Visitor’s tourist expat guide to Hong Kong
NEIGHBORHOODS IN HONG KONG, Hong Kong cultural insights
Hong Kong is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and fast-paced cities in the world. Not only is there a distinct urban culture centered around making money and being fabulously fashionable, but you can also go hiking in the mountains and go to the beach on the same day! This former British colony was handed back to China in 1997 but it still retains it’s international flavor as well as it’s local charm.
TSIM SHA TSUI
Just across the harbor from Hong Kong Island is Tsim Sha Tsui, a popular place for shopping, dining and tourist activities. Hotels and guest houses abound here. There’s a notorious run-down building called Chung King Mansions which was made famous by Hong Kong filmaker Wong Kar Wai. There are a few cheap but seedy guesthouses here. On the other end of the spectrum is the glorious Peninsula hotel- a historical landmark which is a great place for high tea. There are also many modern luxury hotels such as the Langham Place Hotel or the Intercontinental.
Tsim Sha Tsui is known for it’s unbeatable view of the Hong Kong skyline. Recently, a scenic walkway was built all along the harborfront called “The Avenue of the Stars”. This is Hong Kong ‘s answer to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. While gazing at the impressive skyline, you can also enjoy bronze statues of Bruce Lee as well as seeing legendary actor’s handprints stamped into the ground.
There are also several cultural landmarks in TST like the Hong Kong History Museum and the Hong Kong Cultural Center which features shows, musicals and an IMAX Theater. For shopping, one can visit the massive Harbor City mall or cruise up and down Canton Road or Nathan Road (Particularly if you are shopping for electronic gadgets). The area around Grandville road is also a trendy shopping place for young people. Ashley Street and Knutsford Terrace are two big dining and nightlife zones, particularly popular with the local Hong Kong crowd.
This business and commercial district hosts a number of offices, shopping malls, hotels and banks.
Some of Hong Kong’s most distinctive skyscrapers like the Hong Kong Bank Building, the Bank of China tower and mammoth IFC building can be found in Central. Central also has several glitzy hotels which overlook the harbor such as the Mandarin Oriental, the Ritz Carlton and the new Four Seasons.
The slick modern IFC mall, the Landmark building and the Prince’s building are major shopping malls in Central. Loud and lively, Lan Kwai Fong is a popular open air bar and restaurant area in Central which should not be missed.
An area full of charm and character, this district is chareterized by older low rise buildings and quaint alleys. The three main veins of of SOHO are Staunton street, Elgin street and Hollywood Road. Here you’ll find antique shops, galleries, as well as cute restaurants, bars and cafes. There isn’t a lot of space in SOHO so businesses and flats are small and cozy. Though many elderly Chinese people still live in the older walk-up buildings of Soho, a lot of younger people are buying flats in the area and turning beat-up old rat-holes into chic studios. A few residences have roof terraces with towering views of the surrounding skyscrapers and other people’s roofs.
This charming area is one of the oldest settlements in Hong Kong. In the 90’s Sheung Wan was a local neighborhood and an inexpensive place to live. However, Central and Soho became too expensive so developers, business owners and expat residents started branching out towards Sheung Wan. It’s now emerging as a new hot spot.
Sheung Wan has alot of historical streets which house traditional medicine shops and shops that sell things like enormous shark fins, dried seahorses or gecko’s testicles. The area around Hollywood road and Upper Lascar Row is famous for antiques and souvenir shopping.One of Hong Kong’s most picturesque temples, the Man Mo temple, is found here. Sheung Wan also home to the Western Market, a beautiful old colonial building which now houses fabric shops and shops that sell little usless trinkets.
Within the past 5 years, pockets of ‘hip’ have materialized in this neighborhood. Gough Street and On Hing Terrace are two streets which have cool shops, restaurants and bars. The new Lomography Shop just opened next to The Parasite Art space on Po Lan road. Erba serviced apartments on Queens Road also attracts many style-oriented hipster types. At the Cafe O just downstairs, you can encounter many fashionable people surfing away on their Mac laptops with the wireless conncection.
