Hong Kong is happeningHong Kong presents possibilities as Nepalis begin to travel for leisure beyond Nepal's borders
Nepal has a long history with Hong Kong, with Nepalis in the British Gurkha battalion stationed there when the territory was still a British colony. It was handed over to China in 1997, and it is now classified as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.
Former Gurkhas and their families are eligible for permanent residence, and a majority of Nepalis in the city are the children and grandchildren of former Gurkha servicemen. This makes for a thriving community of Nepalis in the region with most working in the food and beverage, security, cleaning, as well as community, social and educational sectors. Some Nepalis are employed in professional and executive positions, and still others have migrated on to the UK which also offers permanent residence to former Gurkha families.
The estimated 50,000 Nepalis with families in Hong Kong and their families in Nepal are often the ones who fly frequently back and forth between the two places.
Yet even as Nepalis begin to travel for leisure beyond Nepal’s borders to popular destinations like Bangkok, Bali and beyond, their presence in Hong Kong as tourists has so far been negligible. One of the reasons is that Nepalis who want to travel to Hong Kong for leisure must apply for a visit visa which could take between three to six weeks to process. Nepalis taking connecting flights via Hong Kong also require a transit visa except for those traveling to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, the UK, and Europe.
Cathay Pacific, as Hong Kong’s largest carrier, says it is seeking to attract more Nepali travellers -- both those with Hong Kong as a tourism destination as well as transit passengers flying on to the US, Canada, Japan, or Korea.
“Hong Kong’s strategic geographical location means Hong Kong International Airport is a gateway to other Asian destinations, including other cities of the Greater Bay Area, the Chinese Mainland, Japan, and Korea. It also provides easy connections to the South West Pacific, the USA and Canada,” says Junu Malekhu, Cathay Country Lead for Nepal.
She adds: “Outbound travel from Nepal has been witnessing an increasing trend recording over 90% bookings in 2023 as Nepalis seek to explore different countries to experience local culture, cuisine, meet new people, and delve into the unique opportunities and experiences each destination provides. We also cater to a significant number of Nepali students travelling to Australia, Japan, the USA, and Canada, and their families.”
Cathay Pacific currently offers four flights per week from Kathmandu to Hong Kong, with the red-eye flight departing before midnight and arriving in the territory conveniently at 6AM local time after a four-and-half hour flight.
On a recent December night at Kathmandu Airport, the journey from the unheated ramp bus to the Cathay Pacific Airbus A330 is short but freezing. Stepping into the aircraft offers welcome, warm relief. Once passengers stow away their luggage and settle down, the cabin crew begins to hand out immigration slips for them to present at Hong Kong airport once they land.
In the Premium Economy cabin, a Nepali father whose young son speaks to him in English helps his child fill out the Hong Kong arrival form. It is clear that a large number of Nepalis on board are flying back to their homes in Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific itself is one of the oldest airlines in Asia and traces its history to the early British days. Today, its aircraft offer the largest entertainment library among the region's airlines, and it received the Skytrax World’s Best Inflight Entertainment award in 2023. Cathay’s inflight dining features a range of Cantonese as well as international dishes suited to the Nepali palate.
Apart from Economy, Cathay's A330s on the Kathmandu route also have the Premium Economy cabin which offers priority boarding, and once inside the aircraft, expanded seating, legroom as well as working, dining and storage space.
Effective from 3 April 2024, Cathay will increase its flights to five per week from Kathmandu to Hong Kong. Presently, there are four flights a week by 317 seater Airbus A330.
Since the flight from Kathmandu lands in Hong Kong early in the morning and most hotel check-ins begin only in the afternoon, visitors can begin exploring the city right after they land as they wait for their accommodations to be ready. Options include the mandatory Peak Tram to Victoria Peak for a panorama view of the Victoria Harbour. Nearby, the Hong Kong Botanical Garden in the heart of the city’s business district is the world’s oldest in the region.
Lantau Island is another destination, and visitors can take the Ngong Ping 360 ropeway to see the Tian Tan Buddha, a 34m tall bronze statue of the Buddha. The stairway to Tian Tan Buddha, however, might rival that in Swayambhu.
The Hong Kong Disneyland, the smallest of the Disneyland resorts in the world, is packed with visitors year-round but is a must-stop for those visiting with children.
The tradition British-era ferry across the Victoria Harbour to Kowloon is not just a commute but also a cheap way to sightsee. With its vibrant multi-ethnic population, Kowloon is also where most of Hong Kong’s Nepali population live and work, specifically in the Jordan neighbourhood which has Nepali restaurants, jewellery shops, and other businesses.
For shopping, Mong Kok in Kowloon might be the best fit, with its lower priced shopping areas and bustling night markets.
The flight back to Kathmandu departs more conveniently in the evening, and those who want to splurge can upgrade to Cathay Pacific’s Business Class which gives them access to three lounges at the Hong Kong International Airport—The Pier, which is the largest, The Deck, and The Wing. The noodle bar in all three lounges offer regional and Asian food and is particularly popular.