Hong Kong River

Sandy HoThis August, Buffalo Tours is proud to launch our brand new, in-depth line: Local Life. As part of our exciting new initiative to respect, support and celebrate the cultures and people that make each of our destinations unique, this specialised line is designed to get travellers closer to the heart of Asia – without sacrificing the comfort and ease of a classic Buffalo Tours experience. We sat down with Sandy Ho – a Hong Kong local who masterminded our new Hong Kong Local Life tours – to go behind-the-scenes with how these experiences came together.

First up – what’s so special about Hong Kong? What makes it a city worth exploring beyond the highlights?

Hong Kong might be in Asia, but it is most certainly a world city – and one of the most photographed and talked-about sights in Asia.  We are part of one of the world’s fastest growing markets, and a lot of that comes down to our can-do spirit and culture. Plus, our city’s love affair with food has established us as a world culinary capital – you’ll find anything from street eats to Michelin-star restaurants here, but all of it has a special “Hong Kong” flavour that has the same fusion of international specialties with a Chinese twist. But most of all, it’s after dark that the city pulses with energy you’ll be unlikely to find anywhere else in Asia.

Hong Kong is a city with many personalities – a blend not just of East and West, but of old and new. In this city of amazing contrasts, incense smolders in bread box-sized temples next to modern high rise office buildings; and executives with cell phones stroll past fruit hawkers in traditional woven straw hats. I think the magic of Hong Kong lies somewhere between that glittering modernism and ancient tradition.

Hong Kong transport

When people first arrive in Hong Kong, what do you think is the most common misconception about the city? Why do you think these in-depth tours are a great way of challenging assumptions about Hong Kong?

At first glance, Hong Kong is an unbeatable shopping, dining and entertainment destination. But get up close and personal with Hong Kong’s historical and cultural sights, and you’ll find that old and new treasures – not to mention a mesmerizing contrast of traditional cultural and modern urban development – are hidden deep within the city’s most distinctive neighbourhoods. The only way to really discover these magical little areas is by foot, with every step taking you a little further back in time.

Hong Kong’s prosperity has seen its modern architecture keep climbing into the clouds, but there is also appreciation of the importance of our culture and history.  Our cultural influences and blend of traditional and modern really highlight different expressions of own proud traditions. This is what these new experiences are trying to capture – that fascinating in-between that embodies Hong Kong today.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Hong Kong is that it’s just like China. What is distinct about Hong Kong culture, and what are some of the ways these tours that illustrate these differences?

I’d say that we are a perfect blend of East and West. Some of Hong Kong’s most modern attractions are, in fact, dedicated to ancient religions. For example, the Big Buddha sitting on a plateau on Lantau Island might be a feat of modern engineering and architecture, but it is also the world’s largest bronze outdoor seated Buddha and an important site of pilgrimage for Buddhists worldwide.

Chinese culture is certainly one of the richest cultures in the world, with a long line of different Imperial lineage. While Chinese culture and history is held close to the hearts of Hong Kong locals, we are also deeply rooted in Western culture thanks to our very close connection with Britain – and the fact that we were a colony for a century! While the local Chinese’ beliefs are mainly rooted in traditional Chinese principle, I like to think that Chinese locals who now live in Hong Kong grew up with a fair dose of British influence, so we have a fascinating blend of both cultures. I suppose you could say we are the “best of both worlds”.

One of the strangest (and most interesting) experiences on one of the Local Life tours is the odd tradition of “villian hitting”. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little bit about this strange cultural custom, and why it’s so important to Hong Kong locals?

People here still cling to their roots, to their traditional beliefs and religions. They pray and make offerings at more than 600 old and new temples and monasteries scattered around Hong Kong.  Even with all of those soaring skyscrapers and super-modern financial districts, the Hong Kong way of life is steeped in traditions that are nothing less than magical to the uninitiated.

Superstition within Chinese culture is a unique blend of Eastern and Western traditions. In Hong Kong, especially older generations often visit Taoist or Buddhist temples to appease the deities and, usually, to request compassion, good health or good fortune – as well as to present gifts of food, fruit, incense and paper as offerings. For these same local people, expelling their bad luck by practice of “Villain Hitting” is just another way for people to ask the gods to protect them from their personal “villains” – and to prevent their “villains” from doing them more harm.

“Even with all of those soaring skyscrapers and super-modern financial districts, the Hong Kong way of life is steeped in traditions that are nothing less than magical to the uninitiated.”

The idea for this part of our Local Life tours came to me when I witnessed my grandmother participating in this “villain hitting” tradition. She was sat under the flyover – this unassuming area beneath a major highway – and perched on a small stool alongside one of Hong Kong’s many “villain hitters”, or gurus of the practice. She was holding a shoe in one hand, and bashing a piece of paper that had my grandmother’s bad thoughts written on it.

At the time, I was worried that this was actually a Chinese version of voodoo cursing, and wondered if this would cause some kind of physical harm to the people she hates! Luckily, all that this ancient and mysterious ritual could lead to was the improvement of my family health, success and most importantly, happiness. The epiphanies in life are always just trying to get rid of illness, bad luck and sadness. After seeing this for myself, I knew that I had to find a way for our travellers to experience it, too.

Hong Kong mahjong

Many visitors to Hong Kong never get beyond the shopping areas and skyscrapers, to explore more of authentic Hong Kong. This in-depth tour visits some of Hong Kong’s oldest public housing. What do you think these areas offer travellers that the highlights don’t?

Experiencing Hong Kong’s oldest public housing is a rare chance to see what a real city flat looks like, and what daily life looks like in this incredible structures.  Exploring the “real” Hong Kong in these public housing blocks is even more fascinating, too, because most will be completely dismantled within five years. This is truly the last chance to see the metal bunk beds, electric fans and rice cookers that are ubiquitous to traditional Hong Kong life in these flats. The best part of this experience, though, is that you can meet with a local family and actually hear the stories of life here!

When travellers leave the city after experiencing our new Local Life tours, what do you hope our travellers will have discovered about Hong Kong that they wouldn’t have otherwise?

I hope that these tours are awe-inspiring and truly unique experiences that ignite our travellers’ senses. I want to guide our visitors on a journey from East to West, and from past to present. I want each and every person who embarks on these tours to dig a little deeper and leave Hong Kong having felt like they really, truly experienced all that is has to offer.

You can customise your Hong Kong tour or China tour to include these special Local Life experiences! Create your own itinerary with the help of our expert sales team, and let them know that you want the Local Life flavour in your Buffalo tours journey.

COMING SOON: Explore all of our Local Life tours in each of our 11 destinations on our website – coming August 7th! 

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