10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Hong Kong

10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Hong Kong

One of the Asian destinations that a lot of my Philippine friends seemingly visit all too often would have to be Hong Kongand I can’t blame them because other than its dynamic culture, the airfare can be really cheap and shopping is also relatively cheaper (especially for tech products). In fact, this is the first country that I have visited abroad, but what struck me most was the food for I can still fondly remember the amazing gastronomic trip that my friend and I did in the city!

Speaking of “country”, you will find that a lot of people are confused about Hong Kong:

Is it a part of China…? Or is it separate country, because they do have a different currency, legal and passport system?

There is no one simple answer to this since most data say it’s detached from China while others say it’s not. For a start though, it helps to note that it was only in 1997 that Hong Kong became free of the United Kingdom’s rule. Today, it is officially called the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) which is a part of China. However, the Hong Kong Basic Law between China and Britain states that Hong Kong will retain its own systems (economic, governmental, political, etc.) — therefore with that in mind, Hong Kong is practically a separate country from China. They are absolutely autonomous.

Moreover, for reasons that are ideological and political, most Hong Kong citizens (Hongkongers / Hong Konger / Hong Kongese) even find it important to stress that they are Chinese BUT not Chinese at the same time. This mainly means that they don’t want to be called as ‘Geopolitical Chinese‘ (中國人) which refers to those who are under the rule of People’s Republic of China or Mainland China, because they prefer it instead to be regarded as ‘Ethnic Chinese’ (genetically Chinese) and/or Cultural Chinese (someone who follows the true-blue Chinese culture and lifestyle).

If you want to know more about the situation over China and Hong Kong, you can watch this video:

All in all: Hong Kong and China really are just two different worlds, so because of all these factors and more, I’ll also be considering Hong Kong as a stand alone country for this series.

Wait… what series?” you might ask? Well, in case you missed my announcement, this post is a part of my newest monthly serial wherein locals from all over the world will be writing about 10 fun and interesting facts about their home country! (To keep an eye out for the succeeding countries that will be featured next, you can click and save the link from the banner below…)

Foreigners Should Know

So for today — as the title goes — we will be learning about Hong Kong from Yung Nam Cheah, a local who is my guest writer for this piece!


What to Do in Hong Kong?

Come and check out this list of the top things to do in Hong Kong which features the best activities and tours to do in the city!



Nam CheahMy name is Nam Cheah and I am a recent geologist graduate. As a millennial, I plan to make the most out of life and I document my passion to laugh, travel, and eat on my suitably named blog: Laugh, Travel, Eat.

I was born in Hong Kong and I spent half of my life there and the other half in UK. Currently however, I am back in Hong Kong — a place known as the pearl of Asia and an international city where east meets west. Most of all, it is known as a very densely populated city full of skyscrapers! But the impression that most people have of Hong Kong is actually only of the Hong Kong Island and a few other touristic places.

NOTE: Hong Kong is comprised of Hong Kong Island (the central urban area), the Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories (makes up 86.2% of Hong Kong’s territory), and over 200 offshore islands (largest of which is Lantau Island).

I often get a lot of questions such as “Is it true that Hong Kong has no green space?” or “How can such a small area fit 7 million people?”

Well, it’s all about what you grow up with and what you have. As a girl who was born and raised in the New Territories of Hong Kong, I bring to you ten things that you should know about Hong Kong.


Where to stay in Hong Kong?

Come and check out my list of the ‘Best Hotels in Hong Kong‘ which features cheap to luxurious accommodation choices.


10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Hong Kong

#1: There are plenty of green in Hong Kong

Good Wish Garden

As I’ve mentioned, most people think that there’s not much ‘green’ in Hong Kong but this is a very common misconception. While we might not have sprawling parks like Central Park and Hyde Park, we have plenty of nature! It’s true that most of our green spaces in the main city and towns are not for sunbathing or lying on, but we have plenty of country parks. Besides, you have to remember that 2/3 of the country is actually made up of the ‘countryside’ and as a matter of fact, hiking is fast becoming the average Hong Kong citizens’ favourite past time.

With countless small mountains scattered across the whole of Hong Kong as well as several beautiful islands, there are no shortage of natural wonders in the land. For instance, I have climbed up Sunset Peak and trekked to see basaltic columns at one of Hong Kong’s geological parks. So if you do visit Hong Kong, make sure you see the other side of her too.

