travel

Hong Kong Island – Northwest (part 1)

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From the corporate vanities of Central district’s glass towers, through the vodka bars and galleries of SoHo, and spilling down flagstone lanes to the raucous shophouses and old docksides of Western, the Island’s northwest potently concentrates all of Hong Kong’s surreal contradictions. In the concrete gullies between futuristic banks and statement office blocks you’ll find traditional street markets, temples and herbalists, all carrying on like some Hollywood dream of old Chinatown. These are some of the most mercantile streets in human history. A shot of snake bile wine, or a fierce macchiato? In tthis part of the city, you can have it all.

Plague

In the 19th century, Hong Kong, like many other parts of the world in history, suffered devastating plagues incubated in filthy, crowded slums. It was also in Hong Kong where, in 1894, the source of the plague was identified, almost simultaneously, by two doctors. The discovery of the bacteria went on to revolutionize prevention and treatment of plague.


Central district and harbour

Sights in the Northwest
  1. Hong Kong Park

    When you’re tired of Central’s relentless bustle, Hong Kong Park’s open spaces and mature trees make an excellent escape, particularly its strikingly elegant (and free) walk-through aviary. The flowing streams and lush plant life of this improbable mini-rainforest are a peaceful and shaded home to scores of exotic bird species. The park also has lakes, a large conservatory, a viewing tower and the free Museum of Teaware, which is located inside Flagstaff House.

    Red lory, Hong Kong Park

    Aviary, Hong Kong Park
  2. Exchange Square and Two IFC Tower

    As the name suggests, Exchange Square houses Hong Kong’s red-carpeted financial engine room, although the stock exchange is not open to visitors. However, the peaceful square outside it, dominated by a large fountain, is a great place to eat or drink outside. Near the fountain are sculptures by Henry Moore and Dame Elizabeth Frink. The square’s newest building, Two IFC Tower, is a striking addition to the island’s already impressive skyline.

    Frink sculpture, Exchange Square
  3. Former Government House

    This grand old building served as the British governor’s residence from 1855 until 1997, when the last governor, Chris Patten, handed Hong Kong back to China. Patten’s successor, Tung Chee-hwa, cited bad feng shui created by the needle-like Bank of China building as one reason not to move in, opting to remain in his house on the Peak. Back in the 1940s, the occupying Japanese added the Shinto-style towers to the Georgian structure, which at one time enjoyed harbour views. The building is used for official functions, only opening occasionally to the public – contact HKTB for details.

  4. The Escalator

    A wonderful feature of Hong Kong is its 792-m (2,598-ft) long string of escalators, which links all the roads between Queen’s Road and Conduit Street. It’s the best way for pedestrians to get around the steep districts of Central, the Mid-Levels and SoHo. The Escalator runs uphill until midnight, except during the morning rush hour, when it runs downhill.

    One of the escalators
  5. SoHo

    In the last few years SoHo (so-called for being the area south of Hollywood Road) has been transformed from a sleepy district of traditional Chinese shops into a thriving area for hip bars, cafés and restaurants. Elgin, Shelley and Staunton streets are excellent places to find a drink or bite to eat.

    Restaurant, SoHo
  6. Sheung Wan and Western

    The older, more traditional Chinese areas of town, just west of Central’s sleek corporate head-quarters and the smart shops, are worth exploring by foot. The reward is a fascinating array of shops, mostly wholesalers, selling dried seafood (the pervading smell here), ginseng, edible swallows’ nests, snakes, arcane herbal ingredients and paper offerings for the dead. Try the streets around Bonham Strand.

  7. Lan Kwai Fong

    Not much to look at during the day, Lan Kwai Fong (or Orchid Square) only really starts to buzz at night when office workers, including plenty of city suits, come here to unwind at its many bars, clubs and restaurants. The street is packed with revellers on Fridays. The partying spills across to tiny Wing Wah Lane just across D’Aguilar Street with bars and good-value Thai, Malay and Indian restaurants.

  8. The Waterfront

    Turn right out of the Central Star Ferry for some (admittedly meagre and poorly exploited) open waterside space and benches with good views across to Kowloon. Behind is Jardine House, for many years Asia’s tallest building. To the east is the giant upturned gin bottle shape of the Prince of Wales HQ building, which is now army barracks. The waterfront hosts the “Symphony of Lights” laser and sound show every evening at 8pm.

    Central district
  9. Man Mo Temple

    The gloomy red and gold interior of the Man Mo Temple, dating back to the 1840s, is always thick with sandalwood smoke from the giant incense spirals hanging overhead, which take a couple of weeks to burn through. The temple is dedicated to two deities, Man (the god of literature) and Mo (the god of war). Some of the scenes from the film version of Richard Mason’s The World of Suzy Wong were filmed here.

    • Western end, Hollywood Rd

    Man Mo Temple

    Man Mo Temple
  10. Hollywood Road

    This Mecca for Chinese antiques and curios may no longer offer the bargains it once did but Hollywood Road’s eastern end is still jammed with shops selling ancient ceramics, mammoth ivory carvings and delicate snuff bottles. The stalls and shops on Upper Lascar Row are a good hunting ground for antiques, trinkets, old coins, kitsch and curios. Haggling is definitely acceptable here.

    Antiques, Hollywood Road
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