Every place you visit will have its own trademark sightings, food, and landscape - something that makes it authentic and stand out from the crowd. Paris is globally known for its Eiffel tower; when you think of Tokyo, the image of Mount Fuji may come to mind; San Francisco evokes the image of The Golden Gate Bridge, and the list goes on.

But how often do characteristics of a given place surprise you?

Today, I am going to reveal 5 things that I find surprising and strange about Hong Kong. The average tourist may not notice these things but to an expat living in Hong Kong, they are fairly noticeable. They make Hong Kong unique and they contribute to giving this city its allure.

HONG KONG - DECEMBER 8, 2013: Illuminated Chinese red junk (Aqualuna) on Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, on a foggy Winter night.
Photo by Andres Garcia / Unsplash

When people think of Hong Kong, what do they typically think of? Maybe it's Hong Kong's iconic skyline or its famous red-sailed junk boats...

During my time in Hong Kong, I've encountered alot of locals with bizarre English names. For day-to-day purposes and to facilitate the lives of foreigners who cannot pronounce their names, many locals have had to give themselves an English name. Some get wildly creative with it too. So far, I've met my fair share of Pizzas, Tacos, even a Troll and a man named White. I have yet to meet a Yellow or a Fajita. All jokes aside, here are other surprising things about Hong Kong.

Nice Beaches

Photo by Ribhav Kala / Unsplash

Hong Kong is known for its status as an international financial hub. Characterized by the underlying hustle and bustle, grime, and smog that come with every busy, international hub, transportation around the city is very convenient. There are taxis, buses, trams, ferries- even helicopters at your disposal should you find yourself stranded somewhere and in dire need of immediate assistance.

Despite the pollution, garbage, and waste that come as a by-product of a public transit system, Hong Kong has many hidden gems that are nature-related. Did you know that it is possible to find what I call Thailand-grade beaches around the city?  I was delightfully surprised to uncover white sand beaches, with pristine, emerald-like, turquoise water in Hong Kong.

These beaches are mostly located in Sai Kung, a fishing village an hour east of Hong Kong Island.  From Sai Kung Pier, you need to take a speedboat in order to get to these beaches - there are quite a few of them. For the more adventurous-hearted, you can also hike to your end destination.

Travel Hack: Whatever beach you choose to visit from Sai Kung Pier, be sure to pack some food and water with you. If you want to skip the line in Sai Kung and even save a couple of bucks, buy the food on Hong Kong island and bring it with you.  The prettier the beach, the less likely it is going to have accommodations. Also, packing an extra plastic bag may not be the worse idea. You can use it for wet towels or simply to store food.

Story time: At one of the beaches in Sai Kung, we left our picnic blanket out and went in the water for a quick swim. When we got back to our spot, a wild cow was happily helping itself to our chips and snacks. As it was my first encounter with a wild cow in Hong Kong, I had the ingenious idea (eye roll) of feeding it. The cow turned out to be a really messy eater. Needless to say, the folks around us were less than pleased.

Photo by Joel Lee / Unsplash

Expats Everywhere  

One thing that may surprise you is the sheer size of Hong Kong's expat community.

Hong Kong has quite a large expat community, With the Brits and the French leading the expat community in headcount, Hong Kong has a huge community from overseas- Scots, Irish, Germans, Australians, you name it.

Although the Canadian expat community is known to be quite populous in Hong Kong, I would have to say that I do not often encounter fellow Canadians - much less a fellow Quebecer.

The stereotype about Canadians being nice is very true when you put a bunch of drunk expats together...More on that later.

Photo by Himal Rana / Unsplash

A fun activity I like to do with my brother when he visits is to take minibus rides around town and explore. We like to listen in on conversations - as bad as that may sound, hear me out. The goal of the 'game' is to find out where the person talking originates from, judging solely by their accent.

Obviously, when you venture a bit further from the centre of Hong Kong island and towards more 'rural places' like Chai Wan or Lam Tin, the amount of foreigners dissipate. But rest assured, they are hidden somewhere in Hong Kong, you just need to know where to go to find them. Once you befriend one, expats can be quite friendly.

Hong Kong's expat community has certainly been of great help to me and a great cure for homesickness in the past.

