Hong Kongers have been protesting for more than five months and demonstrations are becoming more violent and disruptive. The city’s leaders have maintained Hong Kong is still open for business, but is it still safe to visit?
The situation has changed significantly since June 9, when protest organizers estimated more than a million people took part in a peaceful march to oppose a bill that would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite suspected criminals to mainland China.
Recent protests have become less predictable and increasingly dangerous, fanning out around the city and springing up in places with little warning.
Police have used lethal force multiple times during recent clashes with protesters. In October, they discovered an uncovered an explosive device they say was targeted at officers.
November has seen even more acute violence. In a single day, a man who confronted a group of pro-democracy protesters was doused in a flammable liquid and set alight; a protester was shot by police with a live round from point-blank range; and a police officer on a motorbike drove into a crowd of demonstrators.
University campuses have also become battlegrounds, with riot police and student protesters clashing across multiple locations throughout the city.
If you’re coming to the city, here’s what you need to know.
Hong Kong is usually an incredibly easy place to get around. Very few people own cars because public transport is cheap and extremely efficient. The system consists of a sleek, modern subway, plenty of bus coverage, light rail in the suburbs, ferries to outlying islands and a charming tram (aka the “ding ding,” for the sound it makes) that runs along the northern edge of Hong Kong Island.
The Airport Express gets you from the airport to the city center in fewer than 30 minutes for about $14. Uber is available, but it’s not as popular as it is in the US because Hong Kong taxis are easy to find and are relatively inexpensive.
But the protests, especially ones not sanctioned by police, can make it extremely difficult to get to your destination no matter how well you plan.
Authorities shut the entire Mass Transit Railway or MTR system in early October due to vandalism and “illegal acts,” making it very difficult, if not impossible, to get around.
Disruptions are incredibly rare, however, and usually only take place due to typhoons.
One traveler’s experience
So, what is it like to visit Hong Kong right now?
Melanie Sanders, a publishing industry professional from Brooklyn, New York, found the MTR closed when she arrived for a vacation in Hong Kong with her boyfriend on October 5.
It was the couple’s first visit to Asia, and the low price of airfare and hotels made it feasible for them to afford the trip.