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Visiting Hong Kong as a tourist during the 2019 protests

View of Hong Kong skyline with skyscrapers surrounded by greenery

“I hope the demonstrations don’t affect your stay…I’m scared to go outside.”

These were the words of a young local woman on our flight from Tokyo as we chatted on the parked plane (caused by airport delays). Safe to say, it didn’t fill us with confidence, despite how lovely this woman was in her advice and attitude towards the country’s current situation. She told us who to follow on Twitter, key places to avoid and gave us our first real glimpse of what to expect during our stay in September 2019.

We had a week planned in Hong Kong after our time in Tokyo to bridge the gap between Japan and Vietnam and we were excited! The city fuses tall skyscrapers with untouched nature and we wanted to see it all. But, when the protests started, we were eagerly checking the UK Foreign Office for updates, but still, until the day we flew out, there was never a warning about not going or “essential travel”. To this point, our insurance wouldn’t cover us if we bailed and it seemed like perhaps it may be safe to travel after all. If you stop reading here…it was mostly fine apart from one close shave, but more on that later.

Is it as bad as the media is portraying?

If you purely went off what Western media is showing of Hong Kong you’d be expecting to enter a war zone filled with military personnel patrolling the streets fighting masked protesters – the reality for us couldn’t have been further from this. People are getting on with their lives, shops are busy, bars are singing long into the night and we explored everything we wanted to. Daily life wasn’t disrupted for us much and we didn’t feel unsafe. Things have definitely gotten worse since we left, but still we hope the following is a helpful insight into the Hong Kong protests 2019.

Many MTR stations had ticket machines covered due to vandalism

What to expect visiting Hong Kong during protests?

As a side note, this is from our personal experience, so things may have escalated after publishing. But things you can count on are:

MTR stations being closed

The metro stations around Hong Kong will close dependent upon protests and escalating activity. We had a few close when we were visiting however we managed to avoid those during our sightseeing.

Vandalism and damage

Particularly in the MTR stations, vandalism was rife, with many ticket machines being broken from previous riots and disorder. This didn’t really inconvenience us too much apart from a few queues but be aware you might have to get tickets and info elsewhere at some stations.

Increased security

Airports, train stations and large shopping areas will be filled with security and police. We had no problems, but be aware you might walk around the corner to a wall of security.

Murals and Lennon Walls

Scattered around the city there are various popup Lennon Walls where protesters have put sticky notes and posters up showcasing police brutality, their demands and offer more of an understanding as to why this is happening. It’s pretty cool to see actually but do bear in mind these can become hotspots for disruption.

Protests

This might sound kind of obvious but there will be demonstrations around the city that aren’t the scheduled large-scale protests. We bumped into a few smaller groups with signs outside government buildings for example. It was interesting to hear their peaceful voices compared to the footage you are shown on the news.

An example of one Lennon Wall

Advice for travelling to Hong Kong during protests

Above all, we recommend following the police force on Twitter (@HKPoliceForce), the HK Free Press and check up on the Hong Kong Subreddit which is updated regularly with protest info and schedules. Aside from that, the following are some key tips to make travelling to Hong Kong during protests a bit easier.

  • Avoid protests no matter how small
  • Stay updated with news and your country’s embassy
  • Don’t wear black or white tops on protest days (this wasn’t a problem on regular days)
  • Don’t wear face masks which are banned by the government
  • Avoid discussion of the activity on social media as this may be reviewed
  • Use Google Maps to find new routes to avoid trouble areas
  • Take shelter in hotels if things get bad
  • Be prepared with proof of travel (e.g. boarding passes or email confirmations) at airports and train stations
  • Be extra vigilant on weekends when most protest action takes place
  • Be aware when you are near a Government building as these can become hotspots for trouble

Our close encounter with the protests

Like I mentioned earlier, we had one close shave, which was when we visited a shopping mall for some lunch and a coffee. We were sat with a bunch of locals who were in a homework club as we munched on some sarnies. We decided to leave around 2pm to go and take a look at some street art. We hopped over to the nearest metro station and there was a group of around ten young voices shouting loudly. It was the usual “Free Hong Kong” with some other chants we couldn’t understand. The group quickly grew and we noticed locals were very swiftly moving out of this area. That was all the warning we needed. You could genuinely feel the atmosphere start to turn.

Not long after that, the Sha Tin MTR station and local shopping mall were vandalised and became the sites of a big tear-gas-filled clash with the police. Chinese-owned businesses were getting targeted and flags were being burned. This would have been terrifying to be a part of, but we fairly easily avoided it and is the closest we came to any danger. Our time in Hong Kong was brief but beautiful. The city is stunning and there are so many incredible sights to see and it is a massive shame that these demonstrations are affecting tourism. But at the end of the day, this is going to be a huge part of this city’s history, I only hope it ends peacefully.

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