Hong Kong for Chinese New Years
A brief visit
This year we decided to go back to Japan for
visit. My wife hasn't been since she was a small child and Mark
really wanted to return, since our last
trip to Japan was five years
. The thing is, once you are flying to Asia, you might as
swing by Hong Kong and visit the family. We scheduled the trip so
we would be in Hong Kong for Chinese New Years. This is my fourth
trip to Hong Kong (you can see earlier trips here
and later trips here
some of the places in Hong Kong I've visited before (sometimes several
This page is mostly about what is different from previous visits.
Mark had never been to Hong Kong before and because Helen was out
shopping, Mark and I had a few days to be western tourists. The
first place we went to was the Po Lin Monastery (the big Buddha).
There are several ways to get to the mountain top, but the locals seem
to think the tramway is a bit of a joke. Apparently when it
started up it had mechanical difficulties and several times people were
left in the cars for hours. Helen's relatives would rather take
the bus (which is also much cheaper), but being western tourists, we
paid up and "flew" there.
Po Lin Monastery
I was quite impressed with the ride up and the view. Compared to
the prices at Whistler, this Gondola is cheap.
We are two days from Chinese new years and
are quiet. Chinese new years is a good time to go to the
temple/shrine of your choice so you don't generally go the day or three
before unless you have to. In our cases, since we didn't want new
years blessings, it made sense to visit when the crowds were
This temple complex is quite modern (I believe the big Buddha
was constructed and delivered in the 1990's), but given the size of the
near by population, this temple complex is quite well off. We
stopped by for a vegetarian lunch and then walk around looking at the
Tai - O
After the climbing up to the Buddha and walking around the inside
museum, we found the bus loop and caught the bus to Tai O.
This small fishing village is one of my
places in Hong Kong. I visited
on my first trip and caught really nice late day
lighting. Sadly today they sky was overcast so I didn't get as
One of things that makes me keen on Tai O is
street food. There is a small market selling seafood, and there
are several vendors selling hot snacks. One of my favorites is
bubble waffles (you can get them in Asian markets in Vancouver and we
also saw them in Japan). Most bubble waffles are made on gas
burners or electric pans, but this stall made them using
charcoal. Of course I had to buy some.
There are many traditions around Chinese
Years. One good tradition (shared by several other
cultures) is a make sure everything is clean and repaired for the new
years. Many of the homes in Tai O were sporting new coats of
silver paint. Many of the homes had traditional paper signs
attached for good luck. Silver and red is a fantastic
The next morning I took Mark for a walk through
the market areas in
Mong Kok. The bird market (the furthest destination) was our
first stop. Turns out that two days before Chinese New Years
isn't a great time to visit - it's cold and many people are preparing
for the holiday so the count of birds at the bird market was low.
The flower market on the other hand was running riot.
The normally sedate road next to the
to vehicles and crowds filled the road from side to side. The
nearby sports complex was pushed into service as an axillary
market. The flower market normally sells most types of flowers,
this time of the year there was a limited number of very popular
Flowers like Lilies and Gladiolus were very popular. Mandarin
orange trees were popular as were Daffodil bulbs that were just coming
to flower. There was a solid progression of boxes of product
consumers grabbing items, displays exhasted and new boxes
produced. The amount of
money changing hands was dramatic.
The Gold Fish Market (or street) is one of
places in Hong Kong but I haven't had much luck taking good photos of it
I brought Mark by and he amply demonstrated the power of VR
lenses. I demonstrated how f1.4 lenses really can't do the same
thing. I walked away wondering what new lenses Nikon had out.
Another of my favorite haunts
visited a day before Chinese New Years and I was surprised to find the
place was almost empty of it's signature incense coils. With New
Years just around the corner, I assume they have let the coils burn
down so there would be space for the sudden influx of new incense coils
On the plus side, it was quiet enough that I could take photos inside
without disturbing the people who normally use the temple.
New Years Market at Victoria Park
For about a week before Chinese new years,
Park (in central) plays host to the massive New Years market.
This market occupies much of the park - an area larger than two
regulation football fields. The market is organized into massive
aisles, lined on both sides with stalls, traffic directed to walk one
way although the crowd doesn't always follow.
There are hundreds of stalls selling New Years related products.
