Here’s what to avoid in Hong Kong on your first visit there

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Hong Kong is an undeniably unique place. Largely thanks to triad films, literature and video games, the city has captured the imaginations of people around the world. In recent times, the rapid modernization of Hong Kong’s economy has endowed the city with a futuristic aesthetic that has inspired a whole genre of fashion and art. Even in the abstract sense, the aesthetic of Hong Kong carries its share of dangers.

Here’s what to avoid on your first visit there.

City scam

Not so long ago, Hong Kong was overrun with slums and organized crime. Conditions have improved considerably since then and the city is considered one of the safest in the world. However, like most places, it is not immune to the perversions and transgressions of human materialism and despair.


Unfortunately, even though things have reformed, some underlying issues such as wealth disparity and poverty are very real. Driven by these factors, the city is full of crooks.

With the cyber-revolution came the counter-revolution of cybercrime. Scams come in many forms, but nowadays most of them are digital. Residents are supporting an epidemic of fake calls and emails designed to divert unguarded money from vulnerable people. When it comes to tourists, scams often come in the form of fake ATMs that dispense fake money and steal card information. When using an ATM, make sure it is in a reputable location and branded appropriately.

Visitors should also be careful with more basic crimes. Beware of pickpockets in busy markets and trains. Some of the most talented pickpockets live in Hong Kong, so don’t underestimate them. Keep cash and essentials in a wallet and watch your pockets.

Related: 10 Scams To Watch Out For In Big Busy Cities

Shabby stomach and hard crimes

As the era of organized crime wanes, the triads are alive and well and functioning. Groups like Sun Yee On and Triads 14K are estimated at tens of thousands of members in the city and in other key ports of the illicit trade. The activities of these triads are no longer as obvious as they once were and take place in the shadows where no average tourist would normally go.

By definition, organized criminals take on roles that a government would normally have. When something is unauthorized or illegal, transactions are no longer secure by the state. This is where the triads come in. The Triads also have a monopoly on non-franchised public transport, decorating companies, and garbage collection services. These criminal industries shouldn’t affect tourists much, but for the sake of thoroughness, here’s what to avoid.

Do not go to “massage parlors”. Not only are they illegal, but they are also used to blackmail and defraud lewd tourists. Although there may be advertisements, posters and business cards for these types of services. Unfortunately, tourists in such situations have no recourse, as filing a police report would also incriminate them.

Most people will insist that the city is well guarded and safe. These people tend to live in safe areas. Insiders claim there are certain seedy neighborhoods that should be avoided after hours. This is especially true for tourists who stand out or cannot defend themselves. Drugs are still rampant in the streets, and some substances can turn good people into monsters. Avoid neighborhoods where these problems are prevalent.

The Kowloon area was once home to the world’s most infamous slum. Even though the slum has been destroyed, parts of Kowloon are still considered shady. Two districts of Kowloon are repeatedly mentioned in connection with crime and poverty. Rumor has it that many bars and establishments in Tsim Sha Tsui are controlled and extorted by the Wo Shing Wo triad group. Likewise, Sham Shui Po is a major hub for gang activity, and they certainly don’t like foreigners.

Related: 20 Dive Bars In Hong Kong So Awesome (It’s A Surprise They’re Still Undercover)

Politics and Police

Notably, there are intense protests going on in Hong Kong. A violent political battle is waged in the city and dissidents are punished, missing and extradited with little recourse. Regardless of political opinions, tourists and visitors are advised to remain neutral and not to get involved. Unless visitors have journalistic permission, they should not join any protests or protests that may take place, even if it is simply out of curiosity.

When interacting with law enforcement, it is wise to be polite and cooperative. This is true for any foreign country. While there are many cases of police brutality, the brutality is primarily aimed at dissidents, not tourists. Get your ID and register your embassy and residence details in Hong Kong.

Hopefully, this guide hasn’t spoiled the appeal of Hong Kong. Keep in mind that the city is one of the safest in the world and the average tourist is unlikely to encounter the various scams and crimes listed in this article. However, visitors whose intentions go beyond traditional tourism should remain vigilant.

Next: A Travel Guide to Hong Kong: 11 Things to Know When Planning Your Trip

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