For most travellers, Hong Kong is the gate to Asia: it provides us with all the advantages of Western civilization, while presenting brushed-up, polished version of the continent. However, for those of us that can not be satisfied with a view from Victoria Peak and other tourist ‘must-sees’, Pandeia has found a local to tell about the other side of Hong Kong.
LONG BEFORE China opened its door to the West and became the trendy destination for scores of Western backpackers, Hong Kong has been embracing its fellow Western investors, travellers and the influence of Western civilization, thanks to its colonial history. While deeply influenced by Western culture, Hong Kong maintains valuable Chinese and Asian traditions in various aspects, and -as a result – creating a nicely mixed vibe and lifestyle.
From the very first moment you land in Hong Kong, you would be overwhelmed by the heat, humidity, the population density, and the countless skyscrapers crowding every part of the city.
At first glance, Hong Kong seems to be just like any other big city. However, under the veil of a hustle and bustle of world’s number one financial hub, it is not difficult to realize that the majority of HongKongese still live under the influence of traditional Chinese culture. They celebrate Chinese festivals such as Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, etc. These festivals are all scheduled according to the Chinese lunar calendar, which does not coincide with the one used in the West. So if you want to catch a chance to experience a traditional Chinese festival, don’t forget to check the festival calendar.
You never get hungry in this city
Chinese traditions are very largely represented in Hong Kong cuisine. The innovative fusion of Chinese and Western cooking largely defines Hong Kong cusine. You will find strange mix of Italian Bolognaise with rice; French fries that come with mushroom and cream sauce; Instant noodles with tomato soup; Indian curry with French baguette etc. There are of course a lot of restaurants specializing in particular cuisines. In Hong Kong you can find one of the best Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese and Korean restaurants with reasonable prices. There is a wide variety of European cuisines to choose from. Eating out is a culture in Hong Kong: it becomes part of life. And it does not always happen in restaurants: street food is one of the best things you shouldn’t miss. Try fried food, fishballs, frozen yogurt, and get a cup of nicely prepared bubble tea to fulfill your thirst and hunger.
The party is going on all night long
Everyone in Hong Kong can you that Lan Kwai Fong in Central is the best place to go out in the city. It is true that you can find everything in this area: cheap bars, expensive bars, nice clubs, shitty clubs. People of ages flock to the famous “LKF” to fill the hilly alley. There are a lot of different sides of nightlife in Hong Kong though, especially if you want to get drunk, cheap. The local way to start off is to get beers and liquors from 7-11, which you can find everywhere, then go the rooftop of International Finance Centre Mall, where you can get a night view of the neon-lit city. You can then head off to the underground club, XXX Gallery in Sai Wan. The club was closed temporarily last year, but re-opened again. It is an alternative space where young artists and musicians gather. Apart from parties, it also occasionally hosts exhibitions, concerts or movie screening nights. If you are a jazz lover, check out Ned Kelly’s Last Stand on the other side of the island. The laid-back Aussie bar has survived for more than 40 years. It has live jazz performances every night, giving a cozy, friendly ambience.
The arty area
Starting to get sick of the crowds and the all-the-same brands in the touristic area? Check out the quiet, hip area in Soho. Spend a nice afternoon strolling around Tai Ping Shan Street, Tung Street, Sai Street, all the way until Hollywood Road. The only ways to reach the area is either to take a bus and walk through the small alley, or to get off from the last station of MTR – Sheung Wan, and then to walk all the way uphill. This remote location is probably the reason why this area is not flooded by tourists and chain fashion stores yet, and also why rent there is still affordable for independent artists. Along the tranquil small allies are independent galleries, designer boutiques and cozy cafes. Try to talk to shop and gallery owners there and you will find that it is a closely connected community. If you are lucky enough, they might invite you to the occasionally held community parties.
The all-connected buildings
Architecture in Hong Kong is spectacular. The numerous commercial skyscrapers are of course the first things in the city that catches your eye. However, they tell nothing about the history and the characters of the society. Dig into the ordinary life of most HongKongese: go to the residential areas and see the social housing. Walk along the different stairs, following the swarm, and you will discover spontaneous parks and squares hiding behinds the corner that you would never pay attention to otherwise.
After going through all these connections/ channels/tunnels/stairs, you might end up in a completely different area. Social housing tells the stories of the majority of the 7 million city dwellers. Some of them were built 30 or 40 years ago. The typical examples would be Wah Fu Estate in Pok Fu Lam or Shun Lee Estate near Kwun Tong.
Hong Kong and nature
Despite being an international financial centre and a densely populated city, Hong Kong actually has a wide spread of astonishing nature. 40% of the city-state land belongs to the state-protected natural reserves. If you are keen on rock formation and geological features, the Hong Kong Geopark offers you educational land and boat tours in 8 different areas. Hiking in Hong Kong is also an extraordinary experience. There are lots of well-constructed hiking trails around the city: The Dragon’s Back trail and the Sha Tin Pass Road to Kowloon Reservoir are most popular among local and expat hikers. Be prepared for the heat and the sun if you are visiting in summer months, where temperature goes up to 34 – 35 degrees.
Last reminder: Get plenty of sleep before coming to Hong Kong: the city will never let you have enough.
Words and Pictures by Cherie Chan