Hong Kong: 10 Things NOT to do!

By: Laura Besley

Hong Kong is the perfect blend of ‘East meets West’. There’s vibrancy, colour, noise and lots and lots of people. There are also colonial buildings, you can go for afternoon tea and you can buy anything you want in the supermarkets.
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR, not to be confused with SARS) and what that means is that it’s part of China, but equally it’s independent. It’s like a country within a country, or how it’s officially been coined is: ‘One Country, Two Systems’.

And that brings me onto my list of things not to do in Hong Kong. If you ever come here, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

  1. Don’t forget your wallet
    Unlike many countries in Asia, where you can get a 3-course meal for the price of a coffee ‘back home’, Hong Kong is a major player and has prices to match. From hotels, to meals, to drinks; everything is expensive.

  2. Don’t spit

    Believed to ward off evil spirits, it’s still acceptable to spit in many places in China. If you’re travelling to China, never (and I mean never) put anything on the floor that isn’t a thick-soled shoe. However, in Hong Kong it was already becoming less tolerated, but after SARS (2003) spitting was strictly prohibited. Now you can be fined up to HK$5,000.

    Mario Casas
    Mario Casas

  3. Don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere
    Firstly, the crowds will prevent you walking at any speed. Chances are even if you manage to find the tiniest gap to slip through, your companion(s) won’t and you’ll end up losing each other. Secondly, even in the winter the humidity can be pretty high and result in you sweating if you decide to walk too quickly.

  4. Don’t come here in July or August
    Because it’s too damn hot. Not to mention the humidity. You’d be crazy to want to be here in those months. You only need to step out of the air-conditioning for a nanosecond and you start sweating. Not nice. If you are crazy enough to come in those months, don’t forget a scarf or jacket as inside the temperatures are sometimes up to 20oC cooler than outside and you can freeze. When we hadn’t been here that long, my husband and I went out for lunch. We had to leave the restaurant early as we were so cold.

  5. Don’t be squeamish
    Hong Kong is an array of sights, sounds and smells. Most are good, but every now again there’s something that will totally blow your head off. And not in a good way. Try to remain open-minded and not yell out what immediately springs to mind (which is usually “Yuk!” or “Euch!”)

  6. Don’t try chicken feet and don’t eat pizza
    Considered a delicacy in Hong Kong and China, chicken feet can be meaty and fatty, or hard and dry. No matter what any local will tell you, they’re not nice. I’ve tried both types and trust me, just don’t.
    Contrary to the above, you should try to eat (more) local food than pizza. However, be aware if you do decide to get a pizza as the idea of toppings can be a little bit random. Here are a few examples:
    • Avocado Prawn – crabmeat, onion, avocado puree

    • Seafood Pizza – prawn, clam, mussels, squid, spring onion, olives

    • Spicey Chicken Pizza – roasted corn, olive chilli

  7. Don’t forget to learn a little Cantonese (not mandarin)
    The local dialect in Hong Kong is Cantonese. For the most part people also speak Mandarin (the form of Chinese spoken in mainland China) and English. But beware: the people I’ve found to speak the least English are taxi drivers, so if you can be prepared with googlemaps, a printout or an address of where you’re going, that would be best. As with any country you go to, the people really appreciate it when you speak a little of the local lingo. Hong Kong is no different. And out of the three most important words to learn, two of them are really easy.
    Hello - lei ho (sounds very similar)
    Thank you – Ng Goi (this is the tough one)
    Bye - bai baai (simples)

  8. Don’t forget to buy an Octopus card
    This is like the UK Oyster card but a million times better. If you’re going to be in Hong Kong for more than a day, it’s really worth getting an Octopus card. It’s the size of a credit card and you need to pay a HK$50 deposit. You can buy it in any MTR (metro) station and then top it up in any underground station too. You can use it to get on any form of public transport (so you can’t use it in a taxi). You can use it in convenience stores, such as Circle K and Seven Eleven, to buy drinks and snacks.

  9. Don’t forget to haggle
    If you go to the local markets, never accept the first price they offer you. Cut it in half, then again and start there. They’ll obviously not accept that, but then you might eventually meet somewhere in the middle. If you can feign a lack of interest in actually buying anything, you stand the best chance of being offered a good price.

