Safety in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one the safest cities in Asia, if not the world.
With an effective police and legal system, Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world. However, pickpockets are not uncommon in Hong Kong, especially in crowded areas. Needless to say, common sense should be used as you do in other parts of the world. Although local people feel safe carrying a knapsack with a wallet inside, one should be wary in crowded areas where pickpockets are likely to strike, particularly at the main tourist attractions. Do not wave your wallet in public, show the cash inside, or let people know where you keep your wallet.
Although Hong Kong Island, parts of the New Territories and the Outlying Islands, including Lantau Island, are the relatively safe parts of Hong Kong, exercise caution when travelling to Kowloon. Even tourist areas, such as Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok, have had a bad reputation for crime by Hong Kong standards. As they are relatively poorer areas, alike other parts of Kowloon, there is a higher crime rate, involving pickpockets, and infamously acid spills in Mong Kok. When travelling away from Hong Kong Island, avoid revealing items that would identify you as a tourist frequently, such as cameras, backpacks, electronics, flashy clothing, and avoid carrying large amounts of money.
Hong Kong films have often portrayed triads (三合會) as gun wielding gangsters who fear nobody, but that only happens in the movies. Even in their heyday, triads tended to engage only in prostitution (which is legal itself, but organised prostitution, i.e. pimping or brothels, is not), counterfeiting or loan-sharking and lived underground lives, and rarely targeted the average person on the street. Just stay away from the triads by avoiding loan sharks and illegal betting, and they will not bother you.
Call 999 when you urgently need help from the Police, Fire and Ambulance services. Hong Kong has a strict service control system, so once you call 999, the police should show up within 10 minutes in most cases, usually less. For non-emergency police assistance, call 2527-7177.
It have become increasingly common for some random strangers or shop keepers to offer "discounts" on their products. The key to avoid tourist traps is "if it sounds too good to be true, it is".
There are some shops near hotel areas or tourist sites that are set up solely for tourists. These shops are rarely visited by locals and the products are usually low in quality with a high price. Examine the products carefully and look for any poorly printed labels and packages.
Most travellers who have got into trouble with the law are involved with illicit drugs. Drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA) and marijuana are subject to tight control and tourists risk immediate arrest if they are found in possession of even small amounts of banned substances. Most Hongkongers tend to have strong negative views against narcotics, including 'soft' drugs such as marijuana.
Under Hong Kong law, local residents are required to carry Identity Cards with them at all times, and the police frequently carry out spot checks when they have "reasonable grounds for suspicion". Tourists are advised by the government to carry their passports but unless you think you are highly likely to be stopped by the police there is no great need; most visitors choose to keep their passport in a safe place. People will not target you because you are dressed well. People in Hong Kong often dress up. Caucasians are rarely targeted by policemen for ID checks. South Asians, especially Pakistanis and Nepalis often get targeted by policemen. As long as you dress well (this does not mean formally), you are unlikely to be targeted
You are expected to cooperate with the police during their investigations, and understand that they may search your pockets and bags. By law, you can reject a request to search your bags and body in public. You also have the right to refuse to answer any questions, to contact your embassy and to apply for legal assistance. The police are obligated to comply with your request but they may detain you for up to 48 hours.
Discrimination is known to happen. People with a good educational background and reputable jobs are usually better treated by the police, while young people, those from developing countries and western countries with loose regulations on drugs may experience more frequent checks. The police and the government are exempt from the Race Discrimination Ordinance. However, there is a law to ban any form of police brutality, including verbal attacks and any use of foul language. Call 2866-7700 for the official Independent Police Complaints Council and report the officer's badge number displayed on his/her shoulder. The complaint will be taken seriously.
Traffic rules are seriously enforced in Hong Kong. Penalties can be stringent, and road conditions are excellent, although road courtesy still has room for improvement. However, the driving speed can be so fast as to create higher death tolls when accidents happen.
Signage on the roads in Hong Kong is similar to British usage. Zebra lines (zebra crossings) indicate crossing areas for pedestrians and traffic comes from the right. To stay safe, visit the Transport Department's website for complete details.
