Famous for its natural and scenic landscape, rural UK is never short of pastures as green as mint and dining halls as stately as Downton Abbey. However, plan an al fresco or outdoor wedding banquet in Hong Kong and you’ll get caught between location, financial costs, party size and family preference.
As we were expecting a big party made up of relatives, close family friends and friends from abroad, Chinese-style banquet would suit our purpose better than cocktail party or buffet lunch. We wanted an al fresco setting, so it could double as our wedding photo location.
In Hong Kong, it’s the norm to first take pre-wedding photos in no less than a combination of five wedding/evening gowns, and then wedding day photos in another collection of glamorous gowns.
Note to future brides, having these done in one day and one place instead could save you a fortune. Stay tuned for future post about wedding photography and find out how to be a budget and beautiful bride!
Back to our topic at hand, the first venue on our shortlist is the Sha Tin Racecourse. With easy access by public transport, spacious rooms, reasonably-priced menus and friendly customer service, there is no reason to say no. But for us, it’s like eating rice with a fork – it feeds you but just doesn’t feel quite right.
There are two dining hall options – Jockey Club Box and Owners’ Box. The Jockey Club Box is a glasshouse overlooking the racecourse, but it doesn’t scream romantic. The multitude of TV screens on three sides of the room (obviously crucial during horse racing season) makes us cringe at the idea of gracing them with our photos.
The Owners’ Box follows a more traditional Chinese-style dining hall complete with a view of the racecourse. Also equipped with numerous TV screens, this room is built with three sizeable pillars which not only obstruct guests’ view of the main stage, but also segregate some tables into their own section.
The venue is well-conditioned but somewhat short of variety and grandeur. The racecourse with a backdrop of residential buildings is about the only view or ground for photography. You can also take photos with a Shetland pony or Victorian carriage – that is if you are prepared to pay $9,000 (£750) for it!
Location – quiet, private and spacious
Travel – easy access by public transport + unlimited racecourse shuttle bus trips to venue
Parking – 30 free spaces
Price – $9,688-13,388 (£800-1,100) per table of 12 (quoted for 2014), reasonable for its menu and other perks
Decoration – centrepiece included
Smoking – allowed
Scenery – racecourse and residential buildings
Not purpose-built – many TV screens and bridal room is a converted room in a café/bar
Mahjong – no dedicated room, just tables set up in spare space near reception
Since horse racing is a culture introduced into Hong Kong during her colonial days, I wonder what a racecourse wedding is like in the UK.
The context is different. Horse racing plays a very big part in Hong Kong’s gambling culture and is perceived as a leisure activity for old or retired people.
In the UK, it is a national sport enjoyed by different social groups. Working class happily drink and gamble away, while upper class rub shoulders with fellow men in tailored dark suits and women with colourful feather hats.
Situated in the countryside, these racecourses stretch acres of ground embellished with gentle streams, vibrant gardens and those signature redbrick structures. Some racecourses even offer marquee weddings and race day weddings for a price (£99/$1290 per person) very similar to that of Sha Tin Racecourse (£89/$1160 per person).
If you opt for a standard package, a spacious terrace and stunning view of the racecourse and its surrounding greenery is all yours from £45 ($590) per person. Either way, the racecourse is a great choice for a truly unique and al fresco wedding in the UK.
P. S. It was reported in December 2013 that the two racecourses in Hong Kong (Happy Valley and Sha Tin Racecourse) violated its terms of lease and allowed non-members of the Hong Kong Jockey Club to hire its premises for events. The Lands Department has launched an investigation into this matter.
During our visit, we were told that provided the final bill was settled by a Jockey Club member, it wouldn’t matter if we were non-members and service charges would be waived as well. Not saying you should cross out this venue on your list, just keep a close eye on how it develops.
And here’s a little hopping music for you…