Hong Kong - Around Kowloon : Kowloon – Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok and Prince Edward (part 1)

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Gritty, proletarian and utterly engrossing, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok provide a heady mix of karaoke bars, dodgy doorways and street markets before terminating in the more upscale apartments of Prince Edward. If Hong Kong has an emotional heartland, then it is these hectic streets, every paving slab the scene of some delicious hustle. Within living memory there were open fields here, but now all is uncompromising Cantonese ghetto. Come for some of Hong Kong’s best shopping, restaurants of rowdy authenticity and a sensuous barrage that will linger in your mind.

The Triads

Overcrowded Mong Kok is the heartland of the Hong Kong triad gangs. The triads originated in 17th-century China as secret societies who tried to reinstall the Ming dynasty after the Manchus took over. Though they have been given a romantic image in literature and the cinema, the modern-day reality is of sleaze and slayings. Tourists are unlikely to be a target, however, so don’t be put off visiting this exciting district of Hong Kong.

Kowloon waterfront

  1. Bird Garden

    The small but pretty Bird Garden is where local folk, mostly elderly, take their birds to sing and get some fresh air. There’s also a small bird market here selling sparrows, finches and songbirds in elegant little cages. Fresh bird food, in the form of live grasshoppers, is fed to the birds through the cage bars with chopsticks.

    • Po St

    Bird Garden

  2. Flower Market

    Near the Bird Garden is a vibrant flower market, at its best and brightest in the morning. The stalls and shops lining the entire length of Flower Market Road sell a wide variety of exotic flowers – a wonderfully colourful sight and a good place to take photographs. The busy market is especially exciting to visit during the Chinese New Year.

    • Flower Market Rd

    Flower market
  3. Tin Hau Temple

    The Tin Hau temple in Yau Ma Tei is divided into three sections. Only one of these is actually devoted to Tin Hau, the sea goddess who is Hong Kong’s favourite deity and essentially its patron. Admittedly, it is neither the oldest nor the grandest temple in the territory, but it is pretty nonetheless. The other two sections are dedicated to Shing Wong, the god of the city, and To Tei, the god of the earth. Officially no photography is allowed anywhere inside the temple. English-speaking visitors should head for a couple of stalls at the far end of the temple, where they can have their fortunes told in English.

    • 8am–5pm daily

    Façade detail, Tin Hau temple

    Tin Hau temple

    Quiet lane near Yau Ma Tei’s Tin Hau Temple
  4. Temple Street Night Market

    Visit the chaotic, crowded night market on Temple Street as much for the spectacle as for the shopping .

    Temple Street
  5. Jade Market

    The small, covered Jade Market is worth a quick forage even if you’re not intending to buy any jade. Dozens of stalls sell jewellery, small animals (many representing characters from the Chinese zodiac) and beads in jade. There will be few bargains on sale, particularly to those without a knowledge of good jade, but there’s plenty of cheap jade here if you just want to own some trinkets.

    • Kansu St

    Jade for sale
  6. Ladies Market

    The term “ladies” is somewhat out of date, as there’s plenty more than women’s clothing here. The shopping area consists of three parallel streets: Fa Yuen Street, crammed mostly with sports goods and trainer shops; Tung Choi Street (the former ladies market); and Sa Yeung Choi Street, specializing in consumer electronics. Market stall prices are cheap, and shop prices are better than those on Hong Kong Island. The crowds can be tiring, though, especially on hot days.

  7. West Kowloon Reclamation

    Currently a pedestrian no-go area, the reclaimed land of West Kowloon is a jumble of road intersections and messy building sites. It is also the site of the International Commerce Centre, which is due to be completed by 2010. The 484-m (1,588-ft) high tower will be the tallest building in Hong Kong, and will house two six-star hotels, office space and the Elements Mall, which is already open.

  8. Boundary Street

    History is visible in the ruler-straight line of Boundary Street, which marked the border between British Hong Kong and China between 1860 and 1898. The lower part of the Kowloon Peninsula was ceded (supposedly in perpetuity) by China to the British, who wanted extra land for army training and commerce. The British then became worried over water shortages and wanted yet more land to protect Hong Kong Island from the threat of bombardment from newly invented long-range artillery. In 1898 the border was moved again to include the entire New Territories, this time on a 99-year lease .

  9. Shanghai Street

    The whole area around Shanghai and Reclamation streets is a traditional Chinese neighbourhood, if somewhat less vibrant and seedier than it was a few years ago. Interesting nooks and shops include funeral parlours, herbalists, health tea shops, paper kite shops and, at 21 Ning Po Street, a shop selling pickled snakes.

    Shanghai Street

    Kitchen utensils shop, Shanghai Street
  10. Reclamation Street Market

    If you haven’t seen a Hong Kong produce market in full swing, you could do worse than wander down Reclamation Street. This predominantly fruit and vegetable market will provide some good photo opportunities. The squeamish, however, may want to avoid wandering inside the municipal wet market building where livestock is freshly slaughtered and expertly eviscerated on the spot.

    Market stall, Reclamation Street
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