Hong Kong: a city of skyscrapers and endless shopping possibilities. A place where every square metre comes at an exorbitant price and where a constant stream of pedestrians is battling to cross the road 24 hours a day.
People looking for Asian mystic and traditions have no place in Hong Kong. Or do they?
I wanted to know if there were still any traditional remains left in what is known as one of the most modern Asian metropolises. I’m glad to say, there are.
Welcome to traditional Hong Kong!
1. Yum Cha
Ah, dim sum, you small bite-sized portions of heaven! Served in a steamer basket, these truly tasty dishes are usually served for breakfast or lunch. Early morning the elderly come together in one of the many teahouses to celebrate the tradition of “yum cha”. They drink tea, have a few dim sum, read the morning paper and socialize. Feel free to join them!
2. Tai chi
I had a go at Tai Chi once, on a forlorn evening in Belgium. The slow movements didn’t do it for me back then, but let’s face it, maybe a cold classroom wasn’t the best place to try it out. I was looking forward to a second chance in Hong Kong. The tourist board organizes sessions for westerners several times a week, but I preferred to see the locals “at work”. Watching them move around graciously in Kowloon Park or near Victoria Harbour, accompanied by soothing, meditative music, became part of my morning ritual.
It was great to see that amidst the chaos, there were people taking time to greet the day, to wake up mindfully, loosening up the limbs at the same time!
3.The small temples
The most famous temples of Hong Kong (Wong Tai Sin, Man Mo, Chi Lin, …) aren’t always a haven of serenity. As beautiful as they might be, they are usually pretty crowded with snapping travellers.
There are however a few places that see very little visitors. Take the off-the-beaten path in Hong Kong and Tai Ping Shan street for instance, home to a few small temples and ancestral halls where the incense coils and lack of people add to the mystical atmosphere. The Pak Tai Temple in Wan Chai and the nearby small pagoda are definitely worth the detour too! Take a while to observe the rituals performed by the locals: the offerings, incense burning, fortune tellers, … it’s all very intriguing!
4.The wet markets
No shortage of markets in Hong Kong! From birds to goldfish markets, from clothes to Mao-memorabilia, you can find everything and more in this vibrant city! But my favourite places were the wet markets where the fresh produce is sold. It’s a pretty bloody affair of pork hooks and cut-off fish heads, but definitely interesting to see where the local housewives shop for food!
There are a lot of wet markets in Hong Kong; I particularly enjoyed strolling around Sham Shui Po, Graham Street and Cheung Yeung Street, where the tram passes in the middle of the market. Late afternoon it’s one of the busiest spots in Hong Kong! Traditional Hong Kong at its best!
5.The stilt houses of Tai O
Lantau island is famous for the Big Buddha and the Lantau Peak hike, but my favourite spot was the fishing village of Tai O. A few streets lined with dry seafood shops lead you to the heart of the village: the stilt houses. Seeing these precarious and dilapidated houses built on the water is a great change from the madness of the city! Get comfortable at one of the waterfront cafés and take it all in!
Have you been to Hong Kong? Which did you enjoy the most: traditional Hong Kong or the modern side of the city?