One thing I love about Asia is the ability to celebrate the new year twice. I spent the last moments of 2014 partying in Seoul, and in a month and a half I’ll be spending five days in Beijing for Lunar New Year! That’s an adventure I can hardly wait to begin.
Last year I got to ring in December 31st on a beach in Cambodia, and enjoy Lunar New Year festivities in the wonderful city of Hong Kong. I even had two local tour guides- Renee and Gigi, fellow exchange students I befriended while in Australia.
Why visit Hong Kong during the Lunar New Year?
The weather is great. Temperatures were in the low to mid-twenties, and the skies were mostly clear. Having grown up with New Years Eve generally being at least -20 degrees, this was a delightful change.
It’s very easy to navigate. Hong Kong is a global city, and lots of people speak decent English. All the signs are bilingual, and metro stations are clearly marked and easy to locate. On that note, the public transportation system is FANTASTIC. As good, if not better, than in Seoul!
And the most important factor: There’s tons to do during the New Year!
Like a visit to the Victoria Park Flower Market- more than just flowers. Victoria Park is close to Tin Hau station, south of Kowloon Harbour.
There’s not only a New Years fireworks display…
But also a parade, with a huge, colourful variety of floats and groups from all around the world.
I saw a giant balloon octopus, a samba band, circus performers, a giant dragon, and an American cheerleading squad, among others. My favourite? A Dutch marching band that, in this case, was performing while riding on bicycles! Very impressive.
All around the city, I saw elaborate art pieces and festive decorations welcoming the year of the horse.
Hired domestic help is very common in Hong Kong, and most of these workers have Sundays off. I enjoyed people-watching as they congregated at parks and other public spots to eat and catch up on the latest stories.
For a more traditional cultural experience, I took the metro to Wong Tai Sin temple with my friend Renee and her mother. The air was thick and fragrant with incense, and packed with people paying their respects to their ancestors and making wishes for the new year. Renee and I had our fortunes told by an elderly man after selecting a wooden stick from a small jar!
Although Hong Kong is abuzz with New Years events, there are plenty of other attractions to visit year round.
The Peak Tower is absolutely not to be missed. After an alarmingly steep tram ride to the top of the hill, too can enjoy a postcard-perfect view of Kowloon Harbour.
Areas like Tsim Sha Tsui (TST for short) and Mong Kok are packed with restaurants, bars, and street food carts, and are a perfect way to soak up the crowded chaos and street scene of Hong Kong.
The street food is well worth sampling. I tasted boiled fish cakes, fish balls, stinky (fermented) tofu, Taiwanese egg waffles, a variety of street meats, and my favourite: waffles covered with peanut butter and evaporated milk. Yum!
There are numerous markets for the shopaholics out there. The Ladies’ Market by Mong Kok station is the place to go for cute, cheap shoes, accessories and other items. Unlike Seoul, I was easily able to buy shoes for my size 9 feet (which are apparently gigantic by Korean shopping standards!)
The Star Ferry will take you across the harbour for a mere $2 HKD ($2.80 on weekends), and is a nice scenic way to get around. The northern terminal is right next to the Avenue of Stars. I didn’t find the avenue itself particularly compelling, but the views were lovely! It’s also close to several museums, including the Space Museum, Museum of Art and the Cultural Centre, if such an excursion takes your fancy.