Kowloon is, in my view, edgier than Hong Kong. It is more densely populated as well, but with this comes a peculiar mix of old and new cultures. It could be argued that Kowloon is the tourist heartland of Hong Kong, where old meets new, stretching from the modern developments alongside Victoria Harbour through to Tsim Sha Shui, Yau Ma Tei and beyond.
The strip of Nathan Road from TST to Mong Kok and, whether by day or night, it is possibly the best introduction that one can have to Kowloon and possibly, Hong Kong. This stretch has bustling streets, neon lights and heaves with people. The vibe here is local. The lack of personal space and pace of life can be confronting.
But it is the back streets that provide a glimpse of Kowloon life. Shanghai Street, for example, retains much of its original charm with some traditional shops selling a myriad of goods from incense to steamer baskets, pots and pans to commercial kitchen equipment. This was essentially, the start of land reclamation in Hong Kong. In this district, you also have the Jade Markets and for the brave, the YMT (wet) Markets. This is gritty Hong Kong.
Here you can also plunge into Temple Street Night Markets or if you are after a more ‘cultural’ and traditional market, the market streets just beyond Mong Kok and Prince Edward provide an array of experiences and sights. You can peruse your way through goldfish, flowers or birds, each bringing heady scents or sounds akin to these traditional markets.
The most surprising of these markets was the Bird Market, narrow lanes enclosed by traditional Chinese gates with the sound of songbirds filling the air. Here the owners, many older retired locals, gather to listen to birdsong, show their pets and chatter amongst themselves enjoying the serenity. Traditional bird cages containing colourful songbirds hang in rows. A pleasant reprieve to the sound of modernity beyond. The flower market is worth wandering through, if for no other reason than the aroma and colour. The paths are swathed with fresh flowers and plants with a heady scent filling the air.