Markets of Hong Kong

by Steven K. Bailey, Dec 16, 2006 | Destinations: Hong Kong / China
Yuen Po Street Bird Market.

Yuen Po Street Bird Market.

Yuen Po Street Bird Market.
Goldfish Market.
Altars and icons for sale on Shanghai Street.
Lucky jade pendants on sale at Cat Street Bazaar.

Hong Kong often feels like one giant interconnected shopping mall.  You can literally travel from mall to mall without ever going outside, since flashy mega-malls like Times Square and Festival Walk squat directly over MTR subway stations.  Power-shopping at the mall is a true Hong Kong experience, but so is browsing at the many smaller markets scattered throughout the territory.  Most of these markets predate the malls and offer a glimpse into Hong Kong's past.  These markets have evolved with the times, however, and still do a brisk business to a clientele that is, in many cases, entirely local.  To truly experience day-to-day life in Hong Kong, be sure to explore the city's many specialized markets.

Markets on Hong Kong Island

Many of the most interesting markets lie on Hong Kong Island, the 30-square-mile (78 sq. km) heart of the city.  Most of these markets lie within walking distance of Central, the city's financial and business district.  Many visitors to Hong Kong stay in hotels in Central or adjacent districts, though the district is easily reached from other points in the city via the MTR subway system, cross-harbor tunnels, or Star Ferry.  Though all of the markets listed below are well signed and easy to find, carrying a street map is still a good idea.  When your flight lands in Hong Kong be sure to pick up one of the free maps available on the racks by the baggage carousels.

The Lanes
Traditional market in shadow of corporate headquarters

Shopping Primer: This warren of shop-lined alleyways climbs up the lower slopes of Victoria Peak.  At times the narrow lanes rise so steeply that cobbled steps replace pavement.  You can spend hours exploring this maze of market stalls and mom-and-pop stores, which sell a little bit of everything.  Join the locals as they pick up fresh seafood, meat and produce.  Good Deals: Great place to browse for cut-rate clothing and bootleg Swatch or Rolex "copy watches" that go for about HK$30 (US$4).  Also good for fresh fruit and chops, the hand-carved Chinese-name stamps still in use throughout the city.  The Bottom Line: One of the most unique areas of Hong Kong, but the steep streets and stairways will give you a workout.  Hours: Roughly 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Location: Central District.  Getting There: The Lanes are a short walk from both the Central MTR station (exit C) and Central Star Ferry Terminal.  Simply walk west on Des Voeux Road and turn left up the first crowded alley full of shoppers.

Hollywood Road and Cat Street (a.k.a. Upper Lascar Row)
Chinese antiques and Chairman Mao memorabilia

Shopping Primer: Hollywood Road is the place for both genuine and imitation Chinese art and antiquities, though the best browsing is on Cat Street (also known as Upper Lascar Row).  This one-block pedestrian street is half flea-market and half boutique, with junk shops at one end and high-priced antiquities stores at the other.  Stop in at the nearby Man Mo Temple, which anchors this neighborhood and remains one of the city's most famous temples.  Depending on the wind, you can smell the incense burning from blocks away.  Good Deals: Lucky jade pendants for HK$10 (US$1.30) make great gifts; Chairman Mao ashtrays, watches and tea cups make great souvenirs.  No matter what you buy, bargain hard and remember that if it's cheap, it isn't antique.  The Bottom Line: The lack of crowds makes for pleasant browsing, especially if you have a thing for Chairman Mao.  Hours: About 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Location: Central/Sheung Wan District.  Getting There: Take the Travelator -- the world's longest covered escalator at 2,600 feet (800 meters) -- to Hollywood Road and walk west to the Man Mo Temple; take a right down the steps of Ladder Street to Cat Street.

Western Market
Colonial-era market building

Shopping Primer: Built in 1906, the Western Market managed to dodge the wrecking balls that demolished so many other historic buildings in Hong Kong.  Renovated in 1991, the brownish-red market building now houses a somewhat random mix of gift shops and eateries on the first floor.  On the second floor you'll find shops specializing in bolts of cloth.  Good Deals: Wide variety of fabrics and silk.  The Bottom Line: Not worth a special shopping trip, but if you're in the neighborhood, you might as well stop in for a look.  Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Location: 323 Des Voeux Road Central, Sheung Wan District.  Getting There: Sheung Wan MTR station, exit B.  Alternatively, any westbound tram from Central will pass the market.

