Hong Kong is a global financial capital, a dynamic, modern city with a high standard of living. Cantonese is the main language but English is also an official language, and widely spoken.
Though part of China, Hong Kong is designated as a Special Administrative Region with its own laws, political system and currency. It was a British territory until 1997, when the handover occurred, which placed Hong Kong back under Chinese control.
Most visitors, including Americans, do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong, but travelers from some countries do. Check the requirements before your trip. Note that entry to mainland China is governed by different rules.
Tipping etiquette in Hong Kong
At restaurants, a 10 percent service charge is almost always added to the total, and there’s no obligation to leave more (though word is that this money doesn’t always make it to the server’s pocket). Some newer restaurants, especially Western places, are forgoing the automatic charge, leaving it to the diner’s discretion. Be sure to check your bill.
Tipping a taxi driver is neither obligatory nor expected, beyond perhaps leaving behind the 50 cents you may be owed in change. If the fare is a whole number, don’t feel bad not tipping, unless the driver has really gone above and beyond the call of duty.
At hotels, a little something (HK$10-20) for the bellhop, valet or room service staff is typical and appreciated. Be sure to have some small bills for this purpose.
For beauty and spa treatments, tips are generally expected. An extra HK$20-50 should do, depending on the complexity, quality and cost of the service.
What to pack for a trip to Hong Kong
The most important thing to bring on any trip to Hong Kong is an umbrella. Rain is unpredictable, unseasonal and sudden.
Beyond that, Hong Kong is a pretty easy place to pack for. During the day, dress is casual, and most restaurants will take patrons in flip-flops and the like. But if you’re here for business, keep it formal.
At night, things get a bit more buttoned up, and men should be sure to wear long pants and closed shoes for nights out. Women get off a bit easier at the door, but Hong Kong’s ladies take fashion pretty seriously regardless, and you’ll probably want at least one sleek outfit. High heels are standard, but precarious — it’s nearly impossible to walk in heels on some of Hong Kong’s cobbled hillside streets.
In late October or early November, the temperature drops and can get surprisingly low. The prevalent damp gets in your bones and makes it feel even colder, so bring a cozy jacket and sweaters.
In the summer, shorts and tees are standard, and bring a bathing suit. But don’t forget a scarf or sweater — the air-conditioned restaurants, malls, buses, metros, taxis and bars are frigid.
Finally, leave some extra space in your suitcase. Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise, and there are souvenirs to be had.
The best time to visit Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a tropical climate, so the weather doesn’t have a vast range of temperatures, but even so, there are distinct seasons.
Winter, from December to March, is chilly but not cold. Temperatures rarely drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so a light jacket and scarf should do it. It’s a pleasant time to sightsee, but Hong Kong doesn’t have the vibrant energy of sunnier months.
In April and May, temperatures rise, albeit at relatively unpredictable rates. The typhoon season begins, and technically lasts until November. By early May, the ocean is usually warm enough to swim in.
In summer, many people complain about the merciless heat and humidity, which can indeed be incapacitating. If you don’t do well in wet heat, don’t visit Hong Kong from June to August. However, Hong Kongers try to make the best of the situation, and the city does blossom with late nights, outdoor parties, boat trips and beach days. It can be a fun time to visit.
In September, the humidity has burnt off a bit, and temperatures begin to cool. Fall is generally agreed upon as the best time to visit. The weather is pleasant, and it’s still swimming weather.
Public transportation in Hong Kong
From the moment you leave the terminal at Hong Kong International, public transportation is easy. The airport express costs about HK$100, takes 20 minutes to the center to the city, and leaves from right within the arrival terminal. You don’t even have to take an escalator.
The same goes for inner-city transportation. The MTR (short for Mass Transit Railway) is clean, comprehensive, accessible and efficient. Taxis are omnipresent and affordable (though not all drivers speak English). Buses go everywhere, as do their ragtag counterpart, the minibus. And though its reach is limited, the tram is a charming and cheap way to explore downtown.
Servicing the outlying islands is a network of ferries, which run from the Central Piers. Kowloon is easily reachable by MTR, but the famous Star Ferry is an attraction in itself, and an especially scenic way to cross Victoria Harbour, especially at dusk, or when paired with the Hong Kong light show.
The easiest way to get around is with an Octopus card, which is like New York’s MetroCard or London’s Oyster. Octopus cards can be used on virtually every form of transportation, but they can also be used at many shops, including any 7-Eleven or Starbucks.