Mainland Chinese tourists flocked to Hong Kong's beaches during the Labor Day holiday this week, covering stretches of white sand in multicolored tents, after a travel company across the internal immigration border posted an advertisement offering sun, sea, and sand.
Beaches in popular scenic spots in Sai Kung and the outlying islands were popular destinations for thousands of Chinese tourists who opted to spend their mini-vacations in the former British colony, where tensions between Mainlanders and local residents have recurred in recent years.
"Enjoy beautiful beaches for less than 300 yuan [U.S. $47]!" read one advertisement from a mainland Chinese travel company which arranged "tours" to some of Hong Kong's most popular beaches, many of which feature government-run campsites, public facilities, and life-saving services.
But at Ham Tin Wan in the western scenic spot of Sai Kung, the campsite quickly filled up, sending dozens of tents to spread across the iconic stretch of white sand in Tai Long Bay, part of a stunning public country park.
"This camping area is very suitable for young children, because they can play in the sea," one mainland Chinese tourist told RFA. "It's also clean and safe. We mostly came here for the kids."
"We can catch a bus and a ferry from [the central business district], and Disneyland isn't too far away either," the tourist said.
Hong Kong law forbids camping in the open on government-run beaches, but Ham Tin Wan isn't an officially listed beach, so the regulations don't apply.
‘Chucking litter everywhere’
The influx of tourists has prompted public concern over public littering and overflowing trash bins, which local residents said were starting to "smell bad."
Local residents also complained that they were unable to get into the campsite at all.
"We stood in line for a whole day, but we didn't get into the campsite," a Hong Kong resident surnamed Chow told RFA. "It had entirely been taken over by Mainlanders. All the foreign visitors and Hongkongers have been forced to camp outside it."
"The garbage situation is quite serious; they just chuck their litter everywhere, instead of taking it home with them," Chow said.
On the southern section of Hong Kong's Lantau Island, local residents also complained about traffic congestion on the main coastal road, which is generally restricted to vehicles displaying permits.
"A lot of people have come here for the vacation," a resident of San Tin village near Pui O said. "We don't go out unless we have to get food."
Officials at the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department in charge of the natural environment said they would send regular trash patrols to the area and fine anyone caught littering, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported on Wednesday.
"The overcrowding at the campsite and beach not only prompted cattle to enter the area to forage but also resulted in serious garbage problems," the paper said.
Mainland tourists once flocked to Hong Kong to stock up on anything from uncontaminated infant formula to high-end electronics and designer bling on cross-border shopping trips by bus.
Traders would also come across the border to stock up on in-demand items before selling them at a premium on the other side of the border, prompting widespread public anger and leading the government to place individual limits on certain products.
But mainland Chinese tourism appears to have diversified in recent years to include hiking and tours of Hong Kong's closely managed country parks.
In 2014, dozens of protesters faced off angrily in a busy shopping district of Hong Kong as a bitter row between netizens from mainland China and the former British colony spilled onto the streets on the Labor Day national holiday.
One group marched wearing mocked-up Red Guard uniforms and carrying the flag of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, calling on mainland Chinese to do their shopping back home after an online video of a toddler urinating on a Hong Kong street went viral, highlighting resentment of Hong Kong residents over the influx of Mainlanders into their city.
The video showed a toddler from mainland China being allowed to urinate by the roadside in the busy shopping district of Mong Kok, and a subsequent altercation between the parents and a crowd of irate bystanders.
Online reactions split more or less along geographical lines, with mainland netizens calling on more tourists to take their children to urinate in Hong Kong's streets, where public urination and defecation is against the law.
Hong Kong netizens responded by posting photographs in which they pretend to defecate on portraits of late supreme Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
Reported by Wo Miu and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.