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Nightlife in Hong Kong seems pretty tame when compared to Tokyo or Bangkok. With the world of Suzie Wong in Wan Chai now a shadow of its former wicked self, Hong Kong today seems somewhat reserved and, perhaps to some minds, yawningly dull. For the upper crust who live here, exclusive membership clubs are popular for socializing and entertaining guests, while the vast majority of Chinese are likely to spend their free evenings at one of those huge lively restaurants.

Yet it would be wrong to assume that the SAR has nothing to offer in the way of nightlife -- it's just that you probably won't get into any trouble enjoying yourself. To liven things up, Hong Kong stages several annual events, including the Hong Kong Arts Festival in February/March, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival in March/April. Other cultural events are presented throughout the year, including theater productions, pop concerts, and Chinese opera and dance performances.

Most of Hong Kong's bars and clubs are concentrated in just a handful of nightlife districts. In the Central District, most popular is Lan Kwai Fong, in the vicinity of Lan Kwai Fong and D'Aguilar streets, where a multitude of bars and restaurants have long added a spark to Hong Kong's financial district. Nearby, SoHo, along the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator south of Hollywood Road, boasts an ever-growing number of ethnic restaurants and bars. Wan Chai has also witnessed a revival with a spate of new bars, restaurants, and strip joints, while Knutsford Terrace, a small alley on the north end of Tsim Sha Tsui, is popular for its open-fronted bars and restaurants. You can party until dawn; indeed, some bars and discos don't take off until after midnight.

Remember that a 10% service charge will be added to your food/drinks bill. If you're watching your Hong Kong dollars, take advantage of happy hour. (Actually, "happy hours" would be more appropriate, since the period is generally from 5-8pm and often even longer than that.) Furthermore, many pubs, bars, and lounges offer live entertainment, which you can enjoy simply for the price of a beer. Plus, you can enjoy many of the city's finest nighttime charms -- strolling along the Tsim Sha Tsui harbor waterfront or around Victoria Peak, watching the nightly "Symphony of Lights" outdoor laser and light show, or browsing at the Temple Street Night Market -- for free.

Information, please

To find out what's going on during your stay in the SAR, you can pick up a number of free magazines around town.

  • What's On -- Hong Kong is a Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) leaflet published weekly that lists events in theater, music, and the arts, including concerts and Chinese opera (you can also access it at www.discoverhongkong.com). Pick up a copy at any HKTB Visitor Centre.
  • Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department (www.lcsd.gov.hk) also publishes its own monthly Event Calendar, which features events taking place in City Hall and at the Cultural Centre -- from Cantonese opera to the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. The guide is available at both featured venues.
  • HK Magazine (http://hk.asia-city.com), distributed free at restaurants, bars, and other outlets around town and aimed at a young readership, is a weekly that lists goings-on at the city's theaters and other venues, including plays, concerts, the cinema, and events in Hong Kong's alternative scene.
  • Where Hong Kong, CityLife (www.citylifehk.com), and bc (www.bcmagazine.net) are three other free monthlies with nightlife information and special events. Find them in hotels, restaurants, and bookstores.
  • A useful online navigational tool to find out about club events, drink specials, and special happenings is www.hkclubbing.com.
  • For virtually everything happening in Hong Kong, from Chinese opera to pop concerts, film festivals, and family entertainment, check out www.urbtix.hk, Hong Kong's official ticketing agent.

Mad About mah-jongg

You don't have to be in Hong Kong long before you hear it: the clack-clack of mah-jongg, almost deafening if it's emanating from a large mah-jongg parlor. You can hear it at large restaurants (mah-jongg parlors are usually tucked into side rooms), at wedding celebrations, in the middle of the day, and long into the night. In a land where gambling is illegal except at the horse races, mah-jongg provides the opportunity for skillful gambling. Many hard-core players confess to an addiction.

Although mah-jongg originated during the Sung dynasty almost 1,000 years ago, today's game is very different, more difficult, and played with amazing speed. Essentially, mah-jongg is played by four people, using tiles that resemble dominoes and bear Chinese characters and designs. Tiles are drawn and discarded (by slamming them on the table), until one player wins with a hand of four combinations of three tiles and a pair of matching tiles. But the real excitement comes with betting chips that each player receives and which are awarded to the winner based on his or her combination of winning tiles. Excitement is also heightened by the speed of the game -- the faster tiles are slammed against the table and swooped up, the better. Technically, the mah-jongg game is over when a player runs out of chips, though it's not unusual to borrow chips to continue playing. Hong Kong stories abound of fortunes made and lost in a game of mah-jongg.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.