Contrary to popular belief, Central is not the true ‘downtown’. That title belongs to Mong Kok, the name of which literally translates to ‘busy corner’. A curious blend of East & West, old & new, upscale & working class, Mong Kok is your perfect window into the vibrant soul of Hong Kong. Or just go for the shopping. Either way, Quasi-Local’s got you covered on the things to do, places to visit, and foods to try in Mong Kok.
If you ever have trouble finding something in Hong Kong, locals will tell you to look in Mong Kok. Cellphone repairs? Mong Kok. Good food? Mong Kok. High end action figures? Mong Kok. 'Happy endings'? You get the idea.
Located in the heart of Kowloon, Mong Kok contains anything and everything you can ever dream to find in Asia - from luxury retailers to bargain markets, and fancy restaurants to quality street food. However, all that comes with a catch: Mong Kok, at all times of the day, is crowded as hell.
In fact, Mong Kok is so busy that some locals have completely sworn off ever visiting the area. You think, 'but it's crowded everywhere in Hong Kong.' Well, yes. But not like this.
With a population density of 130,000/km2, Mong Kok is the busiest place on the entire planet (according to the Guinness Book of Records, but what do they know?). One particular street gets so much foot traffic that it becomes completely closed off to motor vehicles during peak hours. From the moment you hop off the Mong Kok MTR, you're going to find yourself cursing at the sea of people and wishing you never came across this guide.
Now that you're somewhat mentally prepared, let's dive into Mong Kok.
Note: Do not make the rookie mistake of heading into MK too early. Shops stay open until well into the night, which means they don't open until well into the day (around noon). So go ahead and sleep in, you're going to need all the energy you can get!
Featured image, modified with text: flickr/johnlsl
THINGS TO DO IN MONG KOK:
Tong lau (唐樓), literally meaning 'chinese building', are tenement houses built between 1880s-ish to 1960s.
These are the rundown, ghetto-like buildings reminiscent of old Chinese movies. Tong lau's are 3 to 5 stories in height, with the ground floor serving as a storefront to maximize its space efficiency.
You can probably tell at a glance that tong lau's don't look all that safe, which was why a 1964 law has banned new tong lau's from being built.
What makes tong lau's worth mentioning is that these historical icons are rapidly disappearing. Many have been deconstructed to make way for new high-rises, and many more are threatened by decay and poor maintenance. The disappearance of tong lau's is so serious that it has spawned a movement to help revitalize these buildings. One example is the Blue House in Wan Chai -- a tong lau which has been converted into a mini museum.
So if you get a chance, hop over to 600 Shanghai Street and snap a photo of these tong lau's before they're gone forever!
It may look like a temple, but believe or not, Tung Wah Museum used to be the main hall of a hospital.
Kwong Wah Hospital is notable for being the first Hong Kong hospital -- using funds donated by local merchants -- to provide free healthcare. Kwong Wah Hospital is still around today, but now looks like a regular hospital and nothing like a temple.
Luckily, Tung Wah Museum retains its original style and is now, well, a museum. Admission is free and it'll take you no longer than 15 minutes to do a walkthrough, so why not stop by and check out how weird Hong Kong hospitals used to look?
You know that age-old stereotype about how Asians are really good at videogames? I always believed it was an exaggeration. Then I visited an Asian arcade.
For reasons unknown to me, Mong Kok seems to be where videogame pros like to flaunt their skills. Stroll through any arcade here and you're guaranteed to witness a record-breaking feat in progress.
Take the drum games. When I play, all I get is a headache from trying to keep up with the scrolling notes. Not only would a pro frown at me for using the stock drumsticks (they bring their own), they would also be able to play the same section with one hand. Then we have the Dance Dance Revolution guys who have apparently elevated to another plane of existence, as they 100% mimic the onscreen avatars rather than dance to the arrows, which I didn't even realize was possible. Not to mention the Street Fighter bullies who sit hours on end on one credit, and utterly pulverize you when you accidentally push the wrong button and match up with them.
Point is, you have to see these pros in action. It's truly inspiring to see what someone can do with an iron will, many fistfuls of dollars, and too much free time. If you're not afraid of looking like a foolish mortal before the videogame gods, an arcade game will only run you $2 to $6HKD.
Each Mong Kok arcade has its own niche. GameZone has more light gun shooters and music games, Smart Game has a Street Fighter scene, and the unnamed arcade under Chong Hing Square is the place to go for basketball and party games. Some of these machines may be old and have broken controllers though, so don't be too surprised if you are unlucky enough to pick a bad machine.
Also, look out for a game called Bishi Bashi. It's a compilation of minigames, supporting up to three players, that will challenge your willpower, wrist muscles, and your wallet.
