Hong Kong is an island well-known for it's high rise buildings, humidity, and the endless number of places to shop and eat. With over 7 million people living in Hong Kong, it ranks as one of the most densely populated areas in the world. But although it may be small in scale, one should not be fooled as there are a vast number of things Hong Kong has to offer.
Last week, one of our staff members here at MBF took a short three day trip to Hong Kong and we want to share with you her adventures. Though the trip was brief, there were a number of things we thought that were worth sharing. We warn you that this post is a bit longer than most and photo heavy, so be prepared!
The first thing I noticed upon my arrival was the number of shopping malls -- you can find one connected to nearly every subway station! The International Financial Center Mall (IFC) is one of the better known malls, carrying a wide-range of designers and brands, from international fashion houses like Chanel, Lanvin, and Tom Ford, to more underground Asian designers like Ascot Chang and Atsuro Tayama. Lane Crawford is the boutique of choice for the style conscious men and women as it presents a number of coveted designers around the world. The stores are similar to those seen in the states as it carries many well-recognized Western brands such as Club Monaco, Zara, and Anne Klein.
Although most of Hong Kong is compact and condensed, the mall feels luxuriously spacious. And with several restaurants, cafes, and even an outdoor roof park, there are enough stores and dining places to spend your whole afternoon. And because it connects to the subway station, there is always traffic as people are constantly entering and exiting the train. However, because IFC, like most other malls, is recognized for up-scale brands, shopping malls like this is mostly reserved for mainland Chinese tourists and the Hong Kong elite.
According to my local Hong Kong friend Samantha, the Island Beverly Mall in Causeway Bay is the place to go. Island Beverly is a multi-level shopping mall flooded with tiny boutique shops carrying inexpensive yet stylish clothing. As it was the first place I went to on my first day in Hong Kong, I must admit it was a little overwhelming. Each store is more or less the size of a walk-in closet, fully stocked with shoes, clothes, handbags, and accessories. It takes a little time to dig and search, but if you have the time and energy, you are sure to find some steals.
As Hong Kong fashion is largely influenced by trends from Japan and Korea, one will find many affordable, non-branded clothing and accessories imported from multiple countries across Asia. What I found particularly unique about this place are the boutique shops where all the goods are all placed in small boxes. Each box is a "booth" represented by an individual seller. It is only at a store like this where you will see colored contact lenses, handmade jewelry, mini robots and quirky room decorations all in the same space. As anyone is allowed to sell whatever they wish, each boutique creates a truly unique shopping experience.
After two hours I was exhausted and hungry, yet satisfied as I exited the mall carrying a draped white asymmetrical dress perfect for the summer weather. Although there were a few other pieces I considered purchasing, I refrained as I knew this was just the beginning of my Hong Kong shopping experience.
I ended the night with dinner at a Shanghainese restaurant (which was inside of another mall) near Island Beverly. I asked my local friend Samantha to order some of the traditional dishes of Shanghainese cuisine: soup dumplings, hot and sour noodles, Chinese broccoli, and pigeon. (Yes, pigeon!) Coming from New York, pigeon is definitely not something I associate with food. Although considered a nuisance in NYC, I found that pigeon is a delicacy in Hong Kong. Personally, I am not the biggest fan. However, I encourage anyone visiting to take a bite. (At least you could say you tried!)
Many people new to Hong Kong like to visit the Soho neighborhood as it is less congested and culturally diverse. As this area is more westernized in comparison to the rest of the city, unless one is a shop or restaurant owner, most of the people here are tourists or expats. We came here the next day for an afternoon brunch at Peak Cafe as it is one of the few places in Hong Kong offering traditional American breakfasts, like egg benedict or strawberry pancakes. My friend Samantha has been living in Hong Kong for almost a year, and this was her first time eating an American brunch. According to her, it did not compare to any of the restaurants she has eaten in New York City, but we both thought it was not too bad. The best part about this restaurant is the colonial decor and outdoor patio that is remniscent of Hong Kong's past, making it a charming place to eat and people watch.
The Central-Mid-Levels Elevator, the longest outdoor elevator in the world, is also found here. It was quite amazing to be at the top and be able to see so far down. The only downside is that it only goes up! But I found that the walk down rather goes by quickly as there are many side shops and cafes to accompany the way. Overall, Soho is a quiet alternative to the main streets, where you can casually visit boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, bars, and restaurants without the massive crowds. We strolled around and found an authentic Mexican coffee shop to have traditional Mexican desserts and drinks.
