Waking Up in Hong Kong
We all have our morning routine. Wake up. Hit the snooze button. Make the coffee. Read the news. Take the subway to work. Mundane, right? But as any traveler knows, there’s magic in seeing how these (seemingly) unremarkable daily rituals unfold across different cultures. On a recent morning in Hong Kong, I shadowed a local photographer, capturing scenes from around the city as locals started their day—from old-timers Jazzercise-ing in the park to riding a double-decker bus through the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. Here’s how Hong Kong wakes up.
Dawn at the Avenue of the Stars
Strolling the Avenue of the Stars—a waterfront promenade in Kowloon—at dawn is like wandering through post-apocalypse Hong Kong. The prismatic skyline of Central Hong Kong still twinkles and ships bob in the harbor, but not a soul can be seen or heard in any direction. Around 6:45 a.m., joggers emerge along the wide brick path, but the serene vibe lingers for another hour or so until the tourists show up.
Grabbing the morning paper
Free Hong Kong daily newspapers, like the South China Morning Post and The Standard, are distributed at street corners and MTR (subway) stations all over the city, though media self-censorship continues to be an issue after citywide protests in 2014.
Enjoying Kowloon Park
Here, colorfully spandexed locals take over a leafy plaza in Kowloon Park; in the center, a sergeant-like instructor barks instructions (“Raise your leg higher!” “Keep your arms straight!”) over a rousing playlist of traditional Chinese anthems. Nobody minds if you stop and watch—and don’t be afraid to join in: these open-air classes are beginner-friendly and free.
Walking the footbridge
Hung Hom train station in Kowloon is the only station offering rail service to mainland China, though at eight o’clock in the morning, these commuters are just interested in getting across the harbor. Pictured here, a pedestrian bridge connects the station to neighboring Polytechnic University.
Grabbing the bus
The double-decker 104 bus is the most popular route between Hong Kong’s two main waterfront districts, Kowloon and Central. To board it, commuters line up single file in a queue that wraps around the corner, up a flight of stairs, and deep inside the station—the crowds are orderly, though, and the wait is rarely longer than 10 minutes.
Arriving at Hong Kong’s business district
Around 9 a.m., Long Wo Road, the Central business district’s main artery (home to luxury outlets like Coach and Ermenegildo Zegna, plus the 88-story International Finance Centre) is a mad stampede of office workers, students, uniformed shopkeepers, and tourists. A similar scene can be found around 6 p.m., at the end of the workday.
Noshing on a diner breakfast
Assuming a traditional Hong Kong breakfast consists of dumplings and stir-fried rice? Think again. Casual greasy-spoon diners like Lan Fong Yuen (in business since 1952) serve up Western-inspired (but tasty) bowls of macaroni soup with sliced ham. The setting is by no means glamorous, but there’s something classically Hong Kong about lingering over the low wooden tables surrounded by posters of famous Chinese movie stars.
Sipping milk tea
Hong Kong's famous milk tea is made by straining the liquid through long, cheesecloth-like stockings. The resulting brew, served with milk, is bracing and slightly salty. After a cup of this stuff, coffee will seem like an afterthought.
Walking along Gage Street
Outside Lan Fong Yuen, on a narrow, downward-sloping side street, a vendor squats over a box of fresh produce, trimming stems off tomatoes. Elsewhere along the street, flowers, meat, and seafood are sold in various stalls.
Seeing the herbalist
This 74-year-old doctor shuffles into his herbal medicine shop every morning at 9 a.m. to begin receiving patients. A typical consultation ($50 HKD, about $6) includes having your pulse checked, your tongue and throat examined, and informal questions about diet and general well-being. For another $95 HKD (about $12), he’ll prepare a blend of curative roots, twigs, and otherwise unidentified earthen bits, customized to your specific ailment. Ask your hotel to boil up the bitter elixir for you before bedtime—just be sure to have a spoonful of sugar handy.
Scoping out the IFC mall
Of course, Hong Kong isn’t all herbal shops and kiosks with steaming vats of brown tea. There are modern coffee shops and espresso bars aplenty, like this one inside the IFC mall, where businessmen and women gather for a mid-morning break.
A quick, mid-morning ride
Locals enjoy riding Hong Kong’s new Observation Wheel—perched right on Victoria Harbour—just as much as tourists do. The Wi-Fi–equipped cabins climb 197 feet off the ground and offer some of the best aerial views of the city.