Following on from her recent article on seeing Hong Kong for free, travel writer and Hong Kong expert Lee Cobaj is back this week with an insider's guide to shopping and bargain-hunting in the islands' best stores, markets and malls...
Where to shop, what to buy
There are few places in the world that can match Hong Kong’s shopping prowess and even if you’ve no intention of partaking in a bit of retail therapy, the chances are you will succumb to some big-brand bargains and unexpected extravagances. My first piece of advice then would be to take an empty suitcase with you ready to fill up at Hong Kong’s numerous mega-malls and street markets.
Though it’s possible to shop almost everywhere in Hong Kong, what’s on offer varies from district to district. The main retail hubs are Central, Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui but don’t be afraid to jump on a tram and explore further afield in the likes of North Point and Ap Lei Chau where you can find everything from Lucky Cat money boxes to cut-price couture.
One-Stop Souvenir Shop
Over on the south side of the island is the lively little Stanley Market. It may be firmly on the tourist trail but it’s generally less congested and chaotic than other street markets and despite its popularity still retains a friendly fishing village vibe. Another bonus is that as it sits on the coast you can easily combine a day at the shops with a day at the beach. The market is relatively small but still manages to squeeze in hundreds of little stalls and shops, all of which are packed with plenty of take-home treats. Best buys include original artworks, Chinese curios, linens, bedsets, tablecloths, children's products, silk pyjamas and dressing gowns. End a hard day’s shopping on the waterfront with sundowners at Spaggia.
Other good shopping spots include Temple Street Night Market (Yau Ma Tei MTR station) for kitschy trinkets and nifty gadgets, and the area on and around Hollywood Road (Sheung Wan MTR station) for postmodernist Mao memorabilia and antiques, both real and fake.
With architectural luminaries like Sir Norman Foster, I.M. Pei and Philippe Starck all having left their stamp on this dynamic city, it’s obvious that Hong Kong has some pretty cool design credentials. G.O.D, short for Goods of Desire, is Hong Kong's foremost lifestyle brand. Mainly an upscale furniture shop that has expanded into fashion, its eclectic product range is inspired by the city’s unique heritage, playfully merging utilitarian principles and vintage aesthetics to create a capricious range of highly-covetable products – think day-glo Buddhas, retro soaps from Shanghai and stylish tatami cushions. Homeless in Central is another trendy concept store selling furniture, high-status home accessories and an impressive selection of contemporary lighting.
For a broader range of home furnishings (without the niche prices) the colossal Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau, near Aberdeen, is a favourite outlet of Hong Kong residents. All 23 floors combine to create one gigantic retail space selling everything from books to baby clothes to fashionista favourites Jimmy Choo, Comme des Garçons and Marni (to name a few).
Interiors-wise Tequila Kola (1st Floor) and Shambala (2nd Floor) both have superb collections of statement pieces, rugs, artworks and chandeliers – all of which can be cheaply and easily shipped. Lastly for those with more traditional tastes, there’s a stream of Chinese furniture shops dotted along Queen’s Road East in Wan Chai selling beautiful rattan and rosewood furniture that, again, can be conveniently delivered to your front door by sea mail for a small fee.
There’s some serious shoe shopping to be had in Hong Kong. The city is positively littered with fabulous footwear in every imaginable design. The area behind the Excelsior Hotel is a good place to start; it’s jam-packed with independent fashion stores full of pumps, heels and boots. From there drift round towards Jardine’s Bazaar (Causeway Bay MTR) where it’s possible to pick up flip-flops, sandals and slippers for just a few dollars – it’s also great for accessories.
But for the ultimate shoe-shopping experience nothing beats having a bespoke pair of shoes made just for you. The lovely people at Gigi Shoes in Happy Valley (171 Wong Nei Chong Road; Tel: 2890 6260) are footwear wizards and the whole process of buying from them is an absolute delight. Customers can either choose to alter an in-store design or if you have your heart set on a certain style simply bring in a picture, pick your materials from their giant book of super-soft leathers and then pop back in a few days for that Cinderella moment – and the best bit? Prices start from about £60.
There are lots and lots (and lots!) of places to purchase electronics in Hong Kong, the most famous being the Golden Mile in Tsim Sha Tsui. While most of the owners are honest brokers the area does have its sharks so try and use somewhere that’s been recommended. There are still gadget bargains to be had in other parts of the city though; for photography, computer and music equipment try the Wan Chai Computer Centre (130 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai MTR station); for gaming check out the Golden Computer Arcade (Sham Shui Po MTR station); and for mobile phones and accessories the Temple Street Night Market has a mind-boggling range of ringers. These locations all offer independent retailers who you can bargain hard with.
If you would prefer to stick to tried and tested chain stores head over to the Times Square shopping mall in Causeway Bay where the 7th and 8th floors of are dedicated to all things digital. Fortress and Broadway are two well-known Hong Kong chain stores and although you’ll probably pay a little bit more than you would at the independent retailers, you will get a decent international guarantee and if you’re bold enough to bargain there’s even the possibility of a small discount and some freebies.
Lastly, if you're planning a trip to Hong Kong purely for the shopping then major savings can be had during the traditional late December sale season, which builds up considerably in the run up to the Chinese New Year. It's also worthwhile trying to catch the amazing summer sales; July and August see some serious price-cuts as the tourist board swathes the city with red sale signs, piles up discount vouchers in the malls and promotes longer opening hours (often till around midnight).
Virgin Atlantic operates a daily flight to Hong Kong from London Heathrow. If you're visiting Hong Kong for a city break or stopping over on the way to Sydney, head over to Virgin Holidays for a complete range of Hong Kong hotels.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.