It’s September, harbinger of Hong Kong’s wedding season. Typhoons aside, the slightly cooler weather makes a huge difference for brides teetering around in a three-kilogram Western gown or figure-hugging silk cheongsam.
Couples from traditional, well-off Hong Kong families saying ‘I do’ this month will have chosen an auspicious date to launch their lifetime of unalloyed bliss.
The groom probably paid a ‘bride price’ to his new wife’s family, showered them with gifts and bought a new bed (that needs be blessed before being put to use).
Credit: Jamie Ousby Photography
The couple will have reserved one of Hong Kong’s gargantuan ballrooms two years ago. On the day, banquet tables will be filled with 500 of their closest friends, colleagues and thrice-removed cousins.
Weddings in Hong Kong are big business. According to a government report, 50,008 were registered in 2016. An official study last year concluded that the average wedding cost HK$331,249 – half of that usually earmarked for the banquet.
With stretched wallets and less patience for fusty traditions, couples are shifting away from a cast-of-thousands, umpteen-costume-change celebration in favour of more intimate – and significantly less expensive – affairs
Credit: Jamie Ousby Photography
‘It’s definitely a growing trend – couples are going for smaller and more intimate weddings, opting for out-of-the-box, unique locations,’ says Evelyn Mills, who runs Hong Kong wedding planner Marriage Maestros.
‘This has the added benefit of being a little different, of standing out from the crowd,’ says Mills. ‘Places that never used to cater to weddings are now eager to clamber onto the bandwagon. Not only have they started to realise how lucrative this industry is, the entire market is changing with a new generation of millennials seeking to incorporate more lifestyle experiences into their wedding plan. Young couples nowadays want their wedding to be an experiential celebration for all their guests to enjoy, as opposed to just another banquet at a venue that’s conventionally their parents’ choice.’
Plus, relieved of the pressure and vast expense of a formal banquet, couples can afford to devote their time and cash to more genuine experiences.
In Hong Kong, guests flying in from overseas might be whisked to venues such as French restaurant One-Thirtyone in Sai Kung – colonial architecture and amazing sea views; to Zen Organic Farms, which offers an urban-agri vibe; onboard the FLOAT chartered yacht in Victoria Harbour; or to The Secret Kitchen by The Butchers Club for industrial decor and an alfresco rooftop setting in Wong Chuk Hang.
I held my own wedding at the United Services Recreation Club, a low-rise, companionable venue in Kowloon.
As a second-generation Hongkonger raised in the city, I couldn’t imagine celebrating inside a big box when there are so many eclectic venues around town.
I was excited to show off my home city to friends and relatives who flew in, with a junk trip, a tour of Lamma Island, an intimate Chinese meal and several boozy nights out.
The best part? Staggering home to my own bed at 3am on my wedding night, and falling fast asleep in my cheongsam.
And just in case anyone is wondering, we hadn’t bought a new bed for the occasion, and skipped the blessing, too.
Romantic venues with a Hong Kong flavour
A converted pawn shop in Wan Chai, this historical venue with an outdoor rooftop is perfect for a smaller celebration. thepawn.com.hk
This northern Chinese restaurant is known for its dramatic decor. Pair it with a trip on one of the Aqua Luna junks. hutong.com.hk
Tucked away in the hills of Pok Fu Lam, this alabaster-white neo-gothic chapel was built by French missionaries and can be hired through the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. hkapa.edu
The Star Ferry
Yes, you can get married right in the middle of the harbour on an iconic Star Ferry. starferry.com.hk
Jao Tsung-I Academy
Despite its eerie former uses (at times a quarantine station, prison, hospital and psychiatric rehabilitation centre), this revitalised heritage building in Lai Chi Kok provides a romantic backdrop. jtia.hk/en
Hero image: Jamie Ousby Photography