When retailers from Stanley Road and other Hong Kong bargain districts close their doors for the night, they head for Temple Street to bargain-hunt for themselves. The stalls in this open-air night market are well stocked with ready-to-wear casual clothes, gadgets and small appliances for the home, electronic goods, toys and luggage. The prices can't be beat.
Until recently, Temple Street was known only to Hong Kong citizens and regulars. But word has spread, and more and more tourists, not satisfied by regular shop hours, are joining the Temple Street throng.
They are treated to some great buys, plus an unusual glimpse of Hong Kong night life. Temple Street is fun, terrifically cheerful and a bit rude.
Vendors are real hawkers, shouting and chanting, joking and doing anything they can to attract potential buyers. Shoppers push and shove to see the displays. You have to watch your temper and your wallet, but it's well worth the hustle and the hassle.
Temple Street is also the place to watch homespun Chinese Opera, performed by amateurs in small booth-like theaters with no curtains, no scenery and no seats for the audience. No costumes are used but there is a great deal of local color. The places are packed.
Opera While You Shop
Theater booths are lined up next to each other along one block. In each booth a different opera is being performed. The atmosphere is rich, as high-pitched and sometimes shrill vocalists, backed by the exotic sounds of Chinese stringed instruments and dramatic drum beats, compete with each other for audience attention.
Elderly men perch on narrow portable chairs, eyeing with authority the actors (all of whom are women) and the audiences bustling from booth to booth. Most of the operas are sad love stories; it's impossible for a foreigner to understand them, but watching the entire scene is great fun.
And it's free. When you get tired of shopping, stop to watch. When you get tired of watching, walk on a bit and you'll come to the shopping stalls.
The market's opera and shopping begin at about 7 p.m., and all the stalls are set up by 7:30. If the weather and sales are good, vendors won't pack up their merchandise until 11 or 11:30 p.m.
The market is relatively small, but it's crammed with goods. In addition to the block with Chinese Opera, on three long blocks on Temple Street hundreds of small stalls are set up on both sides of the street, with just a narrow passageway between them. Behind the stalls are regular retail shops, mixed in with some gambling parlors and beer halls.
The stalls sell a hodgepodge of merchandise: dress and casual shirts, jeans and cotton trousers, belts, underwear, sweaters, jackets, socks and T-shirts for men, plus some women's garments. There are also booths with records and cassettes, Chinese comic books and magazines, knickknacks, gadgets and other items. Stock changes daily.
Most of the goods come from manufacturers who haven't been able to meet delivery deadlines and have had to sell at a loss. Some items have small flaws. These vendors have low overhead and so are able to offer superb bargains.
For example, Fila cotton T-shirts, with logo, in various stripes and solid colors with short sleeves, cost about $1.50 (U.S.) in several stalls on Temple Street (in other Hong Kong markets and along Nathan Road, where vendors sell them from pushcarts, they cost about $3.50).
Lacoste sports jerseys in all the current colors sell for $3.50. But some of them have the little crocodile on backward, so be cautious if you're a stickler for authenticity.
Fila cotton sports socks, with colorful stripes, cost about $2 for three pairs. Golf label sports socks are sold at another stall for $1.50 for four pairs. Wolf's brand dress socks in browns, blues, grays and argyles cost 75 cents a pair. As one delighted shopping tourist exclaimed, "At these prices, who needs to wash?"
Men's cotton bikini briefs in bold colors or polka dots cost $2 for three pairs to $1.50 per pair. Plain white cotton undershirts sell for $1.50 each. Women's underpants, bikini and full-cut styles, sell at another stall for similar prices.
Men's sports shorts with Hawaiian-style or British flag prints sell for $2.50, and nicely tailored walking shorts in olive drab, tan, navy, black, white and faded denim cost about $4. Sweat pants sell for $3.
There's a lot of denim on hand. Slim-cut and baggy-style stonewashed jeans, with various labels, sell for about $10, miniskirts are about $7.50, vests about $10 and stylish shirts about $8. A trendy denim jacket with raglan sleeves, lots of pockets and a big stand-up collar costs $22.
Men's cotton button-down dress shirts are $5. Casual big shirts made of textured cottons or satiny synthetics, with padded shoulders and asymmetrical buttoning, cost $15. Short-sleeve cotton shirts, multi-pocketed with interesting collars and "Robot" or "Topfit" labels, cost $5 or $6.