John Harvey Photo

Hong Kong for Chinese New Years

Go to Slide Show Smaller Images A brief visit

This year we decided to go back to Japan for another 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 ago.  The thing is, once you are flying to Asia, you might as well 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, here and here and later trips here, here and here)) so some of the places in Hong Kong I've visited before (sometimes several times).  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.

View From Gondola CarRising Over Tung ChungHeading Up Mountain

I was quite impressed with the ride up and the view.  Compared to the prices at Whistler, this Gondola is cheap.

Po Lin Monastery

Buddha Looking Down
We are two days from Chinese new years and most things 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 lighter. 

Large Incense Stick Burning
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 details.

Dragon Detail On ColumnInside TempleDog Door Ring

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.

Tai - O

Fishing Boat Heading Out
This small fishing village is one of my favorite places in Hong Kong.  I visited Tai O on my first trip and caught really nice late day lighting.  Sadly today they sky was overcast so I didn't get as nice lighting. 

Quiet Backwater

Small Family ShrinePutting Up LanternsTwo Boats In The Water

Bubble Waffle Being Poured
One of things that makes me keen on Tai O is the 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.

Bubble Waffle Ready To Turn OutBubble Waffle Fanned Cool

Lucky Charm On Walls
There are many traditions around Chinese New 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 combination. 

Offering At Base Of WallFreshly Painted DoorDecorated Grey Door

Flower Market

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.

Crowds At The Flower Market
The normally sedate road next to the market was closed 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, but at this time of the year there was a limited number of very popular items.  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 opened, consumers grabbing items, displays exhasted and new boxes produced.  The amount of money changing hands was dramatic. 

Push To Buy LilysCrated DaffodilsSpouted Daffodils
Gladiolus Growing SidewaysMandarin Trees For SalePussy Willows

Gold Fish Market

Orange Star And Blue Lipped Bivalves
The Gold Fish Market (or street) is one of my favorite 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.

Pink FishVery Round Gold Fish

Man Mo Temple
Inside Man Mo Temple
Another of my favorite haunts.  We 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 (and donations).  On the plus side, it was quiet enough that I could take photos inside without disturbing the people who normally use the temple.

Nearly Empty Man Mo Temple
New Years Market at Victoria Park

New Years Market At Night
For about a week before Chinese new years, Victoria 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). 

Selling BalloonsSelling Lucky Windmills
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 day. 

Swinging New Years Cards

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.

View Over Market During DayBun MountainCrowds In The MarketSpinners By Tower
Stuffed Characters
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. 

New Years Windmills

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. 

Plum BlossomYellow Hand FruitTwo Kids In The Orange Patch
Happy New Years!
Wong Tai Sin Temple

Incense Burning Amid Buildings
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 will put 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.

Holding ALucky WindmillOne Of The Smaller BuildingsHolding AHand Full Of IncenseHands Of Incense

Adding More Incense
The main temple has the largest places to leave incense and once you are done you proceed inside for more prayer or perhaps to use the bamboo sticks to have your fortune told. 

Front Of Temple BuildingBamboo Fortune Sticks

  The Crowd Adding Incense
The scale of the incense burned is difficult to overestimate.  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 clearing workers are working continuously so a stick of incense is in the burner for 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.

Dragon Wrapped Incense BurnerFlames Of Incense BurningPrayer Before Flames
After Wong Tai Sin, I went to Che Kung temple but the temple was quieter 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.

New Years Parade
Wise Men Together
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.

Roller Blading Wise Men
Our itinerary didn't let us stay for the fireworks (New Years + 2 days), but I hear they are quite good (go early).  

Very Round Gold Fish
Tags: aquarium, bright bottom, fish, Hong Kong
Heading Up Mountain
Altitude: 146m (479 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: cable car, Hong Kong
Inside Man Mo Temple
Tags: Hong Kong, lantern, Man Mo Temple, temple
Spinners By Tower
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Two Boats In The Water
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Holding ALucky Windmill
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Dragon Detail On Column
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New Years Windmills
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Putting Up Lanterns
Altitude: 3m (9 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: architectural decoration, Hong Kong, Tai O, temple
Inside Temple
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Bubble Waffle Ready To Turn Out
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Quiet Backwater
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Plum Blossom
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Buddha Looking Down
Altitude: 450m (1476 feet)
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Tags: Buddha, Hong Kong, place of worship
Freshly Painted Door
Tags: door, good luck, Hong Kong, Tai O
Front Of Temple Building
Altitude: 16m (52 feet)
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Spouted Daffodils
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Dog Door Ring
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Crowds At The Flower Market
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Stuffed Characters
Bun Mountain
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Rising Over Tung Chung
Altitude: 195m (639 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: cable car, Hong Kong, vista
Dragon Wrapped Incense Burner
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Selling Balloons
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Large Incense Stick Burning
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Selling Lucky Windmills
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Bamboo Fortune Sticks
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Prayer Before Flames
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Flames Of Incense Burning
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Yellow Hand Fruit
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Lucky Charm On Walls
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Pink Fish
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Push To Buy Lilys
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Bubble Waffle Being Poured
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Roller Blading Wise Men
Offering At Base Of Wall
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Gladiolus Growing Sideways
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Mandarin Trees For Sale
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View Over Market During Day
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Wise Men Together
Two Kids In The Orange Patch
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Crated Daffodils
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Swinging New Years Cards
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Incense Burning Amid Buildings
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Adding More Incense
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The Crowd Adding Incense
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Pussy Willows
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Orange Star And Blue Lipped Bivalves
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Bubble Waffle Fanned Cool
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Crowds In The Market
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Holding AHand Full Of Incense
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Nearly Empty Man Mo Temple
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Hands Of Incense
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View From Gondola Car
Person: Mark
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New Years Market At Night
Altitude: 6m (19 feet)
Location: Go To...
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Fishing Boat Heading Out
Altitude: 2m (6 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: boat, fishing, Hong Kong, Tai O
Decorated Grey Door
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One Of The Smaller Buildings
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Small Family Shrine
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Tags: Hong Kong(51), market(14), crowd(10), temple(10), Tai O(9), good luck(6)
People: Mark(1)
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.
John Harvey
Tuesday, January 26th, 2010 at 15:10:14

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