Hong Kong: Talking Shop

FROM ITS GLITZY SHOPPING MALLS TO ITS FRENETIC STREET MARKETS, HONG KONG IS A MAGNET FOR BIG SPENDING TRAVELLERS. 

Bernard O’Riordan

Contrasts are a constant in every big city, but nowhere are they more obvious than in Hong Kong – especially when it comes to shopping.

For every air-conditioned mall there’s a crowded, sweaty street market; for every designer brand, there’s someone peddling a knock-off replica.

Even the two main shopping hubs of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island revel in their differences, facing off across the harbour.

Kowloon (Tsim Sha Tsui) is the grittier side of Hong Kong, full of street hawkers asking in perfect English if you want to buy a Rolex. Hong Kong Island and Central, on the other hand, are home to some of the world’s biggest luxury brands and five-star hotels.

From the markets to the malls, there are plenty of places to splash some cash in this popular fashionista hub.

Admittedly, Hong Kong is not the bargain hunter’s paradise it once was because the Hong Kong dollar has remained stubbornly high in recent years, as it’s pegged to the US dollar.

But the food, the views, the energy – and not least the city’s duty-free status – all combine to make Hong Kong one of the world’s great shopping experiences.

The seasonal sales periods are usually the best time to shop in Hong Kong – generally speaking they run from December to January (Christmas and Chinese New Year) and again from July to September (summer).

But with Hong Kong in the midst of retail downturn – with big spending shoppers from the mainland splashing their cash in cheaper destinations like Japan and even Australia – these sales and markdowns are becoming more frequent.

The malls are more than mere shopping meccas.

The big appeal for many travellers is that Hong Kong is a tax-free destination. There’s no sales tax on purchases, excluding tobacco and alcohol.

As a result, it’s often cheaper to buy in high street stores than it is at airport duty free. One example is aftershave and perfume.

For several years I’ve been buying aftershave at Fanda Perfume & Pharmacy at Des Voeux Road, Central, or on Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, with a considerable saving.

These days though, the strength of the Hong Kong dollar means it’s probably better to buy perfumes and aftershave at home in Australia, from somewhere like Chemist Warehouse.

It is still worth crunching the numbers in store, because I did get a large 200ml eau de toilette in Fanda for a fraction of the cost back home – it just depends on the brand and how much you buy. By all means ask for their best price, but you’ll find they won’t haggle.

Shopping might be ubiquitous in Hong Kong, but the malls are more than mere shopping meccas. People spend hours in these air-conditioned cathedrals of consumerism, and for good reason.

Hong Kong apartments are tiny, the summers are hot and humid and the mall is an obvious gathering place.

The sheer number of shopping districts and malls in Hong Kong can also be overwhelming for a first-time visitor.  But there really is something for everyone.

It’s also worth mentioning that local department stores, such as Wing On and Sincere, although considered old-fashioned, are also worth a look.

They seem to cater to loyal, older customers, but they’re all part of the experience. Because the properties are owned, these department stores are immune to the severe rent increases that are driving many other retailers out of Hong Kong.

Here’s a list of our favourite shopping spots and markets in Hong Kong. But as most stores don’t open before 10am or even 11am, there’s really no point rushing to get out of bed.

SHOPPING CENTRES

ELEMENTS, 1 Austin Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

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Elements at ICC

Elements is at the luxury end of the shopping spectrum and is located directly above the Kowloon MTR station and Airport Express. It’s also linked to the International Commerce Centre – Hong Kong’s tallest building.

The mall is divided into five zones base on the Chinese elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Here you’ll find all the major fashion brands including H&M, Zara, Prada, Burberry, Gucci, Hermes, Manolo Blahnik and Kenzo among others.

The food options are endless at Elements, including a number of western favourites from pizza and pasta to burgers and seafood. There are a number of great Asia-inspired restaurants too, including Thai favourites Mango Tree and Nahm.

But there’s much more to the Elements dining experience than I realised. I only discovered Civic Square, an alfresco dining space on the roof of Elements, this year, although it first opened in 2007.

Civic Square brings together an eclectic mix of restaurants by some of Hong Kong’s most talented chefs, many of which are spin offs of popular restaurants on Hong Kong Island.

Children will also love Elements, particularly the ice skating rink where you pay as you skate simply by swiping your Octopus card. There’s also a movie theatre.

HARBOUR CITY, Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui

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Harbour City

Harbour City, or the Ocean Terminal as it is also known, was Asia’s first US-style shopping mall, and opened in 1966. It’s an inter-connected warren of shopping malls and arcades located on the waterfront, just 500m from the Star Ferry.