Crossing the road by foot should also be exercised with great care. Traffic in Hong Kong generally moves fast once the signal turns green. To help both the visually impaired and even people who are not, an audible aid is played at every intersection. Rapid bells indicate "Walk"; intermittent bells (10 sets of 3 bells) indicate "Do Not Start to Cross"; and slow bells indicate "Do Not Walk".
Jay-walking is an offence and police officers may be out patrolling accident black-spots. It is not uncommon to see local people waiting to cross an empty road - when this happens, you should also wait because it may be that they have noticed that the police are patrolling the crossing. The maximum penalty for jay-walking is HKD 2000.
In a move to discourage smoking, tourists are only allowed to carry no more than 19 duty-free cigarettes or 25g of tobacco products since August 2010. The government has also banned the sales of tobacco products in duty-free shops on arrival gates. Offenders can be charged for cigarette smuggling and the penalty can be tough. According to one local account, a man was fined $2000 after being found guilty of carrying five packs of cigarettes. Illegal duty-free cigarettes can be seen for sale in several locations, such as in night markets, but both the buyer and seller may be charged for smuggling. Be aware that the police are known to launch frequent raids at any time. Once caught, ignorance is not an accepted defence.
Cigarettes in Hong Kong cost around $50 for a pack of 20. Most popular brands include Marlboro, Salem and Kent which are sold at $50 something, the second highest in Asia after Singapore. There are also some slightly cheaper brands catering for smokers on budget. Hand-rolling tobacco is not common and is only available in specialty shops.
Hong Kong is ranked as the world's 18th "cleanest" region in the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International which aims to put an end to corruption, above the U.S and most European countries such as Germany and France.
In Hong Kong, corruption is a serious offence. Unlike mainland China, money given for unfair competition is regarded as corruption, regardless of who the recipients are. Trying to offer a bribe to police officers or civil servants will almost certainly result in arrest and a prison sentence.
The territory has a powerful anti-corruption police force: the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which has been taken as a role model by Interpol and the United Nations. A number of countries, such as Australia, have adopted the Hong Kong system to combat corruption.
Although Hong Kong usually has at least one protest per year (particularly in late June/July in urban parts of Hong Kong Island, namely Central, Wan Chai or Causeway Bay), they usually do not heavily impact the average tourist in Hong Kong. Just stay away from large crowds of protesters and policemen, though it is safe to say that the demonstrations are rarely as violent as those in other countries.
As of 2014, there is increased agitation for 'Universal Suffrage' for electing the Hong Kong Chief Executive (leader of the city), with many people demanding that the process has no interference from the Communist Party in China. Demonstrations around this have been very large but peaceful up to now, although as elections draw nearer there is the potential for violence between police and protesters. At the time of writing (November 8th 2014), the Chinese Government has completely rejected the protesters' demands, and the list of Chief Executive candidates will be approved by a pro-Beijing committee. This led to significant protests that initially involved riot police and tear-gas, with tens of thousands of protestors having areas in Central and Causeway Bay occupied. Smaller scale protests are continuing.
Several hikers have lost their lives in the wilderness in the past decade. Hikers should equip themselves with detailed hiking maps, a compass, mobile phones, snacks and adequate amounts of drinking water. Most areas of the countryside are covered by a mobile phone network but in some places you will only be able to pickup a mobile phone signal from mainland China. In this case, it is not possible to dial 999 for emergency assistance. A number of emergency telephones have been placed in Country Parks; their locations are clearly marked on all hiking maps.
Heat stroke is a major problem for hikers who lack experience of walking in a warm climate. If you plan to walk a dog during the hot summer months, remember that dogs are more vulnerable to heat stroke than humans and owners should ensure their pets get adequate rest and water.
The cooler hiking and camping season in October to February is also the time of the year when hill fires likely strike. At the entrances to country parks you will likely observe signs warning you of the current fire risk. With an average of 365 hill fires a year, you should take the risk of fire seriously and dispose of cigarettes and matches appropriately. According to some hikers' accounts, in places where fires and camping is not allowed, the Staff of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) will most likely fine an offender.
Snakes are common in the countryside, and some are quite large. Most will move out of your way, but small bright green ones are poisonous and stay still. Avoid them.
