Exploring Honolulu, Hawaii's Chinatown Neighborhood

The entrance to Chinatown in Honolulu, Hawaii. adamtheo
By Jeanette Foster

Honolulu's historic Chinatown is a mix of Asian cultures, all packed into a small area where tangy spices rule the cuisine, open-air markets have kept out the mini-malls, and the way to good health is through acupuncture and herbalists.

Photo Caption: The entrance to Chinatown in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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Hotel Street in Honolulu, Hawaii. wallyg
During World War II, Hotel Street was synonymous with good times. Pool halls and beer parlors lined the blocks, and prostitutes were plentiful. Nowadays the more nefarious establishments have been replaced with small shops, from art galleries to specialty boutiques. As you wander up and down this street, browsing the shops, head to the intersection with Smith Street. On the Diamond Head (east) side of Smith, you'll notice stones in the sidewalk; they were taken from the sandalwood ships, which came to Hawaii empty of cargo except for these stones, which were used as ballast on the trip over. The stones were removed, and the ships' hulls were filled with sandalwood for the return to the mainland.

Details: Hotel St., from Maunakea St. to Bethel St.

Photo Caption: Hotel Street in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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Fresh udon noodles. spilt-milk
The delicious, delicate noodles that star in numerous Asian dishes are made here, ranging from threadlike noodles (literally no thicker than embroidery thread) to fat udon. There aren't any tours of the factory, but you can look through the window and watch as dough is fed into rollers at one end of the noodle machines; perfectly cut noodles emerge at the other end.

Details: 150 N. King St. (Maunakea St.). tel. 808/531-7982. Mon-Sat 6am-3pm.

Photo Caption: Fresh udon noodles.
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Fook Sau Tong Chinese herb shop in Honolulu, Hawaii. oggiedog
Here Chinese herbalists act as both doctors and dispensers of herbs. There's a wall of tiny drawers all labeled in Chinese characters. The herbalist quickly pulls from the drawers various objects that range from dried flowers and ground-up roots to such exotics as mashed antelope antler. The patient then takes the concoction home to brew into a strong tea.

Details: 162 N. King St. (Maunakea St.). tel. 808/523-5499. Mon-Sat 8:30am-5pm; Sun 8:30am-2pm.

Photo Caption: Fook Sau Tong, another Chinese herb shop in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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The Oahu Market in Honolulu, Hawaii. mvjantzen
Those interested in Asian cooking will find all the necessary ingredients here, including pigs' heads, poultry (some still squawking), fresh octopus, salted jellyfish, pungent fish sauce, fresh herbs, and thousand-year-old eggs. The friendly vendors are happy to give instructions on how to prepare these exotic treats. The market has been at this spot since 1904.

Details: N. King & Kekaulike sts. Daily 6am-6pm.

Photo Caption: The Oahu Market in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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Chinatown's first inhabitants were plantation laborers who set up small shops and restaurants around River Street when their contracts were up. Marco Garcia
The statue of Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen marks the beginning of this wide mall, which borders the Nuuanu Stream. Shade trees, park benches, and tables where seniors gather to play mah-jongg and checkers line the mall. There are plenty of takeout restaurants along River Street if you'd like to eat lunch outdoors. If you're up early (5:30am in summer and 6am in winter), you'll see seniors practicing tai chi.

Details: N. Beretania St. to Vineyard Blvd.

Photo Caption: Chinatown's first inhabitants were plantation laborers who set up small shops and restaurants around River Street when their contracts were up.
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The Moongate Stage at the Chinatown Cultural Plaza in Honolulu, Hawaii. shelleybrunt
This modern complex is filled with shops featuring everything from tailors to calligraphers (most somewhat more expensive than their street-side counterparts), as well as numerous restaurants, Asian magazine vendors, and even a small post office for those who want to mail cards home with the "Chinatown" postmark. The best feature of the plaza is the Moongate Stage in the center, the site of many cultural presentations, especially around the Chinese New Year.

Details: 100 N. Beretania St. (Vineyard Blvd.). tel. 808/521-4934.

Photo Caption: The Moongate Stage at the Chinatown Cultural Plaza in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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Izumo Taishakyo Mission Cultural Hall in Honolulu, Hawaii. fhke
This small wooden Shinto shrine, built in 1923, houses a male deity (look for the X-shaped crosses on the top). Members of the faith ring the bell out front as an act of purification when they come to pray. Inside the temple is a 100-pound sack of rice, symbolizing good health.

Details: 215 N. Kukui St. (Kukui St.). tel. 808/538-7778.

Photo Caption: Izumo Taishakyo Mission Cultural Hall in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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Kuan Yin Temple in Honolulu, Hawaii. christinechauvin
This Buddhist temple, painted in a brilliant red with a green ceramic-tiled roof, is dedicated to Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy, whose statue towers in the prayer hall. The temple is still a house of worship, so enter with respect and leave your shoes outside. You may see people burning paper "money" for prosperity and good luck or leaving flowers and fruits at the altar (gifts to the goddess). A common offering is the pomelo, a grapefruitlike fruit that's a fertility symbol as well as a gift, indicating a request for the blessing of children.

Details: 170 N. Vineyard Blvd. tel. 808/533-6361.

Photo Caption: Kuan Yin Temple in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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Chinatown's Maunakea Street brims with vendors selling everything from herbs to acupuncture services to beautiful leis. Marco Garcia
Numerous lei shops line this colorful street, where the air is heavy with the aroma of flowers being woven into beautiful treasures. Not only is this the best place in all of Hawaii to get a deal on leis, but the size, color, and design of the leis made here are exceptional.

Details: Btw. Beretania and King streets

Photo Caption: Chinatown's Maunakea Street brims with vendors selling everything from herbs to acupuncture services to beautiful leis.
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Lai Fong Department Store in Honolulu, Hawaii. mandelicious
Before you enter this classic Chinatown store, owned by the same family for more than 80 years, check out the sidewalks on Nuuanu Avenue -- they're made of granite blocks used as ballast by ships that brought tea from China to Hawaii in the 1800s. Walking into Lai Fong is like stepping back in time. The old store sells everything from precious antiques to god-awful knick-knacks to rare Hawaiian postcards from the early 1900s -- but it has built its reputation on its fabulous selection of Chinese silks, brocades, and custom dresses.

Details:1118 Nuuanu Ave. (Hotel St.). tel. 808/537-3497. Mon-Sat 9am-7:30pm.

Photo Caption: Lai Fong Department Store in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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The Hawaii Theatre in Honolulu, Hawaii. mandelicious
This restored 1920 Art Deco theater is a work of art in itself. It hosts a variety of programs, from the Hawaii International Film Festival to Hawaiian concerts.

Details:1130 Bethel St. (at Pauahi St.). tel. 808/528-0506.

Photo Caption: The Hawaii Theatre in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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