There is more to Hong Kong than modern buildings, built on impossibly steep mountains, around the world’s most spectacular harbor (with apologies to Vancouver and Sydney).
You could also muster an argument for traveling to Hong Kong for the food, harbor cruises, casinos in nearby Macau, old-world hotels like The Peninsula, shopping, Disneyworld…. the list goes on.
However, there are also lesser-known lights that are free (in an otherwise expensive city) which you should consider, especially if you are trying to see more in the way real Hong Kong residents live.
3 Unique Markets to Explore in Hong Kong
I’m talking about mixing it with the locals in 3 rather unique markets which are all walking distance apart in the Mong Kok area. Read on as we discover 3 Unique Markets to Explore in Hong Kong.
The Flower Market
This is the most mainstream of the 3 Unique Markets to Explore in Hong Kong. The “market” is actually an array of stunning flower shops, one after the other, covering three or four blocks. Here you will find cut flowers (fresh, dried and artificial) pot plants, terrariums, seeds and no end of gardening supplies.
The origins of the market date back to the early 1970’s when a number of wholesalers set up shop to supply florists with their products. By the 1990’s flowers had become so popular in Hong Kong that retailers also moved into the area. Competition is a great thing and with so much available supply prices dropped. Suddenly, growing flowers in pot plants and buying cut flowers in space-constrained Hong Kong became even more popular. Today it is also a popular place for tourists to wander through and admire the spectacular colors and contrasts en masse.
Some shops specialize in only one flower or product but most are “generalist”, stocking whatever is popular and in season. The range of flowers is impressive and the scents are a delight. The florists go to some effort to properly package the flowers so they are not damaged in transport. For example, roses are individually packaged in a sheath.
You see locals taking much time and effort to select the right cut flower or potted plant. Chinese people harbor many traditions when it comes to flowers, so most will consider these traditions when selecting colors and varieties.
In Chinese culture, flowers represent the four seasons:
- iris and magnolia (spring);
- peony and lotus (summer);
- chrysanthemum (fall); and
- plum and bamboo (winter).
White flowers represent death and ghosts. Pink and red flowers or bamboo are for good luck, so are popular at weddings. Floral wedding gifts for the bride and groom can be quite elaborate. Lilies, orchids and lotus are very popular choices.
After enjoying the flowers it is a very short walk to the next market on our tour.
The Bird Market
Yuen Po Street Bird Garden is the location of the bird market. It is an attractive, small park with dozens of stall owners selling birds, cages, bird food (including that of the live variety) and other supplies.
Like the flower market, there is an impressive range of birds available for purchase, some quite exotic looking, as well as your common budgerigars (still one of the world’s most popular pets). Wander around and you will also notice men coaxing some of their feathered friends to break into birdsong.
In Chinese culture it is the male who has the responsibility for looking after the family birds. There has been a long association between Chinese men and birds.
In Southern China (male) fishermen train cormorants to dive and catch their fish. In Beijing, male owners take their birds (inside their cages) for an early morning stroll in the local park. This is a lovely story and you can read more about that here.
At the bird market, all of the stall owners are male and it is somewhat touching to observe the interaction between man and bird.
The Goldfish Market
Of the 3 Unique Markets to Explore in Hong Kong, this was the most unusual. Surely Hong Kong is the only place in the world with a market for goldfish? The market is actually a collection of stores along Tung Choi Street North, Mong Kok selling all things goldfish. And not just goldfish but a wide array of fish, tanks, plants and feeding supplies.
What is truly unusual to the western eye about the goldfish market is the way in which the fish are sold. Sure, some shops have their fish safely stored in tanks but most of the common fish are swimming in small plastic bags, one fish per bag (some with two). There are hundreds of these little bags hanging up across the front of the shop ready for purchase. It is a slightly surreal sight!
And again Chinese culture explains why goldfish are so popular. The Chinese words for goldfish are identical with the two words meaning “gold and abundance”; therefore many Chinese keep goldfish at home.
Getting to Hong Kong
All Hong Kong hotels provide sightseeing maps. Ask the concierge to circle the 3 Unique Markets to Explore in Hong Kong and take the map with you.
Take the MTR to Prince Edward Station. Take exit B1 and walk east along Prince Edward Road West until you reach the flower market. After the flower market, visit the bird market by continuing along Flower Market Road (runs parallel to Prince Edward Road West) to Yuen Po Street Bird Garden (three or four minutes). After the bird market, visit the goldfish market by walking to See Yae Street and following the signs (about 10 minutes).