Finally, to address the possible elephant in the room: arcades are not ripe with triad members. While these arcades can admittedly look quite shady, I've never seen anything or run into any problems. Sure, it's probable arcades have triad connections, but the whole triads conducting business in arcades thing remains a Johnny To trope. Only thing you should worry about is dying from second-hand smoke as these places tend to turn a blind eye to indoor smoking.
P.S. If you didn't know about the triad thing, I'm really sorry for putting the thought into your head.
As mentioned earlier, to accommodate the influx of shoppers, one street in Mong Kok turns into pedestrian-only zone during certain hours. That street is Sai Yeung Choi South (the section from Argyle street down to Dundas).
During the pedestrian zone hours, you'll find all sorts of people on the street vying for your attention. If you trudge deep enough through the sea of salesmen, instant photographers, and politicians campaigning for god-knows-what, you'll eventually find the street buskers.
All sorts of performances happen here. The bulk of them tend to revolve around singing and dancing, but sometimes you'll catch weird magic shows and agility acts. These performers will never pester you for money and some may even choose not to accept any money at all.
For a long time, Sai Yeung Choi South would turn into a pedestrian zone every night of the week. But after too many complaints from nearby residents and store owners, the pedestrian zone hours have now been changed to Saturdays from 4pm - 10pm and Sundays from 12pm - 10pm.
Fun Fact: Busking is perfectly legal in Hong Kong and the police will not bug you so long as you don't receive any noise complaints. If you've got the talent to perform, go for it!
Getting There: Mong Kok MTR exit E3 > head south along Sai Yeung Choi Street South
That's all for sights! Hit the next tab for MK's best attraction - Shopping.
Don't be fooled by the name, there's actually more than just lady hygiene products here. Similar to Jordan's Temple Street Market, Ladies Market is a kilometer stretch of stalls with enough knick-knacks and souvenirs to crush a small nation. You'll find tons of low priced (but of questionably quality) merchandise, like handbags, clothing, phone accessories, art, and even sex toys (who would seriously be brave enough to buy cheap sex toys???).
After the initial amusement wears off, however, you may notice that there aren't much locals shopping here. That's because, yes, Ladies Market is pretty much a tourist trap. But hey, at least you can practice your haggling skills here.
Ladies Market is worth a look for its atmosphere alone, but if you're looking to do some real shopping, check out the other options below.
Pro Tip: For souvenir shopping, Ladies Market is definitely cheaper than Temple Street Market. However, that doesn't mean you should settle for the shown prices. A good rule of thumb is to walk away unless you can haggle an item below 50% of its pricetag.
Ladies Market: Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok Getting There: Mong Kok MTR exit B3 > walk on block east
Fa Yuen Street Market (cheap clothes, fruits, everyday items)
To get to where the locals shop, just make a turn onto Fa Yuen Street and walk up to hit the superior Fa Yuen Street Market.
Gone are the fake Zippos and tacky fridge magnets. Here, stalls sell stuff you might actually use. My description of 'clothes, fruits, everyday items' is a little bit of an understatement, because there is a everything here. Snorkeling gear, anyone?
As Fa Yuen Street Market's target clientele is the local residents, prices here are even cheaper than in Ladies Market. You can still try to haggle though!
Pro Tip: With the high humidity and number of shoppers, Fa Yuen Street Market is going to make you sweat buckets. Luckily, fruit stalls sell fresh coconuts for only $10, perfect for rehydration.
Fa Yuen Street Market: 156 Fa Yuen Street Getting There: Mong Kok MTR exit D2 > walk east on Argyle Street until you hit Fa Yuen Street > head two blocks north
Sneaker Street (fish cakes - just kidding, it's shoes)
For anyone looking to acquire footwear in Hong Kong, Sneaker Street is the one and only place you need to go.
As illogical as this sounds, every store on both sides of this street sell one thing and one thing only: shoes. Nike, Adidas, Sketchers, Vans, the works. There are separate showrooms for nearly every brand you can think of.
Before you spend hours rummaging through every store -- completely overwhelmed and broken down -- I should let you know that prices are uniform throughout the entire street... and the rest of Hong Kong, for that matter. You'll likely find a pair of runners here selling for just as much at the mall. But while Sneaker Street doesn't offer much of a discount, you do get all your options consolidated into one area, which should theoretically save you time and sweat.
Fun Fact: You might feel déjà vu walking through Sneaker Street, in the sense that every store look like carbon copies of one another. Same layout, same colors, same products. Though their names may be different (if you can even find the name), these stores actually belong to the same three or four mother companies. That's capitalism for ya.
Argyle Centre (bargain clothing, bags, shoes, accessories)
Though it may not look out of the ordinary from outside, once you head upstairs into Argyle Centre, you'll learn the true meaning of the clown car effect.
