Quick guide to Hong Kong: Visa-free travel for South Africans

2018-05-29 11:36
Post a comment 0
Cityscape Hong Kong and Junkboat at Twilight

The Hong Kong cityscape and junkboat at twilight (Photo: iStock

Hong Kong, beloved cosmopolitan Asian metropolis. The birthplace of Jackie Chan. Home to an iconic skyline filled with neon-lit architectural marvels. Stomping ground of hype-beast fashionistas dressed in the trendiest gear and land of contrast where old-world charm and tradition share the same space with 21st-century modernity. 

Much more than a space to enjoy the wonders of cosmopolitan Asia, Hong Kong - of which 70% is comprised of mountain and parks - is host to a wide variety of activities for all visitors to enjoy.

Hong Kong is a food lover’s paradise with its history as a trading port, the city to this day exhibits all the influences of its past in its food. Whatever your gastronomic cravings, this city is the perfect place for you to find a way to satisfy them.  

As is the case with mainland China, Hong Kong offers visitors, and locals alike, some of the best shopping experiences and opportunities in the world. You cannot think of something you want to buy that someone in Hong Kong will not have, the sheer variety and diversity of products on offer at its markets, malls, bazaars and stores is staggering.  

The cultural-enlightenment seeking traveller among us will equally find Hong Kong to be a place of great fascination. With Chinese roots, a historical colonial connection to the British empire and its status as trade hub - its manifestation as a cultural hotspot is evident at a street level. From museums to dragon boat racing, fashion shows to film festivals - Hong Kong has got you covered.

Here's what you need to know if you go:

Visas: Not required for holders of South African passports for stays of up to 30 days.

Passport validity: Passports need to be valid for at least 30 days after the return date.

Costs: Not applicable

National Carrier: Cathay Pacific

Airport Hub: Hong Kong International Airport

Useful app to download: HKG My Flight (iOS, Android) app for flight tracking and information.

Flight Route Access:

An increasingly popular destination with South African travellers, Hong Kong is accessible via a number of airlines. Ethiopian Airlines, Kiwi International Airlines, South African Airways and American Airlines are some of the airlines that operate flights to Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific has also recently announced a direct route from Cape Town.  

Flight time: From Johannesburg: 12 hours, 50 minutes. From Durban: 15 hours, 20 minutes. From Cape Town 16 hours, 10 minutes.

Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HK$)

Medical and health:

While there are no required vaccinations for entering into Hong Kong it is advisable for travellers to be up to date with their routine vaccinations. That being said, it is recommended that visitors to Hong Kong are immunised against typhoid, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria and tuberculosis.

Don't skimp on travel and medical insurance either as it is always good to be prepared for any eventuality.

Religion: Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Hong Kong. Despite this, the majority of residents have no religious affiliation being either irreligious, atheist or agnostic. Amongst those who hold some religious beliefs, the traditional Chinese trinity of beliefs or “three teachings” (Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism) is most prevalent.  

Travel Adapter: Yes - The power sockets are of type G and D. The standard voltage is 220 V and the frequency is 50 Hz.

Country code: +852

Time Zone: (UTC+8) Hong Kong is 6-hours ahead of South Africa

Emergencies: 999 (police, fire, medical)

Public Transport:

Consistently ranked in the top 10 on any travel list worth noting, Hong Kong boasts some of the best city transport infrastructure in the world. If getting around has you concerned, fret not as Hong Kong offers travellers a variety of ways to get around the city with ease. One of the first things you should do is to get yourself an “Octopus Card” which is a useful smart-card that can be used to pay for all your transport needs.

The first modes of transport that should be considered as a priority is Hong Kong’s incredible Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system that services most of the city. Fast, clean, safe and efficient - it is the easiest way to get around with most lines running from 06:00 to after midnight.

The roads are quite congested with traffic and parking is pricey so if you’re planning to get around via road transport then perhaps you should consider taking the bus. They are, like the MTR, relatively fast and clean and they take you to the places the MTR can’t at times the MTR won’t.

If you’re looking for a slower, leisurely way to see the city while you’re on your way to your destination then look no further than the trams. Chill up on the upper deck to enjoy some spectacular views.

For places that even the buses can’t reach - there are the Public Light Buses similar to what South Africans might call taxis. They’re identifiable by their green or red roofs. 

Useful App to download: Octopus app (iOS, Android) to augment your Octopus card with online payments, balance enquiries and more.

Climate:  

Hong Kong, in the main, has a humid subtropical climate that is favourable to having visitors enjoy the city all year long. That being said, summer which runs from June through September is hot and humid. This is also typhoon season, while rarely directly making contact with the city, can sometimes cause flooding and other issues associated with heavy rain. Winters which run from November through February are relatively mild but can be chilly especially as buildings are designed to keep heat out and not retain warmth.   

Best time to go:

The peak season in Hong Kong is the months during spring and summer running from October through February. The Chinese New Year is in February so this is a great time to go to Hong Kong and experience this unique period on the Chinese calendar.

From February through September, the hot and humid weather thins out the crowds of tourists so if you’re looking for a less crowded (as uncrowded as an Asian city can be) experience then this is a great time to go and experience all Hong Kong has to offer.  

Language: Chinese (Cantonese variety) is the dominant, and official, language spoken. English is also spoken as a second language by up to half of the population.  

Useful app to download: Duolingo makes learning a new language easy and fun.

Useful phrases to know:

Much like South Africa, though it is the first language of a minority of the population, a substantial portion of Hong Kong citizens speak English as a second or third language so you’ll rarely be able to battle with communication outside of the main tourist centres. That being said, it is always good to learn a few key phrases to make your stay runs smoothly.

  • Zaoshang hao (Good day/morning) or Wanshàng hao (Good evening) or Ni hao (Hello) and Zàijiàn (Goodbye).

  • Wo de míngzì shì… (My name is…)

  • Shì (Yes)

  • Méiyou (No)

  • Zhège duoshao qián? (How much is this?)

  • Xièxiè (Thank you)

  • Meilì (Beautiful)

  • Meiwèi de (Delicious)

  • Wo guangdong rén bù hao (My Cantonese is bad)

  • Ni huì shuo yingyu ma? (Do you speak english?)

  • Ó, wo de tian a! (Oh my goodness!)

  • Ni you chazi ma?(Do you have forks?)

  • Duìbùqi, zài nali…. (Excuse me, where is ...?)

  • Ganbei! (Cheers!)

Practical Tips:

  • Don’t be surprised if people stick their chopsticks directly into a communal serving dish. That’s just the way things are done around here. Dishes are shared at Chinese meals.  Also, if you’re struggling with chopsticks there’s no harm in asking for a fork.

  • Mind how you eat from the communal dish, think of your table manners from home and apply them in the Asian context. Don't grab bowls full at a time, take a few pieces at a time.

  • Speaking of chopsticks, don't let them rest vertically (upright) in your bowl as this resembles incense at a graveside offering.

  • Expect everything to be shared, family-style when dining out. The bill is shared too. Instead of paying for what you ordered, when dining out you can expect the bill to be split evenly among the group.

  • People in Hong Kong queue up for everything. So fall in line and wait or face the pain of a hundred dirty looks and (probably) disparaging Chinese comments about your upbringing.

  • Surface harmony is an incredibly important part of Chinese culture. Put simply, don’t let your mood affect others. Never lose face by losing your temper or behaving in a way that will lose you respect in public.

  • To get an authentic experience of the main city areas, walk around on foot. Pack good, comfortable walking shoes and a light rain jacket.

Top attractions in Hong Kong: