Hong Kong is an undeniably unique place. Largely through triad movies, literature, and video games, the city has captured the imagination 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 an entire genre of fashion and art. Even in the abstract sense, the Hong Kong aesthetic comes with its fair share of dangers.

Here's what to avoid during your first visit there.

Scam City

Not so long ago, Hong Kong was overrun by slums and organized crime. Conditions have significantly improved 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 desperation.


Unfortunately, as much as things have reformed, certain underlying issues such as wealth disparity and poverty are very real. Driven by these factors, the city is rife with scammers.

With the cyber revolution came the cyber-crime counterrevolution. The scams come in many forms, but nowadays most of them are digital. Residents put up with an epidemic of fake calls and emails designed to siphon unguarded money away from vulnerable people. As far as tourists are concerned, the scams often come in the form of fake ATMs that dispense fake money and steal card information. When using an ATM, make sure it's in a reputed location and branded appropriately.

Visitors should look out for simpler crimes as well. Beware of pickpockets in busy markets and trains. Some of the most talented pickpockets make a living in Hong Kong, so do not underestimate them. Keep money and essential items in a money belt and mind your pockets.

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

Seedy Underbelly And Hard Crimes

While the era of organized crime is on the decline, triads are very much alive and functioning. Groups like Sun Yee On and 14K Triads are estimated to have tens of thousands of members in the city and other key ports of illicit trade. The activities of these triads are not as obvious as they once were, and take place in the shadows where no average tourists would normally go.

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

Do not go to "massage parlors". Not only are they illegal, but they are also used to blackmail and fleece lustful tourists. Even though there may be advertisements, posters, and business cards for these kinds of services. Unfortunately, tourists in such predicaments have no recourse, as filing a police report would incriminate them as well.

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

The area of Kowloon was once home to the most infamous slum in the world. Even though the slum has been destroyed, parts of Kowloon are still considered shady. Two neighborhoods in Kowloon repeatedly come up in relation to crime and seediness. Many of the bars and establishments in Tsim Sha Tsui are rumored to be controlled and racketeered by the Wo Shing Wo triad group. Similarly, Sham Shui Po is a major hub for gang activities, and they definitely don't take kindly to outsiders.

Related: 20 Dive Bars in Hong Kong So Awesome (It's A Surprise They're Still A Secret)

Politics And Police

Notably, there are intense protests going on in Hong Kong. A violent political battle is being waged in the city and dissenters are being punished, disappeared, and extradited with little appeal. Regardless of political views, tourists and visitors are advised to remain neutral and uninvolved. Unless visitors have the journalistic authorization, they should not join any demonstrations or protests that might occur, even if it's simply out of curiosity.

When interacting with law enforcement, it's wise to practice politeness and cooperation. This is true for any foreign country. While there are many cases of police brutality, the brutality is mostly aimed at dissidents, not tourists. Carry some ID and save the details of your embassy and place of residence in Hong Kong.

Hopefully, this guide has not soured the appeal of Hong Kong. Keep in mind that the city is one of the safest in the world, and average tourists will probably not come across the various scams and crimes listed in this article. However, visitors with intentions that go beyond mainstream tourism should stay sharp.

Next: A Travel Guide To Hong Kong: 11 Things To Know While Planning Your Trip