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Hong Kong’s lesser-known gems: secret bars, see-through tents and ghost towns

The zany and exclusive are just an alleyway, stairwell or ferry ride away from the densely packed tourist traps of Hong Kong ... if you know where to look

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2018, 11:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2018, 8:00pm

From the glitzy malls of an urban jungle to hiking trails and nature that is just a ferry or train ride away, Hong Kong, a city bursting at the seams with life, is anything but boring.

With the school term and exam fever coming to an end and the ever-increasing humidity of summer kicking in, City Weekend explores a cornucopia of off-the-wall fun on paths less trodden. This may just save one from another afternoon spent aimlessly wandering the packed streets of an overcrowded city.

Gems beyond Lan Kwai Fong

In the shadows of Hong Kong’s main entertainment district of neon lights and thumping nightclub rhythms is a whole network of hidden bars and speakeasies.

Among them are Sai Ying Pun’s Ping Pong 129 Gintonería and Dr Fern’s Gin Parlour in Central. While not entirely obscure, these places are harder to find, often hidden behind store facades or down winding staircases – which adds to their mystery.

Visitors to Fu Lu Shou, an exclusive bar, must take a lift up to the roof of a building on 31 Hollywood Road and present a secret code found on Facebook to be let in.

Full-time comedy club gives up-and-comers a chance to test their skills

Not clandestine enough? Event organiser Bunker Club holds parties in secret underground locations – from remote mountaintops to the ruins of second world war bunkers.

If all this sounds too adventurous, return to the more familiar paths around Lan Kwai Fong, which are also home to a bunch of comedy clubs offering a place to relax with a drink while having a laugh.

While clubs like TakeOut Comedy are famed for being the city’s first comedy club, certain places, for example, Comedy HK on Lockhart Road, allow guests to test their own stand-up routine on the crowd. Think you’re funny? Try telling jokes to an audience under the spotlight and in front of a brick wall for three minutes.

Walk and gawk

Waterfront scenes are not limited to Victoria Harbour – shoot the breeze at promenades across the city such as in Kwun Tong, Taikoo Shing, Ma On Shan, and Sai Ying Pun, or take picturesque sunset photos on “Instagram Pier” in Sai Wan, a former container terminal which has become popular with photographers and selfie-hungry visitors.

Closer to the city centre, check out walls splashed with graffiti in a street art section of Sheung Wan – worth a walk-by for any visitor needing a breather from the mind-numbing crowds of shoppers.

For more of a tingle down your spine, turn to ghost towns. Places such as Yim Tin Tsai – an abandoned island a short boat ride from Sai Kung’s shores – show that despite the scarcity of space in the city, outlying islands are still relatively undeveloped.

Hong Kong’s only working salt pans and a Robinson Crusoe moment just a boat ride away from Sai Kung

The last villagers of the island left in the 1990s, and since then, Yim Tin Tsai’s homes have become dilapidated and its streets increasingly littered with broken glass and the rotting belongings of the town’s ex-occupants.

A peek into houses will reveal beds with their sheets still on, books on tables left wide open and mahjong tiles uncleared. While not the only abandoned island village in the city, Yim Tin Tsai is being converted into a heritage trail with a museum for locals and tourists to catch a glimpse of what life in old Hong Kong was like.

A turn to the quirky

True to the Hong Kong spirit, locals have proved time and again their penchant for adopting and adapting when it comes to businesses – even for oddball leisure activities. Learn the ways of the Jedi brandishing lightsabres at Crossfire Arena in Lai Chi Kok, or kill zombies in Causeway Bay virtual escape room Sandbox VR.

Want something more intense? Purge negative emotions by shattering stuff with a baseball bat at Ikari Area in Kwun Tong – customers suit up for a smashing good time wrecking TVs, fridges and junk.

Anger management or violent fun? ‘Destruction therapy’ is all the rage for some in Hong Kong

For campers looking for something peculiar, sleep in the AEcoSphere, a transparent inflatable tent in Yuen Long, the wackiest feature of eco-venture Mingle Farm. Don’t worry, toilets are at a separate area nearby and yes, opaque.

There are also water-themed activities that go beyond just a dip at the beach. Go prawning and barbecue your catch for dinner at Kwun Tong’s HA Cube or splash out on two-hour courses to be a mermaid at Kowloon Park Swimming Pool in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The “mermaiding” trend – a blend of aquatic cosplay, craft and exercise – will see you swimming with a costume mermaid tail attached to your legs.