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#OnlyInHongKong: 5 types of tourists you’ll meet in Hong Kong

By Inés Fung 12 November 2019
Header image courtesy of @hongkongairport
Over 65 million tourists visited Hong Kong in 2018, staying at over 300 hotels and contributing to five percent of Hong Kong’s GDP. With numbers like these, it’s no surprise that our airport has also been the world’s busiest for nine consecutive years since 2010. We tend to take the East-meets-West history and towering skyscrapers for granted, but nothing serves as a better reminder to look twice and truly appreciate our city than the barrage of doe-eyed visitors. Or are we really just looking at them with undisguised judgment in our eyes? You decide. You may have come across these five types of tourists that visit the city we call home, all here for different reasons.

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Photo courtesy of @hkbegpackers

1. Begpackers

Backpacking has long been a great way to explore the world on a budget, not just for youngsters on their gap year, but for people on sabbaticals or beleaguered professionals who need a low-key getaway. You pack only your life essentials into a backpack, meet new people from all over the world, see the best a foreign place has to offer, all while saving money. What’s not to like? I’ll tell you what’s not to like: the rise of a phenomenon called ‘begpacking’. Begpackers are a subtype of backpackers from wealthy Western countries who fund their travels (usually around Southeast Asia) by asking for financial help on the streets. They all have cardboard signs with a message asking for help in English and the local language, and some may turn to busking or selling hugs or postcards to ‘earn’ their travel funds. Needless to say, they have long had a presence on the streets of Hong Kong, and you’ll come across them frequently in foot traffic-heavy areas, like the pedestrian bridge connecting IFC to the Central ferry piers. Begpacking is problematic for a number of reasons. While there are travellers who legitimately fall onto hard times while abroad—by losing their passport or wallet—many begpackers are simply taking advantage of the locals’ kindness. Begpackers in Hong Kong have been spotted in some of the poorest areas of our city, including Sham Shui Po and Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui. Travel is a privilege, not a necessity. If you can’t afford to travel, don’t do it, let alone ask locals to fund you. The Hong Kong government has cracked down on these freeloaders. Begging, busking, and selling ‘positive energy’ on public streets is now punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and one year behind bars. Locals have also caught onto this behaviour and often name and shame begpackers online. However, they are definitely still around, and they definitely need to gain a little perspective on their privilege. 

2. The encyclopedia

You don’t need to hire a guide when you have this tourist with you. The encyclopedia knows more about Hong Kong than you do, maybe even more than the locals do (or so they’d like to think). Everywhere you go, they’ll point out sights and sounds and regale you with facts gleaned from reading Lonely Planet cover to cover. They have a strange fascination with Hong Kong’s colonial history, ooh-ing and ah-ing over architectural relics from the 20th century.  The only thing worse than a clueless tourist is one that is a little bit too earnest. A subtype of the walking encyclopedia is the ‘wannabe’. They want to be local. They have an idea of what Hong Kong is and they try to live up to it by wearing cheongsams or tang suits, proudly eating what fellow foreigners may consider ‘outlandish’ foods (i.e. chicken feet), and loudly thanking retail or hospitality workers with a mispronounced “Dor je”—or worse, “Xie xie.” Or they may have been here a hundred times before, in which case, you’ll catch them complaining about how Hong Kong has changed, or how a certain neighbourhood has been gentrified (cough, Kennedy Town, cough). They’ll try to convince you that some popular tourist attractions aren’t worth a visit (“The Peak Tram is overpriced!” or “The Big Buddha isn’t that interesting!”). The condescension is enough to drive anyone crazy, so just ignore them and do the things you want to do. Also, for the record, the Big Buddha is pretty cool, and nothing beats the view of our iconic skyline from the Peak.
Photo courtesy of @janniknord

3. The foodies

Hong Kong has long been known as a food paradise and this reputation precedes itself, attracting travellers from around the world to dine at the tens of thousands of restaurants that line our streets. Nowhere else in the world will you find a ramen shop next to a kebab house next to a Chinese seafood restaurant, nor will you find a more eclectic selection of street food anywhere else. Thus, when in town, the foodies let their stomachs dictate the daily agenda, and their cameras eat first. Their sole purpose in Hong Kong is to delight their palates. You’ll find them snacking on curry fishballs and stinky tofu at a questionably sanitary streetside stall, indulging in gourmet small plates at a Michelin-starred European fine dining establishment, and feasting on catches of the day prepared fresh on a boat. These foodies have tried it all, and they have the photos and full bellies to show for it.

Read more! Got a hankering for roast meat? Check out our 10 favourite Cantonese BBQ restaurants.

Photo courtesy of @buanalinthip

4. The photographers

Hong Kong is a gorgeous city, with sights ranging from lush greenery to cold cityscapes to neon-drenched streets and down-to-earth local life. Not to be left behind, our bars and restaurants have become increasingly ‘Instagrammable’, with stunning decor that’s perfect for your next backdrop, or food and drinks that are sure to help rack up the likes. You won’t catch these tourists without their gadgets, arms outstretched with their iPhones (latest model, of course), DSLRs, drones, and selfie sticks. Every moment of their trip is meticulously captured and carefully edited for maximum exposure, or some of them just have horrendous memory retention and need to take a picture of every single thing they encounter. You’ll find these tourists at any of Hong Kong’s photo-op hotspots, but the most iconic one for sure is the (in)famous mural on Central’s Graham Street, where the only time you’ll get a clear shot is in the early hours of the day when the crowds haven’t arrived yet.

5. Tour bus tyrants

To quote Macklemore’s 2012 pop-rap hit Thrift Shop, these tourists walk up to the club like what up, they’ve got a big... tour bus. Uncles and aunties spill out from their luxurious coach buses into Hong Kong’s must-see sights, decked out in tour group hats and led by a bedraggled guide whose voice is already hoarse—and it’s only 8.15am. As their itineraries are packed to the brim, their tour buses have to idle while they soak in the sights, often taking up valuable real estate on the roads, causing a nuisance in areas where the streets are narrow, like To Kwa Wan and Soho. It takes even longer for them to file back onto the tour buses when they’re armed with their suitcases, looking to bring back a haul of cheap clothes, food, and home goods. Whatever they can pack into their bags, they’ll buy. Make sure you pay attention to where you’re going; these folks are on a mission, and they won’t let anyone stand in their way.
Read more! Check out the 8 types of people you’ll meet on a night out in Hong Kong, or explore the rest of our Culture section.

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Inés Fung

Part-time editor

Currently based in Hong Kong by way of Calgary, Inés has always had a passion for writing and her creative work can be found in obscure literary zines. When she’s not busy scouring the city for the best gin-based cocktail, she can be found curled up with her journal and fur-ever friend Peanut. Don’t be surprised if you cross paths with her and she already knows all your mates.