Part 2 of the “Life in Hong Kong: Expectation vs. Reality” series
Hong Kong is a great launch pad for travelling around and visiting Asia
Although the SAR of Hong Kong is connected to the mainland, it might as well be on an island as you will very rarely, if ever, use the mainland as your gateway to travel throughout Asia. Hong Kong airport was built as a main international hub for the south of China and you should get used to flying if you plan on doing any travelling in the region. As a fan of of rail and sea travel I was looking forward to hoping on trains and boats for mini-brakes and long weekends, however I soon found out this is not as easy as one might think. Hong Kong relies almost exclusively on air travel, unless you are going to very immediate destinations within China.
One of the reasons for this dependency on air is that we are in fact quite far from almost anywhere of major interest. If you are coming from Europe and are accustomed to fantastic weekend getaways and city brakes, then you will probably be as disappointed as we are that you cannot simply get away from it all as you would back home in a couple of hours by land.
It is good to keep in mind that Hong Kong borders a part of China known as the “factory of the World” so quaint little villages and towns selling local crafts along picturesque tree lined streets are practically non existent in the vicinity.
The other issue that hits travel from Hong Kong is price. Not only are last minute deals and on line offers not as developed as in Europe or the US, other factors play a huge role in determining your options. As I mentioned, distance is one of them, and other then Taipei or Hainan Island there are few places that can be reached within an hour.
Here are some typical examples of flight travel times from Hong Kong to destinations typically considered of interest:
Singapore 3h 20m
Hanoi 2h 00 m
Ho Chi Min 2h 30 m
Bali 4h 20m
Bangkok 2h 45m
Phuket 3h 30m
Kuala Lumpur 3h 50m
Shanghai 2h 20m
Beijing 3h 40m
Tokyo 4 h 00m
Sydney 9h 15m
Melbourne 9h 15m
The other aspect to take into consideration is the exploitation of bank holidays by airlines and travel agencies. Working in Hong Kong (usually) means a much smaller holiday allowance (compared to European contracts, not US), which is however offset by the high number of official bank holidays. The problem is that like everyone else, you will most likely find yourself wanting to take advantage of these days and travel at those time. While I realise that the laws of market demand are a factor of price determination, it is also very frustrating to be on the receiving end of blatant daylight robbery.
As I said before, if you are used to hopping on a train, ferry or car in Europe, you will most likely miss the capability to explore a new country, language, food, culture, architecture, art etc. within a few hours of your departure. Here you must brace yourself for large, busy international airports, customs, visa requirements and immigrations queues, so almost any journey becomes a full day. Not ideal for a weekend getaway.
Having said all that, many people move to Asia with the intention of ticking a few destinations off our bucket list, so if you are here for a reasonable amount of time, you will almost certainly manage this. Just remember to plan in advance, and book your tickets as soon as possible if you plan on travelling during bank holidays.
This article is part of the “Life in Hong Kong: Expectation vs. Reality” series. Other articles include: