A guide to Hong Kong’s best neighbourhoods
Hong Kong is one of the most hyper-lit and compelling cities in the world, a landscape of jutting skyscrapers rendered in metal and glass. But at ground level, the spaces between these futuristic obelisks are populated by bustling communities living life on a much more human scale.   Setting out on foot is the perfect way to see the metropolis in all its colourful, quirky and aromatic glory. Central and Sheng Wan Hong Kong Island is the beating commercial heart of Hong Kong, but it also possesses a sense of soul that is often missing fr om business districts.   One of the reasons for this is its rich colonial history. It was in Old Town Central that the British first planted their flag in 1841; the spot known as Possession Street was once situated on the waterfront but thanks to land reclamation it’s now surrounded by buildings. [caption id="attachment_46686" align="alignleft" width="600"] Old meets new in Tai Kwun[/caption] Any exploration of Hong Kong Island requires a good deal of time spent wandering the streets and alleyways of Central and Sheung Wan, where an eclectic mix of historical sites, restaurants, shops and markets are crammed together in a wondrous harmonious jumble. Hollywood Road The first thing you need to do is arm yourself with an Old Town Central self-guided walks booklet from the Hong Kong Tourism Board and set off along Hollywood Road, the busy main thoroughfare from which you can dart off in different directions depending on your whim. Tai Kwun Heritage and Arts Centre Your first stop should be the newly revitalised Tai Kwun heritage and arts centre.   Made up of the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison, the historic buildings now house dedicated museum space detailing the chequered history of the complex; you can wander the old cells and find out things like what the prisoners were fed through interactive exhibits, as well as lofty exhibition spaces and a collection of shops (check out the Taschen store with its shelves stacked with beautiful art tomes), restaurants and bars, including the aptly named Behind Bars, where drinks are served in the old cell blocks.   If it is too early to stop for lunch, make a mental note to return later in the day or in the evening to sample Madame Fu’s imaginative dim sum menu.   In the old prison exercise yard a resolutely modern building clad in an intricate web of woven metal is an arresting contrast to the historic buildings it sits next to. I find out that it actually houses the infrastructure for the air-conditioning units required to cool the complex to cater to modern tastes; keeping the prisoners comfortable in the past obviously wasn’t a priority. [caption id="attachment_46684" align="alignleft" width="600"] A local temple[/caption] Where to find: 10 Hollywood Rd, Central PMQ Another historic building given a new lease on life is the PMQ, the former Police Married Quarters on Aberdeen Street. [caption id="attachment_46685" align="alignleft" width="600"] Artwork in PMQ[/caption] Built in 1951 on the former site of the first government school in Hong Kong, the mid-century architecture is all clean lines stacked on top of one another and grouped around a central courtyard. The former married quarters that would have housed serving police officers and their families have now been given over to young artists and designers to develop and sell their creations, and well as a number of restaurants, bars and shops. Where to find: 35, Aberdeen St, Central PoHo and SoHo Two of the most interesting neighbourhoods to get lost in are the catchily named PoHo and SoHo. [caption id="attachment_46688" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wandering women in PoHo[/caption] Short for South of Hollywood Road, SoHo comes alive at night with ex-pats and locals heading out to the bars and international restaurants that serve up cuisines as diverse as Lebanese, pub grub, Vietnamese and Italian. During the day the whole scene is quieter, with boutiques and antiques shops to browse.   The charmingly boho PoHo is concentrated around a collection of streets lined with funky little shops, galleries and cafes and teahouses. Where to stay Located on Pottinger Street, known as ‘stone slab street’, The Pottinger is a gracious 68-room luxury boutique hotel with generous rooms and the prettiest lobby I have even seen, filled with chinoiserie vases of flowers and foliage. Afternoon tea in the restaurant if a must even if you aren’t a guest. [caption id="attachment_46687" align="alignleft" width="600"] The graceful Pottinger hotel[/caption] Mong Kok and Prince Edward Arriving into Mong Kok at night is possibly the best introduction you can have to this Kowloon neighbourhood, famed for its bustling streets lit with countless flashing neon signs for every imaginable service and establishment, as well as its density of people.   This is where the workers who flock to Hong Kong Island on a daily basis return to at the end of the day, so the vibe is a lot more local than across the harbour, although the sheer number of people on the streets can be confronting at times. Exploring here and in neighbouring Prince Edward offers up sights, sounds and tastes that are sure to intrigue and delight. The Bird Market One of my favourite places to visit when I am in Hong Kong is the Bird Market, located on Yuen Po Street. [caption id="attachment_46696" align="alignleft" width="600"] Songbirds hanging out (literally!) at Mong Kok's bird market[/caption] Here myriad traditional bird cages containing tiny, colourful songbirds hang in rows, and a weird and wonderful array of bird food can be purchased including live crickets and grubs. Older gentlemen gather here to socialise and show off their prized pets, which trill away in the sunshine while they chat.   The cages on sale at the various stalls are fabulous souvenirs, although they can make for ungainly carry-on luggage on the flight home.   Where to find: 37 Flower Market Rd, Mong Kok The Flower Market Another market worth taking a wander through is the flower market that stretches along Flower Market Road in Prince Edward. The footpaths here are festooned with fresh flowers and plants, creating a heady scent in the air.   Make sure to take a closer look in the stores that specialise in phalaenopsis orchids if for no other reason than they are absolutely beautiful to see.   