With our caffeine boost, we then ventured to Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok. Known for being ultra-trendy, the crowd here is a bit younger in comparison to other shopping centers. This one long street is filled with trendy apparel and shoe stores on both sides, and the middle road has dozens of carts carrying knock-off bags, jewelry, clothing, and fashion accessories. Although the store layouts are overstuffed with merchandise, I found some great pieces at an extremely low price. Trousers, oversized cardigans, and draped t-shirts were all under ten US dollars! Most stores are cash only and all purchases are nonrefundable, so I recommend bringing a friend to accompany you to help determine what is or isn't worth the purchase. On the whole, I found that the quality was decent and the price was incomparable to any sale found in the states.
The most obvious trends here were deconstructed knitwear, harem pants, oversized tops and cardigans, and floral rompers. Many of the stores were influenced by Japanese aesthetics with either asymmetrical drapery or over-the-top cute Harajuku styled embellishments. I found that although there were multiple stores throughout the street, many of them carried similar styles. And as this area is constantly filled with customers, new products are displayed on a daily basis.
There are also food carts and bubble tea shops dispersed throughout the area where you can take a break in between your shopping experience. Although I did not try any of the street food, I found myself drinking bubble tea at least once a day as it is extremely refreshing amidst the hot, humid weather. There is always a line of young people at any of the bubble tea cafes as there is a wide selection off drinks, conveniently made in minutes and under two US dollars. The end of Fa Yuen street is a discrete two-floor shopping mall similar to Causeway Bay. Although most of the stores are similar to any other found in the other shopping districts, I found a few local Hong Kong designer shops as well as boutiques carrying designs from local fashion students.
Shopping in Hong Kong is a one-of-a-kind experience. Because Hong Kong is such a small island, the shops are all jam-packed with merchandise and customers. I realized that living in the states most of my life, I have taken for granted the spacious multi-level retail stores, fitting rooms, and having overall space in general.
For dinner, we ate at a Cantonese restaurant recommended by a friend. For under $30 US dollars, we ate crispy chicken, prawns with broccoli, and tofu with pork. The servings are generous as it was more than enough food for the three of us. We had our meal with traditional milk tea and sugar, though many eating around us chose to drink the local Chinese beer, Tsing Tao.
If you ask anyone from Hong Kong what you need to do when visiting the island, all of them will tell you that you must try dim sum. I met up with a friend who grew up in Hong Kong and she took me to a dim sum spot that her aunt and uncle go to every week. I found that many of the locals here eat dim sum at least once a week, usually for Sunday brunch with relatives. It seemed to me like the Hong Kong version of an American family's weekend breakfast. The one we went to was located inside of a mall, and the banquet dining hall was decorated with all things red, including red velvet curtains and red wall ornaments, as it is a Chinese symbol of luck and fortune. I thought that it was a little strange to eat on the third floor of a shopping mall, but it seems to be a very common thing in Hong Kong and a reminder of just how small this island really is.
The food again was amazing and incomparable to any dim sum meal in New York City. You can taste the quality and the distinct flavor of each dish. Although I can't remember many of the names as all were written in Chinese, I could honestly say there was not a single dish that I did not like.
And while Chinese food in the states is known to be greasy and unhealthy, I was surprised to find that the overall the food here is not always fried or smothered in oil, allowing one to really taste the ingredients. The wide number of delicacies and dishes influenced from multiple cuisines across China make any meal here a real treat.
The weather today was unusually clear and breezy; so afterwards, we decided to take advantage and go to the beach. Hong Kong can be an overwhelming place for those who prefer a quiet scenery over a bustling, crowded city. And after two days of Hong Kong style shopping, I really needed a break. So for those who need some R&R, Lamma Island is a convenient get-away destination, only a thirty-minute boat ride away from the city. For less than $2 US dollars, you can take a ferry that drops you off to the Lamma Island pier. Along the shore, one will find dozens of fresh seafood restaurants, cafes, and markets carrying fresh produce.
Walk further into the island and there you will be surrounded by lush green forests. What's great about this island is that cars are not allowed, so the sound of nature is all you will hear. On the other side of the island is a small beach where many locals visit on the weekend to take a break from the busy city.
As we waited for our ride back into the city, we caught the sunset in the distance. And as the night came upon us, the ride back allowed us to see the breathtaking view of the Hong Kong skyline. With a flight back to the states the next morning, all I could say at the end of my trip was three days is not enough. There was still many more restaurants to try, places to shop, and things to see. I found that although Hong Kong was small in size, it had all that it needed. It has the busy city streets, outdoor markets, luxury shopping, and island hopping all a subway station, ferry ride, or taxi ride away. Hong Kong may be overlooked by its neighboring major cities in Asia like Seoul, Tokyo, or Shanghai, but from my trip, I found that it is truly a place unlike any other and one I would like to travel back to any day.