Travel hack: if you ever feel lonely while travelling, download a social app. Be it Bumble, Meetup, Klook, or another app, they may speed up the process of befriending someone. Bonus - If you meet a local via an app, you may also get a chance to experience the place you are visiting through their eyes.  And then, the real fun begins, as you will probably have very different - but very rewarding - food adventures, party spots, go-to places, you name it.

How Fast Does Food Last in a HK Fridge?

For someone residing in Hong Kong, grocery shopping can be a whole adventure of its own.

At supermarkets, food from back home is easily 4x more expensive than it should be.

I once bought hummus for the equivalent of $10 bucks CAD in Hong Kong. Any foreigner will know that that is a huge rip-off. Why did I do it? 'Cos I was homesick. Lame excuse, I know. I could've just made the hummus from scratch, but I was feeling lazy. Shit happens.

Also, when you buy groceries, you need to make sure you are able to finish everything you buy - in record time, I would say.

Fridges in Hong Kong seem to be less insulated than those back home, and with the humidity and heat, food typically lasts no more than 1 week in the fridge. And that depends on what. If you buy fruits, a week can be a stretch, depending on the type you get. If you buy bread, a common practice is to stick it in the fridge 2-3 days after the packaging has been opened, if you don't want to see stuff growing on it. Thank me later.

Fridge expectancy:

  • Opened 7/11 drinks - 2 days
  • Leftovers - 2 days
  • Bread - 4 days

Travel hack: If you want groceries for cheaper in Hong Kong, visit their wet markets. There is pretty much one in every district - Chai Wan, Wan Chai, Central, etc. Meat, vegetables, and fruit will usually be a lot cheaper than if you get it from your local grocery store (Wellcome, Marketplace, City Super).

So how long does food last in a Hong Kong fridge? As long as a ripe avocado's expectancy.

Minibus Drivers - To Yell or Not to Yell

A woman walks into a bus, and clarifies with the driver on the route the bus is taking, just to make sure she is heading the right way by boarding the bus. The bus driver politely reassures her that she is indeed going the right way. The woman thanks the bus driver and boards the bus.

Boring and mundane scenario, right? Not in Hong Kong. Although I am generalizing, I would say that most foreigners and even locals I've encountered in HK can relate to being yelled at by taxi or minibus drivers.

This has happened to me personally on taxi and minibus rides. Needless to say, the first time I got yelled at by a minibus driver was traumatizing enough for me to write about it now.  The situation was quite ordinary too - I was in Mong Kok and had boarded a minibus that didn't accept the Octopus, the public transit pass in HK.

Specialized minibuses in Choi Hung

Instead of paying with the Octopus card, you have to pay the exact amount for certain minibuses. Oftentimes, they are older minibuses and also the ones with red rooftops. Since it was my first time boarding this type of minibus, I must have asked a question about the fare. I got blasted by the minibus driver and learned my lesson.

Sometimes, drivers are just having a bad day. Other times, it's the stress. But what surprises me most is that it's seen as quite a normal thing here - for public transit drivers to be rude. Maybe it's the feat of any big city.

Whitening Products on Every Shelf

Every woman has their go-to makeup products. Mine happens to be bronzer. In Asia, you will quickly learn that bronzer is one of the least popular makeup products among local women. Instead, the average local aims to appear as white as possible. For them, that translates to a sign of elegance and wealth, among other things.

Needless to say, it was a challenge for me to find products without whitening ingredients in them. Sunscreen, makeup, lotion, skincare - they all had whitening products in them.

Life hack: Don't buy products you can't read - unless you are absolutely sure of its utility. That may sound like a no-brainer but there is a wide array of makeup products out there that are Korean or Japanese-based. As a former makeup and skincare consultant, I like to try different things when it comes to makeup. For skincare, I've decided to stick to what I know and what I can read. So Korean and Japanese products are reserved solely for makeup...until I learn how to read in those languages.  


I hope you enjoyed reading about my little anecdotes and life hacks. For me, these are 5 things that surprised me about Hong Kong. There may be more, but I've learned to embrace them, as this place is home away from home for me... Until my next destination.