#2: It’s only hilly on Hong Kong Island

Stanley Hong Kong

I live in the New Territories region of Hong Kong and let me tell you – all the towns are flat over here. However, Hong Kong Island’s geology is different – it’s made up of volcanics that gives it its hilly topography. It surely makes for a dramatic cityscape, but then you would have to deal with all the stairs. Did I mention I hate stairs?

#3: You can use the Octopus Card for almost EVERYTHING

Octopus CardPhoto by Canadian Pacific / CC
Octopus cards started out as a way to pay for all the transport system (because they are under different companies), but it then went on to become a form of payment that you can use in convenience stores. And now you can use them to pay at shops, cinemas, supermarkets, fast food outlets, and even at hospitals!

It’s a top up card that’s not dissimilar to the Oyster Card of London, except it’s so much more. You can purchase one at any MTR station or convenience store for HK$50 ($6.40+) and you get discounts on travels.

TRIVIA: The Octopus Card is widely used in Hong Kong — at about 95% of the population! But you might wonder, why is it called as such though…?

Well, in Cantonese, they actually call it as Baat Daaht Tung which literally means “eight-arrived pass” (or also as “go everywhere pass”). The number 8 refers to all directions (think north, west, south, east, northwest, northeast, southwest, southeast), it’s also a lucky number in Chinese culture (which could mean “getting rich”) and it also happens to represent the 8 different public transportation systems in Hong Kong. Coincidentally, the English name ‘octopus’ goes along with the #8 in the Chinese name too — since an octopus does have 8 tentacles!

#4: Shops open late AND close late

Hong Kong Shopping

It doesn’t apply to all shops, but most boutiques often don’t open until well after 11. You might get better luck in big shopping malls, but if you are going to privately owned shops like the ones I frequent in Mon Kok, then you better save your visit till lunch time.

On the bright side though, most shops don’t close until well after 8pm, so you will still have plenty of time to shop around.

#5: Museums are free on a Wednesday

Hong Kong Temple

I am not sure how this came about, but all the government museums are admission-free on a Wednesday. My school used to take us to all kind of museum visits exclusively on Wednesdays, but bear in mind that it also meant that the place would be more crowded.

But hey – a dime saved is a dime earned!

#6: We will stare, we will judge, but we do it to everyone

Hong Kong City

This will particularly apply if you are not of oriental appearance. Yet, even if you are of Asian descent, dressing differently to the locals will probably earn you some stares as well. But don’t worry – we just do it to everyone. It’s nothing personal; we are just a particularly judgy nation that enjoys gossiping about other people.

Aileen says: Speaking of behavior towards other people, I found that Hongkongers (especially the younger crowd) LOVE to take photos with foreigners. My white friends, for example, once visited Hong Kong Disneyland and they were ‘mobbed’ by school girls and boys who simply wanted to take photos with them — even if in fact, they were complete strangers! And nope, they weren’t celebrities either :P

#7: We are a fast paced nation with attitude

Hong Kong Markets

If you ever walk around the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) during rush hour, or try to walk through a market during a weekend in Hong Kong, you will know what I am talking about. Hong Kongers live a fast paced life and have zero tolerance for whoever is in their way.

We will shove; we will push and we will “tsk” – just know that it’s nothing personal either.

NOTE: Hong Kong is simply an ‘energetic city’ with a diverse mix of people!

#8: If it’s below 20 degrees, it’s cold for us

Hong Kong Weather

Hong Kong is a sub-tropical country and the temperature rarely goes below 6 degrees at most. With an average temperature of around 27 degree celcius, people tend to start bundling up if it falls below 20!

Anoraks, jackets, scarfs and fur boots – you name it, you see it. So don’t be alarmed if you take a photo with a chorus of people decked in their winter gear while you are standing in your t-shirt and shorts.

#9: We are a dine out nation

Hong Kong Food

Most people live in high density apartments that are often built atop a shopping mall that’s often coupled with the most affordable restaurants — so, it’s no surprise that Hong Kongers love to dine out! Besides, given our long work hours, cramped living space and fast paced lifestyle, it seems only fitting that we eat out as well to avoid all the hassle of cooking and washing up.

