What is Hong Kong best known for?
Shopping, of course.
Ask anyone who’s been there (or who wants to go there) and they’d say that shopping is Hong Kong’s main draw aside from Disneyland.
It’s actually one of the reasons why Hong Kong is my 27th country/territory visited despite its proximity to the Philippines. I’m not into shopping, much less into theme parks, so Hong Kong was really far from the top of my bucket list (if I had one).
When I was given a chance to visit Hong Kong, however, I grabbed at it. Shopping or no, Hong Kong is still a new place to explore.
When I arrived in Hong Kong, I wasn’t disappointed with my earlier expectations. It is indeed a shopping mecca with its rows and rows of high-end shops and boutiques. Everywhere I looked, I saw glittering storefronts that would make any shopaholic’s mouth water.
Not seduced by the glamour of upscale stores in Causeway Bay and Central, I headed to Mong Kok to explore the dirt-cheap markets, buying luggages, shoes, and other knickknacks for family back home.
In all three areas, I saw a lot of foreigners making their way from store to store, buying things left and right to bring back to wherever they came from.
It wasn’t until Oscar Ho, the assistant marketing manager of Dragon Centre Limited, brought us to Dragon Centre Mall and Solo Radio City that I saw another side of Hong Kong’s commercial world.
So if you want to go shopping off the beaten path, check out these two malls.
Dragon Centre Mall (West Kowloon)
Located a few minutes’ walk from MTR Sham Shui Po Station, the nine-story Dragon Centre Mall is the best place to go if you want to observe how locals shop.
In the hours we spent there — it was the biggest mall in the area until a bigger mall opened in the Kowloon MTR station — I haven’t seen a single white person nor any tour group.
The front wall of the mall is made of glass, and when you go inside, you’re greeted by a huge golden dragon hanging on the wall opposite the entrance. It’s the first thing you’ll see once you enter the mall.
The lower floors have the usual shops you will find in any shopping mall, providing various food, clothing, home, and other merchandise. From the 5th to the 7th floor, however, you’ll find something a bit different.
Called the “Apple Mall,” it is a row of small shops selling everything from shoes, bags, and clothing, to school supplies, toys, craft items, and other bric-a-brac.
You can find massage shops, too, as well as other health stores.
Kids would love the ninth floor. It used to have an indoor roller coaster (the only mall in Hong Kong which has that!), but it has been closed for years for safety reasons. An arcade, Sky Fantasia, would keep kids — and adults! — occupied for hours with its numerous games.
Want to learn how to skate? Go down one floor to the 8th floor and head to the Sky Rink where you can have lessons. At the other end, there’s the food court, too, offering a variety of food and drinks, both local and international.
While you’re there, pay attention to the seats; they’re wooden and slanted forward. Want to guess why?
Solo Mall at Radio City (Causeway Bay)
Another unique commercial center in Hong Kong is the Solo Mall at Radio City. From the outside, it just looks like any other mall — a towering building with SOLO in huge, colorful letters at the top.
According to Oscar Ho, however, the concept of Solo is different; instead of a regular mall where shoppers meander aimlessly looking at various displays, one needs to know where one is going when inside Solo.
Store owners would leave brochures of their shops or specialty stores at the ground floor. If you’re looking for a beauty parlor, for example, you browse through the brochures, choose the one you like best, and then take the elevator to the appropriate floor.
The shops are pretty compact, and the shop owner and three customers standing inside would already be smelling each other’s breaths.
Its advantage? The rent for such shops are a fraction of the cost of regular-sized shops in other shopping malls, giving owners the space to display their wares without the high price, which in Causeway Bay, is certainly astronomical.
One such specialty store we visited was Echoes on Earth, a fair trade store in Room 519. In such a small space, the owner filled it with fair trade products coming from all over the world, from Africa and Europe, to South America, and yes, Asia.
They even have coffee planted in the Philippines! I bet this arabica coffee (the one I’m holding in the photo) tastes great. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try it. Check them out if you’re in the area. They have a lot of items that would be good as gifts, and you would be helping the producers too.
It’s not all shops and specialty stores in Solo, though. Some are showrooms, like Constance’s.
Constance is from France. She had an idea to sell products online, designed by small designers she’d met in fairs. She’s been working with a number of Hong Kong designers when she decided to have a physical store as well, a showroom in Solo.
“Sometimes customers just want to see and feel the products themselves,” she said. She’s only been in Solo for a few months, since April 2016, and has no idea yet whether her sales are higher now with a showroom, or not. “I’ll see in the next few months,” she added.
Solo Mall at Radio City, with its 21 floors and over 200 shops, specialty stores, and showrooms, are hosts to a lot of shopkeepers like Constance. They have products or services to offer without the budget, and Solo Mall offers them the opportunity to fulfill their dream of setting up a shop without bankrupting them for life.
Indeed, Hong Kong is not just about Giorgio Armani and other upscale boutiques lining the streets. With a little bit of effort, you will find such shopping malls as Dragon Centre and Solo Mall at Radio City, too, and you will see that Hong Kong is more than what you thought it would be.
Disclaimer: While my accommodation in Hong Kong was sponsored by Dragon Centre Limited, all opinions are mine alone.