Signs of gentrification are also showing up in Sheung Wan with the arrival of the exclusive member’s only
This residential area is an impressive concrete jungle chock-a-block full of high rise buildings. Midlevels’ highrises are built on a hill spannning an area inland from Central and stretching out all the way out towards the backside of Wanchai. One convenient feature of midlevels is the midlevels escalator- the world’s longest series of escalators, which enables people to commute easily to and from their flats to their offices in Central. In the morning, the escalator runs downhill from 6:00am to 10:00am allowing people to descend directly to their offices in Central. From 10:30 to midnight, the escalator transports people upwards- saving people time, energy and taxi fare.
Apartments in mid-levels can feel very generic but many have spectacular city views. Midlevels is usually where people like to live when they first move to Hong Kong because it’s convenient to get to the Central Business district, to dining, amenities and nightlife.
Perched high above the city is Victoria Peak, a popular tourist destination and one of the most prestigious places to live in Hong Kong. The Peak attracts people because of it’s endless city views. The other side of the peak has views of Aberdeen. A popular thing to do is ascend to the Peak via the Peak tram and have a meal either at Cafe Deco or at The Peak Lookout.
The weather is slightly cooler at the Peak due to the altitude. It’s also can be more damp and humid. In March and April, the area below Barker Road sometimes gets shrouded in cloud and fog. People will sometimes ask residents of the Peak if they live above or below this “fog line”. Residents of the Peak can enjoy many amenities such as shopping, good schools and hospitals. In addition, the Peak is only 10 minutes away from Central.
Though convenient, there isn’t much to Admiralty besides the Pacific Place mall and the 3 hotels behind it- The JW Marriott, the Conrad, and the Island Shangri-la. Hong Kong Park is also just behind the Mall and features some great views, a historical tea ware museum, a gorgeous fountain and some bird aviaries.
This large district, one of the oldest in Hong Kong, is steeped in history. Today Wanchai’s shanty buildings of yesteryear are being torn down and slotted for urban renewal.
Wanchai was made notorious in the 50’s and 60’s by the book called “The World of Suzie Wong”. In this novel, Wanchai is portrayed as a seedy hangout where sailors in could go looking for paid companionship with Asian girls. Today Wanchai is still famous for it’s pubs, late night haunts and red light district. It’s undoubtedly an amusing and oftentimes surreal place to go when the night degenerates.
However, there’s much more to Wanchai than saucy nightlife. Wanchai is home to a huge new Convention Center as well as to the Hong Kong Arts center. Queen’s Road East is a great place to get home decoration items as well as made-to-order furniture and blinds. Lockhart Road also has some kitchen and bathroom supply shops. At the Wanchai MTR station, you’ll find a huge computer mall which is gadget heaven. You can get all manners of electronics- I-Pods, laptops, cameras, projectors, printers and phones.
Closer to Pacific Place on Hennesy road, you can find several sample shops that yield some great fashion finds at cheap prices. In addition, there are several alleys with open air markets that sell clothes, flowers and knick knacks.
There is also an urban renewal plan already in effect to beautify and modernize Wanchai. There are whole new bars restaurants and buildings starting from Queens Road East all the way to Johnston Road. The J residence is a chic serviced apartment near the restaurant called The Pawn. There are many slick restaurants in the vicinity. There is also the area called Star Street which has hip bars, cafes and restaurants.
There’s no such thing as elbow room in this densely packed commercial and residential district. The crosswalks in Causeway Bay can be so clogged, you sometimes feel like you’re caught in a tide which is pulling you unwittingly through a sea of black heads. The main reason Causeway Bay is so glutted is because it’s basically a big shopping mall and the national pastime of Hong Kong is shopping. Some of the big landmarks in the neighborhood are Times Square Mall, Sogo Japanese department store and IKEA for furniture. All along Causeway Bay’s crowded streets are little sample shops, independent clothing shops as well as a luxury goods street. There are many hair salons and businesses here as well. Causeway bay is also home to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Some people choose to live here as it’s convenient to amenities; However it’s very noisy.
