Guide to Hong Kong: East Meets West
A series of stories, recommendations and tips on Hong Kong from people in the know. Explore our city based on the travel experiences that interest you and get itineraries for off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods.
With a remarkable history that moves through Chinese immigration, colonization by the British and subsequent handover into a Special Administrative Region of China, it should come as no surprise that Hong Kong is such a melting pot of Eastern and Western characteristics. From this cultural fusion—these leftovers from the past—emerges a new, modern Hong Kong, offering a fascinating mix of food, fashion, architecture and culture.
Statue Square in the middle of downtown Hong Kong is a fine symbol of the city’s architectural richness. Once home to statues of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Edward VII, the only one still standing is that of Sir Thomas Jackson, a former HSBC chief. Overlooking the square towers the iconic HSBC Main Building, boasting an intriguing design representing a modern take on the ancient Chinese concept of feng shui.
To take a look at some of Hong Kong’s older buildings, the Wan Chai Heritage Trail is a self-guided architectural and cultural walking tour including some 15 spots that reflect a confluence of design techniques: from early 20th century French windows to Chinese wood carvings. At 60-66 Johnston Road you can see a fine example of four tong lau—old Chinese tenement buildings once seen all over southern China. Many of these tong lau have been preserved and refitted for modern purposes.
Taste of history
Dining is another side of Hong Kong where you can see a variety of cultures and flavors at work. Take the old-school Hong Kong diner—the bing sutt—as an example of how the city has put its own spin on Western food. Originating in the 50s and 60s, these canteen-style restaurants are reminiscent of 1950s Western cafes. Swiss Cafe, 128-150 Wan Chai Rd., is a great example.
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Spotlight on: Central and Western
Central and Western is an explosion of sky-scraping financial monoliths, luxury stores, streets crammed with restaurants, trams, buses and endless streams of shoppers. Yet there is much more to the beating heart of Hong Kong Island than this, and to understand the city’s East-meets-West character—to feel its charm—you have to experience the history that resides in every inch of this fascinating place.
Head to Hollywood
Hollywood Road connects a large portion of the district, from east to west. The British landed at its western end in 1841 and promptly named it Possession Point. Today, land reclamation means the spot is far from the harbor, but it is marked still on the corner of Hollywood Road and Possession Street by Hollywood Road Park, featuring turtle-filled ponds and pagodas. Some of the old tightly packed tenement buildings still exist, although gentrification of the area is underway, with boutiques, galleries and cafés moving in among the old car workshops and rickety cha chaan tengs (tea restaurants).
Eat Your Heart Out
Moving eastwards along Hollywood Road, the blend of Western and Eastern influences continues as you enter the restaurant district. Representing the city’s large French community is the bijou bistro La Cabane: the all-wooden joint is a converted tong lau and former rice factory. Now it specializes in homely southern French cuisine and organic wines. Right next door you’ll find its antithesis—the Chinese herbal tea parlor Kung Lee, which has been around since 1948 and feels as if you’re stepping back in time. On nearby Wellington Street, Loyal Dining serves up “soy sauce Western” cuisine: a concept that mixes colonial-era western-style dishes with Chinese ingredients, such as soy-sauce braised chicken wings or pigeon simmered in sweet soy.
Walk Through Time
Running down from Hollywood Road are the photo-worthy cobbled steps of Pottinger Street. Dating from the 1850s, this is one of the district’s oldest streets and is named after Hong Kong’s first governor, Sir Henry Eldred Curwen Pottinger. Now it’s the place to go if you need a fancy dress outfit, with every style and theme imaginable.
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