There are few cities on this planet that embody hustle and bustle like Hong Kong and its sister across the harbor, Kowloon. While there may be districts in third world cities denser than Kowloon and the harbor facing areas of Hong Kong, among first world cities, only Manhattan comes close to these densities. High rise apartment living is the norm, and the streets are awash daily with people headed to work in their skyscraper offices. So believing you are an ant in an ant hill is perfectly normal. But as hard as it is to believe, tranquility is a short distance away in Hong Kong’s quiet side.
The tranquil sensation begins when you head out of Wan Chai, towards Happy Valley up the hill, past the Jockey Club. Already concrete gives way to trees and greenery, but soon you are in darkness as you enter Aberdeen Tunnel. A left turn at Ocean Park marine park puts you on the road that runs along Repulse Bay. Stunning (and expensive!) mid-rise condos look out over the peaceful blue waters and golden beach. The road changes names as it continues, but the view stays beautiful until we are soon in our destination – Stanley.
Stanley was the largest settlement on Hong Kong Island when the British arrived in the mid-19th century. Almost half of the island’s residents lived in Stanley, according to the 1841 census. But over time, the better harbor on the other side of the island attracted more development. So Stanley grew – just not as fast as Hong Kong or Kowloon! Today, it is a desirable bedroom community for those that can afford it.
First stop has to be Stanley Market. Easy to find, it is downhill on the right, from the main bus terminus, on Stanley Village Road and the surrounding alleyways. The market is opens from 10 am to 6:30 pm daily. The stalls are crammed close together, with only a narrow path between them, often just one person wide. Here you can find everything from paintings, footwear, casual clothing, sportswear, artworks, antiques, and jewelry to souvenirs. Prices are cheaper than in most other shopping districts. However, some shops here do not allow the practice of allowing customers to “bargain” for prices, commonplace in many of Hong Kong’s street markets.
Exiting the market, you will find yourself at on the waterfront at Stanley Waterfront Mart, with a few souvenir shops, bars and cafés. Redeveloped in 2008, a wide wooden boardwalk was built along the waterfront. Lined with young trees and benches and several souvenir shops, bars and cafés, a walk along the boardwalk is memorable.
Turning to the right, there are several notable new developments, starting with Murray House. This three story neo-classical stone building was built in 1844 in Hong Kong and served as officer’s quarters for the British base at Murray Barracks. In 1982, it was dismantled and stored, its site used for a high rise office building. Reconstructed in Stanley in 1999, today it houses several stores and restaurants, including an H&M, which covers three floors and opened in 2015.
Just to the left of Murray House, is Blake Pier, another partly transplanted structure. The original Blake Pier was constructed in Central in 1900. The original Blake Pier’s covering was removed in 1965 to update the pier. Moved to Kowloon as a park shelter, it moved, once again in 2006 to the new Blake Pier. A kai-do ferry service operates from the pier to Po Toi Island, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
Just past Blake Pier, stands the entrance to Stanley Ma Hang Park, a 50,000 sq. meter cliff side park. Pak Tai Temple, and its adjacent ancient well are inside the park, as are several seating areas and footpaths that offer scenic views over Stanley Bay.
Upon your return to Murray House, one finds Stanley Plaza. At the entrance to the six-story shopping and dining complex, there are two magnificent old banyan trees, serving as a link to the pre-development Stanley. The Plaza was extensively renovated in 2011, and now features several shopping opportunities for women and children. From several lunch options, we chose Chez Patrick Deli. A sister to Central’s French Chez Patrick, it offers the typical bistro specialties. We chose a Croque Madame, and a Salade Lyonnaise, along with a flinty Provencal rose, and a Kronenbourg. Perfection. Spot on.
Soon it was time to head back to the bus to return to Wan Chai and the ant hill. But along the way, we got one more chance to view the beautiful waters of Repulse Bay. Almost impossible to believe that the other side of the mountain is like it is when you are in the midst of such beautiful waterfront scenery.
Two ways to get to Stanley – one is a taxi, and it will take about 25-30 minutes. The other is a bus, and here there are two choices. The Green line of the Hop On, Hop Off bus line goes to Stanley, and the stop there is included in the price. Better choice is the express 260 bus, which goes direct from the Exchange Square Bus Terminal (with a few stops in Wan Chai) to Stanley, again stopping along the Repulse Bay road. Fare is 11 HKD, each way, and takes about 45 minutes.