by Tobias Sauer
What a change: a small, dreamy port on the South China Sea has turned into one of the metropolises of the 21st century. That comprises gay life, naturally.
East meets west, old meets new, Oriental meets European in Hong Kong, which in its present form was built mainly by the British occupying forces after the Opium Wars and is now under Chinese reign again. Similar contrasts can be found in Hong Kong’s gay scene, which can vary from clear presence to seeming inexistence within a few yards.
Talking about Hong Kong usually refers to Hong Kong Island and there the neighbourhood simply called Central. This area corresponds to the image of Hong Kong that most people have: Victoria Harbour, surrounded by steel skyscrapers hosting financial services and the famous Star Ferry and its landing. It takes passengers to Kowloon and back, offering a cheaper and more touristy alternative to the faster MTR, Hong Kong’s Underground.
The shimmering steel and glass buildings such as the HSBC headquarters and the massive Bank of China Tower may represent the new Hong Kong, but fortunately not all colonial buildings have disappeared. One of the most beautiful is Old Dairy Farm Depot at the top end of Ice House Street, which houses the Foreign Correspondents Club and the Artistic Fringe Club with exhibitions, theatre and a café-bar that attracts a mixed crowd.
It should come as no surprise that Central and especially the area around Hollywood Road are also home to the gay and lesbian community of the city – if you are looking for a thoroughly gay holiday, this is the place to be. If you prefer a clientele as hip as at Fringe Club, but are not sure if you can trust your gaydar, you should try the elegant gay bar Psychic Jack on Wyndham Street. Perfectly styled gay businessmen sip their rosé wine or champagne here after a long day at the office. Even though it may seem a bit strange to start with a description of a gay after-work bar, such places are typical of Hong Kong. One of the city’s few active gay organizations, Fruits in Suits, is made up of gay businessmen who hold monthly meetings here, sometimes for business purposes.
Cultural and artistic differences
Due to the dominance of the family in Chinese culture, gay men beyond Central are not very visible. Central is home to those better off, and money means independence. It’s not surprising that some of the biggest gay venues are located here, such as Volume and Propaganda discos (both on Hollywood Road), where the party does not really start until past one a.m. Propaganda can be compared to a medium-sized club in Berlin in terms of design, noise level and crowd; Volume, on the other hand, is rather intimate, even though it can get wild on the dance floor. DJs from all over the world are at the turntables in either club and special events and parties also take place.
Soho is the entertainment neighbourhood of Central, where there are rows of bars, restaurants and discos. As it is located on a hill, escalators can be used to go up the hill. They usually interlink two parallel roads on different altitudes. Staunton Street and Elgin Street are full of restaurants. Purely gay eateries are a rarity, but gay people in Hong Kong often follow rather fixed structures when going out: The nights start at a certain place before one moves on to the next locations. The point of departure as well as the locations to follow constantly change. It is best to ask about the city’s hottest new restaurant in the gay bars – the locals love to give you information if they don’t take you there right away.
This already suggests that a large part of the local gay scene is based on word of mouth. The gay scene in Hong Kong seems quite small to outsiders for a city with seven million inhabitants. In terms of sex, however, it is rather the opposite. Many gays who are not out to themselves, their family or at work meet in the countless saunas and massage parlours you can find all over the city. Many of these places appear virtually overnight and disappear just as quickly, just like some restaurants. You should take courage and ask someone or study the ads in the monthly “Q Guide”, which also contains coupons – especially made for tourists.
Getting to mainland
A trip to Hong Kong without an excursion to Kowloon – unimaginable. This is in many ways a continuation of the city on the mainland on the other side of Victoria Harbour. The neighbourhood Tsim Sha Tsui attracts most tourists with its countless shopping arcades (among others iSquare and Silvercord, the latter a great address for local fashion dealers and the usual international chains). Kowloon is also home to some of Hong Kong’s best and largest markets (in the open), during the day in Mong Kok and after dark in Yau Ma Tei. Although there are only a few gay bars outside Central, the city’s oldest is in Kowloon. Waltzing Matilda dates back to the 1950s, and although it has moved since then and is now called New Wally Matt Lounge, the place still offers a decent mix of locals and foreigners meeting here for a beer and chat. Just as it did in its heyday (but there is no wild dancing here and more).
Despite the general image of Hong Kong as an endlessly expanding metropolis, all those who want to spend a quiet day on the beach or in a forest after a night of partying do not have to travel far. Famous Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island is an option, but if you prefer true nature and beautiful views without being engulfed by too many tourists, you should try the other side of the island. Stanley and its surrounding area is especially worth a visit featuring beautiful beaches, colonial buildings, old temples and a market with authentic souvenirs. There are two pristine beaches with the obligatory safety nets to protect swimmers from sharks, but during hot summers and public holidays they turn into family beaches with barbecue parties and screaming children.
If you are looking for a more gay beach (cruising is officially forbidden, though), you are better off with the more remote Cheung Sha Beach on Lantau Island. If you are in Hong Kong for several days, you should plan a day trip to Lantau anyway. Visit the monastery and the huge Buddha statue and also take a ride on the cable car Ngong Ping 360. You will enjoy breathtaking views of subtropical forest, gliding above the treetops in a transparent glass gondola. This also is a face of Hong Kong.
Generla webiste of Hong Kong Tourist Board with event calendar, information on migration, local customs and a useful trip planner.
Local gay mag, issued monthly. It can be found in gay venues or be downloaded for free.
There is also Q Guide. Its advantage is a bi-lingual map showing gay venues that can be used to explain one’s destination to taxi drivers that do not speak English. Q Guide also contains an event calendar for the current month, www.dimsum-hk.com
HOW TO GET THERE
Lufthansa offers daily flights from Munich and Frankfurt directly to Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok Airport. Return tickets are available from about 900 Euros. Look out for special offers for Asia on the airline’s homepage.
Mandarin Oriental (15 Queen’s Road, Central) One of Hong Kong’s grand hotels, completely renovated in 2005 for a total of 100 million Euros. 501 rooms, huge wellness area and 10 restaurants, including Pierre (1 Michelin star) overlooking Victoria Harbour, www.mandarinoriental.com
W Hotel Hong Kong (1 Austin Road West, Kowloon) Five-star hotel in Kowloon with one of the most delicious breakfast buffets in the world. Large rooms with great views. A small outdoor pool on the 67th floor, which is open daily until 10 pm. A dream, www.whotelhongkong.org
Cosmic Guest House (Flat F1, 12/F, Mirador Mansion, 54–64 Nathan Road, Kowloon) Pension adjacent to Chungking Mansions (known from Wong Kar-Wai’s movie Chungking Express) – very small, but clean and ideal for budget travellers, www.cosmicguesthouse.com
Gay Home Stay Hong Kong (Kowloon City Road, Kowloon) Holiday homes for gay men in Kowloon, 10mins away from MRT station Hung Hom. Good offers if you find your way on their rather flashy homepage, www.gayhomestayhk.com