Festival
The annual crab season lasts from September to November, during which some of the best crabs are caught in the Hong Kong waters. Hotels, restaurants, and homes alike celebrate the bounty with unusual recipes and dishes during the Fall Crab Festival.
Etiquette/Do’s and Dont’s
- Taxi drivers in Hong Kong expect to be tipped. When doing so, it is convenient to just round up to the nearest whole value and pay.
- Carry light jackets and rainwear since the tropical climate of Hong Kong can suddenly become humid and cloudy.
- Confirm visa requirements for your specific country before departing on your trip.
- Feel free to bring your pet since the island is very generous to animals.
- Use garbage bins only for disposal of trash.
- Use only designated areas of the beach for barbeques and cooking.
- Bathe nude on the beach, as it is against the law.
- Smoke or spit in public areas.
- Take children below five years of age on golf courses.
- Photograph the interiors of monasteries without seeking permission.
Hong Kong: Sightseeing
Man Mo Temple
The Man Mo temple is one of the oldest and most revered temples in Hong Kong. The temple was built to honor two gods, Man Cheong, the God of Literature, and Mo, the God of War. Built by the Taoists during the colonial era in 1848, and renovated in 1894, this temple is one of the key attractions in Hong Kong. Inside the temple, Man Cheong holds a calligraphy brush while Mo holds a long sword. Statues of Man and Mo are surrounded by statues of other gods, including Pau Kung, the God of Justice, and Shing Wong, the God of the City. The historical artifacts of the temple, among others, including a bronze bell, the origin of which can be traced back to 1847.
The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals has supervised the operation of Man Mo temple since 1908. The temple attracts many regular worshipers as well as a considerable number of visitors. The air inside the temple has a sense of thickness due to the aromatic vapors emitted by the scores of burning coils. Combined with shreds of sunrays, the temple becomes a perfect illusion for the visitors to travel back in time.
Man Mo temple is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm. It is situated in the Western District of Hong Kong Island, at 124 Hollywood Road. This is only a few minutes’ walk from the mid-level escalators. Alternatively, the temple can be reached by bus route 26, leaving from Des Voeux Road (in front of HSBC main building). There is also another Man Mo temple in Tai Po, which has been declared as a Hong Kong monument.
The Bird Paradise
The renowned Bird Paradise is the avid bird watcher’s haven, offering visitors a chance to partake in an unforgettable encounter with more than 150 species of birds, some of which have been declared endangered. This attraction features a flamingo pond and the aviaries, which are enclosed true canopy environments inhabited by hundreds of birds. Visitors may get a chance to see some rare swan species that can be found swimming gracefully in nearby small lakes.
Marine Land at Hong Kong Ocean Park is one of the prime tourist attractions of the city. It consists of the Pacific Pier, Atoll Reef, Shark Aquarium, Ocean Theatre, and Park Tower. The Pacific Pier, an artificial imitation of the Northern Californian coasts, houses around 20 seals and sea lions. Tourists have the opportunity to participate in a feeding session, watch the seals basking in the sun, and observe their swimming abilities that from an underwater tunnel.
The Atoll Reef is a truly magnificent spectacle that houses around 250 species of rare marine wildlife, often only seen on documentaries. It also offers a cool environment to escape from the hot sun, especially while visiting Ocean Park from spring to late summer. The Shark Aquarium situated nearby follows a very similar pattern, featuring 35 species of sharks and a spectacular underwater passage for visitors to closely observe the behavior of these truly amazing underwater predators.
The Ocean Theatre hosts an entertaining acrobatic display performed by dolphins and sea lions. Marine Land concludes with the 72-meter high Ocean Park Tower with a gently rotating lift, offering a remarkable panoramic view of the hillside.
The Headland Rides
The adventurous types can enjoy the Headland Rides complex overlooking the sea. It is packed with high-dose adrenaline rides, like the Abyss Turbo Drop, a 185-foot 5-second free fall, or the Dragon, a 2.5-minute roller coaster ride full of twists, turns, and loops and a max speed of 77 kilometers per hour. Other rides include the Flying Swing, Eagle, Crazy Galleon, and the Ferris wheel.
Key Lowland Garden
The Giant Panda Habitat, Dinosaurs Now and Then, Butterfly House and Goldfish Pagoda are the attractions at the Key Lowland Garden. The famous Giant Panda Habitat houses two giant pandas by the names An An and Jia Jia. Visitors can observe these gentle giants eating, playing, and blissfully resting in their artificially constructed habitat.
Dinosaurs Now and Then takes visitors back in time 65 million years to experience the age of the dinosaurs. It is an educational virtual tour, informing audiences about the existence of the dinosaurs. Visitors also get a chance to see the endangered Chinese alligator, Chinese giant salamander, and the small-clawed otters.
The Butterfly House, situated within a unique glass cocoon is home to several species of exotic butterflies. The environment also includes impressive vegetation that consists of wondrous orchids and other exotic plants.
The Goldfish Pagoda attracts visitors with its numerous varieties of Chinese and Japanese goldfish of different shapes, sizes, and colors, in a surrounding of small lakes topped with water lilies and a replica of a traditional Japanese house.
Avenue of Stars
The amazing progress of Hong Kong’s film industry over the last few decades was honored by a $40 million project, the Avenue of Stars. Located on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and inspired by the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the project was sustained by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the Hong Kong Tourism Commission, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, and the Hong Kong Film Awards Association. The 440 meter-long avenue opened on April 27, 2004, and was made available to the public a day later.
The Avenue of Stars reflects 100 years of Hong Kong cinematic history through a plethora of statues, inscriptions, handprints, and autographs of famous Hong Kong film stars. Celebrities such as Bruce Lee, Michelle Yeoh, Choo Kheng, Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li, and Maggie Cheung were honored during the opening. The Avenue of Stars also offers magnificent panoramic views across the Victoria Harbor. The area is a perfect romantic setting for an evening walk or just for relaxing, having ice cream, and watching ships sailing across the harbor. At night, visitors can witness the world-renowned Symphony of Lights display. The demonstration runs every night at 8 pm Hong Kong time, subject to good weather conditions. A twenty-minute dazzling laser light demonstration featuring pyrotechnics and fireworks follows the spectacle.
Disneyland Hong Kong
Walt Disney opened a fifth resort in Hong Kong on September 12, 2005, at Penny’s Bay (Chok Ko Wan), Lantau Island. Hong Kong Disneyland includes the world-renowned theme park, Inspiration Lake Recreation Center, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel.
Hong Kong International Theme Parks Limited (HKITP), a joint venture that commenced in 1999 between the Hong Kong Government and the Walt Disney Company, manages Hong Kong Disneyland. Present attractions at Hong Kong Disneyland include Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.
Tian Tan Buddha
Tian Tan Buddha is a massive 34-meter statue, one of the five giant Buddha statues in China, situated in Ngong Ping, Lantau Island. A total of 202 bronze pieces were amalgamated to form the statue. The total weight exceeds 250 tons. It is the world’s tallest outdoor-seated Bronze Buddha. The statue was completed after 10 years and displayed in 1993 with an estimated total cost of $68 million.