Western District (a.k.a. Sai Ying Pun)
Shark fins and dried seahorses

Shopping Primer: This relatively untouristed neighborhood specializes in traditional Chinese medicines and exotic culinary ingredients.  The sometimes unidentifiable and often ecologically unsound merchandise includes such esoteric items as dried seahorse, ginseng root, deer antler and snake musk.  Good Deals: If you need the key ingredient for shark's fin soup, this is the place to shop.  The Bottom Line: Environmentalists will have a hard time with this area, as will those with sensitive noses.  Hours: Most shops are open from about 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Location: The neighborhood between and around Queen's Road West and Des Voeux Road West, Western District.  Getting There: Sheung Wan MTR station, exit B; walk west on Des Voeux Road until you start hitting stores specializing in things you can't identify.  For a more scenic ride, take any westbound tram from Central and get off when you see the shops full of shark fins.  Alternatively, jump off the tram at the Western Market and cut over to Wing Lok Street, which specializes in the bird's nests used in the famous soup of the same name, before continuing your walk along Des Voeux Road.

Worldwide Plaza
The Filipino mall

Shopping Primer: Thousands of Filipinos live in Hong Kong, making them one of the largest expatriate populations in the city.  On any given day you can find quite a few of them in Worldwide Plaza, a mall specializing in all things Filipino.  Step into Worldwide Plaza and you'll feel like you've arrived in Metro Manila.  Here you can sample authentic Filipino food, have your hair styled in the latest Manila fashion, or hang out with Filipinas watching shop-window TVs playing the latest soaps in Tagalog.  Good Deals: The Western Union offices on the second and third floors consistently offer the best possible exchange rate for U.S. dollars.  The Bottom Line: Worldwide Plaza offers a unique chance to enter one of Hong Kong's most vibrant subcultures, sample Filipino comfort food, and strike up some interesting conversations.  After all, Filipinos are both friendly and English-speaking.  Hours: Roughly 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Location: Lower floors of Worldwide House, a high-rise building known for its giant outdoor TV on the corner of Des Voeux and Pedder streets, Central District.  Getting There: Central MTR station, exit A.  

Tai Yuen Street Market
Where the locals shop

Shopping Primer: This sprawling multi-block street market is hidden down a maze of narrow side streets in the Wan Chai district.  Often crowded and never quiet, this part of Wan Chai is best visited at dusk when the red-shaded lamps of the stalls burn the most vividly.  You'll have the most fun if you let yourself get completely lost.  Good Deals: This is a strictly functional market where the residents of Wan Chai shop for clothing, toys, meat, seafood, and fresh produce.  The Bottom Line: Stay away if you can't handle crowds or strong smells.  Hours: Variable, but many shops and market stalls stay open into the evening.  Location: Tai Yuen Street is the heart of the market, which spills into the surrounding side streets like some kind of mercantile flood.  Getting There: Wan Chai MTR station (exit A3) or any eastbound tram from Central; get off at the stop by the large Southern Playground on Johnston Road.  

Jardine's Crescent
In the shadow of the mega-mall

Shopping Primer: Named for one of the oldest trading houses in Hong Kong, Jardine's Crescent can be found near trendy Times Square, one of the city's largest shopping and entertainment complexes.  Though its name suggests a curving street, the Crescent is actually a ruler-straight and extremely narrow alleyway.  This block-long collection of stalls specializes primarily in low-cost apparel for women and children.  Good Deals: Cut-rate clothing starts at HK$10 (US$1.30), but don't expect to find tailored silk here.  The Bottom Line: Worth the ten-minute stroll if you're in the neighborhood, but don't make a special trip.  Hours: Roughly 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Location: Causeway Bay District.  Getting There: Causeway Bay MTR station (exit F) or eastbound trams to Shau Kei Wan; get off at the Sogo Department Store.