  10. Don’t forget the top ten sights:

    1. The Peak, and you must take the peak tram (in operation since 1888);

      Night-time view from Victoria Peak (commonly known as 'the peak')
      Night-time view from Victoria Peak (commonly known as 'the peak')

    2. The Big Buddha, take a boat/bus there and the cable car back;

      The climb up to the big buddha
      The climb up to the big buddha

    3. Markets: Stanley (for higher quality souvenirs), Temple Street Night Market (for jade and bric-a-brac), Ladies’ Market (for cheap souvenirs – see point 8), Cat Street (for jade and antiques);

    4. Star Ferry, from 1898 until 1979 this was the only way to travel from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. Crossing Victoria Harbour it’s still one of the world’s most famous ferry crossings and if you take the ferry from HK Island to Kowloon, you can then walk along the Avenue of Stars.

    5. Ozone bar (in the Ritz-Carlton hotel), on the 118th floor it’s the highest bar in the world and has spectacular views.

      View from Ozone Bar
      View from Ozone Bar

    6. Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s bar area which is teeming any night of the week;

    7. Chi Lin Nunnery & Nan Lian Gardens, for a little peace & reflection this is the ideal spot;

    8. Wong Tai Sin temple, for a taste of a working temple smack bang in the middle of the skyscrapers surrounding it;

    9. Happy Valley races, for a mere HK$10 you can watch the excitement of the horse races.

    10. Dragon’s Back, for those of you with sturdy walking shoes, or just enough enthusiasm the Dragon’s Back hiking trail which takes you past Big Wave Bay and into Shek O is not to be missed.

      View of Big Wave Bay
      View of Big Wave Bay

About the author

Expat Blog ListingLaura Besley is a British expat living in Hong Kong. Blog description: On my blog I write weekly book reviews, travel pieces about Hong Kong and Asia, and Flash Fiction.
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Contest Comments » There are 38 comments

Amanda R. wrote 9 years ago:

I live in mainland China, and Hong Kong is a necessary escape for me and my husband every couple of months. It's still Asia, but with many of the Western comforts of home (like people queuing in line!).

Tom T wrote 9 years ago:

Don't spit. Good advice, although the signs seem aspirational more than anything.

DGoddard wrote 9 years ago:

Hong Kong is a truly wonderful experience and Laura sums the place up perfectly in this excellent article. It reminds me how much I want to go back - despite the long haul required to get there.

Sarah wrote 9 years ago:

Nice Laura - makes me really want to go there now!

Elizabeth Beer wrote 9 years ago:

I live in Hong Kong and this blog is spot on! Well done Laura!

Tanu wrote 9 years ago:

I wish I had read about this last year before my trip! However, this is an entire handy information that I shall keep bookmarked.

Penni wrote 9 years ago:

Excellent account of HK Laura!! I was smiling all the way :D I particularly like the "Don't be squeamish part" LOL. Pickled tofu gets me every time :D:D

Alicia wrote 9 years ago:

Good advice and great article! I wish they did Octopus-type cards in Oz. Super convenient. Love HK!

Beth wrote 9 years ago:

Ooops, I ate chicken's feet when I was living in Macaua and I agree, don't try them, they're disgusting. What put me off even more was the guy at table next to mine started to use the claws as toothpicks. Yuck!

Vuka wrote 9 years ago:

This makes me want to visit Hong Kong! The bit about the chicken feet made me laugh out loud - very well written article. Love it!

Lucy wrote 9 years ago:

Good advice! I actually have an octopus card in my watch so I don't need to dig in my bag every time I need it. Best thing ever!

Sharon Boyle wrote 9 years ago:

Great advice Laura! There are lots of fantastic things to eat in HK, but chicken feet are not on my list of favourites....

Nicky Mortlock wrote 9 years ago:

Thanks Laura for all your advice. Your account of chicken feet makes me glad I'm vegan and I'd haggle fervently. If I ever go to Hong Kong it's to the Big Buddha I'd go.

Nisha wrote 9 years ago:

Hey Laura I've never been to Hong Kong but if I ever do these are great tips to keep in mind. Ozone Bar sounds awesome! Nisha xo

Sam wrote 9 years ago:

A great blog - Hong Kong is definitely on my list of places to visit. Thanks for all the advice!

