This month in Hong Kong, celebrate the Year of the Horse in time-honoured tradition with fireworks and racing, but make time for an homage to Bruce Lee
The Western world may be fully recovered from the New Year celebrations by the time February rolls round, but in Hong Kong the Lunar New Year is just getting started. The Year of the Horse officially begins on 31 January, when families get together to share traditional foods, pay respects to their ancestors and indulge the youngsters with gifts of lai see, or lucky money.
Despite the flashy parade on 31 January, the first two days of Chinese New Year see the city at its quietest. In fact, this is the perfect time to explore Hong Kong’s more introspective side. This can be as simple as walking to Hollywood Road to visit the Man Mo temple, as adventuresome as hiking round Lantau Island, to reach one of the world’s largest Buddha statues at Po Lin monastery, or as easy as taking the MTR to Wong Tai Sin, to visit one of the city’s most popular shrines where followers of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism offer prayers for good fortune in the New Year.
As this is Hong Kong, introspection doesn’t last long. Fireworks will light up the harbour on 1 February – book a table at the 25th-floor, two-Michelin-starred Pierre, at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, for the best views – and on the 2nd, the annual Chinese New Year Race Day takes place at the Sha Tin racecourse. Expect packed stands and extra doses of festive fun to mark the Year of the Horse in a city that loves racing.
Mid-month also sees the start of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, which includes everything from classical concerts to Cantonese opera and puppet-enhanced Shakespeare. The big draw this year includes jazz singer Gregory Porter, the London Symphony Orchestra and Giselle by La Scala Ballet.
At the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin (make a day of it if you’re off to the races), you can catch a special tribute to the city’s most famous son, martial arts expert Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee: Kung Fu. Art. Life is the largest-ever exhibition on his life and work – a must for action-movie fans.
Speaking of action, brace yourself for the scrums as Hong Kong’s shops put on their final sales this month. The city’s fashion-forward stores are all making way for spring merchandise, so this is the perfect time to snap up a bargain or a new arrival. For luxury brands, browse The Landmark, in Central; for funkier frocks, head to the warren-like malls of Causeway Bay.
Of course, all this activity necessitates refuelling, and few cities offer more diverse or delicious dining options than Hong Kong. To try something the locals love, pop over to Tin Hau. The neighbourhood surrounding the Tin Hau temple has become a dining and dessert mecca. If it’s cold outside, opt for a traditional hot-pot dinner at Top Grade Hot Pot (perfect for groups), or treat yourself to a fabulous fondue and a glass of wine at Classified. Both are very popular, so book ahead. Alternatively, head to city hotspot MO Bar at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental for a well-earned cocktail, or to luxuriate with a Bastien Gonzalez pedicure in the hotel’s serene and calming Oriental Spa.
Constance Haisma-Kwok is a journalist and editor based in Hong Kong. She has covered Asia’s fashion industry for publications including Women’s Wear Daily and the South China Morning Post