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10 common misconceptions about Hong Kong

Time to set the record straight

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
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There are many different facets of Hong Kong, and some of these take a good few years of living here to understand and appreciate. For outsiders looking in on our great city, there are a few misconceptions that commonly fall through the cracks. From the food we eat to the various landscapes of the city, here are some of the most common misconceptions people have about Hong Kong.

RECOMMENDED: People are curious creatures – check out this list of 10 things Hongkongers get asked all the time.

Common misconceptions about Hong Kong

Hong Kong and Hong Kong Island are the same thing
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1. Hong Kong and Hong Kong Island are the same thing

Those not from here often think that Hong Kong Island is all there is to our city. Sure, this is where many of the prominent buildings that make up the iconic skyline stand, but this is far from all there is to Hong Kong. There are also myriad outlying islands, LantauLamma, the New Territories, and Kowloon – where some of the most densely populated and culturally rich neighbourhoods lie. 

In Hong Kong, you'll always be surrounded by skyscrapers
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2. In Hong Kong, you'll always be surrounded by skyscrapers

While it's true that we have many architectural marvels in our fair city – including the IFC, ICC, and Bank of China Building to name a few – there is much more to Hong Kong than just concrete and glass. There are numerous vast country parks and nature reserves that take up around half of the city's total area. Get away from the concrete jungle and enjoy the excellent hiking and stunning natural wonders – after all, Hong Kong is actually one of the most verdant cities on earth.

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Malls, malls, malls
Photograph: Calvin Sit

3. Malls, malls, malls

When people think of shopping establishments in Hong Kong, one type of facility that often comes to mind above all others is the shopping mall. While there certainly is no shortage of top-notch malls around town – from famous Times Square in Causeway Bay to the more recently opened K-11 Musea in Tsim Sha Tsui – many Hongkongers choose markets as their go-to for a bit of retail therapy. We have many neighbourhood wet markets, where visitors can peruse all manner of meats, veg and other goods – and get delicious, cheap meals to boot; to markets selling clothes, electronics, antiques, and flowers. Get away from the malls, and you can find anything your heart desires.

The weather in Hong Kong is sweltering year round
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4. The weather in Hong Kong is sweltering year round

Sure, Hong Kong technically enjoys a subtropical climate, but this doesn't mean it's red-hot all year round. Outside of the melting heat and humidity of the HK summer, there are some cooler days, with winter sometimes bringing quite the chill with it. Back in January 2016, the temperature dipped to an icy 3.1 degrees, so that tells you how cold it can get in our city. If you plan to stay comfortable in winter here, coats or jackets are strongly recommended!

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Everyone in Hong Kong lives in a tiny apartment
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5. Everyone in Hong Kong lives in a tiny apartment

Hong Kong has one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, and some of the most densely-populated districts, where space is a commodity. While it's true that most Hongkongers do live in apartments, some may be surprised to learn that there are entire communities here that live in houses. Take the hamlets around Lamma Island, or the fishing village of Tai O, where stilt houses are a thing. It's fair to say that some city dwellers don't live the stereotypical city life at all. 

The best view of the city is from the Peak
Photograph: Courtesy Wooloomooloo Wan Chai

6. The best view of the city is from the Peak

Don't get us wrong, we love the Peak, with its restaurants, shops, and – of course – its million-dollar view of the city, but this isn't the be-all and end-all of skyline vistas in Hong Kong. Iconic, sure, but that may be lost on you after you spend hours queuing and cramming into a tram in the high season. There are plenty of other good spots where you can view Hong Kong's skyline, from Tsim Sha Tsui promenade, Aqua, to Wooloomooloo Prime in Wan Chai. And two to three hour hike can bring you to the top of Lions Rock to view the breathtaking panoramic scenes of the entire city. 

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Hong Kong lacks wildlife
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7. Hong Kong lacks wildlife

Hong Kong wildlife doesn't begin and end with roaches and rats – although sure, we have our fair share. Get out of the urban sprawl, and you can spot buffalo wandering the beaches of Lantau Island, porcupines scurrying across the roads up in the Mid-levels, wild pigs running around in country parks, and monkeys leaping from tree to tree, just feet above hikers.

Hongkongers only eat Chinese food
Photograph: Courtesy Taqueria Super Macho

8. Hongkongers only eat Chinese food

Of course, Chinese food reigns supreme in Hong Kong, but exactly what dishes it consists of may come as a surprise to those not from here. Take cha chaan tengs for instance. These uniquely Hong Kong institutions serve up treats with a decidedly European influence, from milk tea, macaroni soup, and peanut butter French toast. In case this wasn't enough, the modern dining scene is incredibly varied, serving top quality food inspired by countries the world over, from French to Vietnamese, and Malaysian to Mexican!

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Cantonese and English are the only languages spoken here
Photograph: Shuja Official

9. Cantonese and English are the only languages spoken here

A broad misconception is that locals only speak Cantonese or English, but there are many other languages spoken in our cosmopolitan metropolis. From Mandarin to Hakka, various Chinese dialects are flowing through our streets. There are also diverse immigrant communities dotted around the city, where the dialect is Malay, Tagalog, Thai, or something else entirely. Listen closely, and you'll also hear a fair bit of Spanish and French around town.

The Octopus card is just for travel
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10. The Octopus card is just for travel

The Octopus card is a beautiful thing, allowing us Hongkongers to seamlessly hop around the city on trains, trams, busses, and even ferries. The fun doesn't end there, however. These heaven-sent pieces of plastic can also be used to pay for a wide variety of things around the city. Drop into your local convenience store or supermarket and whip out your Octopus card to pay for groceries, pay at cafes, cinemas...the list goes on.

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