Happy Valley is a popular residential areas with expatriates. Happy Valley also provides a number of high end restaurants and hotels, and is one rendezvous for many Hong Kong celebrities. Because of this, much paparazzi activities are present in the area. Many Hong Kong television series are filmed in Happy Valley, too.
The Happy Valley Racecourse is still operational today. Whenever a race runs, surrounding traffic patterns have to be changed: Cars will have to enter Happy Valley and the racecourse via Wong Nai Chung Road in a clockwise fashion, and the road will be heavily congested. The stadium lights in the racecourse illuminates nearby buildings even when the buildings themselves are unlit.
REPULSE BAY/ DEEPWATER BAY
Located in the Southern part of Hong Kong island, this area is renowned for it’s verdant scenery and gorgeous beaches. Repulse Bay’s stunning shore is a regular part of the tourist trail- pulling in daily busloads of snap-happy visitors from around the globe.
Because the air is a little cleaner and one is closer to nature on the South island, this area is one of the most in demand neighborhoods for real estate- particularly for well-to-do couples with children. Many flats here have terraces with stunning views but you may have to sacrifice your first born in order to afford the exorbitant rents. Repulse Bay is the stomping grounds of the yummy mummies and ladies who lunch. In fact, the Wellcome supermarket in the Repulse Bay hotel is reported to have the highest grossing revenue of any supermarket in Hong Kong.
Deep Water Bay has smaller and more private beach featuring a paddle club, a golf course a couple of really charming beachfront restaurants. This neighborhood is slightly more exclusive and expensive than Repulse Bay. Because of it’s natural setting, the South of Hong Kong island is a haven for sports enthusiasts. Possible activities include running along the water, swimming, dragon-boating, wakeboarding, boating and biking.
Twenty-somethings don’t generally want to live in this area as it’s far removed from the party scene and convenience of living in central or midlevels.
This is a very popular residential neighborhood for expatriates with children. Stanley has a nice beach which is famous for it’s yearly dragon boat regatta. You can sail and windurf here as well. In the past, Stanley beach was quite polluted, but it seems that the water is getting cleaner due to environmental conservation efforts.
The main reason people come to Stanely is because of the delightful Stanley Market. Here you can find souveniers, beachwear, ski gear and overrun fashion items. The entire area around the Stanley Market is also being developed. There’s a gorgeous strip of restaurants that is very lively on weekends. They are also in the process of building a long boardwalk as well as a waterfront strip with shops and cafes. Stanley has many convenient amenities which is a good thing because it’s quite far from Central.
This area used to be filled with fishermen, boat dwellers and pirates. Today Aberdeen is still a community based on the fishing industry and a few people still live on their boats. Because of it’s historical significance, Aberdeen a popular tourist destination. Many people will rent a sampan or water taxi to tour the marina and to check out the lifestyle of the boat dwellers. It’s also known for it’s big floating restaurants. The Jumbo floating restaurant has recently seen a renovation on it’s Top Deck. Now it’s a chic and sleek place to have a cocktail and a meal. Alternately you can just enjoy the original gaudy roccoco decor of the boat and eat at one of the chinzty gold-laden Chinese restaurants.
Though Aberdeen is not a popular residential area for foreigners, some expats have taken to living on their their boats. Alongside junks, sampans and fishing boats, Aberdeen now also has many luxury yachts. It’s also home to the exclusive Aberdeen Marina Club.
Though Aberdeen has historically been a place for locals who don’t have much money, the force of gentrification has also reared it’s inevitable head here. Several luxury complexes with great facilities have recently been constructed here. There are also plans to build and MTR station nearby.
