Escape The Expat Bubble: West Kowloon and Mong Kok
You’ve no doubt read the tourist guide books that tell you about the great shopping at the night markets of Mong Kok and Elements mall in West Kowloon – but these neighbourhoods offer so much more than that. Mong Kok has always been one of the most exciting areas in Hong Kong, with its world-famous street markets and plentiful food options, while West Kowloon – a hop and a skip away on the MTR – is packed with luxury hotels and myriad dining establishments and entertainment. This guide features some of the must-dos in the neighbourhoods, as well as some lesser-known gems you should check out.
Eat & Drink
Tung Choi Street and Mong Kok Road
On the corner of Tung Choi Street and Mong Kok Road, you’ll find myriad stalls selling some of the best Hong Kong-style street food the city has to offer. Offering siu mai (pork dumplings) and fish balls drenched in soy sauce and curry sauce; noodles served in a styrofoam bowl; local delicacy, stinky tofu; and everything in between, this is the place to be for adventurous foodies. If you’re looking for a more substantial meal, head to the Fa Yuen Street Market and Cooked Food Centre nearby. On the third floor, dai pai dong-style eateries serve up ingredients sourced right here at the market in the same building. Sample hearty fried noodles and rice dishes, or make like a local and order two mains (normally a meat or seafood dish and a veg) with one soup, alongside a bowl of rice. You might have to get creative with a bit of pointing and gesturing, as the menus are all in Chinese only.
TAP – The Ale Project
One of the newer additions to Hak Po Street – itself an enclave of local restaurants – TAP has taken Mong Kok by storm. While the craft beer scene in Hong Kong might be behind those in other cities, in the last few years it has truly flourished. TAP is affiliated with homegrown brewery Young Master Ales and specialises in craft brews, offering more than a dozen beers on tap. What’s more, TAP also does Hong Kong-style twists on pub food: think a cubano made with siu yuk, or Cantonese-style roasted meat; and Sichuan chicken wrap.
15 Hak Po Street, Mong Kok, (852) 2468 2010
Full Cup Cafe
Upstairs cafés are the bread-and-butter of cool Hong Kong kids, and Full Cup Cafe is your quintessential Mong Kok hipster enclave. Located in an unassuming building down an alleyway in Mong Kok, the café takes up five floors. Full Cup is split into three levels, each with different offerings. The third floor hosts indie gigs every Sunday afternoon; there’s an alfresco area on the fourth floor; and the fifth is inspired by 2001 French rom-com Amélie, with a red décor and roses at every turn. The sixth floor is dubbed ‘the mysterious bar’, and the 70s-inspired top floor also serves as the owner’s workshop. Visit website to keep updated with frequent indie gigs hosted at the joint. FYI: Full Cup is so-named because it sounds just like the Cantonese word for “breathe.”
3-7/F, Hanway Commercial Centre, 36 Dundas Street, Mong Kok, (852) 2771 7775.
Civic Square, Elements
Elements mall isn’t all just shopping. It has an alfresco space, Civic Square, which is jam-packed with restaurants and bars with an awesome night view. Head to Grand Central Bar and Grill for classic pub food, beers and cocktails; Madam S’ate for a spot of French provincial dining; Cafe Iguana for a Mexican spread; and Kowloon Tang for contemporary Cantonese cuisine, among others.
Civic Square, Elements, 1 Austin Road West, West Kowloon
Open 24 hours, the lounge bar at Ovolo West Kowloon is a social spot offering drinks and nibbles. As with all Ovolo properties in the city, there’s a free happy hour for guests from 5-7pm daily, as well as free breakfast in the morning. Grab a coffee and relax at this casual dining joint.
256 Tung Chau Street, West Kowloon, (852) 2158 2588
See & Do
Views From the International Commerce Centre
The 118-storey ICC in West Kowloon has the distinction of being the tallest building in Hong Kong, affording incredible views of the Victoria Harbour and beyond. It houses the Sky100 viewing platform, which costs HK$168 to enter – although if you want to sit back and really enjoy the view, a nice alternative would be to head to the Ritz-Carlton two floors up. A classic afternoon tea set at the hotel’s Cafe 103 will set you back HK$378 for one, or HK$608 for two.
103/F, The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, ICC, 1 Austin Road West, West Kowloon, (852) 2263 2270
West Kowloon Cultural District
The West Kowloon Cultural District is an area that sits on reclaimed land. It’s currently in the development stages towards becoming an arts and cultural hub, although quite when that will be completed is a question that no one really seems to know the real answer to. Either way, the waterfront promenade at the WKCD has incredible views of Hong Kong Island, and is a rare part of the city that isn’t totally overtaken by high-rise buildings. The SmartBike programme here offers cheap bicycles for hire, with established cycling paths all around the WKCD. Bike hire is HK$20 per hour; cyclers purchase a Smart Card for HK$50, which covers a handling charge and a value of HK$40 within.
West Kowloon Cultural District
Located inside the Broadway Cinematheque, Kubrick is a gem that’s definitely worth a detour to (it is not located in Mong Kok, but Yau Ma Tei next door). The bookstore-slash-cafe offers hundreds of hard-to-find titles, niche publications, movie posters, arthouse DVDs, illustrations and even toy cameras. With an all-day breakfast menu as well as snacks, coffees and teas, so it’s easy to end up spending a few hours poring over what Kubrick has to offer.
3 Public Square St, Yau Ma Tei, (852) 2384 8929
Me and George
Thrift store Me and George is one of the best of its kind in the city, boasting hundreds of vintage pieces mostly imported from Japan and Korea. Items are offered at unbeatable price points – you might find yourself picking up two or three pieces for under HK$100 – although you should be prepared to dig through its racks before you find gem or two.
64 Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok
From its exterior, In’s Point looks like a run-of-the-mill Mong Kok mall with flashing neon signs and an understated entrance. Inside, it’s a toy lover’s heaven. A mall dedicated to toys of all kinds, In’s Point stocks everything from Marvel and DC Comics action figures and Barbie dolls to Lego and vintage toys. Whether you’re a big kid at heart, a serious toy collector or just want to relive moments from your childhood, In Point’s got your back. Note that it is easier to get to In’s Point from Yau Ma Tei MTR station.
530-538 Nathan Road, Mong Kok
Andrea Lo is a freelance journalist and translator based in Hong Kong. After cutting her teeth in the industry as a staff writer at a lifestyle magazine, she embraced the freelance life in 2015 and hasn’t looked back. She spends her time exploring the best of Hong Kong’s dining and nightlife scene, trialling new fitness trends, and travelling to exotic locales – all in the name of “research”.