Hong Kong: Seven Nights In Fragrant Harbour
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve done the 24hr flight between London and Sydney, it’s boring and tedious. I don’t dislike flying but I dislike having my size 12 behind stuffed in a seat that after and hour feels like it’s being squeezed into a size 6 pair of jeans. On our recent flight between the continents we went via Hong Kong, and on advice from friends who have been to HK many times, we decided to do a stop over. My thought process had always been ‘let’s just get this over and done with and not drag it out’ so we’d never done one before, but this time we’d thought why not, especially now our daughter was 8, i.e. of the right age to carry her own bag!
A friend who travels there regularly is often asked to sum up what HK is like and he says it’s hard to describe. Quick facts about the HK – it’s located on the Chinese South Coast and consists of HK Island, another 200 other islands along with Kowloon and the New Territories on the main land. China regained sovereignty from the British in 1997, and it’s financially and politically separate from main land China. HK Island is hilly, Kowloon very flat, however both are damn hot and humid in July and August, 35ºC, 95% humidity! I’ve experienced a new level of heat exhaustion.
The above you can learn from any travel guide but what they don’t tell you is how alive it feels and how you can feel people moving through its arteries 24/7. It has a similar feeling to London in that respect; you feel the electricity, or a vibe that something amazing will appear around the next corner. The feeling that you never know what you are going to find. Walking around the shops and streets is addictive, no matter what the area. Street culture lives beside old school eateries which are next to high-end fashion brands. Stores are appear vertically instead of the usual horizontal layout of retail. The interior shops stock and eclectic mix of product, but to find these stores you have to scrap any preconceived ideas of how or where they’ll be. There is no specific area where you’ll find a glut of cool shops like London’s Shoreditch, or Sydney’s Surry Hills, they’re dotted all over HK, they aren’t obvious to the eye until you are literally in front of them. We spent seven nights there, which might have been a lot, but it gave us a chance to really explore a lot of its shops, both interior and fashion, as well its café’s. We also did a half-day tour around the island to get our bearings. My husband went high-brow and visited the Hong Kong Museum of History whilst my daughter and I went for a different source of culture and visited the ladies market - not worth it except for the cheap trainers. In our quest for good espresso we became obsessed with avoiding the green twin-tailed mermaid, we had faith there must be places that served real coffee, and we ended up finding a few.
So, if you feel like having your senses poked, shaken and aroused I highly recommend a visit HK and checking out the following. Remember, to find these places I would plot them on a map, jot down the full addresses and hours- most open from 11am or midday. Expect to be walking up what looks like a derelict street or into an office building.
Raw steel seemed to be the material of choice. In rusted sheet form it covered buildings. It was the chosen material for shop fronts and doors, in one case an old shipping container door had been used. Most eateries seemed to be French inspired, using grey tones, washed woods and wrought iron. Across the board the feeling from HK designed product was simple, compact, utilitarian, hand made with beautiful materials. Quite textural and sensual, I’ve never seen so many different brands of candles that I’ve never heard of, and I know my scented candles! Merchandise is collated from across the globe and you get the sense that HK retailers pick the best and from each country. Yes, there was a lot I had seen before, but equally there was just as much I hadn’t, local products as well as items from America and Canada in particular.
There seems to be an obsession with the brand Angus b! There’s Angus b clothing stores for women, for men and kids, a café, a cinema, restaurant and patisserie, a florist and a sport shop….
Kowloon: Mong Kok
Kubrik Bookshop, homeware, café, DVD shop and indi cinema. I’m trying not to use the word ‘hip’ but it is. Yes, it’s named after the man himself. Great coffee, a small collection of eco home wares, and a cinema. I think my husband thought he had died and gone to heaven, it contained his criteria for a civilised life! Off the beaten track and located under what looks like a 70’s council block but worth a visit.
K11 Select & K11 Design store K11 is an actual shopping centre but you’ll find up on the first floor two shops, K11 design and at the other end K11 Select. It’s a around up of some really cool HK brands as well as some of the usual European brands. K11 Select is set up as small concessions.
Initial-A small selection of home wares along with men and women fashion. Not the normal designs and you are guaranteed to find something that no one else will have back home. It also has a really nice café, a good lunch spot.
Full Cup Café-The first thing that will pop into your head once you’ve looked around is the movie Being John Malkovich. Why? It has a fifth and a half floor!.
Bondi Café - As the name suggests it’s heavily influenced by Australian lifestyle and food. This is a trek, and off the beaten track and a few MTR stops further on from Mong Kok, but if you really want a beautiful meal, or simple afternoon tea, make the trip. Well worth the visit alone to have a great espresso. Important info- you’ll find yourself walking into what is an industrial warehouse, pre-renovation, and into a commercial industrial lift out to the first floor. It will be hard to believe that a restaurant exists in this environment.
