In many ways, Stanley is a great place to live, with two nice beaches, a chilled-out seaside vibe and a famous market. It can be an idyllic place of al fresco dining by the sea and there are plenty of expatriates who have made it their home. Rents are high and the cost of buying is stratospheric. Part of a peninsular finger that reaches down to the southernmost point of the island and more a village than a real town, Stanley has a lot going for it in terms of quality of life, and an appealing mix of modern and colonial architecture. It certainly treats its overseas residents better than it used to – Stanley was the location of a notorious Japanese internment camp during World War II.
The downside is directly related to all these things: Stanley gets extremely crowded at weekends due to the popularity of its market and its status as a mini-day trip favourite. The market itself is geared towards tourists and successfully attracts hordes of them, and the town itself can feel like one big crowd. This is just two days a week, and crowds dissipate by early evening, but your sleepy, quiet home can be anything but for the duration of a weekend. Foreigners who live here often have places a little outside the town proper (something to bear in mind when you’re house hunting), and thus may not be directly affected, but many people try to plan their lives so they don’t need to do any shopping or driving during peak tourist hours. Of course, plenty of people love the hubbub of it all as well.
It’s a low-rise area with more of a sense of space than many other places, and expats tend to live in individual houses or modern developments with all the amenities: gym, pool, tennis court and so on. There are some well-known public estates here as well, which are actually rather attractive. There’s historic interest – this is where the Japanese finally completed their violent takeover of Hong Kong during WWII – and one of the city’s oldest Tin Hau temples. It’s not hard for people to find homes they’re extremely happy with in Stanley, as long as they’re willing to pay for them. Given the combination of laidback fishing village and bustling, international town not far from Central, it’s not surprising that plenty are indeed willing to do just that.
There aren’t any major medical facilities in Stanley; for small physical problems, there are private doctors in Repulse Bay and Chung Hom Kok. The closest hospital is the Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam, or further afield there’s the Adventist Hospital in Mid-Levels.
Stanley is home to Saint Stephen’s College, the largest secondary school in Hong Kong with around 1200 students. It’s also one of the city’s few boarding schools. English is the medium of instruction for all classes except Chinese History, Language and Culture, plus Visual Arts and Physical Education; however, note that it’s not an international school in – students study towards the Hong Kong Diploma. It also has a feeder primary school, Saint Stephen’s College Preparatory School. Pre-school options include Saint Teresa’s Kindergarten and Hong Kong Montessori for Children. Of course, Stanley is a well-established stop on school bus routes for the major international schools in Hong Kong, including the Canadian International School of Hong Kong and Singapore International School in Aberdeen.
Stanley is such a small place that when we’re talking about transport, we’re really talking about getting in and out of it. As with most of Hong Kong Island’s south coast, it helps a lot to have your own car here, though traffic can be bad during rush hours, since the Aberdeen Tunnel is basically the only route connecting the town to Central. There’s no MTR yet, though it’s been mooted for future development, so you’re reliant on driving or taking the bus. Bus service is good though, with the 6, 6X and 260 to Central; the 973 to Tsim Sha Tsui; the 63 and 65 to North Point; and the 73 to Aberdeen. There are also minibuses: 16M to Chai Wan, 52 to Aberdeen, 40 to Causeway Bay.
There’s one big downside to living in Stanley in terms of transport, however. The popularity of the market on weekends, with tourists and locals descending on the town from all over the city, makes daytime traffic in and out of Stanley very bad, and at times horrendous. There’s little that can be done about this; perhaps the MTR will one day improve things. Residents learn to plan around this weekend disruption.
Shops and services
When people think of shopping in Stanley, they think of Stanley Market. But while it can be a lot of fun to browse there for silk garments, sportswear, t-shirts, jewellery and the like, in the end it’s a tourist destination and the majority of wares are overpriced. There’s quality to be found of course, and one of the fun things of becoming a resident of Stanley is getting to find out where the good stuff is. You’ll certainly be set for swimwear and beach things.
When it comes to more prosaic day-to-day shopping, for food there’s a Wellcome supermarket. Oddly, it’s housed in the Old Stanley Police Station, a Declared Monument of Hong Kong (the equivalent of a listed building in the UK) – Hong Kong’s commitment to merging commerce and culture exemplified. Stanley Plaza is generally the go-to option, with a Taste supermarket, a bakery and various other food shopping options. There’s a wet market along the waterfront for fresher fare, and as ever in Hong Kong boasts an impressive range in a small area. There are plenty of local vendors for fruit, newspapers and the like. Stanley is a small place, so people looking for big malls and the full Hong Kong shopping experience will need to head to Causeway Bay.
When it comes to food and drink, the main attraction is the promenade along the waterfront, with an array of small restaurants and cafes where people can sit in the shade and eat or drink without a care in the world – other than finding a place during the crowded weekends. There are also bars here, and a range of international cuisine, ranging from passable to rather good. Al fresco dining is not that common in Hong Kong and is one of Stanley’s main draws.
Another option is Murray House, once a colonial barracks in Central. When demand for the space there became too pressing, the whole thing was taken down and then rebuilt –not copied, rebuilt with the same bricks – and moved to Stanley. It houses restaurants and bars, as well as the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, and offers some fantastic views. The pizza place Wildfire on the top floor is popular with families.
Stanley has two extremely pleasant beaches, Stanley Main Beach and the smaller Saint Stephen’s Beach, both crammed on weekends, with barbecue areas and shark nets to keep everyone well fed and safe. There are plenty of opportunities for watersports, and nautical types can join the local boat club. The famous Stanley Dragon Boat Races every May or June draw huge crowds and are a thrilling occasion.
For people looking for less sand in their fun, there’s a modern leisure centre with a swimming pool, and the town also offers basketball courts, tennis facilities and the like. It’s easy to keep fit here.
Stanley also houses two rather important institutions that don’t get quite as much publicity as Stanley Market. Stanley Prison is a maximum security facility that’s been there since the 1930s (there’s a museum you can visit); and the southern portion of the peninsula is given over entirely to a PLA (People’s Liberation Army) base. The grounds are strictly no entry, so it’s advised that people don’t get too ambitious with their jogging when heading south. Anyone who finds themselves involved with either of these has done something wrong; everyone else barely notices their existence.