A Beginners Guide to The Markets of Hong Kong
Whether visiting for the first or tenth time, Hong Kong can quickly overwhelm. There are too many places for shopping, along with new discoveries as old favourites disappear. Markets are a great way to start. They combine local atmosphere with bargains, with everything from bobby pins to antiques (mostly fake) for sale – and when the heat and haggling become too much, there is always somewhere to sit and, with a cool drink and a delicacy to nibble, watch the world pass by. If you are looking for bargains, check out this guide to the best markets in Hong Kong by Anne Harrison.
On Hong Kong Island
Originally a quiet fishing village before the arrival of the British, Stanley became a Japanese POW camp during the occupation in WWII. Visiting the markets here combines sightseeing with quality shopping. Simply reaching Stanley involves a tour of Hong Kong. Buses 6, 6A and 6X begin at Exchange Square in Central and terminate at the markets. Wait for a double decker, and sit up the top as the bus winds through the narrow streets and hairpin turns of the island and down into Stanley via Repulse Bay, which was once home to pirates. Unfortunately the beautiful Repulse Bay Hotel, (where the Japanese accepted the British surrender, only to later surrender back to the British) no longer exists. In its place stands the disagreeable Repulse Bay Apartments, which upon completion had a large hole fashioned in the middle of one tower to allow the dragon of the mountain access to the sea.
Stanley Markets is a great place for almost anything, although what is for sale cycles in and out of fashion. My last visit provided me with a collection Van Gough and Monet copies, plus old photos of The Fragrant Isle (as Hong Kong was once known). There are jeans, t-shirts, toys, jewellery, electronic gadgetry and a range of fashion from low to high end, all of good quality, and usually at a fixed price. Down by the waterfront are a row of restaurants and coffee shops overlooking the sea.
Jardine’s Bazaar & Jardine’s Crescent
This market at Causeway Bay is easily reached by catching the MTR (Mass Transit Railway or subway) to Causeway Bay, taking exit F and following the signs. These short streets are jammed with stalls selling mostly women’s and children’s fashion, shoes and accessories. The range of hairclips, earrings, watches and mobile-cases is impressive. Make sure you explore the shops behind the stalls.
At the far end is a wet market. Here bloodied carcasses hang on hooks beside skinned ox heads, and live crabs tied up with reeds are stacked beside tanks filled with fish and eels swarming to escape. Around a cluster of tables diners feast off meals prepared straight from the vendors. The markets then end in a blaze of flower stalls.
The maze of streets around Jardine’s Bazaar is jammed with shops, boutiques and arcades, including the giant mall of Times Square. SOGO is Hong Kong’s largest department store; Fashion Walk is lined with trendy (and expensive) designers. Neon signs fill the skyline, and the footpaths are impossibly crowded. It is a perfect place simply to wander and discover the unexpected; a main street, or MTR station, is never far away.
Li Yuen St East and Li Yuen St West
Catch the MTR to Central and take Exit C, and amongst the high-rises and expensive arcades are two lanes which have kept the air of an ancient bazaar. They run between Des Voeux Road and Queen’s Street, two of Central’s busiest streets, yet between the stalls you’ll find a man re-soling shoes, or another doing dress alterations on an old singer sewing machine beside a woman fixing watches.
Like Jardine’s Bazaar, there’s a range of shops behind the stalls, and the place is jammed with clothes, shoes, bags and jewellery, tailored garments, beautiful silks as well as gifts and touristy finds. Although Hong Kong might at times seem awash with jeans and cheap t-shirts, each market always has something different for sale compared to the other markets. Both the quality and value here is good, and bargaining expected.
Cat Street Market
Between Hollywood Road and Upper Lascar Road, and just down a flight of stairs from the Man Mo Temple, is an area known as Cat Street. Home to expensive antique dealers, the streets are lined with stalls selling curios, second hand goods and delightful fakes. It is a great place for cheap jewels and trinkets, Chairman Mao caps and memorabilia of how Hong Kong once was. It is worth wandering along just to gaze at the Ming Vases and jade in the windows of the antique, and dream. It can be reached via the Mid-Levels escalator.
Temple Street Men’s Market
This is Hong Kong’s largest night market. Take the MTR to Jordan and follow the signs. The market is named after the Tin Hau Temple, where hawkers once gathered under a giant banyan tree. This is the market for cheap clothes, watches, bags, electronics, sneakers, souvenirs, pirate music and movies, and fake brand names. With it opening at 4pm and continuing until midnight, it is also a great place for dai pai dong – open-air street dining. (The crab is highly recommended.)
Although a pedestrian market, beware of cars for the markets stretch over several major roads. There are often street performers, opera stars, fortune tellers, and, especially at the far end of the market, palm and face readers. The perfect way to end of a long day.
Continue on the MTR beyond the Night Markets to either Prince Edward or Mong Kok Stations to reach the Ladies Market. Despite the name, just about everything is for sale. It is exhaustingly crowded; Mong Kok remains the world’s most densely populated area, with 130,000 people per square kilometer. It opens earlier then the Night Market, running from midday to midnight.
If visiting in daylight, detour to the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, where locals can be seen sitting with their birds. The air is full of their calls. Adjacent is the Flower Market Road, where some fifty shops sell a dazzling array of blooms.
Lastly, just explore. The best markets in Hong Kong are not in the guidebooks. Catch the wrong bus, or a tram to an unknown destination – there is always something interesting to find at the other end.
By Anne Harrison
You might also like to check out Anne's travel blog: www.anneharrison.com.au.