If you think that Hong Kong’s all about impressive glass skyscrapers and homogenous shopping malls, it’s high time to bust out of the concrete jungle and hit the sidewalks for a real taste of the city. From Shanghai Street in Yau Ma Tei to Johnston Road in Wan Chai, you’ll find unique blocks with a distinct style all of their own, thanks to the small shop owners and unique businesses that ply their trade there—and not forgetting, of course, the people that go about their day-to-day lives in these neighborhoods. Shanghai Street Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei Taking a stroll down Shanghai Street is like taking a trip through time. This long road stretches from Prince Edward all the way to Kowloon Park in Jordan, and was once Kowloon’s most prosperous area. These days, however, you’re more likely to see the brightly colored lightboxes advertise upstairs brothels rather than wealthy trading companies. The street itself dates back to 1880, when it was known as Station Street. It was actually located beside the harbor—though reclamation has long put an end to that. Today, many traditional shophouses and establishments still exist, the most famous of which are the 14 shophouses located at 600-626 Shanghai Street. The pre-World War II tong laus have been classified as Grade 1 historical buildings by the government and give a glimpse into what the area looked like 80 years ago. Tenants continue to operate their businesses out of these buildings, with many undertaking their own renovations to ensure that the buildings remain in usable—if somewhat dilapidated—condition. However, their future is now uncertain, thanks to the Urban Renewal Authority’s plans to buy out and renovate the buildings, 10 of which date back to the 1920s. If the project goes ahead, these traditional places of business will be turned into a “popular food street”, altering the urban fabric of the area forever. Go and visit before it’s too late. Shanghai Street is rich in contradictions, and right beside these old shop houses is the glitzy 1 Langham Place mall (555 Shanghai St., 3552-3388), where you can take a break in one of the many “alfresco” restaurants and coffee shops, underneath the atrium’s spectacular color-changing roof. Or cross the walkway into the Langham Place Hotel to enjoy superb Chinese food at Ming Court (a Michelin-starred restaurant), Japanese cocktails and cuisine with spectacular city views at 2 Tokoro, or kick back in their Portal Work + Play lounge. Right opposite Langham Place Hotel (at its back side off Shanghai Street) is one of Hong Kong’s last remaining street markets: 3 Mong Kok Market. Every morning and late afternoon it comes alive, with housewives and chefs alike elbowing each other to cheerfully squabble over the freshest produce. Get back onto Shanghai Street and walk towards Yau Ma Tei, where you’ll come across another rare sight: 4 an old man practicing the vanishing craft of portrait painting. Mr. Fung has been practicing his skills for decades, back in the day when portrait photographs were an expensive luxury and many went to have their portraits sketched instead. Today, Mr. Fung still plies his trade in his tiny little tin stall at 443 Shanghai Street (9126-9286), charging $500 for each painting. Just one block away from Mr Fung is something of a juxtaposition: an avant garde community art gallery called 5 Woofer Ten (404 Shanghai St., 3485 6499, www.wooferten.org ). Having opened little more than a month ago, it’s run by up-and-coming local artists Luke Ching, Cally Yu and Doris Wong, among others. This gallery aims to provide a bridge for the local community to appreciate art—a huge flower plaque hangs on the door, a traditional Chinese way to announce and celebrate good news. If vintage Hong Kong design is your thing, then pay a visit to the New Tung Ah Beauty Parlor on the second floor of 358 Shanghai Street (2385-0626). It’s one of Hong Kong’s last remaining traditional hair salons, and the vintage barber’s chairs are worth far more these days than the reasonably priced haircuts might suggest. Time has stood still for the barbers and customers alike here, with many elderly patrons coming in for perms and bronze dye jobs that went out of fashion long ago. Finally, budding chefs do not leave Shanghai Street without first paying a visit to Man Kee (342 Shanghai St., 2332-2784). This 54-year-old establishment is Hong Kong’s last remaining shop that specializes in old-fashioned, Hong Kong-made wooden chopping boards. It also sells wooden mooncake molds and bamboo steamers to all of Hong Kong’s best hotels and restaurants. Castle Peak Road Sham Shui Po, Cheung Sha Wan, Kwai Chung This is Hong Kong’s longest road at 56 kilometers, and there’s a fascinating and eclectic mix of things to be found here. Open since 1914, it’s also one of the main access routes to other intriguing areas, such as Sham Shui Po’s Beads Street, Ap Liu Street for vintage electronics and the Golden Computer Centre for tech nerds. But what really draws us to Castle Peak Road is the vast number of quirky restaurants and eateries where you can find excellent food at rock-bottom prices. Right at the beginning of Castle Peak Road in Sham Shui Po is a distinctive red and white building, the headquarters of local bakery 1 The Garden Company (58 Castle Peak Rd., Sham Shui Po, 2720 1055, www.garden.com.hk ). Famous for the ubiquitous Pop Pan spring onion crackers and chiffon cakes you can buy in 7-11, this household brand first took over the site in 1930, and following an expansion in 1957 it became the way it looks today. Its most famous feature is the clock tower, which was built in 1935 and is now one of the last remaining old clock towers in Hong Kong. At the time it was completed, the clock tower was the tallest building in the area. Local residents have been using its clock for decades, even though it never tells the right time. The company says the clock has gotten too old, but has no intention of taking it down. So the District Council have built their own clock tower right in front of the Garden headquarters to give the right time—although currently the new clock is way off compared to Garden’s. Questionable timekeeping aside, this particular branch of the bakery takes orders for custom cakes—so if you’re nostalgic and have something of a sweet tooth, you should definitely pay Garden a visit. Any self-respecting foodie simply must visit Hung Hing Restaurant (303 Castle Peak Rd., Cheung Sha Wan, 2729-0039). 