Despite violent protests and political unrest, Hong Kong is still safe to visit. Here’s what you need to know.
With Hong Kong experiencing the worst political violence since its 1997 handover to China, it’s natural that many would-be travellers are questioning whether it’s still safe to visit the Pearl of the Orient.
An estimated 2 million people – almost one-third of the city’s population – took to the streets last month to protest an unpopular bill that would allow alleged criminals to be extradited to China from Hong Kong.
Since then a splinter group of rioters also stormed and trashed Hong Kong’s legislature, while more than 50,000 converged on West Kowloon station in a symbolic attempt to win over Chinese tourists arriving from the mainland.
While the increasingly violent scenes shown on TV – and the sheer number of people protesting – would be enough to prompt any worried traveller to cancel their holiday plans, the truth is Hong Kong is still a safe destination for visitors.
Having said that, there are areas where protests can cause enormous disruption to transport and force the temporary closure of restaurants, bars and other businesses.
If you are visiting Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese enclave, use common sense and plan ahead.
The Hot Spot
If you happen to be staying at Admiralty or Wan Chai – a business and retail hub where the Legislative Council Complex (LegCo) and Police Headquarters are both located – you should be prepared for some disruption when demonstrations are in full swing.
Large scale rallies around the legislative building virtually paralyse this part of Hong Kong, with many main roads leading to Central and Wan Chai temporarily closed and transport severely disrupted.
Admiralty MTR station usually shuts down when there’s a big protest.
Pacific Place shopping mall at Admiralty and IFC Mall at Central usually continue to operate, but many upscale retailers within those centres often choose to close early when there’s a rally brewing.
For security reasons, Admiralty MTR station also shuts down during large protests. Trains on the Island, South Island and Tsuen Wan lines will not stop at Admiralty.
That can be a nightmare for tourists planning to visit Ocean Park, the popular water-themed amusement park, because Admiralty is the main link to the South Island line that connects with the park.
The MTR often puts on free shuttle buses between Ocean Park Station and Admiralty, as it did this week, so check to see if that’s an option if you’re stranded.
Taxis are also difficult to find during demonstrations, with the main rank outside Pacific Place closed. The famous trams, or Ding Dings, usually do not run between Admiralty MTR stop and the Bank Street stop.
So if you do find yourself stuck in the protest zone – the same district that was the scene of mass Occupy-style protests in 2014 – you better have your walking shoes handy.
Above all, remember to avoid large gatherings and resist the urge to take photographs of protesters, they really don’t like it.
Also be prepared for random ID and bag checks by police, although tourists usually are not the target.
Business As Usual
While street rallies and protests have so far been confined to Admiralty and the parliament building, as well as areas popular with Chinese tourists, you’ll find it’s generally business as usual across the rest of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Areas popular with western tourists like Tsim Sha Tsui and Nathan Road on the Kowloon side, and Causeway Bay, Times Square, Stanley, Repulse Bay and Kennedy Town on Hong Kong Island, remain safe to visit.
Despite a large gathering at West Kowloon station – the main MTR hub for Chinese tourists visiting from the mainland – you wouldn’t know there was political unrest when you visit many popular tourists areas.
Even the Mid Levels at Central – and the heaving restaurant and bar precinct of Staunton Street that’s popular with ex-pats and tourists – is a world away from the protests.
When there’s a major street rally, stores often close early to avoid damage and looting as they did at Pacific Place and IFC Mall this week.
If you still need to shop (isn’t that why most people visit Hong Kong?) avoid the protest zone and head to Elements at Tsim Sha Tsui, the shopping strip along Nathan Road at Kowloon or Times Square at Causeway Bay instead.
Wondering what the Hong Kong protests are about? This article in The Guardian helps explain.
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