A traveler’s guide to navigating the best neighborhoods in Hong Kong. Source: Shutterstock.
UNPOLISHED, a little rough on the edges, chaotic and competitive, packed with all sorts of quirks and charms, and ultimately rich in character. These are just a couple of reasons why Hong Kong is so special.
A hybrid between the old and new, Hong Kong has witnessed the Japanese invasion followed by the British colonization before being handed back over to China in 1997. Unique, it now runs on a “one country two systems” constitutional principle.
Over the decades, the autonomous territory has grown from strength to strength, becoming one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia and also one of the safest.
In 2017, the city received about 58.5 million visitor arrivals, with total tourism expenditure associated with inbound tourism reaching HKD296.7 billion (US$37.8 billion).
But for first-time travelers, the idea of navigating through Hong Kong can be daunting especially when you have no idea what to expect or even where to start.
And it is essential to start with the basics: of course, booking your flight, but also, staying in the right neighborhood. Because you would want the easiest access and all the conveniences you will need.
There are so many facets to Hong Kong’s neighborhoods. Some appear as if time stood still while others are bustling centers filled with tourist hot spots. As we said, it is a hybrid between the old and new.
So where do you begin? Allow us to save you some time by introducing the trendiest neighborhoods in Hong Kong.
Note: All of these neighborhoods are located on Hong Kong island.
PoHo, Sheung Wan
Once a sleepy residential neighborhood, the area surrounding Sheung Wan’s Po Hing Fong and Tai Ping Shan Street (thus known simply as PoHo) has seen a rapid transformation in recent years.
Known for its stylish and down-to-earth vibe, PoHo is now a popular haunt for Hong Kong’s urban youth.
The winding streets of PoHo house antique shops, small laid-back eateries, handicraft shops, boutique stores, and amazing bars, but also businesses that are traditionally Chinese.
Explore the historic Western Market, an Edwardian-style mall, before checking out the Dried Seafood Street where you can purchase dried sea cucumber, abalone, scallops, and other ingredients locals love in their tummy-warming soups and tonics.
Do not forget to check out Koh Shing Street to witness the ancient practice of Chinese medicine in action.
The dispensary employees will be more than happy to provide answers to any questions you may have about the herbal medicine ingredients.
Then, make a pitstop at the 19th-century Man Mo Temple, a temple for the worship of the civil or literature god Man Tai (文帝) / Man Cheong (文昌) and the martial god Mo Tai (武帝) / Kwan Tai (關帝).
If you are all about the artsy and eclectic life, pick up some quirky home decor items made by local artists and designers, before popping by Jervois Street to marvel at the highly Instagrammable Jervois rainbow steps.
Named after Arthur Edward Kennedy, the 7th Governor of Hong Kong (1872 – 1877), Kennedy Town is located at the western end of Sai Wan.
There was a time when hanging out at Kennedy Town was unheard of due to the lack of subway access although it is just a stone’s throw away from the University of Hong Kong, the territory’s oldest institute of higher learning.
However, the neighborhood had since grown in popularity when the MTR subway was extended to the area in 2014. Kennedy Town became long forgotten no more.
The up-and-coming neighborhood is primarily Chinese, but there is a growing number of expats and recently graduated young professionals due to its relatively cheaper rents (as compared to Central and Causeway Bay).
A beautiful balance between the old and the new, and entirely family-friendly, the enclave offers a waterfront with unobstructed views of the Southern waters, stone wall banyan trees, and the most hip and happening hangout spots.
Businesses are also quickly flocking to the welcoming neighborhood.
So you will be sure to find everything from hidden gems tucked away in tiny old-style shop lots selling piping bowls of congee to a pizza joint serving up delicious sourdough pizza, to even Melbourne-style brunch places.
Treat yourself to a sampling of uniquely Hong Kong treats such as sweet milk tea, warm buns stuffed full with sweet and savory barbequed pork, and melt-in-your-mouth egg tarts at any of the traditional coffee shops.
Fancy a tipple or two after the sun sets? Pop by Tequila on Davis, a festive but casual Mexican waterfront bar or grab a refreshing craft beer at Little Creatures microbrewery.
Sai Ying Pun
One of Hong Kong’s oldest neighborhoods, Sai Ying Pun is a local’s best-kept secret.
Back in the day, it served as the campsite of the British military. For now, it is still a moderately quiet residential neighborhood that is quintessentially Hong Kong, far away enough from the chaotic Central.
Now, however, it has become Hong Kong’s new hipster central, thanks to the MTR subway extension.
Sai Ying Pun’s streets boast all its old-school charm and historic glory, with small pedestrian-only lanes which turn off to cross-connects and back alleys that lead to heritage homes and buildings. It will make you feel like time has stood still in just this area alone.
Older businesses such as car workshops, supermarkets, little butcheries selling freshly cut meats and pork, as well as the hard-to-miss pungent Sai Ying Pun Market give the neighborhood an unmistakable buzz in the mornings.
A must-visit is Tak Chong Sum Kee, a decades-old store which sells handmade dim sum bamboo steamers so remember to pick one up as a souvenir, even if you have no clue how to make dim sum.
Walking in and around the effortlessly cool Sai Ying Pun will also afford you a couple of pleasant surprises. Here, scattered along the First, Second, Third, and High street, you will find chic cafes and coffee shops, as well as trendy eateries and too-cool-for-school bars.
The must-eats are: Flying Pig Bistro, a Western comfort food joint for the best brunch bites; Chau Kee, a small eatery serving classic dim sum staples; Kwan Kee, a Michelin Guide-recommended clay pot rice restaurant.
And when night falls, be sure to drink it up at Ping Pong 129, a speakeasy gin bar hidden behind a nondescript red door. Just look out for the retro Hong Kong-esque neon signage.
Lainey Loh | @laineyx
A certified daydreamer, when she's not physically travelling, she's often going places in her head. Her first love is coffee & her second, wine – & she accepts bribes in either forms. She's also entirely capable of deep conversations about life & random musings just for laughs, but do excuse her if she appears AWOL mid-chat – she's just going places in her head.