Since March 31, news reports from Hong Kong have shown the streets lined with protesters marching against a controversial extradition bill. Two million of Hong Kong’s seven million residents have participated in the protests, according to the New York Times. While clips of police in riot gear and crowds being tear gassed are getting the most air time, they have made up a small part of what are largely peaceful protests. Beyond the occupied protest areas, Hong Kong is continuing with business as usual. This is everything travelers need to know about being in Hong Kong during the protests.

What are they protesting?

Hong Kong residents are protesting an extradition bill that proposes updating the existing extradition law to allow extradition requests to be granted to a number of countries, including mainland China. Mainland China and Hong Kong have different legal systems, and opponents of the bill say this could threaten freedom of speech in Hong Kong and make political critics of China vulnerable.

The timeline of the protests in Hong Kong

On June 9, organizers estimated that one million people took to the streets for a peaceful protest march against the Hong Kong Extradition Bill. This turned violent in the early hours of June 10 when a small group of protestors tried to storm the Legislative Council Building. A reading and debate of the proposed bill were delayed on June 12 as the protests intensified. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bag rounds to disperse protestors. Over 70 people have been injured in the protests, including police, media, and protestors.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on June 15 that a reading of the bill would be suspended, but this did not deter the protestors. Another peaceful protest march was held on June 17, with organizers estimating two million attendees. Protestors called for the bill to be fully withdrawn and for Lam, who has since issued a public apology, to resign. At time of writing, the protests are ongoing but peaceful.

Where are the protests happening?

The protests have predominantly taken place in Hong Kong’s Central and Admiralty districts, particularly on Harcourt Road and around the Legislative Council Building. For travelers visiting Hong Kong at this time, consider staying in other areas of Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. Public transport services — such as the MTR subway, buses, and ferries — have been operating normally.

Is it safe to travel to Hong Kong during the protests?

Hong Kong is still one of the safest places in the world to travel, and the protests haven’t changed that. The UK Government Foreign Travel Advice suggested that travelers “remain vigilant and keep up to date with developments.” Travelers should exercise caution if they’re in areas near Admiralty and Central where the demonstrations are still ongoing. There are plenty of other places to explore in Hong Kong that are completely unaffected by the protests.

How the Hong Kong protests are impacting travel

Travelers can still visit highlight attractions like the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island, the Ladies Market in Mongkok, and view the famous Hong Kong skyline from Tsim Sha Tsui promenade without being impacted by the protests.

However, should you be in the protest area, or in the event there is an escalation of the situation, there are some things travelers should be aware of:

  • Admiralty MTR station was shut temporarily on June 12, which led to many train services being delayed or re-routed. At the time of writing, Admiralty station has reopened, and normal service has resumed. If this happens again, use the Tung Chung Line or Tseung Kwan O Line to cross the harbor, and expect delays when using the MTR.
  • Some shops in the area shut early on June 11 and 12 to avoid disturbances, affecting areas that included Pacific Place Mall and the IFC Mall. If this happens again, choose to visit one of Hong Kong’s other malls: Elements in West Kowloon and Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong are great alternatives.
  • At the height of the protests, many protestors were wearing black, which led to some non-protestors being wrongfully targeted by police. It’s best to avoid an all-black outfit at this time.
  • Avoid taking photos of protestors where their faces are identifiable. Many protestors are taking personal precautions to avoid potential backlash in the future, and it’s important to respect this privacy.

Should you ever unintentionally end up in the protest area, both protestors and police will be able to help you exit the area. The protests are predominantly peaceful, but it’s best to steer clear if you don’t intend to partake.