24 hours in hong kong: kowloon
posted: January 2, 2014
While many visitors to Hong Kong Island are dazzled by the glamour of the city, Sarah Fung, managing editor of city living guide HK Magazine, finds that the city’s true character lies in the culture and contrasts that Kowloon has to offer. We’re pretty chuffed that Kowloon also happens to be the home of our brand new Tsim Sha Tsui showroom.
We followed Sarah around on a whirlwind, 24-hour tour of the district. Over to her…
Next time you visit the city, consider skipping the well-known attractions on the island and spend some time exploring Kowloon’s lesser-known delights. I grew up shopping in the street markets and boutiques of Mong Kok, eating at hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Kowloon City, and enjoying—perhaps a little too enthusiastically—the nightlife of downtown Tsim Sha Tsui.
My favourite thing about Kowloon is the way it changes character from one moment to the next. In a matter of minutes, you can go from exploring the insalubrious labyrinth of Chungking mansions to the finest hotels in the world. And from glitzy streets crammed with shoppers, you can find pockets of peace just off the beaten track—that is, if you know where to look.
6AM – BEND & STRETCH
Hong Kong’s elderly get up with the larks to perform tai chi, a slow-moving martial art that’s excellent for calming the mind and strengthening the body. If you want to give it a go, there are informal meet-ups at dawn in parks all over the city; Kowloon Park is one of the city’s biggest, and you’ll find pensioners meditatively practicing their moves under enormous banyan trees. Alternatively, I start my day with a yoga session. Pure Yoga has a huge, state-of-the-art facility with spectacular harbour views. The only challenge is that it can be difficult to concentrate on your poses when you’ve got a window like this to look out of.
8AM – BREAKFAST LIKE A HONGKONGER
Thanks to the European influence in Hong Kong, our dining scene has a few culinary quirks. The traditional Hong Kong breakfast consists of east-meets-west dishes such as macaroni and ham soup, deep-fried French toast and scrambled egg sandwiches, all washed down with a thick, brick-coloured tea made with evaporated milk. Head to the longstanding diner, Australia Dairy Company as soon as it opens at 7:30am. This restaurant’s loyal customers come for its famed scrambled egg sandwiches and sweet milk bowl puddings, which are the best in the city.
10AM – COLONIAL DIM SUM
On weekends, Hongkongers always have dim sum for brunch. This is a traditional daytime meal where families gather to share plates of steamed and fried buns and dumplings. One outstanding venue is Loong Toh Yuen at the Hullett House hotel. Formerly the Marine Police Headquarters, this historical building has been refurbished and has a wonderful colonial feel. The all-you-can-eat dim sum menu is HKD$190 (~$26) per head on weekdays and HKD$230 (~$31) per head on weekends.
11AM – TREAT YOURSELF
After a busy morning, you can escape the hectic streets of Tsim Sha Tsui by checking into one of the many excellent spas the area has to offer. Once or twice a year, I’ll treat myself to a day at the Peninsula Spa by Espa. It’s my favourite spa in Hong Kong, not least because of the indoor Roman-style swimming pool, which opens out onto an outdoor deck where you can sit and watch the ships sail through the harbour. Many of the treatment packages come with a healthy three-course breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea and a full day of lounging by the pool.
12PM – HIT THE MARKETS
Kowloon has a so many street markets that it’s impossible to list just one, but I love Goldfish Street (Tung Choi Street), where you can find beautiful and ornate aquariums on display, as well as fish of all kinds to go into them. For a real feel of old Hong Kong, try Apliu Street in Sham Shui Po for vintage electronics, gadgets and bric-a-brac. It’s one part of Hong Kong that has hardly changed since the 1960s. Nearby, for people who love crafts and making jewellery, is Beads Street, where you can find the best selection of buttons, baubles, ribbons and other craft supplies in the world.
2PM – LUSH LUNCH
A chilled-out, alfresco experience can be hard to find in busy Mong Kok, but there’s actually a marvelous little gem: the Langham Place’s Backyard is a 6,000-square-foot secluded courtyard with deep, comfy seats, shady trees, a bar and casual dining menu, and an awesomely relaxed vibe. If you have time to kill, go for the Lazy Daze package.
3PM – SHOP TIL YOU DROP
Tsim Sha Tsui has an unbelievably dense concentration of malls, but to me, they just blend into each other after a while. The cool kids have historically shopped on Granville Road, a stretch of boutiques that is home to funky independent stores, factory outlets selling overruns and “upstairs shops” run by entrepreneurial Hongkongers looking to escape extortionate rents. At the bottom of the road is the flagship store of Chapel, a Hong Kong brand that uses leftover fabrics from high-end fashion manufacturing processes to make its own clothes. Just off Granville Road you’ll find the Rise Commercial Building, crammed with tiny stores overflowing with offerings from local designers.
