Hong Kong: Kowloon's Shanghai Street

There are two Hong Kongs. I may sound like a broken record, but the contrast is amazing. Walking downtown among the shiny new skyscrapers and big money, Hong Kong is that international commerce city everyone pictures it to be.
 But cross the water and Kowloon is packed, grimy, and dirty. As I've said before, though, Kowloon is where Hong Kong's real soul is, so with that in mind I set out along Shanghai Street from Kowloon Park all the way up to the Mong Kok area and even further to Boundary Street.
 If Hong Kong Island is downtown Manhattan, Kowloon is Queens, Brooklyn, or Harlem. But worse.
 The low-rise skyscrapers with tiny apartments go on forever, and there isn't a tree in sight. But it is a lively street with lots of shops on the ground floor.
 As the evening goes on, it even holds a couple markets.
 Walking here, you're going to see lots of everyday shops, but they're worth peeking in. There are occasional food shops, but restaurants and such are few and far between. There are a couple areas where you'll find clusters of windows selling snacks.

 Many of the shops in the area are markets, but Chinese markets aren't the same as the supermarkets you find in America. The food may be staples here, but it's all exotic to me.

 Shops in Hong Kong tend to specialize. The same is true in Japan, where entire neighborhoods seem to be packed with shops all selling the same thing. Shanghai Street is known as a cook's paradise, with tons of cookware to go with the markets.
 I don't know what those boxes are on the right, but they're really cool.
 Of course, looking up shows more of the grimy, AC unit-pockmarked low rises housing dozens of families each.
 Shanghai Street is also known for the signage. Apparently the government has been trying to remove some or all of them, but at night it adds even more character. Closer to Mong Kok, Shanghai Street used to have lots of sex trade industries (massage parlors, host/hostess clubs, etc), and the signage frequently is for those businesses which remain. In fact, there's a small outdoor sex toy market (a dozen vendors or so) every night on nearby Temple Street.
With a mix of neighborhood life, interesting shopping, some history, and even a few museums, Shanghai Street turned out to be a great place to get a feel for the colorful Hong Kong.

It's probably possible to spend a whole day strolling from one end to the other, checking out the shops and the few heritage buildings, and visiting the museums. But you will want to stay in the area until evening, when the night markets are set up. I didn't get to any of the museums nor do any shopping, but I made sure to visit the Ladies Market (relatively) nearby in the afternoon, returning back to the Temple Street Market after the sun went down.

The southern end of the street is at Kowloon Park (closest MTR: Jordan Station), not far from the ferry terminal, reaching up 2.3 kilometers to Lai Chi Kok Road near Prince Edward MTR Station. 

Hong Kong: Kowloon's "Ladies Market" Not Just for Ladies

While it's true that the Ladies Market in Kowloon has a lot of clothes for ladies, there is a lot more here for those who are looking for something else. I don't remember exactly what I bought here, but I didn't spend too much time browsing the stalls.
That doesn't mean I felt it was a waste of time. On the contrary - if I had more money and a bigger closet, I could have picked up plenty of clothing for myself. And as you see above, there are plenty of "licensed" stuffed toys for kids. For those looking for inexpensive "name brands" there are plenty of watches, bags, cosmetics, home furnishings, and "Polo" shirts. And you can find CDs, sports jerseys and hats, and lots of trinkets, too.

It's a practical market, so while tourists do come here, it's also where locals can go to get their wares. I'm not really sure how much of it is truly licensed instead of being knock offs, but if you're going to a market for your sportswear, I doubt you really care. Expect to haggle, and keep in mind that you may be (probably are?) buying fakes. The market's own website notes this, and mentions that you should expect to pay 20-30% less than originally quoted. Be sure to shop around.

There are restaurants, including a KFC and 7-11 nearby, but this is not a food destination. Expect to find Chinese restaurants and some international flavor, but menus are usually in Chinese and workers probably don't speak English. (Those running the stalls in the market will speak enough English to haggle prices and try to convince you to buy their goods, at the least.)

Over 100 stalls line Tung Choi Street around Shan Tung Street. You can access the Ladies Market from MTR's Mong Kok Station. Take Exit E2, and walk along Nelson Street for two blocks.

Most everything is open by noon and shopping in the afternoon is fine, but it's best to shop 4PM-midnight when the street is officially closed to vehicles. Individual stalls can pack up early, of course.