Jen Brown wrote 9 years ago:

All very useful, funny and true! Perfect list Laura.

Chanelle wrote 9 years ago:

Perfect advice to help people enjoy every minute of this awesome place!

Lori wrote 9 years ago:

You left off the pizza list: Pizza with thousand island dressing instead of tomato sauce. Ewww. Otherwise, a spot-on list.

Greg Mackie wrote 9 years ago:

This is wonderful, and really wants to make me visit Hong Kong! Shame about the chicken feet, though... ;)

Michelle wrote 9 years ago:

Spot on Laura! I really need to make it to the Ozone Bar!

Raymond wrote 9 years ago:

Yes to visit Temple Street Night Market, but not just for jade or other small thing. Don't forget great food, and fortune tellers and opera singers. So many "real Hong Kong" things in one street, it is pretty special. That is why I try to write a guide about it, people not know all the things to enjoy here. Hope my guide can let more people see that Night Market is more than just a market (like Stanley, Ladies etc).

Katy W wrote 9 years ago:

Great piece Laura! Really interesting, learnt lots and am now tempted to visit. Hope you do well - you deserve to!

Loretta Prince wrote 9 years ago:

Thoroughly enjoyed this. This has really made me want to visit Hong Kong. Informative, to-the-point and humorous - brilliant.

A Fletcher wrote 9 years ago:

My favourite part was about the things to see and do, not just the same old usual stuff - this is much more interesting!

Peter wrote 9 years ago:

Wise words Laura - I think some walking up and down the fascinating old streets in Sheung Wan would be useful for those who've eaten too much pizza, or lost their Octopus cards. Otherwise pretty conclusive!

Jenny T wrote 9 years ago:

Great piece of work. Thank you for continuing to share your experience of HK - what a great way for people to make the most of their adventures. x

Nick wrote 9 years ago:

Nice ;-)

Manon M wrote 9 years ago:

Great tips and advice Laura! I love reading your stories and about your life in Hong Kong!

Narj wrote 9 years ago:

Hi Laura! Just shared your article on FB.

Odette Murdoch wrote 9 years ago:

Great information. I live in Hong Kong and have been debating with myself about giving chickens feet a go. Your blog has confirmed that it is not a good idea. Thanks:)

DGoddard wrote 9 years ago:

Hong Kong is a truly wonderful experience and Laura sums the place up perfectly in this excellent article. It reminds me how much I want to go back - despite the long haul required to get there.

Carmen Stefanescu wrote 9 years ago:

Congratulations, Laura for such ample info/warning! A very interesting presentation of Dos and Don'ts! Thank you! Carmen Stefanescu

Anne-Mie wrote 9 years ago:

Love reading your work Laura ! You are an inspiration and I am so envious, wish I was in Hong Kong too. Much love - Anne-Mie :)

Kym wrote 9 years ago:

Laura, sounds like you haven't been to a local resturant that serves decent 'phoenix feet', nor any of the plenty of inexpensive eateries here. I've tasted some very delicious and some very boring chicken feet but they are worth the try. Better than half of the pizza here. If you think chicken feet are bad, eat any Kentucky Fried Chicken in Hong Kong, now that is one way to stop you wanting to eat junk food ever again. The locals can't seem to get it right with a lot of Western food, and the reverse in Australia. But that's ok because I prefer asian food to western food (but cannot do without my vegemite).

Tom wrote 9 years ago:

Hey Laura, Great post about Hong Kong! In addition to what you have mentioned above, do check out our post on the 21 Amazing Travel Experiences in Hong Kong! Happy Travels Everyone! Tom, 2bearbear.com

Natalie wrote 9 years ago:

Great information about Hong Kong Laura, thank you! I just seeing how easy it is to find some work out there?! My partner is looking at teaching sceondary school maths and I hope to come with him. Is it easy for british females to find work, in administration if possible but I open for any opportunies. I would value any help or tips on finding work in such an exciting part of the world!

Jo wrote 8 years ago:

This is a great list & I think will be very helpful for my coming up Hong Kong trip! Other than those 10 places, are there other must see places? Especially during end of April - early May since I will be going for the Buddha's Birthday Festival?

Alyssa wrote 8 years ago:

Love this list! There are so many things you can easily forget when traveling. Thanks for the great tips.

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