Around this area there is numerous silver stores, some large, others tucked under stairs. Good prices for basic silver bracelets etc.
IFC mall is massive, and we found it confusing to navigate. If you’re from the UK nothing much to see, for Australians some European labels you’ll most likely know of but don’t get back home. There are a few shops worth checking out:
AO The Book Store- Sells photography books, camera’s, accessories and stationary.
American Vintage- A fashion label from France which I love. Great for basics and layering.
Fuel- Afternoon tea/coffee and cakes they don’t serve lunch and it looks like they only believe in a party of two when you see the table layout!
Simplylife- The best salads and bread. A must for breakfast or lunch. Coffee is so so.
This is shopping district. Shops range from tiny Chinese gift stores to High St stores, aka Muji and Uniqlo- for a most for Australians to visit, through to companies like Burberry. I didn’t find it that cheap. Shoes, possibly; clothes and bags no.
Sheung Wan area:
Quite a few really good places here. Head towards Gough St and you’ll find the following:
Halo- Beautiful nice leather items and vintage items. Some imported from UK but they also have their own label.
Mr Black Smith- A raw feeling flows over a lot of the product and materials shown in the store. Loved some of the lighting and the mix of industrial items with art pieces.
Mushroom- Really cute handmade items as well as a few industrial bits. Saw some really nice porcelain door hangers from Canada.
loveramics – A selection of ceramics, some European, but also their own brand from a range of designers.
Homeless- Two shops opposite each other on Gough St. Mostly European brands but worth a visit. Crazy shop fronts on both.
General Store- Sadly this store was closed but after looking at their website it’s seems worth a visit.
Konzepp- Very design focused, beautiful candles and other bits from HK. They also serve coffee, which you may feel like after you’ve hiked to the place.
Wan Chai area:
Flea and Cents- is an obscure home ware shop in a 70’s office building. Amongst the European brands they have a selection of really cool retro table lamps and other items.
Sun and Moon Streets
Head to Poliform on Queen’s Rd East, walk through the trees and you’ll see some stairs, walk up and you’re on Sun St. Moon St is the parallel street behind. At the top the stairs you’ll be surprised by the beautifully simple shop fronts.
Kapok- A selection of handpicked fashion, home ware, music and books from France, Japan and HK as well as their own label. Love this store and wished it was bigger. Fell in love with Marie Turnor leather lunch clutch – it could easily double as clutch bag. They also serve coffee.
Monocle- British luxury goods shop is small, not much available and what is is very expensive.
Spoil café- Really cute and good coffee. It’s small and peaceful.
Cabs are cheap. Like most countries, if the light on the roof is illuminated they are free. You can hale them anywhere but I would advise going to a cab rank. Beware, between 4-5pm the drivers change shifts so there is next to none around. There are HK island cabs and Kowloon cabs, both are red, but one won’t drive to the other. So if you are staying on one side of the Harbour and want to go to the other the train is the best option. It’s the easiest way to go and probably the quickest as well.
To ride on the train/ MTR, or tram, you’ll need to buy and Octopus card. You can buy them at 7/11 stores, which are everywhere, or train stations. You have to pay $50HKD deposit on the card plus however much you want for actual fares. For Londoners- it works the same as the Oyster but you pay a deposit on the card. The great thing about this system is that once you’ve finished using it go back to the train station and they’ll refund you the balance on the card plus the deposit. The MTR is very easy to follow, similar to the Tube in London or the Paris Metro, to make sure you’re going in the right direction look for the name at the end of the line.
Trams are great fun but a little hard to navigate. You board at the back and alight at the front. You pay at the time of getting off. There is no announcements for stops so you’ll need to be aware of where you want to go i.e. look for major roads. There aren’t too many lines so generally speaking you should be able to jump on almost any one. They travel in an East and West board direction only so check the sign at stops before you jump on.
The mini buses you’ll see around are Local buses. If you’re brave, go for it, hale at bus stops, but to alight you simply yell-in Cantonese-and he’ll stop where ever you like!
PARENTS: Ocean Park or Hong Kong Disneyland that was the question?
It was one or the other. We had intentions of taking our 8yr old to Disneyland but was advised by a cab driver that Ocean Park is bigger and has lots more rides. We’d rather have gone to neither, but it was one of those ‘do it for the child’ moments. We tolerated the 1.5hr queues for most rides-only managing 3 rides for the day- we visited the Panda’s and saw the Dolphin show, it was a brilliant day and one we all enjoyed. I was quite excited to see a Toucan a bird as I was obsessed with them as a child. If it’s a hot day, you’ll need hat and umbrella and drinks. There are places to buy food but they are busy, but it’s also OK to bring your own food as well.
Would we go back? Absolutely! Why? Couldn’t tell you exactly, it’s hard to explain……