Stanley Market
Take a walk on the southern side

Shopping Primer: Once a sleepy seaside village, Stanley has grown into a sizeable residential community popular with Western expatriates.  The crooked lanes of the old village have been somewhat haphazardly roofed over, creating a quirky indoor shopping arcade.  Dozens of cramped shops offer everything from swimsuits to folding fans.  For those seeking something more upscale, the inevitable shopping mall complex sits at the opposite end of the village.  The Bottom Line: Well worth visiting, if only to see how the green southern side of the island contrasts so dramatically with its highly urbanized northern side.  Good Deals: Few locations offer such a wide array of Hong Kong souvenirs, ranging from chopstick holders to Chairman Mao magnets.  Some shops specialize in watercolor paintings and other artwork featuring Hong Kong landscapes and landmarks.  While Stanley's bargain shopping days are long gone, tenacious haggling can sometimes get you a discount.  Hours: Most shops open by 10 a.m. and stay open to 7 or 8 p.m.  Keep in mind that weekends draw large crowds, so head to Stanley on a weekday if you can.  Location: Stanley Village, south side of Hong Kong Island.  Getting There: Catch double-decker bus #6, 6A, 6X or 260 from the Exchange Square bus terminal in Central for HK$8-10 (US$1-1.30).  Grab the front-row seats on the upper deck and enjoy a scenic ride along winding roads with green mountains on one side and ocean views on the other.  Taxis from Central are convenient, but can cost up to HK$150 (US$20).

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Kowloon Markets

The Kowloon Peninsula is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet.  Tsim Sha Tsui, the peninsula's southernmost district, faces Hong Kong Island.  Many visitors to Hong Kong stay in this area, which features the Star Ferry Terminal, waterfront promenade, Ocean Centre mega-mall, and numerous restaurants and stores.  Heading north up the peninsula will take you out of the Tsim Sha Tsui tourist zone and into the jam-packed tenement districts where so many Hong Kong residents live.  Here you can find a variety of intriguing markets offering everything from goldfish to bootleg DVDs. 

Bird Market
It's a man's world

Shopping Primer: Songbirds are popular in Hong Kong and it's not uncommon to see men sitting with their favorite caged songbird in the park.  At the custom-built Yuen Po Street Bird Garden men congregate to buy birds and related supplies, show off their favorite avian pets, gossip, smoke, and generally enjoy what is a largely male environment.  The Bottom Line: Foreign visitors are tolerated if largely ignored, but be circumspect when taking photos.  Combine with a visit to the adjacent Flower Market.  Good Deals: This is the place for buying birds.  Check out the ornate wooden bird cages for as little as HK$75 (US$10).  Hours: Midmorning is a good time to visit the bird market because while the gates open at 7 a.m., the shops tend to open later.  The garden closes down at 6 p.m.  Location: Flower Market Road, Mong Kok District.  Getting There: Prince Edward MTR station, exit B1.  Head east on Prince Edward Road West and turn left on Flower Market Road.

Flower Market
The best-smelling street in Hong Kong

Shopping Primer: This is the only market in the city devoted solely to the sale of fresh flowers and other plants.  Good Deals: Orchids and other exotic flowers; roses for HK$15 to 20 (US$2 to 2.60).  The Bottom Line: In a city of offensive odors, you will find the flower-scented air to be a real pleasure.  Combine with a visit to the adjacent Bird Market.  Hours: Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but go in the morning when the flowers are freshest.  Location: Flower Market Road, Mong Kok District.  Getting There: Prince Edward MTR station, exit B1.  Head east on Prince Edward Road West and turn left on Flower Market Road.

Goldfish Market
Something's fishy in Mong Kok

Shopping Primer: This block-long market features shops with names like Yat Wong Aquarium and Chun Hing Carp Specialist.  Visiting the market is kind of like strolling through a disorganized aquarium where the fish are as likely to swim in glass jars or clear plastic bags as glass tanks.  Good Deals: Your basic goldfish starts as low as HK$10 (US$1.30), which is a bargain considering an aquarium filled with goldfish is said to bring good luck.  The Bottom Line: If you like exotic fish, the fantastic variety of colorful aquatic specimens will keep you entertained for hours.  Combine with a visit to the nearby Ladies Market and/or Bird Market and Flower Market.  Hours: Shops are open from about 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Location: Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok District.  Getting There: Prince Edward MTR station, exit B2.  Head east on Prince Edward Road West and turn right on Tung Choi Street.

