Jan 23

Our Favourite Chinese New Year Traditions

It’s finally here! Our favourite time of year brings a whole host of favourite traditions. While the highlight of the festivities will be the chance to celebrate Chinese New Year with our friends and families, there are a lot of other things we look forward to as well.

Shopping at the Flower Markets

Shopping at Hong Kong’s flower markets is a popular occupation at this time of the year. The annual Flower Market at Victoria Park has already begun! From January 22nd until 6am on New Year’s Day, there will be plenty of opportunity to stock up on some of the plants and flowers traditionally associated with the holiday. Look out for mandarin trees, a symbol of prosperity, cherry and plum blossom which represent new beginnings as well as lucky daffodils and bamboo.

Spring Cleaning

It’s important to make sure homes are free of dirt before the clock strikes midnight. On New Year’s Eve people are busy sweeping up any last vestiges of dirt. But woe betide anyone who’s tardy with their housework: it’s considered unlucky to clean on New Year’s Day. If the dustpan comes out after midnight, then all the good fortune that has been accumulated will be swept away with the dust. For the first five days of the New Year, people place any rubbish in the corners of their living rooms. The superstitious believe that if dirt is swept across the threshold, then a member of the family will be lost as well. On the fifth day, that rubbish goes out the back door, so that good fortune can’t be lost from the front.

Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner

Much as we love the company, New Year is as much about the food as it is the getting together with family. It’s a time when we enjoy some special foods, and each has a symbolic meaning as well as being valued for its delicious taste. Fish is served to represent abundance, as the Chinese name sounds like the word “surplus”. Carp and catfish are commonly found on the table, with their head pointing to the most distinguished guest; don’t move it! Also key dishes are Chinese dumplings and spring rolls, which signify wealth. For a long life, it’s best to look out for longevity noodles, longer than the usual variety.

Those hoping for a promotion at work should dig in to the glutinous rice cake, which traditionally symbolizes a higher income or position. Nin Gou, as it’s called, is a delicious combination of dates, sugar, sticky rice, chestnuts and lotus leaves. Sweet rice balls are associated with family togetherness while certain fruits are chosen for both their appearance and name. The Chinese word for tangerine, for instance, is similar to that for “success”. Anything golden in colour is considered lucky.

Lai Si

We’re hoping for a glut of red and gold envelopes this New Year – are you? Lai Si are the little packets that, if you’re lucky, will come your way filled with cash. Signifying prosperity and fortune, you’re most likely to be given them if you’re a kid, as it’s customary for an elder to give them to someone much younger than themselves. However you’ll also witness them being given from bosses to employees, married couples to singletons and as tips to waiters, doormen and others providing a service.

If you do decide to dish them out, then make sure you include brand new notes (never coins). The amount should have nothing to do with the number four, as that’s considered unlucky. The word sounds like “death” in Cantonese. But make sure that it’s an even number, as odd numbers are associated with funerals. Once you’ve got your head around that, you’ll be pleased to know that both the donor and the recipient share the good luck.

Lighting joss sticks at Wong Tai Sin temple

Wong Tai Sin Temple is busier than ever during the run up to Chinese New Year. On New Year’s Eve, queues will form as people wait outside. On the stroke of midnight, they’ll pour inside to light sticks of incense. Why such a rush? Well, many believe that the earlier those sticks are glowing, the greater their luck will be in the upcoming year. The temple itself is one of the most famous in Hong Kong. Constructed in 1921, as the name suggests, it is dedicated to Wong Tai Sin. He was known as the Great Immortal Wong. It’s typically Chinese in appearance, with red pillars supporting a golden roof. Yellow latticework and multi-coloured decoration complete the colourful picture.

Lunar New Year Night Parade

One of the most colourful events on the Hong Kong social calendar has surely got to be the Chinese New Year Parade. The procession consists of elaborately decorated floats, bands of musicians, acrobats, drummers and dancers. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a sprinkling of dragons and lions too. This incredible street party welcomes visitors from across the world. Participating in this year’s event are performers from across the globe, representing nations as diverse as Peru, Japan and the Czech Republic. If you’d like to catch the event, it’s free to watch. Come early to secure a spot; we recommend stationing yourself along Canton Road, Haiphong Road and Nathan Road. The fun starts at the Hong Kong Cultural Center at 8pm on New Year’s Day.