Claustrophobics beware, the second floor is a densely packed labyrinth of bargain-priced boutiques catered towards young and hip females. You will be blocked left and right by mannequins, merchandise displays, and fellow shoppers eager to snag a good deal on clothes, plushies, and makeup.
If you can brave these tight hallways, however, you'll be rewarded a unique shopping paradise and a need for a much larger suitcase.
Trendy Zone (trendier clothing and accessories, for guys too)
Argyle Centre doesn't quite suit your taste? Then Trendy Zone might be right up your alley.
Infamous for being the ground zero of 'MK Style' (an often derogatory term used to describe the punky clothing wore by teens; think hipster, but mixed with a little bit of gangster), Trendy Zone is where you find the hottest items and trends in the Hong Kong fashion market. Merchandise here are branded and considerably higher quality than the likes of Argyle Centre or Fa Yuen Street Market, so don't expect the same sort of prices.
Good news is, however, there's tons here for gentlemen as well. For once, we're not left out!
The top three floors are full of clothing boutiques, interspersed by the occasional watch and toy stores. The basement, oddly enough, hides a bunch of secret shoe stores that carry items far too exclusive and too expensive for Sneak Street (a pair may run $10,000+ HKD). Sneakerheads take note!
Pro Tip: Though Trendy Zone is a mall, there is no customer washroom here. I learned that out the hard way after a few cups of bubble tea.
Trendy Zone: Chow Tai Fook Commercial Centre, 580A Nathan Road, Mong Kok Getting There: Mong Kok MTR exit D3 > head south all the way until Dundas Street
Sino Centre & Richmond Shopping Arcade (high-end toys & collectibles)
Finally, something besides clothing and shoes! Head on over to Sino Centre and Richmond Shopping Arcade to satisfy the inner child you never knew you had. Both malls are so crammed from top to bottom with awesome toys that'll make your favorite Western comic book store look like a Toys "R" Us in comparison.
The Sino Centre basement has the latest in Japanese manga and magazines (god knows why Chinese people would want to buy Japanese magazines). On the other floors you'll find Japanese figurines, model kits, and collectibles, featuring brands such as Revoltech, Figma, Nendoroid, and Play Arts Kai.
When you're done exploring Sino Centre, take the lift up to the 20th floor and check out the Hot Toys flagship store. Hot Toys, if you've been hiding under a rock, are the makers of incredibly life-like pop cultural (DC, mostly Marvel) collectibles, with price tags so high that you'll turn tail and run straight back into the elevator.
Richmond, on the other hand, carries North America toys (Neca, McFarlane, Hasbro) and 1/6 action figures. Otherwise known as 12" figures, they are kind of like dolls for grown-ups. These figures come with a base body and a life-like headsculpt, along with real cloth apparel and replica accessories/weapons. The aforementioned Hot Toys is a prime example of this new trend in collectibles. Other smaller companies tend to specialize in non-licensed properties -- like soldiers, samurais, police officers, and replica Hong Kong movie stars (probably illegal, but now you can finally own a personal Andy Lau).
I was this close to shoving Langham Place under Things To Do rather than Where To Shop. Why?
Apart from being one of the biggest shopping malls in Hong Kong (it has a 42-floor hotel and a 59-floor office tower), and the most interesting in terms of architecture (more on this in a sec), Langham Place is home to the longest indoor escalator in town.
More or less split into two parts, the longer section of the escalator takes you from level 4 to level 8 (which I realize doesn't sound all that impressive, but you should know they have very high ceilings), and a second section takes you from level 8 to the top of the mall at level 12.
Back to the architecture, Langham Place was designed to integrate seamlesslyinto the craziness of Mong Kok (as seamless as a giant mall can be, anyway). From the central atrium, one can see the shopping floors above and the bustling streets outside. The ceiling is a 'digital sky' meant to blur the lines between inside and outside.
The top half of Langham Place features a design called The Spiral, basically a giant corkscrew of shops, providing a unique way to transition between the various levels on foot.
Say what? Oh, right. The shops.
Along The Spiral are small clothing and gift boutiques, a movie theatre, and even a store that exclusively sells bus models (I know, right?). You obviously have the usual mall stuff, like a supermarket and a food court.
The best part has to be Muji -- a Japanese household goods retailer -- where you can nab the best pens money can buy. Seriously. Coming from a writer, that's high praise, so make sure you grab some Muji pens.
There are tons of cool restaurants around every corner in Mong Kok. However, as OpenRice has that sector covered better than I ever could, let's instead check a cuisine that's quintessential to the area: street food.
