Hong Kong is a unique microcosm of Chinese & Cantonese culture, hanging onto its sovereignty by a thread as mainland China continues to exert intensifying control of the city-state. Under its “One Country, Two Systems” approach, Hong Kong maintains sovereignty from China until 2047, but its existing status as a Special Administrative Region blurs the lines of the agreement.
This distinction between Hong Kong and mainland makes for an interesting scene at the city’s numerous borders. I have gathered stories and images from the various entry points of the country, and I hope to provide an inside glimpse into daily life, travel, and geopolitics in “Asia’s World City.”
Welcome to Hong Kong‘s Kai Tak International Airport.
Hong Kong’s former Kai Tak Airport was world famous for its dare-devilesque approach, during which airplanes would make a drastic banking turn over Kowloon Walled City and land crosswind onto the narrow strip sitting in the harbor. Pilots found it exhilarating and terrifying, passengers barely noticed, and onlookers prepared to witness a crash. There was nothing quite like watching a Boeing 747 land just a few meters above your head as it was banking desperately to hit its target.
Basically, the approach looked so dangerous it was hard to imagine why the airport was still open. And no, it didn’t always work out as planned… More than 12 accidents occurred, resulting in the death of 270 people.
Chep Lap Kok — Welcome Aboard
As Hong Kong grew in population and became an increasingly critical financial city and trading port, a new airport was needed. Kai Tak could no longer meet the demand of flights to and from Hong Kong, and the dangerous approach was clearly an issue. The only problem, however, was Hong Kong’s land squeeze. The solution? Create land!
As you can tell by the image above, the entire airport looks like an oversized barge. It is truly an amazing engineering feat. Those remaining in Hong Kong pass through immigration, while travelers continuing to Mainland China or Macau have the option to skip passport control and go directly to the ferry terminal (toward the bottom right of the above photo). You go through immigration when you arrive at the port in Shenzhen, meaning you are essentially stateless for the hour journey, so ferry employees keep the cabin quite secure.
There are also mainland ferries from Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The ferry to Macau only takes about an hour, and the immigration process is similar.
The Futian Checkpoint
If you decide to enter Hong Kong via public transportation, you will likely pass through the Futian checkpoint. At this point, both city’s subway lines reach their terminus, and passengers must disembark to cross the border. An enclosed bridge stretches between China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, with each country’s respective immigration process on opposing sides.
If you are traveling across the border by MTR Intercity Train, you exit Hong Kong before boarding and enter China at your destination station. Recently, the high speed rail was just opened, allowing travel between Hong Kong and Guangzhou in just over 45 minutes.
Despite being one of the smallest countries in the world, Hong Kong can be entered and exited in more ways than many larger countries! And if you have a multi-entry Chinese visa, you can travel freely around the entire region with ease. It is no wonder Chinese and Hong Kong citizens regularly take advantage of benefits on the other side of the border, such as cheaper massages and discounted goods in Shenzhen, or global finance in Hong Kong. Despite this, the dynamic between the two governments remains confusing. Although China will proclaim that Hong Kong is their territory, it’s not as apparent when you are required to pass through strict immigration screening to pass between the two. Additionally, the two cultures seem quite different, at least in the sense of government regulation. For example, immediately after passing the border you can now access Google and various social media platforms that you weren’t able to open fifty feet prior. For me, it is fascinating to witness geopolitical issues such as these in person, and I recommend discovering your own scenes from Hong Kong’s borders.