Stephen and Josie were awarded the Citizen of the Year 2011 by ShenZhenNan Fong Daily. (Image courtesy of Secret Tour HK)

The Hong Kong Tourism Board has set out to make a primary impression: Hong Kong, glittering skyscrapers planted across and overlooking Victoria Harbour; a perfect mix of the East and the West; touted as “Asia’s World City”.  However, the city’s image and identity goes beyond its famous skyline, which is what Stephen and Josie are trying to advocate. They aim to unravel the multi-dimensional layers of the city because they feel that the commonly known and promoted tourist spots do not reflect the true story of their city. 

The “Secret Sunday with Migrant Workers” tour held in November last year kept participants on their toes as Stephen and Josie only revealed the itinerary and plans a week before the tour was scheduled. (Image courtesy of Secret Tour HK)

In search of Hong Kong’s identity, they came to believe that it is a city more than the glitz and glamour conjured by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. “It’s more than Disneyland, Ocean Park and the Big Buddha,” adds Stephen. Explaining the motivation for the project, Josie mentions that “different people are trying to portray different identities for Hong Kong and we feel that every citizen of Hong Kong has his or her own story and every story is worth sharing.” Instead of celebrating the identity of Hong Kong packaged by the Tourism Board, the backpacking pair aim to celebrate the people behind Hong Kong’s extreme urbanism. From hawkers in Wan Chai and Filipino domestic workers who gather at public spaces at Central on Sundays, to other minority groups residing in Hong Kong. They believe that behind every individual, building and neighbourhood hides a special story.

The Hong Kong Experience

Gathering inspiration during a university exchange programme in Europe, the founders of Secret Tour Hong Kong wanted to create an alternative travel experience, “We have a belief that in the future when people travel, they would want to travel beyond the areas the government has set and designed as tourist spots.” In 2011, they began putting up posters at their university hostel and on couch surfing websites, inviting anyone to discover Hong Kong with them. “The greatest travelling experience was meeting the locals and following them around their home city,” recalls Stephen.

Using the city as their canvas, Stephen and Josie, who see themselves as storytellers rather than tour guides, hope to establish an open platform where everyone can share their best kept secret places and stories in the city with one another.  Secret Tour Hong Kong is more than just a tour of ‘show and tell’; in fact, they are crafting a narrative out of the city.

Stephen sharing his insights on the first stop of the Wan Chai Tour. (Image courtesy of Secret Tour HK)

Re-mapping the city

Approaching the city at an angle, often an unexpected one, they conduct free tours for groups of 20. Some of their past tours include: “Secret Sunday with Migrant Workers” tour where they collaborated with Filipino domestic workers to showcase migrant stories. The tour even included dancing and sharing a meal with these workers. Another tour was a “Milk Tea” event where participants brought their own cups and visited tea restaurants to sample various milk tea drinks to appreciate the art of making and drinking the popular Asian drink. In the “Packed” tour, participants walked from Sham Shui Po to Mong Kok in order to experience how packed and dense Hong Kong is. “After any tour, we can always see that the tourists enjoy it very much. They would feel that they have known Hong Kong better. At that moment, I feel that what I have done is very meaningful,” says Stephen.

Come February 2012, Stephen and Josie will take their creative project to the next level. Having already attracted more than 4,000 followers on their Facebook page, Secret Tour Hong Kong will soon be a registered business company. What initially started out as something done for fun and passion has evolved into a profit-earning business, a prospect which both of them never intended to happen. Stephen quips nervously about gaining the media’s attention, “We don’t know how people will react because we are shifting from a non-profit to a profit-making business.”  Part of their business plan is also set to cater for local and foreign companies with corporate and educational tours.

Future tours in the pipeline include a photo-walk through hidden communities by renowned photographers, a local artist tour, and cultural tours where tourists have the opportunity to enjoy a meal with the average Hong Kong family.

In the process of working on their project, Stephen and Josie have also found themselves embarking on a journey of self-discovery as well. “I have always thought Hong Kong was really boring. However, while planning for new tours, I found that Hong Kong is actually very interesting and comprises many interesting stories,” Stephen reflects. Both Stephen and Josie hope that through sharing Hong Kong’s hidden stories, they can increase an individual’s connection with the city.

What started out with only ten participants on their very first tour has grown to tours with more than 20 people. (Image courtesy of Secret Tour HK)

Secret Tour HK visiting a tattoo artist in Kwun Tong District. (Image courtesy of Secret Tour HK)

This story was originally published in FIVEFOOTWAY VOLUME 1 ISSUE 2. LOVE