If you’re going to Hong Kong, you need to know that it is incredibly different from cities in the U.S.. If you are planning to spend a long period of time in Hong Kong, or are planning to study abroad there, you should definitely be okay with having an experience that is entirely new and exciting. Living in Hong Kong will be the best choice you ever make, but here are some things you should know going in.
1. Hong Kong is almost entirely vertical.
Hong Kong is the most densely populated city in the world, yet is hardly as expansive as Los Angeles. Therefore, shops, restaurants, and essentially everything else exists in skyscrapers. There are many vertical buildings that are 20-stories high where each floor is a single restaurant. This is completely normal. If you’re navigating around town, it’s vital that you know what floor the shop or restaurant you’re looking for is on, or else you will simply not reach your destination.
This vertical city requires that you enjoy and love urban landscapes. Hong Kong has arguably the best urban skyline in the entire world, and it’s an incredible experience if you enjoy city life. However, don’t expect Hong Kong to be just like New York. Though Hong Kong has great Uber service and many “Western” restaurants, the Cantonese culture still strongly shapes the city.
2. Even though its vertical, Hong Kong somehow remains exotically beautiful.
One of the unique qualities of Hong Kong is that the water’s edge of Victoria Harbor comes right up to many of these perfectly crafted skyscrapers. The landscapes and views are stunning, and dense hiking trails and rivers are available a quick taxi ride out of the city. Hong Kong’s natural landscapes are heavily protected by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, so you always have the chance to get out of the city into something beautiful and preserved from urban development.
3. Cold water is hard to come by, but the tea is great.
This is a weird one, but it’s a Chinese custom to pretty much only drink tea or hot water at meals. If you order a glass of water at most restaurants, you will end up with a steaming glass of water too hot to even touch. A hack for this is to stop at a Starbucks on the way to a restaurant you know serves hot water (yes, there is a Starbucks pretty much everywhere) and grab an ice water or iced tea.
Or, you can just get really into tea. There is an incredible matcha green tea latte at a “Western” brunch spot, the Green Waffle Diner, in Central, Hong Kong.
4. Public transportation is clean, readily available, and utterly necessary.
In Hong Kong, you have a myriad of choices when it comes to public transportation. The fastest and most reliable by far is the subway system, called the MTR. Shockingly, MTR stations are all spotlessly clean and don’t smell horrible (looking at you, NYC). The MTR is efficient, cheap, reaches almost anywhere in Hong Kong, and trains run every two minutes.
Taxis and Ubers are also readily available. Taxi drivers all speak Cantonese and most struggle with even a small amount of English, but they are necessary in the early morning hours after a night out before the MTR starts running again. It helps to have directions written down in Cantonese. Uber is also accessible almost anywhere at most hours of the day, and is priced at much cheaper rates than Ubers in big cities in the U.S.
The most charming form of public transportation in Hong Kong is the tram system that runs along the center of the city in Hong Kong. They don’t deal with the intense traffic that Ubers and taxis will have to fight through, and they give a great view of the city from their top deck. All trams and subways in the city work through an Octopus card, a touch debit card that you can refill at any MTR station or convenience store.