I can’t imagine any visitor ever leaving Hong Kong empty-handed. That’s because shops are every where you turn. In fact, the entire city can seem like one giant shopping mall, packed with tiny ma-and-pa shops, clothing stores, chains selling cosmetics or electronics, department stores, street markets and huge shopping complexes. For me, Hong Kong’s heady mix of sightseeing and shopping opportunities so close at hand is an irresistible draw. My idea of a perfect day is getting an education or some culture at a museum, eating lunch at a favorite neighborhood restaurant, taking in a temple or some other iconic attraction, browsing markets or stores until I find exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for, and then celebrating with happy hour. Hong Kong shopping? I’m all in!
Hong Kong is a duty-free port, which means the government does not tax imported goods. Good buys include Chinese products (think porcelain, jade, traditional dresses and jackets, embroidery, antiques, exotic teas, tableware and much more), jewelry (especially pearls and opals), eyeglasses, toys, watches, luggage, shoes and pretty much everything else. It is, however, a buyer-beware market. That antique you’re thinking about buying may be a reproduction (for expensive pieces, shop in a reputable store and ask for a detailed certificate of authenticity or ask that it be tested), the jade you’re eyeing may be infused with color, and electronic gadgets may not work.
To be on the safe side, shop at Hong Kong Tourism Board member stores, which adhere to specific guidelines and display a Quality Tourism Services sign. Be sure, too, to ask for all relevant receipts.
You’ll want to bargain at markets, especially if you’re purchasing more than one item from a vendor. As for fake designer goods, they’re banned in Hong Kong but readily available from touts working the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui. Don’t be tempted. Frankly, I don’t understand the appeal of imitation designer goods, and if you’re caught with them by US customs, they’ll be confiscated and you could be fined.
Various districts have different atmospheres. Tsim Sha Tsui has the greatest concentration of shops in Hong Kong and is home to the city’s largest mall (Harbour City). Nathan Road, which runs 4km/2.5 miles from the harbor north through Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok, is lined with store after store (among my favorites is Yue Hwa Chinese Products), with several markets paralleling to the east (Ladies’ Market) and the west (Temple Street Night Market).
On the other side of the harbor, Central boasts high-end international designer stores and the upscale ifc mall, but also offers diversity with its Li Yuen Street East & West market streets, hip Shanghai Tang and PMQ complex specializing in goods created by local designers. To the west, Hollywood and Cat Street are the places to go for antiques and curios, while in the opposite direction Causeway Bay attracts locals with its many stores selling clothing, accessories, electronics and everyday goods, with Times Square shopping complex the biggest draw. On Hong Kong Island’s southern end is the small village of Stanley, where vendors at Stanley Market offer clothing and Chinese souvenirs. While discount shoppers are sure to find bargains everywhere, those in search of outlet stores should be sure to make time for jaunts to Ap Lei Chau (for Horizon Plaza) and to Tung Chung (for CityGate).
You’ll find lots of Chinese goods such as chopsticks, Chinese jackets, fans, jade and other items at Hong Kong’s markets, especially Li Yen Street East & West, Stanley and Temple Street markets. For better quality and more variety, however, you’ll want to hit one of Hong Kong’s Chinese Craft stores. Chinese Arts & Crafts has a reputation for selling high-quality products, with stores located in Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Wan Chai. Shanghai Tang paved the way for chic Chinese clothing, accessories and home decor, making it the place to go for that neon-green silk pillow your couch can’t live without. But to get the most out of my Hong Kong dollar, I also head to Yue Hwa Chinese Products to ogle its food items, teas, Chinese jackets, jade jewelry, porcelain and many other products.
Hong Kong has lots of department stores, including imports like Marks & Spencer from the UK and Sogo, originally from Japan. But Hongkongers have a special affection for their two homegrown department stores. The upscale Lane Crawford has been around since 1850, while Wing On has attracted locals since 1907. Both stores sell a wide selection of clothing, but I always make a point of also dropping by Joyce, which introduced European clothing to the local market after its 1971 opening and still carries an interesting selection of international designer clothes and accessories. For everyday objects with a Hong Kong twist, Goods of Desire is fun to browse, whether it’s for pillowcases emblazoned with a photograph of a Hong Kong tenement or retro-looking shower mats. There are several branches, including one in PMQ, which is filled with local entrepreneurs selling their own creations. For food items, from Chinese teas and sweets to a great selection of Japanese products, nothing beats city’super, which also sells meats, fruit and everyday goods.
I personally find shopping malls boring compared to what plays out on Hong Kong’s streets, but they’re great alternatives in rainy or humid weather or for quick access to a huge variety of goods and services. Tsim Sha Tsui’s Harbour City is the granddaddy of them all, offering more than 450 shops, 60 cafes and restaurants, three hotels and a top-deck free observatory. In Central, ifc mall is very high-end, not surprising since its complex is also home to a Four Seasons hotel. It also has one of my favorite spots for a meal, Isola, an Italian restaurant with harbor views and outdoor seating. More plebeian is Times Square in Causeway Bay, which draws up to 150,000 shoppers a day and offers a good selection of electronics stores in addition to its clothing and accessories stores; its top floors are filled with restaurants offering an assortment of international cuisine.
Another great browsing destination is PMQ, former police housing quarters in Central now turned stores for locally created goods. Shoppers whose hearts beat faster in outlet stores will want to head to Ap Lei Chau off Hong Kong Island’s southern coast, where Horizon Plaza offers 25 stories of almost 100 stores and outlets, including clothing outlets for Joyce and Lane Crawford and stores selling furniture, home accessories and more. Over in Tung Chung (which you might pass through on your way to Lantau), Citygate has discount outlets for well-known chain stores you often find in malls.
Central might be high brow with its designer stores, posh hotels and office buildings, but tucked away among the skyscrapers are two narrow parallel streets called Li Yuen Street East and Li Yuen Street West. Its stalls are packed with both practical items like bras and makeup for local working women and Chinese souvenirs for tourists. Several blocks inland is Hollywood Road, known for its antique stores, with curios and reproductions for sale on Cat Street. On the south end of Hong Kong Island is Stanley Market, which I hit every time I’m in Hong Kong simply because I find it so much fun. Over on the Kowloon side, Temple Street Night Market is Hong Kong’s most well-known market, but not far away is also the indoor Jade Market and local Tin Hau Temple, as well as the Mido Cafe, a throwback to another era. Farther north, in Mong Kok, is the Ladies’ Market, which sells many of the same items as Temple Street but which is open all day. Farther north is Apliu Street, where vendors sell all kinds of electronic devices, odds and ends, and what looks like junk to me, but people in the know are obviously able to dig up treasures.