Lunar New Year Fireworks

Who doesn’t love a great fireworks display? Hong Kong Harbour forms the ideal backdrop for a 23 minute display of pyrotechnics kicking off at 8pm on January 29th. The sky will light up in a riot of colour, the fireworks launched from a fleet of barges and pontoons moored up in the water. Whether you’re in Kowloon or on Hong Kong Island, the view’s guaranteed to be fabulous. If you’re on the Tsim Sha Tsui side of the water, a popular vantage point is the Hung Hom Bypass, closed to traffic for the duration of the event. Alternatively base yourself along the promenade anywhere from the Star Ferry Terminal to the New World Centre. Across the harbour, try Bauhinia Square near the Convention Centre or along the Central Waterfront Promenade.

The Lion Dance

Lions bring good luck and thus the Lion Dance will always be an integral part of any self-respecting Chinese New Year celebration wherever you are in the world. This energetic dance is accompanied by the beat of drums, gongs and cymbals. The result is a cacophony of noise to equal the riot of colour found in the elaborate costumes.

The dance is thought to originate from the days of the Han Dynasty. A few lions had been introduced to Chinese society via the Silk Road. This was a big deal considering that lions weren’t found in the wild. Performances started to take place, with two humans in costume mimicking the movements of these semi-mythical creatures. The practice became both more common and more popular. By the time of the Tang Dynasty, the Lion Dance was established as one of the dances seen at court. Now, you can still see similarities. Watch closely and you’ll observe cat-like traits such as scratching, licking fur and shaking the body.

Chinese New Year Lantern Festival

The Spring Lantern Festival heralds the end of the New Year celebrations. Throughout the month, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre is the location for a fantastic lantern exhibition and it’s free to enter. Although of course, you’ll see lanterns adorning buildings all over Hong Kong, the sheer number in one place make this an unmissable sight. Visit at night when the lanterns are lit; it’s magical.

Informally known as Chinese Valentine’s day, February 11th 2017 marks the 15th day of the new Lunar Year and this is when the Lantern Carnival will take place. The action’s likely to kick off at 7.30pm and last until around 10pm. Performances take place at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre throughout the day. You’ll have the chance to see folk singers, dancers, musicians, acrobats and more. If you can’t get there, consider heading along to one of the other venues which are hosting events, including Sha Tsui Road Playground in Tsuen Wan and also the North District Park.

Getting our fortunes told at the temple

There’s one thing left to complete our run through of Lunar New Year, and that’s to get our fortunes told at one of Hong Kong’s many temples. Even the government participates in the ritual known as kau cim. On the 2nd day of the Lunar New Year in Sha Tin’s Che Kung temple, a member of the government shakes a tin of fortune sticks, waiting for one to fall. The fortune of Hong Kong for the upcoming year rests on the outcome. The city holds its breath as they wait to find out what the verdict will be. Yes, Chinese New Year is an opportunity to take stock. We’ll look back at the past twelve months, trying to learn from our mistakes and build on our successes. We wish you good fortune, health and happiness for the Year of the Rooster!

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Jan 17

Cheung Chau: Past and Present

Known for its bun festival, Cheung Chau Island is the oldest continually inhabited part of Hong Kong. Its long and fascinating history deserves a closer look.

Walk or cycle on this quaint island – no motorized vehicles allowed, except for emergency vehicles!

The islanders of Cheung Chau have always maintained a very close relationship with the sea. Many have earned a living from the sea for generations, many of whom resided on junks rather than on land. It’s thought that there may have been human life here many thousands of years ago. People have found rock carvings that seem to bear this out.

The Tanka, or egg people, came here from China. Hoklos, who were fishermen from eastern Guangdong and Fujian, joined them. Later, Punti, Hakka and Chiu Chau followed. These distinct groups kept themselves separate. Inter-marriage was rare, preserving traditions. By the time the Europeans arrived, the area was a thriving commercial hub.

One of the area’s most well-known landmarks, Pak Tai Temple, honours the Supreme Emperor of the northern Heaven, Pak Tai. The structure is thought to be about 200 years old. Eagle-eyed visitors might spot an iron sword from the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279). Another of the temple’s highlights is the addition of gold-plated wood features which date from the later Qing Dynasty.