2 Not only is this 38-year-old restaurant located in a unique tong lau, it’s also a popular place for late night dim sum. Open 24/7, even on Chinese New Year, there are so many reasons to love this place: The food is excellent and very cheap, the building itself is worth a look, owner Mr. Lee is constantly bringing in new ingredients to experiment with (he’s currently in a lobster phase, no joke), and it’s constantly brimming with customers (old folk by day, triads and partygoers by night). This lively restaurant certainly brings the district to life. For a little international flavor, try 3 Pak Muslim Curry House (Shop 6, 436 Castle Peak Rd., Kwai Chung, 2426-4931). Located—of all places—in Kwai Chung, it’s a little hard to find as it’s hidden among all the industrial buildings nearby. It’s definitely worth a look however, as it offers dirt-cheap Pakistani curries at around $30, all of which are delicious and filling. We particularly love its rich milk teas, which are surprisingly good. Johnston Road Wan Chai How did much of the world discover Hong Kong? They saw William Holden walking down an old street in Wan Chai in “The World of Suzie Wong” (1960). Then in 1995 the legendary Japanese manga “Ghost in the Shell” presented a futuristic vision of our city with many streets apparently inspired by Wan Chai. Johnston Road is one of those streets. This important road was once the shoreline of Wan Chai harborfront and remains a prosperous street even today. Now it marks the boundary between the so-called old and new Wan Chai’s. To the south is the original Wan Chai, where traditional homes and businesses can still be found among the street markets and shop houses. To the north are tall glass skyscrapers and the offices of modern global businesses. The trundling trams complete the picture of old and new on this street. A blast back to the 60s is 1 Mei Wah Building (164 Johnston Rd.,) a mixed-used shop house built in 1963 and a classic example of buildings from that era. The windows facing Johnston Road were once balconies, which have now been converted. Even after a renovation the building’s many traditional features remain, including writing on the wall and the old window frames. Mei Wah Building is located at the intersection of Johnston, Wan Chai, and Fleming Road and has an eye-catching rounded structure. It also marks the entrance of old Wan Chai and acts as a reference point for this historic neighborhood. The area also has one of the last remaining street markets in the city, Tai Yuen Street Market. This busy, outdoor market was personally saved from demolition by Chief Executive Donald Tsang. Although we think there has got to be a better way to revitalize and open up historical buildings to the public, we secretly love 2 The Pawn and 3 OVOlogue. These two restaurant/bars have won us over with their exquisite décor and fine food. The Pawn’s balcony also offers a cool view over Wan Chai. For an even more impressive view of Hong Kong, check out Wooloomooloo (Rooftop, The Hennessy, 256 Hennessy Rd., Wan Chai, 2893-6960, entrance at Johnston Road). The street planning, which results in The Hennessy being sandwiched between Johnston and Hennessy Road, creates a spectacular and unique rooftop view. Johnston Road is also the location of 4 Fook Lam Moon (Shop 3, G/F, Newman House, 35-45 Johnston Rd., 2866- 0663), the super expensive, super exclusive “tycoon’s canteen” - although you probably won’t see the entrance because of all the giant expensive cars parked outside. Nothing is more Hong Kong than munching abalone when you’re rich. Temple Street Yau Ma Tei Yes, this is an obvious choice, but not for the obvious reasons. The Tourism Board will tell you that Temple Street is very “Hong Kong” because it has an outdoor market. But this street, which stretches through Mong Kok to Jordan (and parallel to Shanghai Street), has its treasures hidden behind (or rather, all around) the market, which is more for tourists than locals anyway. We always start our walk down Temple Street from 1 Mido Café (63 Temple St., Yau Ma Tei, 2384-6402). We’ve recommended it to you many times before, but we’ll say once again that nothing beats sitting upstairs in a wooden booth by the window, watching the world go by and sipping milk tea. If you’re hungry, their baked rice with pork chop is always top-notch. Still hungry? Jordan has a thriving Nepalese community so walk along Temple Street and snack on some unique Nepali treats, or head to Manakamana Nepali Restaurant (165 Temple St., Jordan, 2771-4580) for a fine feast. There was a time when Chinese opera was a crucial part of the teahouse experience. These days it mostly happens in tourist teahouses in China, but you can also find authentic performances on Temple Street. 2 Diamond Singing Lounge (Shop B, 46-54 Temple St., Yau Ma Tei) continues to provide local residents with tea, dim sum, and, most importantly, live Cantonese opera. The entrance fee is only $20. It’s true that Temple Street has a rather disappointing crime rate - no triad film looks authentic without a scene filmed here. As a result, rents are cheap, and this in turn has attracted a new wave of young entrepreneurs to the area. Modern and Culture are two stores that seem at odds with the trashy glitz of their surroundings. Dim lighting, glowing incense and handmade accessories make them the hippest stores in Kowloon for those seeking cool clothing, jewelry and home furnishings. Modern (9 Temple St., Jordan, 2771-8399) is the larger of the two, and houses bohemian-style clothing, accessories and cute knick-knacks. 3 Culture (148 Temple St., Jordan, 3690-2494) is smaller and dedicated to fashion items with a focus on flowing hippie skirts, dresses and accessories. Head to the back of the shop and check out their range of handmade leather bags. Finally, you should never leave Temple Street without stuffing a tasty oyster pancake and a clay pot rice. The best places are located at the intersection of Hi Lung Lane and Temple Street, but most don’t have actual names so keep your eyes peeled. Elsewhere in Hong Kong it may be getting more and more difficult to eat at dai pai dongs but not at Temple Street, which has plenty of venues serving great, authentic dishes. Also see: On Lan Street Under Threat Are We Losing our Streets?