Hong Kong reveals its secrets to adventurous travellers

Hong Kong reveals its secrets to adventurous travellers

Stephen Chung and Josie Cheng think our tourist attractions don't tell the true story of our city

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Photo: Jonathan Wong
Following recommendations listed on any Hong Kong city guide, most tourists find themselves taking photos of Victoria harbour, shopping at the Ladies Street Market and feasting at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant.

But Stephen Chung Chun-kit and Josie Cheng Ho-yi believe such beaten tracks do not reflect the city we know. So the two 24-year-olds created their day-long Secret Tour Hong Kong to put out-of-the-way places with a rich, authentic and intimate story back onto the map.

"Hong Kong is obviously more than the glitz and glamour presented by the Tourism Board," Chung says. "It's more than Disneyland, Ocean Park, and Big Buddha."

As exchange students in Holland and Finland, the pair preferred walking tours to rushing about on sightseeing buses. "Mingling with local people and experiencing their daily lives allowed us to bring home a starkly different experience and a rucksack full of human stories," says Chung.

They also discovered what matters most is the people they meet on their way. "We always forgot which museums and monuments we visited, but all the faces, late-night strolls, and the jokes we cracked remain etched into our minds forever," says Cheng.

Secret Tour's inaugural excursion drew travellers away from the central business district and into So Uk Estate, a public housing project in Cheung Sha Wan due to be demolished next year. The visitors stole a look at tiny vacant flats which housed entire families, and listened to an elderly resident recount how she had lived for 40 years in the closely-knit community. The guides complemented this with recent news stories about huge prices for small flats, and public housing policies.

Subsequent tours have explored the back streets of Wan Chai and New Kowloon, areas many tourists wouldn't know about. The two youngsters explained the influx of mainland refugees at the Chuk Yuen Resettlement Area in Wong Tai Sin and visited Wan Chai's renovated Blue House where travellers were briefed on the controversial revitalisation projects around the market district.

They don't charge for the tour. In return for their time, they ask only that guests reveal their own travel "secrets". In time, they will compile these into an anonymous exhibition.

"Travellers are happy to open their hearts to strangers," Cheng says. "They think their secrets are safe far from their home and circle of friends."

Chung says that leading the tours made him realise how much needs to be done to tell the complete story of the real Hong Kong. "We realised how little we know about Hong Kong," he says. "We have to rely on the internet. I don't know some things I am supposed to know."

The project started as a small experiment with only 10 guests on the first tour. After two months, the size tripled and groups are not restricted to overseas visitors. "Even locals have something to learn," Chung says.

Future Secret Tours will visit Tin Shui Wai, Yuen Long and the Fruit Market in Yau Ma Tei. To maintain the sense of mystery, the guides won't reveal the exact itinerary and meeting points until a week before the tour.

Secret Tours Hong Kong's Facebook fan page is at www.facebook.com/secrettourhk

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