This residential area is located about 10-15 minutes away from Central. Many expatriates are choosing to move to Pok Fu Lam as there are unobstructed sea views and there are some good properties which are more affordable than the Peak or South Island. On a clear day one can see all the way past fishing boats and container barges to Lamma Island.
Pok Fu Lam is also home to the recently constructed Cyberport complex. Eventually this complex should hold offices as well as shopping and amenities. Cyberport boasts some interesting future-oriented architechture, however, it still hasn’t been able to draw in many visitors or offices yet. Perhaps that will change when the new MTR station is completed.
This funky bohemian beach town is a trek from Central but well worth a weekend trip. Shek-o has a handful of cute restaurants and picturesque little houses painted in vibrant colors. Peering through
doorways, one can see and hear the slow pace of life. It’s as if there’s nothing else to do here but relax and hang out with friends. There’s a bar by the beach with lots of cute dogs running around. Senior citizens play majong at the local shops, some people are reading books over a meal, some are biking and a few are lounging at the pristine beach. There are also several nice hikes in the area.
This groovy island has a population of young bohemians, new age hippies, families with children and old Chinese fishermen. People on this island love dogs. There are tons of cute doggies roaming around (many of whom have been adopted from dog rescues). The ferry docks in two places- Yung Shue Wan, in the west, has a main street which has many pubs and cute little dive joints where you can enjoy a meal, have a coffee, read a book or relax over a beer while peering at the quaint fishing boats in the bay. Sok Ku Wan is another destination for the ferry boats. This area has loads of fantastic seafood restaurants. The island is small but is great for hiking, mountain biking, beaching and lounging.
This rural island is almost twice the size of Hong Kong island. Most of it is designated country park which means it is not allowed to be developed. Nestled amongst Lantau’s majestic mountains, lies a just few tiny villages accessible by some steep and bumpy roads. Obviously, there are some great hiking trails on Lantau.
Lantau also hosts several tourist attractions like Hong Kong’s Disneyland, the World’s largest outdoor seated Buddha and Ngong Ping 360, a new cable car which takes you to the Buddha via 20 minute breath taking ride. Lantau is also famous for the Tai-O fishing village-dubbed “The Venice of the East”. The entire village is built on stilts! Although it’s a very popular tourist destination, somehow the village manages to maintain it’s orginal charm. People also come to Lantau to catch a glimpse of the indigenious pink dolphins.
Lantau is home to two populous settlements: Discovery Bay and Tung Chung. Discovery Bay is a settlement for families and strangely-Cathay Pilots. Although a lot of people complain that DB feels ‘contrived’- it is clean, convenient and it’s only a short efficient ferry ride to Central. Tung Chung was built because of it’s proximity to the airport and the MTR station. Tung Chung is also where the Ngong Ping Cable Car starts.
This small charming island has a jumbled mess of seafood restaurants at the waterfront where the ferry docks. There are also temples, a picturesque village and nice beaches.
CLEARWATER BAY/ SAI KUNG
This verdant mountainous area is a getaway for people who want to escape the smog and hectic pace of city life. Many families choose to move to here as the air is cleaner and houses are bigger and more affordable. Sai Kung has an interesting town center with a lot of great seafood restaurants, while Clearwater bay has great beaches.
There are a lot of urban myths surrounding this bubble of contrived suburbia. Also known as “Nappy Valley” or “Delivery Bay”, this Lantau outpost is a haven for expats with young children. They say all your have to do is breathe the air there and you get pregnant. Some people jokingly say the atmosphere is a cross between “The Stepford Wives” and “The Truman Show”. There are an estimated 18,000 expat families living in Disco Bay and many of the husbands travel a lot. DB is convenient for the trailing spouses who are left behind. (We reckon hot young pool boys/gardeners can make a very lucrative living as a gigolo here.) This suburban boredom/ existentialism drives many to engage in kinky adventures