Pork butcher shop on Wan Chai Road in Wan Chai, Hong Kong.

Discovering Wan Chai Road

A quick tour through Wan Chai market

OK, something of an anathema here. We are NOT going to be “discovering” Wan Chai Road per se – only an interesting section of the road, namely the Wan Chai market.

From Central, Wan Chai Road actually starts off on Queen’s Road East. Heading north, Wan Chai Road does something of a dog leg elbow turn to the right as it intersects with Johnston Road. From here – what is often considered as the real Wan Chai Road, the road heads across to Causeway Bay where it ends at Canal Road.

With Queen’s Road East behind you and at the turn just after the Rottonjee Hospital Road, Wan Chai Road narrows down quite considerably until it meets Johnston Road. It is in this area that you will find the Wan Chai market.

At around the junction of Tai Wo Street, there’s a beginning of an alley that cuts back to Spring Garden Lane. In essence, this is the Wan Chai market proper – with two other alleys leading up to Johnston Road. These alley-ways are peppered with stalls and hole-in-the-wall shops selling fresh produce, dried foods and a whole range of other merchandise and personal services. In amongst the shops and stalls are several tea shops or chan-tengs, dai-paai-dongs and mobile carts selling some of Hong Kong’s favourite snacks foods.

Here, we’ll take you on a little tour as we head out to explore this section of Wan Chai Road.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – FEBRUARY 17, 2015: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on February 17, 2015. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

The picture above was taken around the Chinese New Year period. Here customers crowd around a stall selling candies, nuts and treats that later, will be handed out as gifts and used to fill snack bowls around the home over this period.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – FEBRUARY 17, 2015: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on February 17, 2015. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

What would a home be without a few traditional gold trinkets. Again, gifts on sale over the Chinese New Period. Usually, gold leaf over plaster, many of these trinkets represent historical and mythological character – all being auspicious and purveyors of good luck, health and wealth. Some of the figurines are also representations of the Chinese astrological characters – 2015 being the year of the wooden Goat.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – FEBRUARY 17, 2015: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on February 17, 2015. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

Candies, candies and more candies. There’s something to recognise here and this is indicative of any open air markets here in Hong Kong and elsewhere across Asia – the market is a living thing. It’s a place where people get out and about, a place to socialise, a place to catch up on the events of the day – be this to gossip or to air and exchange views. This is where people live.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WAN CHAI – FEBRUARY 17, 2015: A fishmonger waiting on customers at his stall off Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on December 3, 2016. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

The other thing about these markets, this is where people come to shop for their next meal, for fresh produce, their vegetables, their fruit and for their snacks. A typical abode in Hong Kong is small. There are statics to be found somewhere about the typical size of a Hong Kong dwelling. But, let’s put it this way, usually, there’s not space enough to do a weekly shop. There’s no space in a typical Hong Kong apartment for a fair sized refrigerator, a freezer or even a 4 ring stove and an oven. Typically, there’s just a a rice cooker, a two ring gas cooker and, that’s about it.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – DECEMBER 03, 2016: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on December 3, 2016. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

Fresh vegetables are a must. It’s always surprised me, that the quality of the produce here is always top notch. Some of the supplies are “local” – in the sense that they are grown in Hong Kong, usually on small holdings in the New Territories. But, much of the supplies here come from the China mainland.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – DECEMBER 03, 2016: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on December 3, 2016. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

If it’s not fresh produce you’re after, there are always the cooked food shops. Here you can get cuts of “cha-siu” [BBQ pork], roast pork, roast goose or steamed chicken. Depending on your order, there’s also rice and gravy.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – DECEMBER 03, 2016: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on December 3, 2016. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

Fresh fish is a must. One of the unique things about Hong Kong fresh produce or “wet” markets is that much of the fish supply is still alive. I mean, you cannot get much more “fresh” than that. But, if you want fresh food, this is it.

In other produce markets elsewhere in the world, one is often left asking when observing the “quality” of some of the merchandise on sale. Fish packed on ice is one thing. But, the question remains, how long has that stuff been lying around out there? With fish nearly alive, there’s no question about how “fresh” it might be.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – DECEMBER 03, 2016: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on December 3, 2016. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

Much the same can be said about the meat supply – the fresher the better. Most butchers in these markets can be judged by their turnover. Pork carcasses and sides of beef are supplied early in the morning and, by the evening, not much is left. But, this varies. Butchery in this part of the world – referring to Asia in general – is often quite different to say in Europe, north America and other western countries where cuts of dressed meat are often preferred – as in chops, T-bone steaks and the like. Here, in this part of the world, things tend to be a little more, let’s just say, laissez-faire. The other thing, not show in this feature, are fowls are bought live. After inspecting a purchase, the poulter will then despatch and defeather and clean up the bird for later collection. Besides chicken, some markets may also offer pigeon and quail.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – DECEMBER 03, 2016: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on December 3, 2016. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

No meal would ever be complete without a helping of fruit. Again, much of this fruit is imported – as is much of Hong Kong’s food. The largest supplier is China but food is sourced from all over the world – other parts of Asia, the USA, the Middle East, South Africa and elsewhere.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – DECEMBER 03, 2016: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on December 3, 2016. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

But, there’s always something else to be had in Wan Chai market – as in this shoe shop. Further along the road, there’s a stationary shop, another shop selling foods and goods from Thailand, a barber shop and more.

Watch repairman repairing watches in a stall off Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – MARCH 01, 2015: Watch repairman repairing watches in a stall off Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on Maarch 1, 2015. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

Tinker, tailor and the candle stick maker. Well, in this case, the watchmaker repairing watches. Well, since most are electronic, battery replacement seems to be the mainstay of their trade.

Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
HONG KONG, WANCHAI – DECEMBER 03, 2016: Shopping along Wanchai Road in Wanchai, Hong Kong on December 3, 2016. (Photo by Rogan Coles)

And then, there’s the “ukay-ukay” store. “Ukay-ukay” is actually a term “imported” from the Philippines – as a reference to the sale of used and.or second-hand clothing. Not always but, usually. These clothing stores are also a “relic” of Hong Kong’s past – at a time when Hong Kong was garment centre of the world. No more, as this trade and industry have moved up north and west to Vietnam, Thailand and beyond. But. everyone seems to be on the look out for a bargain and this is the place to come.


Did you learn anything from this little tour? Feel free to comment below. If you’re interested, more pictures featuring Wan Chai Road can be found at this photo gallery link – Wan Cha

This post, “Discovering Wan Chai” is another blog post in the “Hong Kong street guides” series. If you like what you’ve found here, feel free to check out the other post in this series – I don’t think you will be disappointed.


FEATURED WORK: Rogan’s work is featured on the following websites:


TECHNICAL NOTES: Most of the images taken here were with a Fujifilm X-T1 and Fujifilm X-T2 capture devices and a FUJINON XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS lens.


You can find out more about Rogan and why he does what he does here on his ‘Artist’s Statement’ page.

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