Tsim Sha Tsui & Yau Ma
Start: Star Ferry Terminus, Tsim Sha Tsui.
Finish: Temple Street Night Market.
Time: About 2 hours, not including museum stops.
Best Times: Sunday afternoon, when there are free kung fu performances in Kowloon Park and the Jade Market is likely to stay open as late as 6pm, allowing you to see nearby Temple Street Night Market as well.
Worst Times: Thursday, when the Hong Kong Museum of Art and Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre are closed. Mornings, before the Temple Street Night Market is open.
A stroll up Nathan Road through Tsim Sha Tsui and Yau Ma Tei will take you through the heart of Kowloon, past its famous hotels, restaurants, and shops, and on to the fascinating Chinese shops and markets in Yau Ma Tei. You do, however, have to make a decision before embarking on this tour. The Jade Market generally closes around 4pm, while the nearby Temple Street Night Market isn't in full swing until 7pm. However, more and more Temple Street vendors are setting up shop early, from about 4pm, so you can hit both the Jade Market and Temple Street Night Market if you time your walk just right and don't mind walking through Temple Street when it's not at its liveliest. Another possibility is to walk this tour on Sunday, when the Jade Market stays open later because of increased crowds. Otherwise, because the MTR is so efficient, you can easily return to the night market later in the evening. Whatever you choose, a logical tour of Tsim Sha Tsui begins with the Star Ferry since, for more than a century, it served as the only link with Hong Kong Island.
Within the Star Ferry terminus itself is a Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Centre, where you can pick up free pamphlets and maps. In front of the Star Ferry concourse is Kowloon's main bus terminal. Straight ahead to the left is Ocean Terminal, the port of call for cruise liners docking in Hong Kong. It's probably no accident that it is immediately adjacent to:
1. Harbour City
This is Hong Kong's largest interconnected shopping mall and one of the largest shopping complexes in the world. Stretching more than .8km (1/2 mile) along Canton Road, it contains more than 700 shops and receives up to 200,000 shoppers on a weekend. Enter it and you might not escape during this lifetime; better save shopping here for another day. Instead, for one-stop shopping for high-quality (but pricey) Chinese products and gifts, head to the large, nondescript building to the right of Ocean Terminal, Star House, which contains mostly offices but also some restaurants and shops, including:
2. Chinese Arts & Crafts
Located on the ground floor of Star House, 3 Salisbury Rd. (tel. 852/2735 4061), this two-story store is open daily from 10am to 9:30pm and is the most upscale emporium specializing in Chinese products, including embroidered tablecloths, jewelry, ceramics, furniture, carpets, arts and crafts, and beautifully tailored clothing. It's also one of the most reliable places to buy jade.
Past Star House, across Canton Road, is the new:
3. 1881 Heritage
Now an upscale shopping and dining complex, this was the former site of the Hong Kong Marine Police headquarters from the 1880s to 1996. Several of the old buildings, as well as some ancient trees, have been preserved. If you follow the escalator to the top level of Hullett House (now housing an all-suite luxury hotel, restaurants, and bars), you can see that the police stationed here once had a sweeping view of the harbor.
Cross over Salisbury Road back toward the harbor, where in front of you is the hard-to-miss:
4. Clock Tower
Completed in 1921 and now dwarfed by the buildings around it, this is the only structure remaining from Hong Kong's old train station, once the final stop for those traveling overland from London on the Orient Express. In 1975, the Kowloon-Canton Railway terminus moved to Hung Hom. Occupying the train station's former site is the modern, salmon-colored:
5. Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Opened in 1989 as the city's largest arena for the performing arts, this saddle-shaped structure, in my opinion, is terribly misplaced. After all, why situate concert and theater halls that have no windows on waterfront property with one of the world's most stunning views? Still, the Cultural Centre does offer first-rate concerts of both Western and Chinese music, as well as free shows and events several times a month on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Enter the Cultural Centre's ground floor and stop at the Enquiries counter to pick up a brochure detailing concerts and free events (there are also public toilets here). Exit the other side, where to the east you will soon come upon one of my favorite museums in Hong Kong, the:
6. Hong Kong Museum of Art
Located at 10 Salisbury Rd. (tel. 852/2721 0116), this museum contains an excellent collection of Chinese porcelain, bronzes, jade, lacquerware, bamboo carvings, and paintings of old Hong Kong and Macau, as well as works by contemporary Hong Kong artists. It even has windows overlooking the harbor. Don't miss it. It's open Friday through Wednesday, 10am to 6pm (Sat to 8pm).
