The Batgung Guide to shopping in Hong Kong

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I'll admit to a giant streak of bias in writing this article: I'm not a great shopping fan unless the outing in question involves getting some nice guy-oriented stuff for me, me, me. Not very noble, I know, but we all have our little weaknesses. So, to those of you who see shopping as a necessary evil, with minor selfish exceptions: join me for a sympathetic tour of Hong Kong's major shopping areas. Those of you who shop because you think it's fun may find some useful tips here too, but I offer no promises of satisfaction!

So away we go . . .

Causeway Bay. Sooner or later, almost everyone in Hong Kong ends up shopping in Causeway Bay. It's a sight to see on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, with crowds so dense they seem almost stationary.

There are several foci for Causeway Bay shopping. Times Square, on the edge of Causeway Bay proper, is the quintessential Hong Kong mall: crowded, middle-class-oriented, all major local and international chain stores thoroughly represented. Its two department stores, i.e. Lane Crawford (does any enterprise on this planet provide a more banal conglomeration of pretentious, overpriced consumer goods?) and an undersized Marks and Spencer (at least they've got decent socks and my favorite muesli) fail to inspire. The rest of Causeway Bay revolves around the spectacularly congested intersection on Hennessy Road anchored by the colossal Sogo department store, and on another epicenter at the end of Great George Street, where you find Windsor House, with its children's stores on one other side of the street, and Ikea on the other.

So if you're a guy who's been roped into shopping in Causeway Bay, it's time to face facts: you're not likely to have a great time. Causeway Bay is the mass-market fashion center of the city, and there's little that's guy-friendly in amongst the endless boutiques.

So where can you find respite from your time of trial? A suggestion, if I may. Your paramount need will be to find someplace where you can leave the crowds behind, and engage is dome quiet contemplation spurred on by hops and fermented barley. Something suitably fortifying at the Dickens Bar, in the basement of the Excelsior Hotel, is a heathy option, although don't ever, ever go there while the Rugby 7s are on -- I've warned you. Another pleasant place, and much less crowded, is the Lee Gardens building. There's a nice grocery store -- Gourmet -- in the basement, and up on the 3rd floor there's a Pacific Coffee Company outlet that seems a bit under-utilized, making it a treasure in Causeway Bay.

You might also want escape to do a bit of geek-oriented shopping on the 12-15th floors of Windsor House. There are three floors of IT-oriented shops there, although they're a bit pricier than some of those mentioned in our guides to buying electronic goods and computers.

Mongkok. If Causeway Bay is a meat-grinder, Mongkok is a food processor set on 'liquefy'. I don't recommend shopping there anytime from lunchtime on Saturday right through Sunday night: the crowds are just too overwhelming. It is worth going there at a busy time, however, if you want to absorb the spectacle of Hong Kong's real heart beating at its most frenzied pace.

Mongkok has no real center; it's a grid of streets lined with wall-to-wall shops. But it's not all the same stuff over and over. Mongkok has quite clearly delineated sub-areas that concentrate on particular products -- some of which, you will be happy to hear, can be quite diverting. For example, on the 'wrong' side of Nathan Road, i.e. along Portland Street, you will find Hong Kong's best selection of household decorating shops, from the namby-pamby ones selling curtains and bathroom tiles, to much more manly ones with plumbing fittings and such. If you're into hiking/the outdoors, you'll find a number of very good shops along Sai Yee Street, scattered amongst the endless sports shoes places. There are also the teeming street stalls and surrounding shops comprising Women's Street (or 'Ladies' Market', as you sometimes see it translated): in contradistinction to its hurtful, hegemonic name, which makes me feel marginalized, oppressed, and excluded, this area's got lots of export stores packed with Guy Clothes, for cheap. Well worth a look for T-shirts, polo shirts, shorts, cargo pants, and odd-smelling-until-laundered sweaters, often in not just large, but positively American sizes (I once came across a 6XL shirt in a shop there!).

You're not going to find too many elegant lounges for sherry-sipping down on the streets of Mongkok, but there are innumerable noodle shops and chaan tengs and other places to take a short break -- and I emphasize 'short', because most of these places will put you on a stool at best, and expect you to slurp up your bowlful and get the hell out of there to make way for the next customer.

You can also escape the crush of Mongkok by disappearing upwards, i.e. into one or the other of the shopping malls at either end of the district: Langham Place or Grand Century Place (NB: website seems to be in Chinese only). In particular, I'd recommend an ascent to either the 4th or the 13th floors of Langham Place Mall, which have lots of food places and even a few bars; the 13th floor especially is an oasis of calm compared to the rest of Mongkok.