Ladies Market
Designer labels at bargain prices

Shopping Primer: One of the largest street markets in Hong Kong, this multi-block bazaar sells everything from brassieres to baby clothes.  Copyright infringement is the name of the game here, as the stalls lining the street peddle an amazing variety of bootleg designer label clothing.  Despite the name, men's clothes are widely available.  Good Deals: Cheap "copy watches" and clothing, especially jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with nonsensical English slogans like "Info Boy: Pursue the Vogue Storm" or "Sensational Mighty Atom: Crazy Room."  The Bottom Line: Hot, noisy and very crowded.  Also a lot of fun and an authentic Hong Kong experience.  Hours: Most stalls and shops open by noon and do business as late as 10:30 p.m.  Location: Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok District.  Getting There: Mong Kok MTR station, exit E2.  Head east for two blocks on Nelson Street until you hit the market. 

Fa Yuen Street
Fake Nikes and Reboks, anyone?

Shopping Primer: Also known as Sportswear Street, this pedestrian-only market is set up like a carnival midway.  You walk down the middle of the street, with market stalls on each side and storefronts behind the stalls.  Try your luck at bargaining for a World Cup T-shirt or Adidas sun-visor.  Good Deals: Genuine imitation Izod sport shirts and Nike running shoes, hiking boots, backpacks, baseball hats and other athletic gear.  The Bottom Line: Essentially an extension of the nearby Ladies Market, though the merchandise here is coed.  Hours: Most stalls and shops open by noon and do business as late as 10:30 p.m.  Location: Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok District.  Getting There: Prince Edward MTR station, exit B2.  Head east on Prince Edward Road West and turn right on Fa Yuen Street.

Jade Market
Don't judge a market by its building

Shopping Primer: In a city where buildings are torn down almost as soon as they go up, it's a mystery how the ramshackle jade market has escaped the wrecking ball.  This glorified shack houses hundreds of vendors selling rings, pendants, figurines and anything else that could possibly be carved out of jade.  Good Deals: Check out the bins of small carved animals and other icons for HK$10 (US$1.30) each.  For everything else, bargain with polite tenacity and you'll be amazed how far the price will fall.  Don't buy any expensive items unless you know your jade as well as the vendors do.  The Bottom Line: The wide variety of attractive jade carvings makes for great browsing.  Guaranteed you won't leave unjaded.  Hours: Open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., though vendors often close up by late afternoon.  Location: By the police station on Kansu Street, Yau Ma Tei District.  Getting There: Yau Ma Tei MTR station, exit C.  Walk south on Nathan Road and take a right on Kansu Street. 

Shanghai Street and Reclamation Street
Everything from plastic fried rice to hell money

Shopping Primer: If you ever wondered where the plastic fried rice featured in food-court display cases comes from, go to Shanghai Street and the parallel Reclamation Street.  On these Kowloon back streets you can find stores catering to the city's chefs and restaurateurs next to shops devoted to the city's religious faithful.  Shopping in this neighborhood offers insights into Cantonese culinary traditions as well as religious beliefs.  For example, you can buy bricks of hell money, the fake dollars that are burned in order to send money on to departed ancestors needing cash in the afterlife.  Good Deals: Incense of all kinds and qualities, altars large and small, deities of various persuasions, chopsticks galore, stainless steel and wooden kitchenware.  The Bottom Line: A surprisingly interesting neighborhood to explore, especially if you want to learn more about local religious customs and gastronomic practices.  Hours: Variable, but in general shops open between 9 and 10 a.m. and close between 6 and 7 p.m.  Location: Mong Kok District.  Getting There: Mong Kok MTR station, exit A2.  Walk west one block to Shanghai Street.

Temple Street Night Market
Carnival atmosphere under the neon

Shopping Primer: Every evening Temple Street is closed to traffic and turned into a popular multi-block outdoor market where the goods for sale always look like they just fell off the back of a truck.  The merchandise varies over time -- one week every stall is flogging laser pointers and the next week everyone is hawking combination radio-flashlights.  Good Deals: One of the best places in Hong Kong to pick up cheap "copy watches," silk ties and souvenir T-shirts, but be prepared to haggle.  The Bottom Line: The festive and slightly seedy atmosphere of the market can be a fun way to spend an evening, provided you like crowds.  Even towards midnight safety is not an issue, but as always be on guard for pickpockets.  Hours: Vendors set up shop before sundown, but the real action is from about 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.  Location: Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei District.  Getting There: Jordan MTR station, exit A.  Head west on Jordan Road to Temple Street and you can't miss the bright lights and crowds of the night market.   