Circle around behind the art museum, to the:
7. Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
Hugging the shoreline all the way from the Star Ferry to Hung Hom, the promenade offers a great vantage point of the harbor with its boat traffic, Hong Kong Island, and the Peak. It's also a good place for a romantic stroll at night, when the dazzling lights of Hong Kong Island burn bright across the harbor. Nightly from 8 to 8:18pm, Hong Kong stages its "Symphony of Lights," an impressive laser-and-light show projected from more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbor. Just a couple of minutes' stroll along the waterfront will bring you to the promenade's Avenue of Stars, with embedded plaques and handprints and a few statues honoring Hong Kong's most famous movie personalities, including Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.
At the end of Avenue of Stars, turn left into the New World Centre, a shopping mall, and walk straight through to its front entrance, beyond which is a pedestrian subway. Follow signs through the pedestrian subway to Tsim Sha Tsui's most famous landmark:
8. The Peninsula Hong Kong
Built in 1928 to serve guests disembarking at the old train station and guarded by one of the largest Rolls-Royce fleets in the world, the venerable Peninsula is Hong Kong's grandest old hotel, with a newer tower that offers great harbor views from its front-facing rooms and top-floor restaurant. Its lobby, reminiscent of a Parisian palace with high gilded ceilings, pillars, and ferns, has long been a favorite spot for a cup of coffee and people-watching.
Take a Break -- Many visitors feel that their Hong Kong stay would not be complete without dropping by The Lobby of the Peninsula Hong Kong (tel. 852/2315 3146). Classical music serenades guests throughout the afternoon and evening, but the best time to stop by is between 2 and 7pm daily, when an English-style afternoon tea is served for HK$268 for one person and HK$398 for two. Another great place for afternoon tea is across the street in the Lobby Lounge of the InterContinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Rd. (tel. 852/2721 1211), which offers fantastic views of the harbor and Hong Kong Island, along with its delicate finger sandwiches and tea daily from 2:30 to 6pm.
Walk to the busy road running alongside the east side of the Peninsula hotel:
9. Nathan Road
This is Kowloon's most famous street. It is also one of Hong Kong's widest and runs almost 4km (2 1/2 miles) straight up the spine of Kowloon all the way to Boundary Road, the official border of the New Territories. Nathan Road is named after Sir Matthew Nathan, who served as governor at the time the road was constructed. After it was completed, it was nicknamed "Nathan's Folly." After all, why build such a wide road, seemingly leading to nowhere? Kowloon had very few people back then and even less traffic. Now, of course, Nathan Road is known as the "golden mile of shopping" because of all the boutiques and shops lining both sides.
You'll pass jewelry stores, electronics shops, optical shops, clothing boutiques, and many other establishments as you head north on Nathan Road. The side streets are also good hunting grounds for inexpensive casual wear, especially Granville Road for its trendy, fun fashions for the young and young at heart. You'll want to return here to explore this area at leisure; shops are open until 9 or 10pm or later. After about 10 minutes (assuming you don't stop to shop along the way), you'll see Hong Kong's largest mosque on your left, built in 1984 to replace an older mosque built in the late 19th century for Muslim Indian troops belonging to the British army. Today, about 80,000 Muslims live in Hong Kong; the mosque can accommodate 3,000 worshippers.
Just past the mosque, take the first steps you see on the left, leading up to:
10. Kowloon Park
Kowloon Park is a good place to bring children for a romp through playgrounds and open spaces. The park features a water garden, Chinese garden, sculpture garden (with Scotland's Sir Eduardo Paolozzi's bronze version of William Blake's Concept of Newton), aviary, woodland trail, hedge maze, Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre with displays of Hong Kong's historic buildings and ongoing preservation efforts, and both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Best for visitors, however, are the free kung fu Chinese martial arts performances held every Sunday from 2:30 to 4:30pm featuring children and adult practitioners; follow the signs KUNG FU CORNER to the Sculpture Walk. A small arts fair is also held on Sundays from 1 to 7pm at the Loggia.
