It’s that time of the year ago to don your sluttiest scariest costume. While trick-or-treating may not be a thing in Hong Kong, there’s still plenty you can do to celebrate this Western tradition in the East.
In this quick guide, we’ll first take a look at the Asian version of Halloween, Hungry Ghost Festival, and how’s it’s celebrated. If you’d prefer to skip the boring cultural lesson, you can jump straight to the other sections where we’ll reveal where to find cheap Halloween costumes and the worthwhile events happening around town.
While Halloween hasn't quite caught on like Christmas over in Asia, it doesn't mean that the day isn't celebrated by the locals - it's just on a different day under a different (and scarier) name, Hungry Ghost Festival.
Recall that time of year when you saw people burning bundles of paper in trashcans all along the sidewalk? Yep, that's the Hungry Ghost Festival.
What is Hungry Ghost Festival?
Like Halloween, Hungry Ghost also serves as a day to remember the dead and ward off evil spirits. The difference being that, well, this version is a lot less PG friendly.
You know how Halloween was our favorite day of the year as kids? A day where we can dress up as their favorite superheroes and receive oodles of free candy? Hungry Ghost Festival is a more day for adults... only the 'celebration' involves a lot less fun, and a lot more worrying about how to stop spirits from haunting and possessing you or your loved ones. Yeah.
When is it?
Hungry Ghost Festival actually refers to the 15th day of the 7th lunar month (which is not July, the actual month changes yearly - it was August in 2016). The 7th month itself is known ominously as Ghost Month. It is believed that, on the first day of the month, hungry spirits of dead will break out of the underworld, roam the earth (or just Asia), and generally do bad stuff, like exact vengeance on the living. If you've seen any Asian horror movies, then you'll know we're not dealing with Casper or Patrick Swayze in Ghost.
So what do you do?
The trick to surviving lies in keeping these hungry ghosts not hungry enough to eat you, basically (okay, they don't literally eat people). This is why it's common to see people burning everything from paper money to paper iPhones, and offerings of food being left outside. These goods don't just go to any ghosts, though - it's believed that these offerings will go directly to one's ancestors and any wandering spirits without families.
There's also an encyclopedia worth of rules you're supposed to follow to avoid certain doom. They range from the simple, like staying home after dark, to kind of hard but still doable, like not picking up coins and money on the street (gah!), to downright ridiculous, like not taking selfies or my absolute favorite - WALKING NEAR WALLS. Yeah, good luck trying avoid walls for an entire month.
What's special about the 15th then?
After two weeks of walking the earth and being deflected by prepared Asians everywhere, this is when the ghosts are most hungry and most restless, so it's especially important to offer food and burn goods on this day.
You probably won't see this unless you go to a temple, but this is also the time when monks perform special ceremonies to really kick the spirits when they're down. What you will see is families having large feasts as a way to commemorate their passed relatives, though some will even have this meal a day or two earlier to throw off the hungry ghosts.
Okay, so what's all this got to do with Halloween?
Absolutely nothing. You got me.
I just thought it'd be cool to use Halloween as an opportunity to talk a little about Eastern culture. You know what, go hit the next tabs for stuff about actual Halloween.
WHERE TO GET HALLOWEEN COSTUMES
One cursory search on google and you'll find countless stores selling and renting Halloween costumes for a few bills - with some costing as much as a few really big and shiny bills (I'm talking $1000+). Here at Quasi-Local, we ain't got no money for that. So here's the more affordable places we recommend checking out instead:
I think all of us have heard about Taobao by now, but if you've been living under a rock, under a rock, under another rock for the past decade, Taobao is essentially the Chinese Ebay.
This is the perfect solution for those of us who are too busy working or too lazy to get out of the house. All you have to do is enable Google Translate, make an account, and search for 'halloween'.
Stuff on Taobao is super cheap and should get to you in about 4 business days, so you still have plenty of time to browse. The problem is that you obviously can't try on the costumes, and they may not arrive like they look in photos - but hey, it's a damn Halloween costume you're gonna wear once, puke on, and throw away. Who cares?!
Note: Alas, there doesn't seem to be as much selection for guys as for gals and kids. Sorry mates.
Fuk Wing Street - Sham Shui Po
For the seasoned junk (as in the ship, not the dumpster variety) veteran, Fuk Wing Street is recognized as the mecca for cheap inflatables. But did you know that it's where you can also score bargain Halloween supplies?