While it's generally very safe to hike, the countryside can provide shelter to illegal immigrants and a few cases of robbery have been known. However, the police do patrol hiking routes and most major paths do offer the security of fellow hikers.
The city's infrastructure has adapted to typhoons well over time, and it is relatively safe place to be even with the most severe typhoons.
Some taxis are available during signal 8 or above, but they are under no obligation to serve passengers as their insurance is no longer effective under such circumstances. Taxi passengers are expected to pay up to 100% more when a typhoon strikes.
Rainstorms also have their own warning system. In increasing order of severity, the levels are amber, red and black. A red or black rainstorm is a serious event and visitors should take refuge inside buildings. A heavy rainstorm can turn a street into a river and cause serious landslides.
The Hong Kong Observatory is the best place to get detailed weather information when in Hong Kong. In summer a convectional rainstorm may affect only a small area and give you the false impression that all areas are wet.
The quality of medical care in Hong Kong is excellent but expensive for tourists who are not qualified to get a government subsidy. In cases of emergency, treatment is guaranteed, but you will be billed later if you cannot pay immediately. As a tourist, you are required to pay $570 for using emergency services ($100 for Hong Kong residents). Waiting times at hospital emergency rooms can be lengthy for non emergency patients, since people are prioritised according to their situation. If you have a problem making payment in public hospitals, you can apply for financial assistance but you will need to prove your economic status to social workers based in the hospital.
One common cause of sickness is the extreme temperature change between 35°C humid summer weather outdoors and 18°C air-conditioned buildings and shopping malls. Some people experience cold symptoms after moving between the two extremes. You are recommended to carry a sweater even in the summer-time.
Heat stroke is also common when hiking. Carry enough water and take scheduled rests before you feel unwell.
Find a doctor
Healthcare standards in Hong Kong are on par with the West, and finding a reputable doctor is not much of a problem should you get sick. Doctors are of two types: those who practise traditional Chinese medicine and those who practise the Western variety. Both are taken equally seriously in Hong Kong, but as a visitor the assumption will be to direct you to a Western doctor. Doctors who practice Western medicine almost always speak English fluently, but you may find the receptionist to be more of a challenge.
Seeing a doctor is as easy as walking off the street and making an appointment with the receptionist. Generally you will be seen within an hour or less, but take note of the opening times displayed in the window of the doctor's office. A straightforward consultation for a minor ailment might cost around $150 to $500, but your bill will be inclusive of medicine. In Hong Kong, it is normal for a doctor to sell you medicine. Many surgeries and hospitals will accept credit cards, although check beforehand since sometimes only cash is accepted. Expect to pay more if you visit a swanky surgery in Central. Check the directory [www] maintained by the Hong Kong Medical Association for further information. Help finding general practitioners, medical specialists and dentists might also be available at your consulate.
Note that finding a doctor on a Sunday can be difficult, and hospital A&E rooms will have very long queues on a Sunday.
Although Hong Kong is regarded as one of the most developed regions on Earth, with one of the highest Gini co-efficients in the world, drinkability of water may vary around parts of Hong Kong. Tap water in Hong Kong has been proven to be drinkable, although most of the local people still prefer to boil and chill their drinking water when it is taken from the tap. The official advice from the Water Board is that the water is perfectly safe to drink unless you are in an old building with outdated plumbing and poorly maintained water tanks. Bottled water is strongly recommended by locals but remember that Hong Kong's landfill sites are filling up fast and plastic bottles are a major environmental problem, so use recycling bins where provided.
Despite Hong Kong's name meaning "fragrant harbour", this is not always so. Air pollution is a big problem due to a high population density and industrial pollution from mainland China. During periods of very bad air pollution tourists will find visibility drastically reduced, especially from Victoria Peak. Persons with serious respiratory problems should seek medical advice before travelling to the territory and ensure that they bring ample supplies of any relevant medication.
Pollution is a contentious topic in Hong Kong and is the number one issue among environmental campaigners. Much of the pollution originates from factories in mainland China and from Hong Kong motorists. Levels of pollution can vary according to the season. The winter monsoon can bring polluted air from the mainland, while the summer monsoon can bring cleaner air off the South China Sea.
The air is noticeably less foggy after rainy days.
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