Flowers and plants occupy one of the major aisles but most of the
space in the park is
used to sell junky items to kids. Surprisingly, there isn't much
hot food for sale, and the food that is for sale (such as siu mai)
isn't made that well (by Hong Kong of even Vancouver standards).
We visited first at night just after visiting
the peak. The park
was a zoo, and we only navigated two aisles before we were done for the
The next morning, we came out and walk around further. The event
is busiest in the evening so coming during the day allows you a slower
pace and to see more. That said, the crowds are still immense.
Much of the product available is kid
oriented. We didn't recognize many of the product tie ins, but I
suspect if you watched a few weeks of morning TV, you would understand
the characters better.
The flower market area was popular. My personal favorite was a
plum blossoms (often quite large trees), but there were many other
things worth seeing. Apparently plum blossoms are used to bring
luck in relationships - walking around the plum blossom three times at
new years brings you the change you are looking for.
Happy New Years!
Wong Tai Sin Temple
There are several historic temples in Hong
Kong and I
like to imagine what they looked like before they were completely
surrounded by highrises. Wong Tai Sin (which has it's own MTR
stop) is one such temple, or temple complex. This is one of the
busier temples in Hong Kong for new years so I got up early to have
some chance of taking photos.
The procedure here is pretty simple. You either bring your own
incense, purchase incense near the temple (in a market specifically for
it), or take free incense provided inside the gate. Generally you
three sticks of incense in the burner, pray, and then move on.
Wong Tai Sin has multiple places to pray and if you have more complex
issues (family members perhaps?) you bring even more incense.
The temple complex is setup to handle massive crowds. All of the
walkways have been barricaded to allow the traffic to walk only one way
(but still visit all of the sites), and a small army of security
ensures that people keep moving. Once you light your incense, you
have a natural clock encouraging you to keep walking.
The main temple has the largest places to
incense and once you are done you proceed inside for more prayer or
perhaps to use the bamboo sticks to have your fortune told.
The scale of the incense burned is difficult
There are several temple workers who's full time job is pull the
planted incense out of the burners, douse them in water and set them
aside to be burned later so that there is enough space for the
continuous stream of people to place their incense. These
workers are working continuously so a stick of incense is in the burner
no more than a minute before being removed. The larger burner is
used to burn the discarded incense, but it is not even close to keeping
up with the supply of material.
New Years Parade
After Wong Tai Sin, I went to Che Kung temple but the temple was
and less photogenic. I came back to Wong Tai Sin with Mark, but
by then the temple had a two hour lineup to get in so we passed.
I looked at going to Lam Tsuen to see their wishing tree, but it turns
out the tree isn't doing so well so it was replaced with a plastic tree
while the real wishing tree is recuperating. Perhaps it's worth
seeing in a few years when the tree is doing better.
The most disappointing part of our trip
was the New
Years Parade. The short answer - only go if you have tickets to
the performance areas. If you are one of the the tens of
thousands of people that line the route, prepare for a long boring
evening. Because the floats "perform" in the tickets only areas,
there are long gaps (roughly the 5 minute length of the performance)
where there is nothing to see while you wait for the next float to come
along. The parade is very corporate (Disney Land, Cathay, Macau
all have dramatic floats). Making the situation worse, the parade
route seemed poorly
organized - people wound up lining roads that were blocked off, but not
even on the parade route. The crowds were well behaved, but the
disappointment (as people walked away after hours of standing around)
was palpable. As I said, unless you have tickets to the
performance areas, stay home and watch it on TV.
Our itinerary didn't let us stay for the fireworks (New Years + 2
but I hear they are quite good (go early).
Tags: Hong Kong(51), market(14), temple(10), crowd(10), Tai O(9), incense(6)
From: John Harvey Photo > Trips out of the Country > Hong Kong Chinese New Years
Hi, nice post! :)
I would like to know whether it is easy to find food in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year?
Saturday, November 14th, 2009 at 02:04:36
About half of what was normally open was open. It was way easier to find food open in Hong Kong on Chinese New Years than it is to find food in Vancouver on Christmas or New Years day. That said, many places do charge a premium for New Years day service.
Last Modified Wednesday, September 12th, 2012 at 22:30:10 Edit
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