First-timers traveling through the former British colony start by admiring the skyline from Victoria Peak, head over to Lantau to see the giant Buddha completed in 1993, and if there is enough time after shopping, a trip to the Wong Tai Sin Temple, Stanley or one of the outlying islands is on the agenda.
Yau Ma Tei does not usually make the list of the ‘top must-see’ places in Hong-Kong, yet this neighborhood squeezed between Mong Kok (旺角) in the north and Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀) in the south, two shopping districts quite popular among travelers, the first for its "Lady's market" on Tung Choi Street (通菜街), the second for its higher-end malls and the plethora of Asian touts who can provide “copy watches, copy handbag”.
Yau Ma Tei (油麻地), literally "Sesame Oil Field", is famous for its night market at Temple Street (廟街)which opens around 6 pm, but before the after-dark shopping, the neighborhood has things for you that will stimulate your brain. It also has this popular Hong Kong feel of a Wong Kar-wai (王家衛) movie.
Forest of billboards in the streets of Yau Ma Tei
Pray the goddess of seafarer at Tin Hau Temple
Since Yau Ma Tei is famous for its night market at Temple Street, let’s start by the Tin Hau Temple (天后廟). Most night shoppers do not realize that they walk pass by a temple built in 1800, and enlarged in 1864.
Chinese folk religion is brilliant in complexity. In addition to the gods and immortals who made it into the pantheon, there are local gods and goddesses like Tin Hau (天后) who are worshiped in specific regions only.
Tin Hau is the goddess of seafarer and fishermen. She is very popular in the coastal regions of southern China, especially Guangdong. In Hong Kong and outlying islands only, she has one hundred temples dedicated to her.
What makes the Yau Ma Tei’s Tin Hau Temple special is its location. Tin Hau temples are usually situated next to the sea; Yau Ma Tei's was no exception, but with massive land reclamation, it has become the only temple dedicated to the goddess of the seafarer in an urban environment.
How to get there：
At Yau Ma Tei MTR Station, take exit C. Turn right and walk to the end of Arthur Street. Tin Hau Temple is on Public Square Street, next to Nathan Road. In the evening, it is where the Temple Street night market starts / ends.
Area map of Tin Hau Temple
Entrance to the Tin Hau Temple in Yau Ma Tei
Hong Kong is ‘Asia’s World City’ and not far from the movie theaters showing the latest Chinese, Korean or Hollywood blockbuster, you can enjoy a genuine experience of Cantonese culture.
The Yau Ma Tei Theatre (油麻地戲院; Add: 6 Waterloo Rd, Kowloon; Tel: 852 2264 8108) regularly shows Cantonese Opera (粤剧), an art, which is listed to the UNESCO world intangible heritage.
Visit the Yau Ma Tei Theatre website: www.lcsd.gov.hk to look at their program, updated on a monthly basis. Tickets cost between 60 and 100 HKD.
If you have no clue about what you are about to see, do not worry. The staff will give you a synopsis in English so that you may have some kind of understanding of what’s happening on the stage. If you are bored after the first or second act, you can go shopping at the Temple Street night market, it's just two blocks south.
How to get there：
Yau Ma Tei Station, Exit B2. Walk straight to Shanghai Street, cross Waterloo Road and keep walking west to Reclamation Street. It's the building on your left.
Area map of Yau Ma Tei Theatre
Kubrick Café – Independent coffee, books and movies
Kubrick Café (Add: 3 Public Square Street, Yau Ma Tei; Tel: 852 2384 8929; Web: www.kubrick.com.hk; Open：11:30 am – 10:00 am) is more than just a coffee shop; it is also a bookstore with books in English and Chinese about art, poetry, literature, history, politics, political science and philosophy. It’s probably one of the best coffee experiences in Hong Kong beyond the international coffee shops chains.
Most of the books are in Chinese language, but look carefully, you may find that unsuspected titles in English hard to find in regular bookshops.
Right next to Kubrick Café, you will find the Broadway movie theater, which shows mostly independent movies. Kubrick Café is the ideal place to brush up your Chinese and read a translation of Orwell while you wait for that movie from that obscure soon-to-be-famous (maybe) local film producer.
How to get there：
At Yau Ma Tei station, take exit C. Turn right and walk to the end of Man Ming Lane (文明里) until Reclamation Street. Turn left into Reclamation Street and take the first street - Tung Kun Street - on your right. Kubrick Café is located in the Prosperous Garden Estate, on your left, after a 7-11.
Brush up your non-simplified Chinese and historic materialism at Kubrick Café
A cup of herbal tea
Herbal tea (凉茶)is a traditional beverage of southern China and like the Cantonese Opera, it is listed as UNESCO world intangible heritage.
Herbal tea is healthy drink made exclusively of Chinese medicinal herbs and does not contain tea leafs (cameliasinensis) and found exclusively in southern China's Guangdong Province, Macau and Hong Kong. It comes in three forms: either in liquid you can drink cold (凉茶) or hot (热茶) or in a jello form (膏).
There are different kinds of herbal tea, and each kind has different functions (功效) and positive effects on your health. They can, for example, alleviate flu symptoms (除感冒), repair your qi (補氣), calm the heat (清熱), fortify blood circulation (散瘀), stimulate your mind (提神), and detoxify your lungs from pollution (解毒). Chinese herbal tea is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine.
A few spots in Yau Ma Tei
There are lots of herbal tea shops in Yau Ma Tei where you can drink herbal tea (hot or cold), there is one right in front the Yau Ma Tei Theatre at the corner of Waterloo and Shanghai Street and another, next to Yau Ma Tei MTR Station Exit C, near the corner of Arthur Street and Man Ming Lane.
Rebalance your qi after walking in the streets of Hong Kong
Born in the mountains of Switzerland, Gaetan Reuse has spent 10+ years in China where he studied Mandarin, conducted academic research in ethnic borderland and worked in the manufacture industry. He holds a BA in Chinese Studies from Geneva University and a MA in Geography from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, Canada. During his extensive travels in China, he has developed a passion for historical villages and how modernization and the travel industry are transforming them. He writes about his travel in China on his blog TravelCathay.com. He is now designing and leading tours in Yunnan Province and China’ southwest as well as developing the high-end Chinese inbound travel market in Europe.