Let me tell you, these stores know their market. Gone are all the floaties and inflatables - in their place are Halloween costumes, masks, props, and paints. Whereas an upscale shop over on Hong Kong Island may sell something as simple as fake blood for $100+HKD, here you can grab some for as little as $10. Need a poorly constructed vinyl mask which may or may not constrict your breathing? That'll be only $30HKD.
To find the stores and street stalls with all these festive merchandise, just check out the section of Fuk Wing Street between Pei Ho Street and Nam Cheong Street. Unless you're exclusively hunting for high-end costume pieces, chances are, you're going to walk away a very happy customer.
Tai Yuen Street - Wan Chai
Exact same thing as Fuk Wing Street, albeit with a couple less stores. But hey, if it's more convenient than heading all the way up to Kowloon, you might as well check out Tai Yuen Street first, otherwise known to locals as Toy Street.
There's 5 or 6 stores here specializing in both high-end and low-end toys and collectibles, along with current seasonal stuff. Despite it's name, it definitely has a much smaller selection of toys than Mong Kok.
For our purpose, you'll also find plenty of Halloween supplies to peruse. Even if the merch turn out to be slightly more expensive than their counterparts over in Sham Shui Po, you're still getting yourself a heck of a deal!
Fun Fact: Nic Cage was recently spotted here buying, of all things, a Gold Lightan action figure.
Pottinger Street - Central
This is more of a last ditch effort, but if you find yourself without a costume on the afternoon of October 31st, then you might as well check out Pottinger Street.
Pottinger Street, also known as Stone Slab Street, also known as Costume Market, is where stalls on both sides of the sidewalk are lined top to bottom with a wide range of Halloween costumes. Thing is, because these merchants realize their customers are wealthy gwai-lo's (white devils), prices are marked up accordingly and usually non-negotiable (unless you buy more than one).
But hey, maybe you're the brilliant CEO of a revolutionary start-up with too much money to bury. In that case, why are you even reading this section?!
That's it for this section! Hop over to the next tab to see what fun things you can do in Hong Kong with your new costumes, besides robbing banks.
Lan Kwai Fong
You've probably read about it online, but incase you didn't know, Lan Kwai Fong is the one place every English-speaker will visit on October 31st. Being Halloween party central, however, comes with a catch.
Lan Kwai Fong isn't a big area, and on it's busiest night with the entire Hong Kong expat population at its doorstep, it's simply not going to accommodate everyone.
I found this out the hard way, but - after a certain time in the evening - most of the streets around LKF will be cordoned off and turned into a one-way walkway, from the MTR exits all the way up to SoHo. There will also be an army of police there to maintain order and to keep everyone moving. You're going to feel incredibly hot and uncomfortable once you get stuck in line with the other billion partyers. Contrary to popular belief, this means you won't even be able to stop at the various bars and 7-Elevens. Instead, you'll be ushered through LKF from one end and immediately exit out the other.
Here you can get a taste of how insanely packed LKF gets:
For those braving Lan Kwai Fong: go early enough to avoid the traffic jam, or make sure to have a backup option if things don't go to plan. If you don't mind crossing the water, Knutsford Terrace over in Tsim Sha Tsui might not be a bad alternative.
Every bar and club in town are currently pushing tickets for their own Halloween parties. I won't bother listing them because there's too many options to name, not to mention I'm simply too darn lazy (and too poor). Provided you do a little research, you're bound to find something up your alley.
Tickets range anywhere from $200 to an arm and a liver, though many establishments will provide free flow liquor. You'll usually get a discount too when you buy online rather than at the door. So yeah, be a smart shopper - do your research!
In my opinion, however, if you're going to spend a couple hundred bucks on alcohol, you might as well get yourself a ticket to Ocean Park.
For Halloween, Ocean Park has once again transformed itself into a land of horrors (it's themed after the new Ghostbusters after all). For $385, you get 7 haunted houses and nearly a dozen live shows, on top of all the existing rides and attractions. You're going to laugh, you're going to cry, and probably have a better time here than at whatever expensive bar.
As with most things in Hong Kong, Ocean Park will no doubt be super busy, but at least you won't have to dress up.
Note: Disneyland also has a Halloween event, but if you're after a real adrenaline rush, go to Ocean Park.