Sai Kung Town - a walking tour of the neighbourhood
The former fishing village has a reputation for being a laid-back enclave, but there is a lot more going on there than meets the eye
The bamboo theatre rises at the end of a narrow street, its festive red banners announcing a celebration in honour of the goddess Tin Hau. Inside, hundreds of local residents enjoy a matinee showing of Cantonese opera while curious onlookers stand outside, watching the performance through the grid of bamboo scaffolding.
It's not an uncommon sight in the New Territories, but this is a bit different. Next to the theatre, groups of expatriates sip beer and wine. Dog walkers stop to chat with friends and neighbours. Even blocksaway from the theatre, as the warble of opera singing fades into the distance, a relaxed, festive atmosphere remains.
That atmosphere is a hallmark of Sai Kung. "I never want to leave," says Karina O'Connell, who has lived in the area for 25 years and praises the "friendly community vibe" along with easy access to beaches and country parks. That vibe is most evident in Sai Kung's town centre. A fishing village for centuries it was transformed in the 1970s when a resettlement project for villagers displaced by the High Island Reservoir created the leafy squares and low-rise apartment blocks that define the area today. In recent years, soaring real estate values and a growing number of weekend visitors have pushed up rents and drawn in chain stores and upscale businesses that would have seemed out of place a decade ago.
It may now be easy to get a single origin pour over or an obsessively crafted shot of espresso in Hong Kong, but that certainly wasn't the case when Colour Brown opened nine years ago. Located on the pedestrianised main street of the old town — the historic fishing village — it was one of the first in the city to roast its own beans. Now it is a destination for those looking not only for a wide variety of coffees, from rich Indonesia Gayo Mountain beans to the fruity variety from Yunnan, but also a panoply of coffee brewing equipment.
"People are now willing to try new coffee — their minds are open," says senior manager Mike Lau. "Most people still prefer their coffee bitter, but more and more like are looking for fruity, acidic African brews."
Recently, Colour Brown has been joined by a wave of newcomers. Bei Coffee is a tranquil old town hideaway that specialises in Japanese-style hand-dripped coffee along with pastries like the Earl Grey-infused banana cake topped with coffee jam. The latest outpost for the fast-growing coffee chain 18 Grams Alley — and one with special significance for founder John So — is also here. "This is more a sentimental shop than anything," he says. "My family have lived in Sai Kung for over 30 years and I grew up here. I would think people would like to have good coffee when they go to their own little getaway in Hong Kong."
Down on the waterfront, craft beer specialist The Bottle Shop has a similar story. "I grew up in Sai Kung and appreciate it as something special within Hong Kong," says Danny Wong, who opened the shop last year with his wife Tracy Gan. The couple import artisanal beer from around the world and they also stock a wide variety of craft spirits. Wong recommends the Saison Sauvin from New Zealand brewer 8 Wired, with its wine-like gooseberry notes, as a complex yet refreshing summer beer.
As the weekend crowds grow in number, joined by an increasingly flush crowd living in nearby villages, Sai Kung has become a shopping destination. But even with an influx of chain stores, the selection remains eclectic and down to earth. Tree offers eco-friendly, rustic yet contemporary furniture in its spacious waterfront showroom. Home-grown chain Final Fragments captures Sai Kung style in its two zakka-inspired lifestyle boutiques that stock a mix of clothing and accessories. Vintage Sai Kung offers a truly unexpected assortment of knick-knacks, clothes and other things you never knew you needed.
The old town's warren of back lanes is particularly fertile ground for start-ups. The Phat Shack, launched in February by Lyndsey Cook and Ben Casey, occupies the top floor of an old village house. "It's a surf, wake and skate lifestyle store," says Cook. "We both grew up in Sai Kung and there's nothing else like it here."
The shop sponsors skateboarders and the Sai Kung dragon boat team; it has already become a social club for sporty slackers. "There are always kids hanging around here," says Cook.
Hong Kong is a perennially hungry city, so it's no surprise that a weekend getaway such as Sai Kung is a reliable place to fill your belly. Stock up on picnic snacks at The Dutch Cheese and More, which — as its name hints — is dedicated to all things Gouda. Chung Heng Organic Shop stocks treats from popular US grocery store Trader Joe's alongside produce from local organic farms. Nearby, the old town's main drag, See Cheung Street, is lined by vendors selling freshly-pressed juice and traditional Hong Kong snacks such as put chai ko pudding.
Seafood is a natural option for a Sai Kung meal and you could do worse than Michelin-star Sing Kee, which occupies an entire old town block and offers a good variety of dishes at different prices.
Just behind the waterfront seafood strip is an altogether different experience — Casa, a contemporary tapas restaurant and bar run by James Bradshaw. Classics such as Spanish tortilla share menu space with a coriander-laden ceviche and melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin, while the drink menu eschews big brands in favour of craft beers and wines that Bradshaw imports himself.
"Most people really miss what tapas is about," says Bradshaw. Rather than traditional Spanish dishes, he says, it's about pairing good food and drinks with an easy-going atmosphere — a little bit like Sai Kung itself.
EAT & DRINK
34 See Cheung Street, tel: 2791 7128, colourbrown.com
3 Sai Kung Tai Street, tel: 2791 5278
18 Grams Alley
Shop 16, 56 Fuk Man Road, tel: 2791 9418, 18grams.com/alley
The Bottle Shop
114 Man Nin Street, tel: 2791 1600, thebottleshop.hk
The Dutch Cheese and More
19 Hoi Pong Street, tel: 2792 1036, thedutch.hk
Chung Heng Organic Shop
112 Man Nin Street, tel: 2792 3386
33 Sai Kung Tai Street, tel: 2791 9887
Shop 1, Sai Kung Hoi Pong Square, tel: 5594 0007, casagroup.co
116 Man Nin Street, tel: 2791 2802, tree.com.hk
- 40 See Cheung Street, tel: 2955 0088
- 1 Tak Lung Front Street, tel: 2791 2262, finalfragments.com
Vintage Sai Kung
10 Hoi Pong Street, tel: 2792 0212
The Phat Shack
1/F, 5 Tak Lung Back Street, tel: 2359 3836, facebook.com/thephatshack