I like Stanley. I like it a lot less on a public holiday but any other day of the year it's quite charming. A mix of modern European-esque new designs amongst a few old throw backs to the early British colonial days. And I'll be honest, I like feeling like I'm not in Hong Kong sometimes - probably more than I care to admit.
You can catch a bus here from Causeway Bay - between the overhead highway and Happy Valley, next to the underpass. And here you can opt for either a crazy green mini bus or a slightly sturdier double decker - personal preference is advised.
Once you pass the highly favoured drop off points along route of Deepwater Bay and Repulse (yes that is REPULSE, would you believe?) Bay you eventually reach Stanley.
The first stop is above the village at a shopping mall. It's worth getting off here to take in the view of Blake Pier and the old - very British looking - police station which was, until just prior to our visit in 2012, the Maritime Museum (now to be found at Central Pier). This realisation wasn't as much of a disappointment to me as you might think.
There's not a lot of interest in the shopping mall, although it's an interesting modern structure with escalators that allow you to take in the sights that await below, finally depositing you on a large open plaza semi surrounded by continental cafes and bistros.
Plaza. That's a great world, I don't know if that's a personal mental association I make with that world that reminds me of Spanish holidays as a kid but I hope that everyone gets as much satisfaction out of reading the word plaza as I do writing the word plaza and saying the world plaza in my head. Plaza.
You would be forgiven for thinking the mechanical stairs had deceivingly led you out somewhere in Spain or France or Italy or another European country, but the UK because it's too warm for that and people look happy. But there are certainly enough Western faces around for you to at least believe you're no longer on a foreign continent. This is further mind boggling, yet hauntingly familiar, when you spot the typical sea fronted British style pubs amongst the more European seeming restaurants...surely there's not a holiday resort town in the mediterranean that (sadly) doesn't have it's token British pub or five? I vaguely recall it was named The Pelican or some other thing along an ornithological line.
However, there are still a few tiny traces of Hong Kong in Stanley. At the base of the shopping mall, in the opposite direction of everything else, you will find a traditional Tin Hau that has stood there from an earlier time, long before all else that surrounds it. I think it's the oldest in Hong Kong, when the British invaded Hong Kong Stanley was the only populated area on the Island. I read somewhere - so don't mistake this for fact as I have a rather bad habit of taking information I believe to true from something and preaching it to others only to later find out I was wrong - that people worship(ed) a water goddess at a Tin Hau, they are usually near or facing water, and she would protect you or those you prayed for at sea. I went inside this particular temple (they're not uncommon and there's only so many you can see before you've seen them all) and I'm pretty sure there was a huge tiger skin in there from when a big stripy feline had been prowling old Stanley back in the day, go caught and skinned and now hangs on show alongside giant gold slathered Chinese God(desse)s.
Beside the Tin Hau is a cute 'Butterfly Garden' but it must have been off season because I didn't see one. Not a sniff. Not that butterflies are particularly Chinese but the quaint little gardens are, and I suppose the flora and fauna they contain almost certainly is. Also, if you walk along the walled sea front in an arc, past the football pitch there is a small raised area from where elongated triangular red flags billow in the breeze. If you follow the short steps leading up here you shall find another tiny place of worship, a red tiled cubbyhole full of smouldering incense at the feet of small images of idols.
Another Hong Kong style treat at Stanley is it's Market. They love their markets, they've got markets coming out of their ears. Full of tourists, but in my experience far less busy than the Ladies Night Market in Mong Kok. There are some real bargains amongst the hordes of crappy souvenirs, Angry Birds memorabilia, phone cases and slogan t-shirys. James even found himself a GENUINE pair of Hurley Phantom board shorts for $100, less than £10 (value of more than £50 in shops, if not more)! And I do love a bargain, when I blow the dust off my wallet and release the moths, nothing pleases me more than spending less than I should be.
Around the corner from the entrance to the Market you can find Stanley Beach...do not head here on a weekend unless you enjoy being sat almost on top of, hearing a melting pot of languages being shouted and having sand kicked in your eyes by hyperactive kids. I sunbathed with my hands over my ears and eyes tightly shut for all of ten minutes before grumpily giving up. Having said that, there's an area of beach to the West where the shark net isn't present in the water...even on the busiest day this small section is practically deserted - as though out of fear for sharks learning to breath and walk on land, devouring all mankind in their path. But that suits me just fine and that's where you'll find me, hugging a beached shark, sipping on a Tsing Tao.
At the end of the Summer, the famous Dragon Boat Festival (yes that means a day off work, god bless the Chinese calendar) hold their annual Dragon Boat Race here...if you think weekends are busy, you should see it on this day but that's another story.