Everywhere in Mong Kok, you're going to come across a street food vendor. Or five. You simply can't avoid it - nor should you. Every shop has a different menu and their own take on an item. Some offer bubble waffles or grid cakes (waffles with peanut butter, sugar & condensed milk), others do meat skewers or takoyaki (Japanese squid balls, super delicious). Then there's also radioactive looking deathtraps like these:
The best way to go about trying street foods is to just pick whatever looks most appealing to you. You can't really go wrong with any food you pick. Even if you do wind up with a skewer of an unknown substance that tastes strangely similar to poop, at least you can toss it without guilt as everything is dirt cheap (ie. $5-$10HKD).
All that eating is hard work! Why don't we cool off with some specialty drinks?
King of Coconut
Among the many fruit juice stands in Hong Kong, where you can get anything from watermelon to rambutan, one has stood the test of time - King of Coconut. For about $20 HKD, ice is blended with fresh coconut and evaporated milk to create a sweet, refreshing drink that'll surely give you a second wind from the summer heat. Red bean (红豆, 'hong dou'), grass jelly (涼粉, 'learn fun'), sago (西米, 'sai mai'), and pearls (珍珠, 'jung jyu') are all possible additions.
King of Coconut: 43 Dundas Street, Dundas Square, Mong Kok Getting There: Mong Kok MTR exit E3, walk south on Nathan Road
For those of us who are lactose intolerant -- or if you'd just prefer something lighter -- there's always the local favorite, sugarcane juice (䉀汁, 'jea jup').
Sugarcane juice is made by juicing boiled sugarcane. Imagine if someone accidentally dropped a bucket of sugar into a flooded grass field, forgot about it, then bottled that water and sold it -- in other words, it tastes really healthy.
Numerous stores around Mong Kok serve fresh sugarcane juice, especially along Sai Yeung Choi South Street. Just keep an eye out for the bins of sugarcane stalks.
Cooling Herbal Tea
Speaking of healthy, there is one drink that can allegedly cure diseases, prevent illnesses, boost immunity, give you telekinesis (okay, joking about this part), and flush away 'heat' from your body. No, not that hipster kombucha stuff, I'm talking about cooling herbal tea (涼茶, 'learn cha').
In Chinese medicine -- as every Asian child has been told millions of times -- one needs to avoid internal heat (熱氣, 'yeet hay', meaning hot air). No one really knows what heat is, we just know heat is bad. Heat is supposedly accumulated from everything 'good', like fries, chips, burgers, curry, ice-cream -- basically whatever your parents don't want you eating. I think it's a crock of turd, but many attest to the effectiveness of Chinese medicine -- believing that heat needs to be expelled for our bodies to balance out, which is where herbal teas come in.
'Tea' is actually kind of misleading, as herbal tea is often bitter and licorice-y, light years away from the black and green teas we're accustomed to. Even if you don't buy the whole heat thing, herbal teas are all natural and help with rehydration.
The commonly ordered (and most palatable) types of herbal tea are always kept in pots and dispensers at the front of the store. These include: 24-flavors (廿四味, 'ya sei mei'), chrysanthemum tea (菊花茶, 'gok fa cha'), five flowers tea (五花茶, 'mm fa cha'), and heal all tea (夏枯草, 'ha fu cho'). For the safest option, go with chrysanthemum and ask for it cold ('dong') because hot herbal tea can taste rather weird, to say the least.
Pro Tip: Make sure you ask for a bottle, otherwise they might pour the tea into a bowl and expect you to chug it on the spot, which is how the locals usually consume it.
Ten Ren's Tea
Our last drink requires no introduction, and it is bubble tea (珍珠奶茶, 'jung jyu lai cha').
This Taiwanese invention has swept the world by storm since its invention. Though it may be hard to wrap your head around a drink that is also a food, the combination of black tea, milk, and tapioca pearls is simply perfection. Many popular chains around the city sell excellent bubble tea, but Ten Ren's Tea stands far above the crowd.
Ten Ren uses authentic Chinese teas and the result is a flavor unmatched by any other shops I've ever tried. Like Starbucks, Ten Ren's teas can even be customized to your liking. Don't want milk? Prefer your drinks hot? Not a big fan of sugar? No problem!
You honestly cannot go wrong with anything on their menu. My favorites are Honey Green/Black Tea, the 913 Ginseng Oolong Tea, and the Ginger Tea. The best part is that their menu has English! So if you only try one drink in Mong Kok, make sure it's Ten Ren.
Ten Ren is a small chain which can also be found in Causeway Bay, Sheung Wan, and Ma On Shan.
Ten Ren's Tea: G/F, Rejoice Court, 18 Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok Getting There: Mong Kok MTR exit 2 > walk south on Nathan Road > turn east on Soy Street
That's the end of the guide to Mong Kok. Wow, that was way longer than anyone will care to read. As always, please share your experiences, comments, and suggestions below! I wish you a fantastic time exploring Mong Kok - and hopefully, not put on too many pounds.