Harbour City has 450 shops, 50 food & beverage outlets, two cinemas, three hotels, 10 office buildings, two serviced apartments and a luxurious private club – all under one roof. Here you’ll find brands like H&M, GAP, Uniqlo, Zara, G2000, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Chloe and Louis Vuitton, just to name a few.

The British retailer Marks & Spencer also has a presence, while City Super has one of their biggest supermarkets here.

While you’re over this side, also check out iSquare shopping mall which also has a Marks & Spencer, an HMV store and a Marketplace by Jason.

CAUSEWAY BAY & TIMES SQUARE

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Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay

Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong’s most expensive and chaotic shopping districts, is a maze of laneways and streets packed with markets and family-owned shops. It’s also home to the city’s biggest department store SOGO and the Times Square shopping mall.

Causeway Bay ranks among the best shopping districts in the world.

There’s also a zebra-crossing at Causeway Bay (Hennessy Road and Yee Wo St) that’s believed to be one of the busiest in the world. And it’s not hard to see why: this is the pulsing heart of Hong Kong Island.

The crowds, the noise, the neon signs (and let’s not forget the stores) all make Causeway Bay worth a visit.

Causeway Bay ranks among the best shopping districts in the world, with little boutiques, designer labels and mid-range stores all within walking distance of each other. In the labyrinth of side streets, you’ll find shoes, electrical appliances, cosmetics and fashion – including stores like Bossini, Sasa, SuperDry and Uniqlo.

Times Square mall, with its open forecourt, is located at Matheson Street (MTR Causeway Bay, exit A). It’s home to a number of designer brands including Topshop, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara and Hong Kong’s home-grown department store Lane Crawford.

You can escape the mall madness with some amazing comfort food at The Fat Pig on level 11, in the space previously occupied by an old favourite, SML. The Fat Pig, by British chef Tom Aikens, is dedicated to everything pork.  From pork belly and Cumberland sausages to pork meatballs and pulled pork brioche, this is a pork lovers fantasy.cJUjIEZ

Back on the shopping trail be sure to check out the quirky curved escalator (pictured) that leads down to CitySuper, on the ground floor of Times Square mall.

The malls on everyone’s lips of late seem to be Hysan Place and Lee Gardens where you’ll find Cartier, Prada, Chanel and Gucci among its offerings.

For independent designs, check out the Fashion Walk which is filled with local retailers. The Lush store at Lockhart Rd – a British company that specialises in fresh handmade soaps, scrubs, shampoos and cosmetics – is also popular.

There’s so much to see in Causeway Bay but the good news is that most of the stores are open till well past midnight. So make a day of it.

PACIFIC PLACE, Admiralty

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Pacific Place, Admiralty

Nestled amongst office towers and swanky hotels, Pacific Place is home to more than 140 shops and restaurants, as well as luxury apartments and five-star hotels, including the renowned Upper House, all owned by property juggernaut Swire.

A large Harvey Nichols store and Lane Crawford store are the main attractions at Pacific Place. But for me it’s the international gourmet supermarket called Great Food Hall, on the lower ground floor.

Great stocks grocery items and sweets from around the world, but it’s the in-house bakery/patisserie and seafood counter that deserve your full attention. There’s also four in-store eateries including Spanish tapas, sushi and a retro burger joint.

It’s easy to reach Pacific Place as it’s located above the Admiralty MTR station.

IFC & CENTRAL

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Gucci and Versace: two luxury brands that call Central home

If you’re staying near the Mid Levels at Central, you’ll no doubt find yourself passing through IFC mall at some stage, even if it’s just to get to the Star Ferry terminal, the MTR or Airport Express.

IFC mall is home to high end bars, restaurants, cinemas as well as 200 designer brands including Zara, Diesel, Bally, Kate Spade, Prada, Tom Ford and Scotch & Soda. Department store Lane Crawford has two floors in the IFC.

While most of us might have to stick to window shopping, it’s nice to know we can at least stop for a sandwich or a coffee at Pret a Manger.  There’s also an impressive City Super store.

IFC really is a magnet for the wealthy. So too the ultra chic stores around Des Voeux Road at Central, including the Landmark which has some of the highest price tags in the city.

This is also where you’ll find highest concentration of international brand names in Hong Kong, like Gucci, Tiffany & Co, Marc Jacobs, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Paul Smith, Vivienne Tam and Dior.

As luxury retail exploded in Hong Kong over the past decade – with increasingly wealthy Chinese flocking to the city to buy high-end Western brands – a lot of local jewellers and other shops were squeezed out.

Along Queens Road Central you’ll find the more affordable labels, including Zara and GAP. Soaring rents forced the popular HMV store to leave the Entertainment Building and move its flagship store to a cheaper location a few doors down on Queens Road, in Manning House.

FACTORY OUTLETS

Good factory outlets are few and far between in central Hong Kong. That’s mainly because they can’t compete with the steep rents of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, so they’re located on the outskirts.