Pacific Place (Admiralty) . Expat shopping heaven, if such a thing existed. Actually, there's nothing really wrong with PP, but there aren't many decent Guy shops, and there are always far too many pompous Bobos pushing around those ridiculously undersized shopping carts in Great supermarket. Attention Great shoppers: you cannot avoid looking like a twit if you use the shopping aids Great provides. Holding a basket on your arm makes you look like Little Red Riding Hood bringing some nice sea salt to sprinkle over Grandma, and pushing one of those trolleys brings us back to your days as a three-year-old strolling your Tinkly Tina doll. The guy solution? Grasp as many bottles of Old Speckled Hen ale as you can with your own two hands, and march proudly to the checkouts. Seriously, Great has a lot of food you can't get elsewhere, and is worth visiting now and then for cheese, sausages, pâté, and so on. You might want to check out how much things cost at places like Great, though!

Festival Walk (Kowloon Tong) . If you must go mall-shopping, I think Festival Walk's the best choice in town. It's roomier and more pleasant than Hong Kong's other big malls, and never feels oppressively crowded. Very nice Aigle, Timberland, and Pro-Camfis shops, with their Hemmingway-esque elephant-shooting clothes. Huge Page One bookstore, although it's pretty heavily mass-market, and not cheap. Festival Walk's hideous Park N Shop has been upgraded to a new and higher plane of existence as 'Taste'. Its offerings and ambience fall somewhere between Great in Pacific Place, and an ordinary PnS branch. It's a huge improvement, although still very crowded at times.

Harbour City, which comprises Ocean Terminal, Ocean Centre, and Gateway (Tsim Sha Tsui). I don't know if this is the biggest shopping complex in the whole wide world, but you will certainly think it is if you go there. It's also a maze: I've been there more times than I would care to admit, and still get lost regularly. Lots and lots and even more stores, many upscale. The axis of this complex comprises a pair of impressively long corridors of shops spanning the considerable distance from Ocean Terminal, near Star Ferry, all the way to the far end of Gateway, which is virtually in Jordan. Whenever I walk down one of these alimentary canals of capitalism, I start feeling as if I'm in that Star Trek episode in which Jim and the crew land on that super-overpopulated planet where hordes of grey people in jumpsuits shuffle past the windows ceaselessly, because there's no place to sit down.

At least being in this part of town is good for diversions, provided you can convince your shopping mate(s) to get the heck out of the mall complex itself. That is, the rest of Tsim Sha Tsui has lots of interesting bars, restaurants, copy watch hawkers, and so forth, but if you're trapped in this labyrinth of consumerism, you'll never see them. Your saving grace is that if you're traveling by MTR, you have to cross a good chunk of TST to get to OceanHarbourGateCentre, so you'll have many chances to make 'wrong turns' and burn some time. But if you take Star Ferry over, Ocean Terminal's looming right there in front of you, and there's no escape.

Central. For some reason, Central usually doesn't come up in discussions of 'where to shop in Hong Kong', unless you're a tai-tai (i.e. upper-class society lady) who only buys designer labels. But in fact it's well-balanced in shopping terms: a range of department stores (Marks and Spencer's, H & M, and a rather disappointing Harvey Nichols); little market-style lanes, between Des Vouex Road and Queen's Road; an airy new mall (IFC II); a high-end older mall that's being comprehensively redone (Landmark); and quick access to the arts-and-crafts-and-antiques shops up on Hollywood Road. There's also the rather good 360 food hall/food court in Landmark. Wait! What's wrong with me? I'm an animated Chamber of Commerce ad! Mrs Tall, what's in those vitamins you've been giving me?

Anyway, with a modicum of self-respect reasserted, I can assure you that escaping Central-based shopping is easy: you can get lost in HMV, or stumble into one of the pubs scattered around the office blocks. If you're of the type, you can head up the hill to the drinking-and-posing zone of Lan Kwai Fong, but I'd recommend a step onto the escalator and a little trip up to Soho instead. It's still a pretense-intensive zone, yes, but it has a number of respectable watering holes and some reasonable restaurants.

Stanley. The famous market here is often teeming with tourists, but it usually stays tolerable, even if it's pretty slow going working your way through the crowded market stalls. Stanley's also got a solid set of options for guys. A number of shops selling export clothes have reappeared, after a period in which the whole market seemed to be devoted to selling the kind of 'flowing' outfits middle-aged western ladies find evocative of The Exotic East (there are still plenty of these shops too, if that's your thing). There's even a shop that sells nothing but rugby kit. But the best thing about Stanley is its proliferation of eateries and drinkeries, both in the little lanes up behind the market proper, and then all along the waterfront, culminating in the rather more industrial-scale places in the re-assembled Murray Building.

New Town Plaza, Shatin, and Tai Koo Shing in the eastern part of HK island. Both of these are essentially giant suburban malls: not interesting per se, but admittedly maybe good for actually buying things. Mrs Tall likes shopping in TKS's enormous acronymic department stores (UNI and JUSCO), and I love her anyway.

Comments

looking forward to my trip

looking forward to my trip there from seoul (im a canadian teaching in korea).
thanks for the advice! im a guy who likes to shop, but only for myself. cheers bro!

Question about the average cost of shirts

I haven't been to Hong Kong in almost 7 years or so, wondering what the cost is for shirts/jeans.

 

I want some new button up shirts and some nicer shirts for work. Wondering what the average cost would be.