City Weekend

Blind walks, gay bars and haunted houses: the rise of alternative Hong Kong tours

From raising awareness for the disabled and marginalised to nature and heritage sites, as well as spooky haunts, you can now see a lesser known side to the city

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 9:45am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 9:45am

Whether it’s venturing into the city’s LGBT scene, or better understanding the challenges the visually impaired face in Hong Kong, a diverse array of non-traditional tours are available for tourists and locals alike.

The rise of such tours puts people in touch with lesser-known elements of the city.

“I think Hong Kong urgently needs this kind of alternative tourism,” Brian King, associate dean at Polytechnic University’s school of hotel and tourism management, said. “Such tours bring out the Hong Kong spirit and engage people with alternative perspectives and experiences that they otherwise would not know about.”

One group, Dialogue Experience, leads a tour called “Dialogue in the Dark”.

Aimed at “engaging people of differences to create social impact”, the tour involves visually impaired guides leading visitors through five unique settings around a deliberately constructed pitch-black exhibition arena.

By allowing the blind to lead others in “seeing” the world their way, the city’s visually impaired are empowered, and those they guide can open their minds to the beauty of a world without light, according to organisers.

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Couples can also opt for experiences such as “Love in the Dark”, “Birthday in the Dark”, or even a “Dinner in the Dark”.

Meanwhile, the city’s wealth of LGBT history, activism and culture can be experienced on a night trek led by tour company Walk in Hong Kong.

The Western district based tour showcases local landmarks and the city’s key LGBT players, film locations, and even popular gay hang-outs and bars. A free drink is thrown in at bar stops.

Amid Hong Kong’s relentless development, many traditional places and ideas are hidden by the veneer of newness and progress.

Hide and Seek Tour, a group that leads Cantonese tours for locals, reveals aspects of the city’s culture and heritage that would otherwise be wiped away by urbanisation.

The ever-changing monthly tours are a hobby and passion of the quartet in charge: founder George Wan has been leading tours for his friends since his secondary school days.

“George is like Google,” a spokeswoman from the organisation said. “You can point at anything, anywhere, and he can tell you the story behind it.”

Other “alternative” trips on offer include a night tour of Wan Chai’s haunted and spooky sites; nature tours that show tourists Hong Kong isn’t merely a jungle of concrete and glass; and tours that take a trip down memory lane to explore Hong Kong’s monuments from the second world war.

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“So many valuable and treasured things in Hong Kong are hidden,” the Hide and Seek Tour spokeswoman said. “As a city, we need to be knowledgeable – instead of just [lamenting] and liking posts on Facebook when it’s too late – we want people to know about this incredible and richly historical city before time runs out.”

“There’s a growth of this experience-based tourism,” King said. “The industry is moving away from the stereotype of a tour group seeing the world from behind the glass windows of a bus, so there’s a huge diversity.

“The fact that it’s not just professional tour guides, but enthusiasts who want to share their knowledge, is great.”

The Tourism Commission said it did not have the capacity to comment on the growth of such tourism.