Opera, seafood, shopping & more: Get local in Hong Kong 

There’s a lot more to Hong Kong than its bright, shiny exterior, and a rocking nightlife scene. Here’s how you can dig a little deeper, to experience the metropolis like a local. 

author_img Prachi Joshi Published :  15th December 2017 12:50 PM   |   Published :   |  15th December 2017 12:50 PM
Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

Hong Kong is a perennial favourite with Indian travellers, but more often than not, we see a touristy side of the city with its glitzy malls, chain restaurants, and nightlife at Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), a small square of streets in Central Hong Kong.

But there’s more to the city than its bright, shiny exterior. Dig a little deeper and experience Hong Kong like a local. Here’s how. 

Cantonese Opera at Yau Ma Tei Theatre

Peak hour
Everyone who visits Hong Kong takes the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak. The bright-red, vintage tram trundles up the steep hillside, past dense foliage and skyscrapers (which appear to be tilting perilously because of the incline), to arrive at the summit.

After you’re done admiring the Hong Kong skyline and harbour from the observatory, head out 
from the Peak Tower and walk to Lugard Road.

The Peak Circle Walk or Hong Kong Trail begins from here, a 3.5km walking path that winds around the peak, which is a favourite with the locals who come here for their daily exercise. The trail is accompanied by lush greenery throughout and offers some stunning views of Hong Kong, Kowloon, and Victoria Harbour as well as of the outlying islands.

You will pass the enchanting Lugard Falls in full force during the rainy season. The trail is a paved road with minimal incline and is an easy 60-90 minute walk, which can be done by anyone with at a basic fitness level. 

Be sure to carry plenty of water as the tropical heat can dehydrate you quickly. The trail brings you back to the starting point and you can use the tram to return to the city. 

On the Morning Trail at Victoria Peak

Opera magic
Falsetto singing, tinny music, kaleidoscopic costumes, and extravagant sets — Cantonese opera is an experience like no other. A traditional Chinese art, the opera was once the sole means of entertainment and was often performed to packed houses. Despite competition from a plethora of modern entertainment options, this beautiful and timeless craft continues to survive and entertain.

The blend of Chinese mythology, music, and drama creates a vibrant performance of storytelling and symbolism. The historic Yau Ma Tei Theatre in Kowloon is the best place to catch an opera. This iconic theatre was built in 1930 and is the only surviving pre-war cinema building in Hong Kong.

After being closed down in 1998, it reopened in 2012 after an extensive restoration, which retained the original wooden roof beams and the arch over the stage. It is a dedicated venue for Cantonese opera that often showcases young opera talents.

Much like the Italianate Western opera, you may not understand a word of the songs and dialogues.

However, the English language guide that comes along with your ticket will give you a brief synopsis of the opera being performed and the exaggerated gestures and musical accompaniment make it easy to follow the story arc.

An opera performance can go on for a couple of hours with a few short breaks in between, so settle in and get ready for a musical journey into the land of Chinese legends.

Antique shopping on Lascar Row

Village vibe
The ultra-modern, skyscraper-filled jagged Hong Kong skyline belies the city’s humble beginnings. It’s hard to imagine that tiny coastal hamlets and fishermen’s houses once stood here. But a visit to the Tai O fishing village will give you a glimpse of the Hong Kong of the past.

Located on the western side of Lantau Island (famous for the Big Buddha statue), Tai O is home to the Tanka fishermen who live in their unique stilt houses called Pang uks. The Tai O River and its many channels flow through the village and the riverbanks are lined with the seemingly precarious houses that stand on stilts driven deep into the muddy tidal flats of the river. 

Though the fishing activity has significantly reduced in the village, its daily market is as bustling as ever, thronged with locals bargaining for their daily fish quota — both fresh as well as dried. 

Walk through the vibrant market but be prepared for the all-enveloping strong fishy aroma of Tai O’s famous fermented fish paste that is used to flavour everything from stir-fried vegetables to rice. Stop by at Lin Heung Restaurant for a sumptuous lunch of local specialties.

Fish Balls at Chee Kei

Eat street
Hong Kong is a foodie’s paradise — from cheap street food to fancy Michelin starred restaurants, there’s something for everyone.

When you’re done savouring the dim sums of Tim Ho Wan (don’t miss the baked buns with BBQ pork), the incredible French-Asian creations at Amber, and the inventive vegan fare at Grassroots Pantry, it’s time to do as the locals do and head to some iconic eateries.

Begin with breakfast at Lin Heung Tea House (Wellington Street), a typical Hong Kong-style teahouse where locals congregate every morning (and indeed at all times of day) for piping hot dim sums and green tea, to be enjoyed along with the daily newspaper or while exchanging gossip with friends.

It’s loud and the shared tables are crowded, with elderly women wheeling about the dim sum trolleys from which you make your choice. If you prefer something stronger than the light green tea at the teahouse, pay a visit to the hole-in-the-wall cha chaan teng (tea café) Lan Fong Yuen (Gage Street) for their famous stocking tea.

Strong brewed milk tea is strained through a sieve that looks like an elongated sackcloth bag (hence the name stocking tea), yielding a smooth, creamy tea that can be had hot or cold. If you’d like a bite to eat along with it, ask for a pork chop bun or the fluffy Hong Kong-style French toast smothered with butter and condensed milk.

Head to the local favourite Honolulu Coffee Shop (Hennessy Road) for their signature roast goose served with rice and vegetables. Round off with an egg tart at Tai Cheong Bakery (multiple outlets) – these creamy custard tarts encased in a crumbly, buttery crust are best eaten hot from the oven. 

Roast goose & rice at Honolulu Cafe

Retail therapy
A shopaholic’s mecca, Hong Kong is one of the best shopping destinations in the world. Instead of the usual designer brands and high-end luxury outlets, try some local, indie shopping. PMQ, which was formerly the Police Married Quarters, is now a cool retail and entertainment space, and a hub for local designers and entrepreneurs.

Check out Goods of Desire for fashion products inspired by Hong Kong’s street culture and pop art, and FLOW for nature-inspired tableware.

Drop in at The Little Finger for arty jewellery, at Open Quote for books and stationery, and at Hashtag for handcrafted leather accessories. Café Life is a good place to rest your feet and refresh with a strong coffee and a matcha cake. 

If you’d like to bring back an antique centrepiece, browse through the shops at Hollywood Road (for high-end collectibles) and Upper Lascar Road (for affordable knick-knacks).

And for bargain shopping like the locals do, head to the buzzing Mong Kok area of Kowloon. Here, Fa Yuen Street offers an authentic local shopping experience for everything from fruits and vegetables to clothes and household necessities. 

Café Life at PMQ

Where to stay
Hong Kong has a range of accommodation options, from mid-range boutique hotels to luxury hotels. Lan Kwai Fong Hotel on Kau U Fong is as central as it gets. The boutique hotel’s rooms and suites sport oriental décor and are comfortably appointed. Rooms come equipped with a smartphone that provides free & unlimited 4G data and hotspot sharing. The MTR (metro) stop is a few steps away and you have art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants at your doorstop.