4PM – A SNACK AND A SNAP
Shutterbugs can get their fix at Mido Café,a lovely, atmospheric Hong Kong-style diner with mismatched mosaic tiles and kitschy décor, with high ceilings and windows that offer a panoramic view of the public square and a local temple. It has been around since 1950 and is a popular site for photoshoots. The owners are happy for you to take photos as long as you don’t disturb their regulars. Order a pineapple bun and a Hong Kong-style tea, and get Instagramming. Coffee is really having a moment in Hong Kong right now, and there are dozens of excellent venues in Kowloon. One popular place with the arty crowd is Fullcup Café. Once you find the almost hidden entrance to the nondescript building, you’ll uncover a multi-story space with mismatched décor, retro Scandinavian-style furniture, an outdoor terrace and a seriously relaxed vibe.
5PM – SATE YOUR SWEET TOOTH
The patisserie at the Mira Hotel has the coolest, most cutting-edge cupcakes in town. Many of them are hollow and stuffed with Asian-inspired fillings, with innovative flavors such as fresh mango red velvet, or black sesame with adzuki beans and a green tea frosting. It also offers cakes of all shapes and sizes, as well as gorgeous, jewel-inspired pastries and chocolates.
8PM – DINNER IN AN OLD DISTRICT
When it’s time to change gears and try some of Hong Kong’s humbler offerings, the old district of Kowloon City has some great restaurants and snack shops. One of my favourites is Friendship Thai, a tiny, unassuming place that does really authentic and inexpensive Thai cuisine. In fact, Kowloon City is home to a large Thai diaspora, so you’ll find plenty of excellent Thai restaurants and grocery shops there. For something a little harder to find in Hong Kong, there’s also a famous restaurant, Islam Food, that serves dishes from the Xinjiang province of China, such as beef and mutton pancakes and la mian noodles. Again, the shop is not much to look at with its fluorescent lighting and hard chairs, but the food is awesome.
9PM – EVENING BOAT TOUR
If I have guests in town, it’s always worth taking them on the Aqua Luna. This stylish and stunning red-sailed teak junk has big comfy pillows for lounging and a fully-stocked bar. It does evening harbour cruises as well as daytime sailings to Stanley Market. Tours from Tsim Sha Tsui Pier, just outside the Cultural Centre, run at 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30pm. Once you’ve admired the sights, hop in a taxi to the Kwun Tong industrial area and visit Hidden Agenda, an achingly cool live performance venue that hosts local and overseas indie bands in its industrial factory space.
10PM – WANDER DOWN TEMPLE STREET
To me, Temple Street is the distilled essence of Kowloon-side. While most people come to visit the open-air night market, there’s so much more to the area than meets the eye. After the main market, there’s open-air Cantonese opera karaoke and fortune tellers gathered around the Tin Hau temple. You can spend an evening soaking up the atmosphere, before going for a slap-up seafood feast, which you eat street-side on folding tables.
11PM – GRAB A LATE NIGHT SNACK
Right next to Mong Kok East MTR station on Bute Street are several stalls where you can “sweep the street” and try all sorts of traditional hawker dishes. Curry fishballs are a Cantonese street food classic, but my favorite is the Chongqing noodles, which are marvelously spicy and sour; wash them down with a fresh coconut milk drink from the stall next door. For dessert, the hot waffle with butter, peanut butter, condensed milk and sugar is a so-worth-it calorie bomb.
MIDNIGHT – DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY
Tsim Sha Tsui was actually Hong Kong’s nightlife hub long before Lan Kwai Fong became popular. Knutsford Terrace is a pedestrian-only strip of bars and restaurants that are packed every weekend. If you’re in the mood to dance, All Night Long has a great cover band that plays rock classics and cheesy hits late into the evening. If dancing ain’t your thang, you’ll be glad to know Hongkongers love karaoke, and many establishments are open 24 hours. Grab some friends, head to a private booth and sing your heart out. Neway has outlets all over the city, with a good selection of English-language hits.
EVEN LATER – BED DOWN FOR THE NIGHT
While there are many posh hotels in Hong Kong, there aren’t a lot of options for anyone seeking something a little more modest. That’s why the newly opened Mei Ho House youth hostel has been getting so much buzz. The 129-room hostel is located in a former public housing estate built in 1954, and even has a permanent museum space where visitors can see how underprivileged Hongkongers live in the 1950s to 1970s; many in Hong Kong will be familiar with the architecture and the way of life from those days. Even if have your accommodation sorted, it’s worth visiting the area for a taste of old Hong Kong.
all images courtesy of Martice Milton Photography
Where are your must-stops in Kowloon?