Hong Kong vs Shanghai – An Expat’s Take

Hong Kong and Shanghai. Two of probably the most well-known metropolises of Asia, and the world. Just as with all mega city, there are some attributes that these two share with every different (population density comes to mind). However it doesn’t take much exploring of both to find traits that make one uniquely the “city on the sea” and the opposite the “fragrant harbor.”

I know what you’re considering… sweet hat.

Having spent three years dwelling in one, one other yr dwelling within the different, and a number of other months juggling back-and-forth journeys to reside in both cities, I’m properly acquainted with what awaits visitors who are setting foot in these metropolises for the first time.

When arriving in either city, a number of the observed differences might be readily identifiable. For example, the society, buildings, and language shall be very totally different in case you’ve grown up within the English-speaking world. What could also be less obvious are the habits and customs of the native individuals, the unwritten codes of conduct on public transit, and even fashionable weekend activities. This article will incorporate some of these apects as a guide that could be helpful for anybody touring to Hong Kong, or Shanghai, or each.

Infrastructure (Shanghai)

Shanghai, at the intersection of the past and the present. Shanghai, at the intersection of the past and the present.

Let’s begin initially, with the essential geography and municipal structure of every. Shanghai is an enormous city (6,300+ and over 24 million individuals) guilty of sprawl that shuffles the town middle across a number of fundamental downtown districts. The locals (referred to as Shanghainese), foreigners, and the migrant population (each educated and non-educated staff from other elements of China however who don’t hold a residency permit in Shanghai) are principally divided between districts that comply with predictable “financial fault” strains.

The rich, middle-class, and lots of foreigners are likely to stay in the primary downtown areas of Jing’an, Xintiandi, Xujiahui, the Bund area, and so forth. Further out, where every day commutes on the metro system can begin to strategy or exceed one hour, the buildings grow to be smaller, older, and extra reasonably priced for the typical Chinese household.

The town itself is usually uniform in a single facet, and that’s the topography. Shanghai is an enormous city unfold out along a steady flood aircraft.

Infrastructure (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong - View from Lion RockHong Kong – carved out of the hills

Hong Kong, conversely, has been constructed on prime of and in-between hills that cover the region. The combined land space of Hong Kong totals about 2,755 and is house to round 7.2 million individuals.

One of many three major sections and city facilities is Hong Kong island—a well-liked selection for wealthy locals, high-level overseas managers, and wealthy Chinese language from the mainland. Another key area is Kowloon, well-known for tourist buying locations as well as office towers for local and overseas corporations.

The third area known as New Territories, which stretches throughout the north of Hong Kong and borders with Shenzhen. These incomes lower incomes—locals and foreigners—should typically look to New Territories for extra reasonably priced housing options.


I know. It's an awesome hat. Dwelling in Shanghai

Both cities are relatively well-stocked with foreigners and English-speaking locals who like to collect at pubs, night time golf equipment, beaches, worldwide faculty annual occasions, and beer festivals all year long.

That being stated, the 2 metropolises are usually not simply magnets for English-speaking populations. Indeed, an fascinating find that vacationers might be stunned to come across is the totally different ethnic sections of each cities.

These are available all sizes and shapes: from giant areas like Korea city in Gubei, Shanghai, to a single building like Chungking Mansion in Hong Kong. Stumble into both to right away experience a very totally different cultural feel and for some really authentic, non-Chinese cuisine.

gopr1151Strolling by means of the various streets of Hong Kong

Different, more unique areas in both cities are a number of residential communities which are far-removed from the center, placed in aesthetically pleasing and well-manicured neighborhoods, the place Western suburban-style dwelling has taken root.

In the far japanese reach of Shanghai, even past the Hongqiao airport and practice station transportation hub, there are gated communities of three-story houses with front yards and personal garages.

In Hong Kong, there are beachfront apartment communities akin to Discovery Bay. There isn’t much in the best way of public transit to those communities, but that hardly issues when you might have a private driver on name!

Green Life

For everyone else who does not have the finances for such exclusive dwelling, the automobiles and/or bikes are parked deep underground, within the bowels of their tall condominium towers above.

There are not any personal backyards, however small inexperienced areas in between the buildings and as a part of the complicated.

Here is the place Shanghai has an advantage.

On the macro-level, Hong Kong’s entry to mountaineering and watersports makes the town clearly extra conducive to outside activity. Nevertheless, at a micro-level, when strolling round Hong Kong there is a higher consciousness of concrete and metal.

Walking in Hong KongHong Kong – the concrete jungle

Typically it feels that the only greenery scattered around Kowloon is those small timber and bushes which might be planted in giant, ornamental pots alongside the alleyways.

In Shanghai, however, there are actual timber planted immediately into the bottom. Shanghai has finished a a lot better job of spreading green all through, with tree-lined streets within the Former French Concession and Jing’an space, and the larger public areas at residential communities (owing to a larger availability of land).

