Hong Kong: The Ideal Place to Experience Chinese New YearArticle by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley
Tue February 26, 2013 | 00:00 AM
Forbes magazine suggested Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year is “one of the world’s 10 best events.” I would beg to differ as I think they’re overstating it, but it definitely makes my “Fest Fifty” list of the 50 best festivals on the planet. What Hong Kong lacks in its Chinese New Year celebration is eclectic surprises, but it makes up for this with an ample amount of pomp and circumstance. As mentioned in my last blog post, while the Chinese New Year (CNY) officially lasts 15 days with the Lantern Festival closing it out, if you want to concentrate your time, focus on the four days – one day before the New Year and the three first days of the New Year.
For New Year’s Eve, hopefully you’re lucky enough to know a Hong Kong family because the home is the habitat for the start of the CNY festivities. Many families visit the fragrant flower markets at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay or Fa Hui Park in Sham Shui Po in Kowloon, so keep that in mind if you’re without a Hong Kong family. In case you’re giving gifts (a popular thing to do this time of the year), the chrysanthemum signifies longevity, the peach blossom is associated with luck, and the kumquat trees represent prosperity.
On New Year’s Day, you could pray for prosperity at a temple (I talk more about a couple of great temple choices in my next blog post) or go see a fortune teller, a Hong Kong CNY tradition. There’s even a Well-Wishing festival for two weeks at Lam Tsuen in Tai Po. Jot down your desires on a piece of paper tied to an orange and throw it up to the artificial tree. The higher it hangs on the tree, the more likely your wish will come true.
On New Year’s Day evening, there’s a parade that snakes through Tsim Sha Tsui with a few dozen floats and lots of performers. It’s a little cheesy, but definitely part of the HK CNY experience. After that, the Central region or Hollywood or Soho locations nearby are packed with revelers in restaurants and bars. Just know that everything is pretty walkable, although you may do some stair climbing as part of Hong Kong’s charm, like San Francisco, is its verticality. Lan Kwai Fong road is particularly popular with the young, the restless, and the fashionable. During the second day, you’re likely to see Lion Dances at hotels and malls and, if you’re hanging out in a hotel, you might consider doing high-tea in the afternoon just to witness the last vestiges of British influence in this metropolis that is veering more and more in the Chinese direction.
The highlight of your Hong Kong CNY experience will be the fireworks display over Victoria Harbor on the second evening of the New Year. The best spots for viewing are either the new Tim Ma Park right on the waterfront, the Avenue of the Stars on the Kowloon side across from Hong Kong Island, or on Victoria Peak where you can get a broader perspective of the whole civic celebration. Taking a cab to the top of the peak isn’t very expensive, but it may take you some time if you do it at the last minute as there are a lot of people who crowd up those skinny streets. The secret spot for the best viewing in the downtown Hong Kong area is the rooftop car part of the Marco Polo Hotel.
The crowning event on the third day is the year’s largest horse races (116,000 attendees this year celebrated “lucky money” day there) at the Sha Tin racecourse. The third day on Chinese New Year is more focused on how to accelerate your prosperity. Some locals also told me it’s the day reserved for oneself as part of CNY.
I’m not sure there could be a day for oneself in Hong Kong this time of year as the place is just packed with people, many of them from mainland China as visits to HK were up more than 24% in 2012 compared to the prior year. In fact, the number one complaint I heard from locals during my visit was that all their favorite restaurants and shops were way too crowded and, in fact, some public attractions had to stop selling tickets. With hordes of middle class Chinese folks wanting to experience CNY in Hong Kong for the first time, you can be assured that the whole city will be quite full so make your hotel and airline reservations early.