This temple is the focus for one of the island’s most important events: the Bun Festival. Falling on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, islanders construct a bamboo tower and get to work baking buns. At midnight, men race up the tower to grab the buns. They have just three minutes to gather as many as they can – the higher they reach, the better the fortune to befall their family. Fishermen believed their catches would be abundant and that the pirates that bedevilled the seas would leave them alone.

 

The origins of the festival are rooted in tragedy, however. Over a century ago, disease spread through Cheung Chau. In desperation, the islanders built an altar in front of Pak Tai Temple. They hoped to appease the malevolent spirits that wreaked such havoc. A parade of papier-mâché effigies passed through the streets. People beat ceremonial gongs and drums to drive away forces of evil. For more than a hundred years, these rituals have been repeated and the plague has never returned. The pirates, too, are a thing of the past.

Another temple important to the fishing community on Cheung Chau is that of Tin Hau. It’s dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea. Inside visitors will find a beautiful bell cast in bronze which dates back to the Qianlong era (1736 to 1796). The views from the rear of the temple that overlook the sea are well worth a peek.

Cheung Chau’s pirate heritage is represented on the tourist trail by the Cheung Po Tsai caves. Cheung Po Tsai was an infamous pirate who plagued the South China Sea at the end of the 18th century. He was skilled at what he did, too, securing a fleet of 600 ships and commanding an estimated 50,000 men. Eventually, he decided to work for good rather than evil. This led to his appointment as an officer in the Chinese Navy. As a pirate, though, he needed somewhere to store his ill-gotten gains. One of his favourite hiding places was what’s now known as the Cheung Po Tsai caves. You’ll need a torch to explore in the dark, but don’t come expecting to find treasure – this is a well-trodden path and the loot is long gone. For a scenic route to the Cheung Po Tsai Caves, we recommend taking the sampan ferry service from the public pier which will cost you just 5HKD each way.

Secret entrance to Cheung Po Tsai Cave. Watch your step!

Nearby, you’ll find Reclining Rock, its distinctive shape and photogenic beauty are a major draw for those on the Cheung Chau Family walk, an easy two-hour trail. Alternatively, walk the part of the path known as the Mini Great Wall. Lined with granite railings, it takes hikers past iconic landforms such as Human Head Rock and Vase Rock. Of course, if you don’t want to walk at all, the island is blessed with many beautiful beaches. Surfers will appreciate the swell that characterizes Kwun Yam Beach, perhaps hoping to emulate Lee Lai-Shan, Hong Kong’s first Olympic gold medallist who won big in Atlanta in 1996. Nearby, another favourite is Tung Wan Beach, popular for its turquoise hue and views across to Aberdeen and to Lamma Island.

If you’re looking to add a day trip to Cheung Chau to your Hong Kong itinerary, make sure to catch the Fast Ferry from Central Pier 5 rather than the Ordinary Ferry, as to give you more time to explore the island. Our final recommendation is that you plan your visit during a weekday, to avoid the hectic weekend crowds. Enjoy and have a safe trip!

Pick the Fast Ferry!

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Jan 09

The History of Egg Tarts

Hong Kong’s egg tarts pack a whole lot of history into just a couple of bites. These flavoursome pastries owe their existence to both the Portuguese Pastéis de Belém and the British custard tart. Though different to both, this was a fusion of culture and cuisine that is uniquely Hong Kong.

We begin our culinary journey in 19th century Portugal, in the Jerónimos Monastery in the Lisbon district of Belém. The monks that called Jerónimos home were in the habit of baking tiny custard tarts. The sugar of the egg yolk yellow filling caramelised in the oven to create their distinctive appearance and delicious taste. A few decades later, a small factory opened next door and the recipe was handed down from generation to generation. Then, as now, queues formed around the block. Locals and visitors alike were keen to savour the sweet creamy filling and rich crumbly pastry. From 1557 to 1999, Macau was a Portuguese colony. It was no surprise that egg tarts as well as people made the leap from Europe to Asia.