Canine in Hong Kong have little selection but to do their business instantly on the sidewalk, while canine in Shanghai can a minimum of take purpose at a tree!


Hong Kong and Shanghai both know a thing or two about skyscrapersHong Kong and Shanghai each know a factor or two about skyscrapers

In fact, a pleasing outside surroundings doesn’t necessarily require greenery. Close to open-air sightseeing, both cities have large skylines that may be seen throughout a serious water function.

Attempt to schedule time in your journey to take-in the view of both skylines through the day, as well as at night time. The view of The Bund structure in Shanghai when highlighted by the town’s night-lights is completely superb.

Equally spectacular is the quite a few skyscrapers of Hong Kong island framed towards the inexperienced backdrop of Mom Nature’s hills with a blue sky above.


One other facet that each places have in widespread is a superb subway (metro) system.

These interconnected, principally underground public transit networks provide quick access to the main vacationer destinations, enterprise hubs, and F&B districts.

Journey by metro is sort of reasonably priced and most journeys final solely 10-30 minutes depending on distance. The trains run with familiar regularity and at intervals which might be virtually never interrupted.

Shanghai’s metro often shuts down between 10 and 11pm, while Hong Kong retains the trains shifting until around 12:30am, which could be a sign of different public sector opinions of nightlife.

When looking for transit outdoors of these working occasions or when not conveniently situated at or close by a metro cease, there’s Uber (and comparable, regionally produced variations). Taxi-hailing app use is widespread in both cities, however you’d higher have the ability to supply navigation directions in Chinese language!

What to Anticipate

Spending an prolonged time period in a city yields sure benefits of turning into more localized and familiar, however may also result in an emotional let-down just like ending a “honeymoon phase.”

The close of the “tourist phase” could be regarded as that second if you understand you’re not “traveling through” and “exploring” a new city or area, but that you’re now main a “working” way of life that has grown to develop into routine.

This feeling shouldn’t be fast. It follows an unspecified time period needed for adjusting to newness, not in contrast to the expression, “the honeymoon is over.”

When arriving to a brand new city, even on a full-time employment contract, there’s invariably a lengthy time period for pure marvel. Each road corner glistens with newness in your eyes and provokes curiosity.

The 'pure-wonder' stageThe ‘pure-wonder’ stage

This sense is among the strongest allures of journey. But, given time, all good issues must end and the “new” shine on these road corners ultimately fades away revealing just another visitors jam delaying your morning commute to work.

Ultimately, individuals anticipate you to be a functioning, productive member of their society who doesn’t spend working hours planning weekend travel plans, however who as an alternative fills weekend time with work-related conversations.

Once localized to a brand new metropolis at the finish of the “tourist phase,” you start to turn into conscious about the organization and management of your environment.

Your first flight delay in a China airport might be a very good indication of what is missing when it comes to organization. Whereas Japan is well-known for high quality management and a deep, social commitment to providing good service at work, China seems to be lacking a unifying management philosophy.

For travelers, this becomes apparent in the little to no flexibility inside the “system.” In both Shanghai and Hong Kong, service staff are solely educated to complete their specific job features for their 8-10 hour shift.

Make any particular or uncommon request and also you’ll be met with a blank stare, followed by a “let me ask my manager” response. But don’t hold your breath for a positive reply.

As an alternative, absorb all the service “let-downs” as a part of the general expertise, and just float.


To make certain, each city has its personal unique flavor and allure to make it solely its own vacation spot on the map. The allure that belongs to Shanghai and Hong Kong make each worthwhile to go to and re-visit for brand spanking new or experienced traveler alike. Simply be prepared to maneuver on to the subsequent destination if you begin to feel that the “tourist phase” could be coming to an finish.

Making an attempt to determine the heart beat of a brand new metropolis might be overwhelming. Keep in mind, whenever you start to really feel flustered while making your personal investigations, simply cease, go searching, and gauge the native visitors.

The overall pace of pedestrian visitors in Hong Kong flows at a speedy “move it or get run over” velocity, compared to the more leisurely stroll that Shanghai takes. When strolling around in Hong Kong, you better be shifting like an agile ninja squirrel.

When you drop something, assume twice earlier than taking the danger to cease and decide it up, trigger there’s a practice of individuals proper behind you. In Shanghai, you could be far more comfortable. Stop to select up that unfastened change, cease to have a chat, heck, even stop on the prime of an escalator entrance to debate together with your companions if it’s shifting within the desired path. Nobody will thoughts. And why would they? We’re all gonna get where we’re all going, ultimately.


-Sean Doherty is a Colorado native and graduate of Metropolitan State University, dwelling and working in Hong Kong. In 2016, Sean acquired a Masters of Science degree from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.