#10: We put our surname first

Hong Kong Bay

In China and a lot of other oriental countries, we put our surname first in our names. This sparked a massive confusion for form-fillings and other things, so be sure to pay extra attention on this should you need to. This can get particularly awkward if you are introduced to someone who doesn’t have an English name.

By applying this rule, my name is therefore: Yung Nam Cheah. When I first went to UK, people constantly tried to call me Yung (and still do), thinking that Nam is my middle name when in fact it is Cheah that is my middle name. Talk about major confusion!


About Hong Kong

If you’re from Hong Kong like Nam, do you agree with the 10 points that she wrote about? True enough, though the Hong Kong island itself is a vibrant and bustling urban center that’s known all over the world, it helps to explore outside its bounds (like the places in the New Territories, the Kowloon Peninsula, etc.) since there are surely a LOT more things that can be done in this wonderful country!

NOTE: This series will happen monthly so keep an eye out for the next country that I’ll be featuring!

Foreigners Should Know

How about you?

  • What do you think about this blog series?
  • If you’re a Hongkonger, do you agree with the points that Nam made about Hong Kong? What else can you add?
  • If you’re a foreigner, what points do you find interesting or intriguing?

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  1. Hi Aileen! Nice article! Glad I stumbled upon your featured profile on Nomadic Matt's website. Now I'm a follower. hehe.. This article is very timely for me because I'll be going to Hongkong this coming June for a week with my friends... :) Thanks for the info and tips Nam Cheah.. :)

    1. Hey Fei! I'm equally glad that you discovered me as well through Nomadic Matt's website. :D Enjoy your trip to Hong Kong and we're both happy to be of help. Hope you'd stick around! Safe travels <3

  2. Wonderful Article,Very useful in planning my trip to Hongkong.

    1. Enjoy your time in Hong Kong, Rohit :D

  3. I don't live in Hong Kong but I've spent enough time there to be able to agree with all of Nam Cheah's points! Especially number 6! Every time I've been to Hong Kong I haven't managed to avoid people running up to me to ask if they can have there photo taken :) It's quite cute sometimes! But not when you have to be somewhere haha!

    1. That's great to hear, haha! True enough, it's quite amusing to see Hongkongers going up to foreigners in order to ask for pictures haha.

  4. Fantastic intro-summary about Hong Kong vs China, and very good tips on Museums and Octopus Card (because it can do so many things or is there a more interesting story behind that name?).

    1. Glad you like it! And oooh, I just researched it and apparently they used the name 'octopus' for various reasons: it's a lucky number, it refers to 'all directions', and it also happens to represent the 8 different public transportation systems in Hong Kong :D

      1. Ha, that´s great! Thanks!

  5. Hong Kong is a completely different city with big buildings and night views.
    I love this city, your blog is very nice and quite informative. One should be aware about negative and positive aspects of any place and information about sightseeing of that place.


    1. Thanks! And I agree, other than knowing the positive and negative sides, it helps to be informed about a place beforehand too :)

  6. 4 and 8 are just like in Philippines!

    Mall hours 11am-8pm and we freeze when it is 20 Celcius!

    1. Haha, yeah that's so true Allan! I was thinking about that too when I first saw these points made by Nam Cheah.

  7. We are in HK now and have to say all 10 apply. Very helpful post!

    1. Ooh, enjoy your trip! Glad to hear this helped :D

  8. Great post! I got a lot of new information about Hong Kong which I have never known before like( free museum tickets, staring, etc). It is really interesting! Thanks for sharing and cheer!

  9. I only had 24 hours in Hong Kong and loved every second of it! the Shops open late and stay open late is VERY True!! its almost a ghost town first thing in the morning (especially on the weekends)

    1. I also can still remember fondly my experience when I first landed in Hong Kong. It was quite interesting for me too! :)

  10. I recently spent a couple of weeks in Hong Kong and loved it. I didn't find it particularly fast paced though. I think that's just me though, I'm a fast walker and find that everywhere :)

    One thing I loved is that if you are lucky, you can go upstairs on the buses and trams and get the seat directly above the driver + the best views.

    Oh and I don't know if this is universally true but it seemed to me the best way to strike up a conversation was to ask opinions on the best place to buy egg tarts.

    1. Oooh, those are interesting tidbits, Kathryn! I hope Nam Cheah sees this and confirms it as well ;)


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