Walk through the park northward, past the indoor/outdoor public swimming pools, to Austin Road. To the left you can see Elements, an upscale shopping complex attached to Kowloon Station with service to the airport. You, however, should turn right and walk to Nathan Road again, where you should turn left. Be on the lookout to the left for:
11. Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium
On the corner of Jordan Road at 301-309 Nathan Rd. (tel. 852/3511 2222), this emporium caters primarily to local and visiting Chinese with traditional Chinese products, including silk, porcelain, jade, clothing, furniture, medicinal herbs, and everyday household goods. Be sure to hit the food floor in the basement and the tea department on the fifth floor. Hours here are 10am to 10pm daily.
Yue Hwa marks the beginning of the Yau Ma Tei District. Its name translates roughly as "the place for growing sesame plants," but you won't see any such cultivation today. Rather, like the Western District on Hong Kong Island, Yau Ma Tei offers a look at traditional Chinese life, with shops that sell tea, chopping blocks, baked goods, embroidery, herbs, and dried seafood.
Just past the Yue Hwa store, take the first left onto Nanking Street and the second right onto Woosung Street, where you'll pass restaurants with live seafood in tanks and glazed ducks hanging from windows, as well as other family businesses. After 2 blocks, take a left on Saigon Street and continue 2 blocks (you'll pass Temple Street, site of the famous night market, but more of that later) to:
12. Reclamation Street
This street, along with the adjacent Yau Ma Tei Market, is an interesting stroll if you haven't yet visited a city market. You'll pass butcher shops and stalls selling fish, fruits, and vegetables.
At the end of Reclamation Street, straight ahead past the elevated highway, is a small red building with "Welcome" written in many languages. It's the:
13. Jade Market
This fascinating covered market consists of some 400 stalls selling jade, pearls, and collectibles and is open daily from about 10am to approximately 4pm, though vendors stay open until 6pm or so if business warrants it (especially Sun). The jade on sale here comes in a bewildering range of quality. The highest quality should be cold to the touch and translucent; that said, it's possible to infuse jade with color so that inferior stones acquire the brightness and translucence associated with more expensive stones. Therefore, unless you know your jade, you're better off just coming here for a look or limiting your purchases to pendants or bangles that cost only a few dollars. Chinese believe that jade helps protect against evil spirits. Freshwater pearls are also good buys. Although the Chinese used to bargain secretly here by using hand signals concealed underneath a newspaper so that none of the onlookers would know the final price, it appears that calculators have gained more popularity these days. If jade is your thing, a couple blocks east of Reclamation Street, on Canton Road south of Kansu Street, is so-called Jade Street, where shops sell high-quality jade.
From the Jade Market, go east 1 block to Shanghai Street and turn left, where you will soon see:
14. Tin Hau Temple
Shaded by banyan trees, this is one of many temples in Hong Kong dedicated to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea. It's hard to imagine now, but this temple, with sections dating back more than a century, used to be on the waterfront; land reclamation has left it high and dry. No one seems to mind, however, as this popular community temple bustles with activity. Its park is popular with retirees resting on benches and people playing Chinese games, while the inner recesses are filled with people asking favors or giving thanks. It's open daily 8am to 6pm.
From here, you'll probably want to visit Yau Ma Tei's most famous attraction, the Temple Street Night Market. The market is in full swing after 7pm, though more and more vendors now start setting up stalls at around 4pm.
Winding Down -- Mido Cafe, 63 Temple St. (tel. 852/2384 6402), across from the Tin Hau Temple to the north, has changed little since it opened in 1950 and was one of the first cafes to add soy sauce to its Western dishes. Head upstairs for the best views.
On the other side of Nathan Road, between the Eaton and Nathan hotels, is a branch of Tsui Wah, 17-19 Pak Hoi St. (tel. 852/2780 8328), a very popular chain offering Chinese comfort food. Nearby is Bali Bar, a pleasant rooftop oasis in the Nathan Hotel, 378 Nathan Rd. (its entrance is on Pak Hoi St.; tel. 852/2388 5141), with sofas and a retractable roof; it's open daily from 5pm to 2am.
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.