I actually found the factory outlet scene in Hong Kong a huge disappointment. They’re not real factory outlet stores at all in many cases, with prices no different to the high street.

If you’ve ever been to Citadel Outlets or Woodbury Common in the US, or DFO in Australia, you’ll be disappointed at what you find here.

Here’s two outlet centres worth a look:

CITYGATE OUTLETS, Lantau Island 

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Citygate Outlets, Lantau Island

This is perhaps the easiest outlet centre to get to from Hong Kong Island, and it’s also one of the best.

Citygate is Hong Kong’s only dedicated, year-round Factory Outlet Mall offering discounted goods from many international brands. Citygate suggests discounts range from 30 per cent to 70 per cent off the original price – but it’s more often at the lower end of the scale.

Located just 10 minutes from Hong Kong International Airport (adjacent to the Ngong Ping cable car to the Big Buddha), it’s a great way to fill time during an international stop-over.

Adidas, Puma, Nike, Levis and Vans all have stores here, so too does Michael Kors, Coach, Burberry and Brooks Brothers.

There are also 16 food and beverage outlets in case you get hungry, including fast food options like McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Starbucks.

In my opinion, Citygate is about as good as it gets for factory outlets in Hong Kong. Don’t waste your time going anywhere else.

HORIZON PLAZA, Ap Lei Chau, Aberdeen

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Horizon Plaza

Horizon Plaza is great – if you live in Hong Kong. Most of the outlet stores here really are dedicated to homewares and furniture with some fashion and baby accessories on the side. It’s also better suited to women than men.

There are 28 floors to discover, and the trick is to take the lift straight to the top and work your way down. If you use the stairwells, be aware that this is where many of the staff come to smoke at regular intervals – and it’s not a pleasant experience.

It’s also advisable to visit in the morning because a lot of the stores close early.

I’m sure Horizon Plaza appeals to a lot of people, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.

STREET MARKETS

If it’s worth buying, then it has a street named after it. That seems to be the common practice in Hong Kong.

From Sneakers Street and Cat Street to Flower Street and Temple Street, the vibrant local markets are a fun way to discover Hong Kong.

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Ladies Market, Kowloon

Ladies’ Market, Kowloon: The Ladies’ Market in Tung Choi Street is one of Hong Kong’s most popular markets. But don’t be fooled by the name, they sell clothes for men and women here and it’s a great place to pick up clothes, watches, shoes, knick-knacks – and a range of fakes.

Temple Street Night Market, Kowloon: This rowdy thoroughfare in central Kowloon starts where Temple Street meets Jordan Road. Hawkers flog everything from clothes, pirated CDs, hardware, pens, trinkets, watches and luggage. At night, it’s also a wonderful place to eat as open-air street food stalls spring into action. If you want to haggle, this is the place to do it.

Jade Market: The Jade Market is an inside covered market with hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of jade, pearls and semi-precious stones. The Jade Market is worth a visit but don’t expect to find top quality jade at this street market. This is purely the stuff of souvenirs. Don’t be conned into buying synthetic jade – which is really plastic. To get your hands on good quality jade, you need to visit a licensed store.

Sneakers Street, Mong Kok: As you might have read in an earlier blog, this is where you’ll find the greatest collection of sneakers on the planet. They’re all authentic, so don’t expect them to budge on price.

Apliu Street, Kowloon: Apliu Street – often called Electronics Street – is a flea market that specialises in cheap electronic gadgets like phones, radios, computers, tablets and TVs. It’s located just north of Temple Street.

Flower Market, Mong Kok: The famous flower market on Prince Edward Road West has everything from cut flowers, potted plants and seeds to bulbs and orchids. You can also buy dried flowers, vases and a range of gardening tools.

Bird Market, Kowloon: Yuen Po Street Bird Garden is designed in the style of a traditional Chinese garden. The park is popular with songbird enthusiasts and has dozens of stalls selling exotic birds, beautifully crafted bamboo cages, porcelain water dishes and other bird-care paraphernalia.

Goldfish Market, Kowloon: Tung Choi Street North – better known as Goldfish Street – is lined on either side with shops devoted to many types of fish.

Stanley Market, Hong Kong Island: At Stanley Market you’ll find a good collection of artwork, chopsticks, clothing, jewellery and souvenirs. Even if you’re not into markets, just getting to Stanley is half the fun, particularly by bus. It’s a 40 minute bus trip from Central that takes in the magnificent hilly coastline, with views of the South China Sea as it passes through Repulse Bay. Sitting upstairs in the front seat of the bus is an experience as it navigates the narrow, winding roads. Beware though, occasionally the windscreen cops a thud from low hanging tree branches.

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