Fast forward to the 1940s and 1950s, there was an influx of immigration into nearby Hong Kong from mainland China. Many migrants came from nearby Guangzhou, a populous city to the north east of Hong Kong, where egg tarts were already popular. Europeans had settled in the area since the time of the First Opium war, a century earlier, siting their opium warehouses in Guangzhou. As settlers are prone to do, they’d brought with them their own cuisine. Although, the egg tart wasn’t documented there until much later – probably the 1920s. Bakeries and cafes commonly unveiled special dishes and new inventions in an attempt to win new custom. It’s generally thought that egg tarts were one such item.

Known locally as dan tat, the egg tart found in Guangzhou consisted of a shortcrust pastry base, made with lard rather than butter. Sometimes, puff pastry was used, which many people say is a more authentic Guangzhou ingredient. Inside, the filling was a rich egg custard, glossy in appearance and silky smooth on the tongue. It drew from both Portuguese and British tarts, though it wasn’t a match for either. There were variations too: coconut tarts, chocolate tarts, tarts flavoured with green tea or ginger and even bird’s nest tarts. However, nothing could quite equal the classic egg tart.

Influenced by its own colonial heritage, as in Guangzhou, the Hong Kong tart fused the creamy texture of the Pastéis de Belém with a British custard tart. The Hong Kong version combined the best characteristics of both tarts to make something approaching perfection. Bakers ditched the nutmeg and served the tart hot rather than cold. They started to appear in teahouses known as cha chaan tengs where they were warmly received as an accompaniment to tea. It was a time when Western influence was de rigueur and the pastry was aimed at a wider audience.

One of the best places to try Hong Kong egg tarts is Tai Cheong Bakery on Lyndhurst Road in Central. The original bakery opened back in 1954. This popular chain has a string of branches across Hong Kong. Among them, it’s estimated they produce over 30,000 tarts every single day. However there are a plethora of places in Hong Kong where you’ll find egg tarts – they even appear on the menu at KFC! The Hoover Cake Shop in Kowloon, located at the corner of Nga Tsin Wai and Fuk Lo Tsun Roads, also wins plenty of plaudits amongst egg tart connoisseurs. Don’t expect a seat – it’s takeaway only – but do expect to wait in line before the hot, sweet tarts make it into your hands.

If you’re not planning a side trip to Macau but can’t bear the thought of missing out on one of the Portuguese-style Pastéis de Belém, then you’ll be pleased to hear that top Macanese bakery Lord Stow has infiltrated The Excelsior at Causeway Bay.

The egg tart was famously a favourite of the last British governor to Hong Kong, Chris Patten. Of course, he’s long gone, but fortunately for visitors to this iconic melting pot city, the pastries remain. Bon appétit!

Tai Cheong Bakery

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Dec 14

Big Foot Tour – Locals’ Guide to Hong Kong – As Featured in World Traveller

The Locals’ Guide to Hong Kong – our fun and happy team has lots of tips on how to see the real Hong Kong! In the December Issue of World Traveller, our founder, Ski, shares her thoughts on some of her must-see!

 

At Big Foot Tour, we love to make it fun and easy for you to immerse in an authentic Hong Kong environment. Book your private walking tours with us and let us be your local guide to Hong Kong today!

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May 23

Hong Kong Guide : 2015 Winner – TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence – Hong Kong Walking Tours

Happy news amidst the terrible Amber storm that we are having in Hong Kong right now. Big Foot Tour has been awarded 2015 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and we are ranked #1 for Hong Kong Tours and Activities!

Hong Kong Walking Tours - Big Foot Tour - TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2015

 

This wouldn’t have been possible if our guests haven’t taken the extra time and effort to recommend our tours on TripAdvisor. So we definitely have to thank our lovely guests for their support all these years.

Thank you for trusting us with your precious time in Hong Kong. We are travellers ourselves and know that it takes a leap of faith to go to a faraway place and put your trust in us to take care of you.

Thank you for the wonderful memories during the tours. Every tour is special and every guest is a great friend of ours. We love having fun together with you, from understanding fascinating local cultures, to exploring backstreets, to sampling authentic local food.

Thank you for your kind words on TripAdvisor. Not only does your comments provide us with valuable feedback, they also serve as a big motivation for us to constantly push for the ideals that we have for our walking tours.

We’ll keep working hard to bring you the best Hong Kong tours. Till the next time we meet!


Visiting Hong Kong soon? Come and join us on our Hong Kong walking tours, consistently ranked #1 on TripAdvisor. We make it fun and easy for you to experience the real Hong Kong!

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