We are about to enter the Year of the Monkey, the ninth animal in the 12-year Chinese Zodiac animal cycle. Much like those sneaky monkeys who jump out on you out of nowhere when you’re travelling in places like Thailand and India, people born in the monkey year are mischievous and playful. If you were born in the Year of the Monkey (1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016) you are also quite curious, adapt well to challenging situations, and lead an active lifestyle. All of which are perfect for exploring the many things on offer in Hong Kong in celebration of the Lunar New Year.
Flower markets will spring up around the city in preparation for the mad rush before the New Year, when the gifting of fresh flowers and plants is customary. Around 15 temporary market stalls, including a very popular one in Victoria Park, will be blooming with fragrant bouquets and greenery, no doubt overflowing with chrysanthemum – the Year of the Monkey’ s lucky flower.
Things will start kicking off on February 7th, New Year’s Eve, and most people will have the entire week off to visit family during chunyun (the travel period during Chinese New Year) known for being the largest annual human migration in the world. You’d definitely notice in places like Beijing how much the city empties out, and Hong Kong does to some degree as people will stay home to spend time with their families.
They’ll also be exchanging little red envelopes, which will be a constant sight throughout the Chinese New Year period. Lai see, the traditional gift given to family, friends and workers like one’s helper, driver, etc., is much more than a paper packet. There is detailed etiquette involved when it comes to giving lai see, so it’s definitely worth reading our guide.
But the real fun starts the day after on February 8th, New Year’s Day. In the morning, take the little ones to Hong Kong Disneyland, where Mickey Mouse and his friends will be waiting for the kids dressed up in Chinese New Year costumes. After the photo op with the Disney gang is over, head to Kowloon and join the hordes of tourists (many from the Mainland but also from abroad) and locals alike hitting the streets to witness the Chinese New Year Night Parade. It kicks off at 8pm with an opening ceremony at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (you’ll need to purchase tickets at the Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Centre located at the Star Ferry Concourse to attend the ceremony, but viewing along the parade route is free). Elbow your way for a spot among the throngs on the main roads of Tsim Sha Tsui to see huge illuminated floats, stilt walkers and traditional dragon dancers. The dragon is considered to bring good luck, so when you’re craning your neck to see the big, colourful beast float by as it’s held up by a team of skilled dancers, remember this: the longer the dragon, the more luck it will bring.
The spectacular fireworks display that will be blasting across the Hong Kong skyline is probably the one event people will be most looking forward to. Victoria Harbour is where the jaw-dropping pyrotechnics take place, on the second day of Chinese New Year. So on February 9th, make your way to your preferred vantage point – along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade on the Kowloon side or the Central waterfront promenade on the Hong Kong Island side – but seek out your spot nice and early. The colourful eruptions begin at 8pm and there are several police road blocks every year in the hotspot areas (Golden Bauhinia Square and West Kowloon promenade are other prime viewing locations), plus your usual route may be closed.
Veto the crowded pavements entirely by boarding a harbour cruise to see the fireworks. There are several companies offering trips along the water, at different prices and journey lengths. Saffron Cruises is offering a four hour cruise complete with cocktails and canapés. Harbour Cruise – Bauhinia’s sailing includes a buffet dinner and live band, and Splendid Tours will pick you up from your hotel if you’re an out of towner, and provide dry snacks and drinks on their tour.
If nibbles won’t cut it and you want to see the fireworks during a proper sit-down dinner with a fabulous view, there is no shortage of restaurants to do this in. Hong Kong is peppered with establishments offering top views with great food to match. If you fancy a nice cut of steak to dig into as you watch the sky light up over the harbour, Wooloomooloo is an obvious choice. They have two locations with excellent vantage points – Wooloomooloo Prime in TST housed at the top of The ONE is nicely positioned for stunning views, while Wooloomooloo Steakhouse in TST East offers a different, equally great view, this time closer to the ground opposite the promenade. Each restaurant has a special CNY Fireworks Dinner Menu serving up lobster, lamb, seafood and of course, their famous prime cuts of beef.
The Grande Dame that is The Peninsula lets you book a table at any one of their restaurants, and after you’ve filled up, head to the Sun Terrace to take in the fireworks with a glass of complementary Champagne.
Away from the Kowloon side of celebrations, One Harbour Road at the Grand Hyatt is dishing out 12 plates of sumptuous Chinese food prepared by Chef Li Shu Tim. Elegantly prepared dishes with names like “The Auspicious Monkey” (pan-fried sustainable giant grouper fillet with assorted bell peppers) may vie for your attention with the fireworks going off outside.
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s restaurants and bars are great locales for indulging in decadent food and drink with eye-catching views. Two Michelin-starred French restaurant Pierre is where you want to book for fine dining and M Bar is perfect for light dishes paired with exotic cocktails. Order their delicious “Hong Kong Legend” made with vodka, osmanthus wine, lychee liqueur and lime, and take in the spectacle in the sky. The hotel’s lobby will have a show of its own with lion dancing and a visit from the God of Wealth, whose name says it all (he is thought to bring luck and wealth).
If you’ve been invited to a CNY dinner party, make everyone drop their dumplings by arriving decked out in monkey-themed fashion, like the CLOT x Converse x Andy Warhol Year of the Monkey collection. Warhol’s iconic banana design comes emblazoned on a pair of white and yellow Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers, with a t-shirt and bucket hat to match.
Save your dollars to stuff the lai see and deck yourself out in H&M’s affordable Year of the Monkey range, featuring fun jumpers with monkey prints for him and her, along with dress shirts and skirts made with Chinese themes and the colour red in mind.
Put all of the above in storage or hand them down for the next generation to wear in 2028, when the Year of the Monkey rolls around again. Until then, relish this one and enjoy the sights all over the city!
Nancy Matos is a lifestyle and culture writer from Vancouver, Canada currently based in Hong Kong and London.