Hong Kong: Kowloon

Hong Kong Island, full of towering skyscrapers, is what people envision when you mention this city's name. That's where the money is, and that's where the British people lived. But those in the know are also familiar with Kowloon, the "Chinese" city across the water. This is where the airport was for so long. This is where the infamous Walled City once existed, with its almost mythical population density. And this is where progress has come slowly, if at all.
 Kowloon is also where the flavor and culture is. For gentrified suburbanites, it's a scary, dirty place. But for the adventurous, there's something awesome hiding around every corner and down every alley. But you don't have to hunt for history. Right next to the Star Ferry terminal is the old clock tower. This is where the old Hong Kong railway station was, and while the historic building itself was torn down, the tower remains as a landmark. Nearby are several museums.
 I avoided public transportation as much as possible, not because of fear or disgust, but because Kowloon's streets are lined with interesting shops and factories.
 Just peaking inside buildings as I went from destination to destination meant that sightseeing didn't have to wait til "are we there yet" - this is some metalworking/pipe shop.
 And another shop was full of mannequins waiting to move to other shops.
 The buildings here are high, but old and run down. Air conditioners poke out of windows, laundry hangs off poles, and everything feels gritty and dirty. Greenery is almost nonexistent if you're not in a public park.
 But three doors down is a bakery with really beautiful cakes on display. Or a window selling delicious snacks. Or a shop full of toys or suitcases or clothes for old ladies.
Some areas of Kowloon are better for exploring than others. And with only a few days, I wasn't able to visit them all. But there is more to come here - streetscapes, markets, and more.

Hong Kong: Kowloon Park

Kowloon Park was developed in the 1970s on the site of old barracks, and now is quite a large park near the downtown area of Kowloon. My stop here was brief, but I got to see the most important parts of the park.
 I really had no idea what to expect, and stopping at the park happened only because I had a little extra time when I was passing by. On the east side of the park is a nice traditional walled garden, with a lot of these trees lining the outside.
 Inside, you'll find interesting rocks and a pleasant pavilion over a small pond. An old, tree filled park, this is a shady, quiet place to relax and unwind.
 The inside wall of the garden is quite nice as well. Directly to the left of this photo were a group of people doing what I think was tai chi.
 Across the park on the west side is the old barracks. I'm not sure I found the actual barracks, but I did discover some nice paths. Sorry, but I didn't have enough camera battery to take tons of pictures at this point in the day. (I would soon make sure that didn't happen again; I bought a spare battery for my camera as soon as I returned to Japan.)
 In the area is this castle tower to climb, though it doesn't exactly have a view of anything.
The park also has a museum, a large swimming pool, a sports center, and something called the Avenue of Comic Stars, a sort of walk of fame. As I mentioned, I didn't have a lot of time to spend here, but I'm sure there are plenty of other hidden treats to find nestled along the side paths.

Kowloon Park is located just north of Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station, and a short walk from the ferry and several other Kowloon sightseeing spots.

A Few Images from Hong Kong's 2014 Protests

Those of you looking for violence, marches, and rallies have come to the wrong place. My visit occurred when things were mostly quiet. Instead, I saw lots of tents and people hanging around.
 I didn't plan it, but I ended up walking through Kowloon's site in Mong Kok. They took over the main arterial through there.
 A wall full of protest propaganda.
 There were lots of tents. I'm not sure what was going on other than people hanging out, actually, but I wasn't there to explore and find out.
 These Minions trash cans used as a blockade were pretty cool though.
If you're interested in reading about the protests, check out the Wikipedia article.

Hong Kong Museum of History

 This may look like the entrance to the Museum of History, but it isn't. For that, you need to go to the right and go up the stairs below:
 After finding the entrance, I entered a pretty comprehensive museum.
 Admittedly, it doesn't stand out with anything truly unique, but visitors will certainly have a thorough understanding of Hong Kong's past.
 History here starts with prehistory. Hong Kong was home to tigers!
 Apparently, prehistoric men were all light brown including their hair color and clothing. I guess they blended in with the sandy beaches.
 A nice collection of old pottery.
 Traditional clothing.
 This was pretty cool - an old junk boat.
 You couldn't go inside, but you could go onboard and see what it looked like inside.
 Fish laid out to dry.
 There are several recreated "buildings" inside the museum, so you could look and possibly reenact life in the past.
 It's time to sit down to dinner!

 In the "old city" you could see additional historic artifacts.
 A large area was arranged to display the Seven Sisters Festival, a ritual which has apparently disappeared from modern Hong Kong.

 Lots to see in this museum, especially explaining lots of traditional culture.
 Another large area had a procession set up for a parade.

 Further into the museum, early 20th century buildings were set up.
 There was a post office, a store, a restaurant, and more.

 While the authentic sounds and smells were missing, it really looked like the Hong Kong of early movies.
 You could even board an old double-decker tram, though you couldn't go upstairs.

 These little book things looked pretty cool. I didn't see anything that explained what they were, though.
 Hong Kong is certainly well-known as a shipping and manufacturing hub, and a lot of Hong Kong-made goods are displayed at the end of the museum.
While manufacturing has shifted to even cheaper labor locations, this city has a legacy of producing some of America's classic toys and other merchandise.

Admission is only HK$10 (that's really cheap with the exchange rate!) and the museum is open 10:00-18:00, 10:00-19:00 on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays; closed Tuesdays and a couple major holidays).
The museum is accessed in a few different ways. The easiest and closest MTR station is probably Hung Hom, using exit D1. East Tsim Sha Tsui (P2) and Tsim Sha Tsui stations (B2) are also nearby. Kowloon isn't too spread out so walking isn't out of the question. The museum's website is here and has some maps to help you get an idea of the museum's location and where the entrance is on the building.