As you all know by now, we started planning and booking this trip many moons ago. Hong Kong was always at the top of Nick’s list so we booked plane tickets and lodging in and out months before the protests started in Hong Kong. As the protests started in June, we kept a close eye on international news and started to get a little antsy about going…should we go? When should we make the final decision on pulling the plug if it didn’t feel safe? We waited and watched as things seemed to escalate and boil over and kept hoping for better conditions not only for ourselves as tourists but for the citizens in Hong Kong.
A few days before we were set to head into Hong Kong, the face mask ban went into effect suddenly and the weekend before we landed, there were massive, violent protests across the city. But we had passed our window of pulling the plug so we figured we could be safe, fly under the radar and get in and out. We had signed up in advance for alerts from the consulate in Hong Kong – a program called the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” (see https://step.state.gov/step/) – and got constant updates from the state department about planned/known protests, including the dates and locations of those protests so we knew easy places to avoid.
And guess what?
For 3 days, we didn’t see or hear anything resembling a protest, damaged businesses or unsafe conditions. It was the strangest feeling. Yes,we only visited a few areas of this massive city but we took public transportation 4 times, stayed right in Central Hong Kong and walked a good mile away from our hotel to tourist sites and never once felt unsafe. The most we noticed was understandably amplified police and security presence at the airport. We were so lucky to have never been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Obviously the protests are still going on with varying degrees of violence but we were fortunate never to find ourselves near one or impacted by one.
SO, for those of you who were worried (hi, Sara!) – we made it out just fine and had a lovely, if abbreviated, time in Hong Kong.
Now, onto some fun facts about Hong Kong!!
- Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers of any major city in the world (see below pics!!)
- 90% of Hong Kong’s residents use public transportation- the highest in the world!
- Hong Kong has the highest concentration of ultra-high-net-worth people of any city
- Almost half the population has some form of British nationality, a legacy remaining from colonial times!
- Hong Kong residents have the 6th highest life expectancy in the world
- Hong Kong ranks #14 on the highest number of international tourists at approximately 30 million a year – France is #1 (nearly 90 million!!)
One of the main “tourist” attractions in Hong Kong is taking the tram to the top of Victoria Peak for a 360 view of the city. As you can see from the below video, it is a STEEP trip up but so much fun! You can see the city peeking out behind the trees as you climb your way to the top for the most amazing view!
Once at the top, Victoria Peak has a combination of walking/hiking trails, observation points, restaurants and shopping – the perfect place to spend a few hours soaking in the view. We got a 360 view of all sides of the island city, had a coffee and some lunch and called it a day!
Hong Kong Disneyland
Nick has never been to Disney but my family went almost religiously every year when I was growing up and I am definitely a Disney kid at heart. When we saw the following article a few days before heading to Hong Kong, I thought this might be my one chance in life to convince Nick to go to Disney with me…
Nick is not a fan of the crush of people that comes with big crowds, waiting in line or overpaying for seemingly silly things so Disney has never been on his radar as a potential source of “fun.” BUT, seeing that Disney was eerily quiet and empty and knowing that it was one of the safest places for us to spend time in the city so as to avoid protests, we decided to go for it. Ticket prices were super discounted given the significant drop in tourism and their metro system (see more below) made it incredibly easy to get in and out.
Nick will have to speak for himself on this but I’ll let you in on the secret: I think Nick actually had a good time at Disney 🙂 A very different Disney than the one I grew up going to in Florida, it still has all the feels of Disneyworld but here, without all the people. It was so empty that half the cafes and restaurants were closed due to lack of business. The midday parade they did must have had more people IN the parade than watching the parade. I kept walking around all day exclaiming to Nick “I can’t believe it’s so empty…” or “Where is everybody, this is so weird…” He probably got tired of me saying it but if you’ve ever been to Disney, you know what I’m talking about. It’s normally a circus of people! Here…we quite literally walked onto every ride with no wait. Even their version of Space Mountain (Star Wars themed and VERY fun) and Big Thunder Mountain (even better than the OG in Disneyworld, in my humble opinion) had NO lines…so of course we acted like kids and kept going and going and going until we needed a break.
Bottom line: in our “travel how you want, not how you should” motto, this was the perfect fit for the day. We wanted to steer clear of possible protest sites and patiently waited until we actually arrived in Hong Kong to see where our best fit was…Disneyland Hong Kong was certainly not a bad way to spend the day.
Transportation System & Accessibility to Westerners
From the moment we landed at Hong Kong’s airport, we were more than a little impressed by their transportation system. With an intricate network of light rail, metro, ferries, an Airport Express, buses and trolleys, Hong Kong is very easy to navigate. Unfortunately for us, arriving at 12:30am prevented us from using most of these options but luckily, Hong Kong has Uber as well so getting around was easy.
We didn’t have specific expectations either way when it came to accessibility to Westerners but were pleasantly surprised how accessible Hong Kong was. Much moreso than mainland China, lots of people speak English (if stats are right, about 55% of people!), most signs everywhere are in English and unlike in mainland China, things like Google maps, Gmail, Instagram, etc. work here just fine. This made the transportation systems even easier to navigate because there was – without fail – always an English translation on every single sign helping us along.
One of the things we loved most about their transportation system was the Airport Express they have. It takes a mere 24 minutes to get from downtown Hong Kong to the airport once on board and it stops at 2-3 main hubs in the city. What impressed us most about this wasn’t that there was an airport express – lots of cities worldwide have those – but the check-in counter component. Once you’ve purchased a ticket on the Airport Express, you can use it to access check-in counters for all the airlines. Some of the airlines even let you check in a full DAY ahead of your flight…the bonus here is that you can check-in, drop off your luggage and then continue enjoying the city until you want to head towards the airport. So we checked in early, dropped off our checked luggage, and could then proceed to the airport 1) already checked in, 2) carrying less baggage and 3) with our boarding passes. It was NICE.
Speaking of airports, the Hong Kong airport was THE most efficient airport we’ve used to date. We assume this is, in part, due to the low levels of tourism, but we did not wait in line at all. We walked into an empty airport with empty security lines…and *super extra bonus* they have some FANCY baggage screening technology. You know how in the U.S. (well, anywhere really…) you have to take out your laptop, your batteries, etc? We didn’t have to remove one single thing! Easiest airport experience ever!!
We left Hong Kong bittersweet – we wanted more time to explore, to take in the local culture and to really move around the way we have in every other city. We recognized that wasn’t possible given the necessary precautions we needed to take but the glimpse we DID get of Hong Kong certainly left us wanting another visit…we’ll be back, Hong Kong, we’ll be back…