Ap Liu Street Market
Everything from telephones to typewriters

Shopping Primer: Unlike the Temple Street Night Market, which is more entertaining than practical in nature, the Ap Liu Street Market exists for purely pragmatic purposes.  This bustling market spills out over several streets and attracts locals looking mainly for electronics and other electrical goods, though you can buy virtually anything else there as well -- plastic buckets, duct tape, padlocks, brooms, bootleg DVDs, you name it.  Good Deals: Used mobile phones, but keep in mind that stolen phones are often fenced here.  The Bottom Line: If you want to visit a local market where you are the only foreigner, this is the one for you.  Hours: Though shops open earlier, the street vendors start setting up around noon and stay open as late as midnight.  Location: Sham Shui Po District.  Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR station, exit A2.

Chung King Mansions
Blade Runner meets Bombay

Shopping Primer: On a rainy day the giant Chung King Mansions complex could be a scene from the movie Blade Runner, which portrays a dark future where the world's cultures and languages have blended into one gritty urban monoculture.  The grimy, tumble-down blocks of Chung King Mansions remain the preserve of the city's sizeable population of Indians, Nepalese, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.  Add the usual Cantonese, some Filipinos, and assorted budget travelers from around the world and you've got an almost surreal international cast of characters.  They act out their daily dramas in a tangle of South Asian restaurants, notoriously grotty guesthouses, currency exchange booths, bootleg video stores and Hong Kong souvenir shops.  Just when you think you've explored the entire building, you'll stumble on another wing of this crumbling concrete netherworld.  Good Deals: Cheap Indian food, Hong Kong souvenirs.  The Bottom Line: Fun to explore, but be prepared for persistent sales pitches from young men hoping to lure you into their guesthouse, restaurant or tailor shop.  Hours: Variable, with most shops opening midmorning and staying open into the evening.  Location: 36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui District.  Getting There: Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station, exit E; Chung King Mansions lies directly across Nathan Road as you come out of the station.

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Outlying Islands and the New Territories

While all of the main shopping areas are found on Hong Kong Island or in Kowloon, the other regions of Hong Kong nonetheless have their own malls and traditional markets.  These markets are well worth the extra time it takes to visit them, as no visit to Hong Kong is complete without at least one ferry ride to an outlying island and one train ride to a city in the New Territories, the green hinterland of Hong Kong.

Cheung Chau Market
Traditional island life

Shopping Primer: Tucked away behind the harbor-front promenade on Cheung Chau Island is a labyrinth of crooked alleyways fronted by seafood restaurants and mom-and-pop stores selling everything from sand pails to shrimp paste.  The market's traditional flavor has been well preserved by its isolated location and the island-wide ban on cars, trucks and motorcycles.  Good Deals: At just HK$21 (US$2.75), the scenic ferry ride out to Cheung Chau is a great value.  The Bottom Line: Visit Cheung Chau to experience the laid-back fishing-village culture of one of Hong Kong's many outlying islands.  Hours: The waterfront bars and seafood restaurants stay open late, but the shops close much earlier.  Visit on a weekday if you can in order to avoid invasion-strength weekend crowds.  Location: Cheung Chau Island.  Getting There: Thirty-minute ferry ride from the Outlying Islands Ferry Terminal in Central.

Tai Po Market
Old traditions in the New Territories

Shopping Primer: Once a country village, Tai Po has grown into a mini-city with the inevitable malls and high-rise apartment blocks.  Fortunately, Tai Po's original market street continues to flourish.  On this pedestrian-only alleyway you can purchase the same basic foodstuffs that the locals have been buying since the founding of the market nearly a century ago.  Good Deals: Check out the adjacent Railway Museum, which offers free admission and a pleasant forecourt with shaded park benches.  The Bottom Line: After exploring the frenetic markets of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, you'll appreciate the slower pace and laid-back atmosphere of the Tai Po market.  As an added bonus, you'll get a scenic view of the mountainous New Territories when taking the train out to Tai Po.  Hours: Variable, but generally in line with normal business hours.  Location: Fu Shin Street, Tai Po.  Getting There: Take the MTR green line to Kowloon Tong Station and switch to the KCR East Rail line.  Get off at Tai Wo Station and follow the signs to the market.  Keep in mind that Tai Po's ubiquitous green taxis are an inexpensive option on hot and/or rainy days.

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