Hong Kong Island – Northeast (part 1)

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The east of the island was the first to take up the population pressures of the nascent colonial capital of Victoria, and until the late 1970s had a low rent reputation. Some of that survives in the haggard pole-dancing clubs and tattoo parlours of Wan Chai, the quarter where Richard Mason wrote The World Of Suzie Wong, and where generations of sailors have nursed hangovers. But today, you’re far more likely to run into Starbucks, serviced apartments and highly expensive office space. The night races at Happy Valley are where you’ll see Hong Kongers at their most fevered, while in Causeway Bay is the neon of restaurants and boutiques. Further out, there are worthy surprises among the unlovely warehouses and office blocks of Quarry Bay and Chai Wan – live jazz, microbreweries and dance clubs.

What Became of Suzie Wong?

Many first-time visitors to Hong Kong have one image of Wan Chai fixed firmly in their heads – that of the Luk Kwok Hotel with its tarts-with-hearts and rickshaw-cluttered surrounds from the film of Richard Mason’s novel The World of Suzie Wong. It’s an image that’s at least 40 years out of date. The original hotel was knocked down in 1988, and the soaring glass and steel tower that replaced it, bearing the same name, is full of offices and restaurants. Suzie might still survive, but if she does, she has gimlet eyes and a harridan’s scowl.

Sights in the Northeast
  1. Central Plaza

    Perhaps the developers figured “Central Plaza” had more cachet than “Wan Chai Plaza”, or perhaps Wan Chai is more central than Central if you’re talking about the mid-point of the water-front. Anyway, Central Plaza is Hong Kong’s second tallest building (after the new IFC Tower), standing at 374 m (1,227 ft).

    • 18 Harbour Rd, Wan Chai

    Central Plaza
  2. Noonday Gun

    Immortalised in Noel Coward’s famous song about Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the famous cannon has been fired at midday every day since 1860. Bigwigs pay for the privilege of firing it, with the money going to charity. Otherwise, a gunner dressed in traditional military attire does the honours. Originally it was fired whenever the Taipan arrived or departed from Hong Kong.

    • Waterfront near the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter

    • To fire gun (for a fee): 2599 6111

    Noonday gun
  3. Convention and Exhibition Centre

    The building looks a bit like the Sydney Opera House might if its roof had just been swatted by a giant hammer. The designers, however, maintain that the flowing lines are meant to evoke a bird in flight. It’s certainly a study in contrast with the upthrust towers scratching the sky all around. There was a race against time to finish stage two of the $5 billion complex in time for the 1997 Handover ceremony. Britain’s loss and China’s gain is commemorated with a big black obelisk. The venue also hosts occasional raves and pop concerts.

    • 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai

    • 2582 8888

    Convention and Exhibition Centre
  4. Lockhart Road

    Made famous in Richard Mason’s novel The World of Suzy Wong, Wan Chai’s sinful strip is these days an odd blend of girlie bars with doddery mama-san who saw action during the Vietnam War and will rob you blind as soon as look at you; down-at-heel discos; mock-British pubs; and super-trendy bars and restaurants. The road is almost always being dug up, adding to the hubbub.

  5. “Old” Wan Chai

    This might soon be labelled Hong Kong’s “Little Thailand”. Dozens of Thai mini-marts and hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurants have sprung up amid Wan Chai market in the narrow warren of lanes that run between Johnston Road and Queen’s Road East. You can find the same dishes here for a quarter of what you’ll pay in smart Thai restaurants just blocks away.

  6. Happy Valley Racecourse

    From September to June the thud of hooves on turf rings out most Wednesday nights from this famous racetrack – once a malaria-ridden swamp – where Hong Kong’s gambling-mad public wager more money per meeting than at any other track in the world. .

    Happy Valley racing
  7. Hopewell Centre

    Construction mogul Gordon Wu has built roads in China and half-built a railway in Bangkok, but this remains his best-known erection. The 66-storey cylinder rears up behind Wan Chai, making diners dizzy in its revolving restaurant, R66. The food, frankly, is not up to much, but the view makes up for it. Nighttimes are most spectacular, or perhaps a cocktail as the sun dips behind the harbour.

    • 183 Queen’s Rd East, Wan Chai

    • R66: 2862 6166

    Hopewell Centre
  8. Victoria Park

    Hong Kong’s largest urban park opened in 1957, and features a bronze statue of the killjoy British monarch, which one “art activist” once redecorated with a can of red paint. There’s a swimming pool, tennis courts and lawn bowling greens. It’s also the venue for the Chinese New Year Flower Market, and every Sunday at noon would-be politicians can stand up and shoot their mouths off at the forum.

    Victoria Park
  9. Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter

    Barnacle-encrusted hulks and down-at-heel gin palaces rub gunwhales with multi-million dollar yachts in this packed haven from the “big winds” that regularly bear down on the South China coast. There are also quaint houseboats with homely touches like flower boxes permanently anchored behind the stone breakwater. The impressive edifice to the left as you look out to sea is the Hong Kong Yacht Club.

  10. Tin Hau Temple

    Not the biggest or best-known temple to the Chinese sea goddess but certainly the most accessible on Hong Kong Island. Worth a look if you’re in the area. This was once the waterfront, believe it or not. There’s usually a handful of worshippers burning incense and paying respects, although it may be packed during Chinese festivals.

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