Where to find: Flower Market Rd, Prince Edward The Goldfish Market Rounding out the trio of fascinating markets in the area is the Goldfish Market along Tung Choi Street North. Each of the shopfronts is covered in bulging plastic bags filled with water and all manner of fish, while inside tropical breeds of every colour and size attract top dollar from collectors. [caption id="attachment_46693" align="alignleft" width="600"] Fish on sale at the goldfish market[/caption] Where to find: 43-49 Bute Street, Bute St, Prince Edward Tung Choi Street One of the best places to see Mong Kok’s characteristic neon lights, which are strung up over the busy streets below in the hope that they will grab the attention of passersby, is Tung Choi Street.   hile the lights alone are enough to mesmerise, illuminating the streets below with their glow, the array of services they advertise is also diverting, from beauty products and cameras to restaurants and hotels. Sham Shui Po One of the latest neighbourhoods to start generating a buzz (and get its own handy self-guided walks book) is Sham Shui Po, a working-class area of Kowloon where you can see locals go about their everyday business, shopping for tofu made fresh on Fuk Wing Street or stocking up on dinner provisions at the local wet markets.   The whole place has a wonderfully worn aesthetic, but at the same time is packed with personality. Where to shop Shopping in Sham Shui Po is one of the major attractions of the neighbourhood, and it’s easy to find exactly what you want given that many of the streets are named for the goods that are found there – Leather Street (Tai Nan Street), Bead Street (Yu Chau Street), Button Street (Ki Lung Street); you get the idea.   One of the most colourful of these shopping streets is Ribbon Street (Nam Cheong Street), where narrow shops display spools of brightly coloured ribbons, rope and cord, as well as all kinds of craft supplies. [caption id="attachment_46702" align="alignleft" width="450"] Toy shops to keep the little ones happy[/caption] The area is also a mecca for budding fashion designers who come here to rummage through the bolts of fabric for sale at the slightly ramshackle Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar, or shop for fashion pieces at wholesale prices along Cheung Sha Wan Fashion Street. [caption id="attachment_46700" align="alignleft" width="450"] A wet market in Sham Shui Po[/caption] Another fun street to promenade along, especially if you have little people you are trying to entertain, is Toy Street (Fuk Wing Street), where some 30 stores overflow with dolls, balls, board games and all manner of Disney characters. The Man Fung Building One of the neighbourhood’s most Instagrammed sights is the Man Fung Building, a skinny block sandwiched between nondescript concrete constructions that got a statement-making makeover during HKwalls’ 2016 festival.   Madrid-based street artist Okuda covered the building in colourful geometric shapes, crowned with an animal face (some people think it’s a dog, some think it’s a wolf) that looks out over the streets from a lofty height.   Depending on where you view it from (up high is said to be best) the muzzle of the animal seems to be almost 3D, an optical illusion that has resulted in a wave of Instagrammers risking life and limb climbing over security fences on neighbouring buildings to get a better selfie.   The practice made the newspapers during my visit. [caption id="attachment_46701" align="alignleft" width="450"] Instagram users risk life and limb to get a photo with Okuda's street art animal[/caption] Where to find: 180 Tai Nan Street, Sham Shui Po  Bo Wah Effigies One of the most interesting places to duck into while walking is Bo Wah Effigies, a cramped studio where nimble-fingered artisans fashion paper effigies to be burnt to honour the dead.   The intricate creations are miniature works of art, depicting everything from cars to sushi to vintage coffee flasks.   Where to find: 2C Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po
Where to eat and drink in Hong Kong
When it comes to food, there are not many places on Earth where the locals take more delight in the act of eating, or where they have so much choice of where to go, than Hong Kong; the pursuit of food is almost a national sport here. From one-star Michelin restaurants where a bowl of noodles costs just $3 to fine dining to rival anything in Europe to funky eateries where the locals indulge their love of flavour and design, it’s all on the table here. To eat:  More for less It is ridiculous how many Michelin-starred restaurants Hong Kong has, but the awarding of this culinary accolade need not imply that a meal is going to cost you through the nose. Hong Kong has a raft of local, no-frills restaurants in possession of one Michelin star or a Michelin recommendation (one star adjacent), where the food is wonderfully flavoursome and shockingly inexpensive. Tim Ho Wan You might have heard of this humble chain, who have a number of outlets in Hong Kong serving up some of the best dim sum you are likely to taste. The wait can be long, but it’s worth it for the pork buns alone. [caption id="attachment_46642" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Michelin Star Yum Cha at Tim Ho Wan[/caption] Tsim Chai Kee Expect steaming bowls of noodles and wontons: the broth is delicious, the noodles wonderfully chewy and the wontons plump and plentiful.   Where: Wellington Street, Central Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan Fried Buns A standing-only bolthole serving up pan-fried soup dumplings that are crispy on the bottom and filled with pork swimming in aromatic soup.   Where: Lyndhurst Terrace, Central Hidden gems Mrs Pound  There are restaurants and bars to be found down every alley in Hong Kong, but a true hidden gem is Mrs Pound in the Sheung Wan neighbourhood, a speakeasy hidden behind a lock shop. Inside there’s a street food inspired menu.   Where: 6 Pound Ln, Sheung Wan [caption id="attachment_46643" align="alignleft" width="600"] Laksa prawn dumplings at Mrs Pound (Photo: Leigh-Ann Pow)[/caption] Yat Lok A lowkey, unassuming joint that fits in among the many food haunts in Hong Kong Central. Line up for the roast goose – which garnered its reputation for its shatter crisp skin and delicious flavour.   [caption id="attachment_46644" align="alignleft" width="600"] Award winning goose at Yat Lok in central (Photo: Leigh-Ann Pow)[/caption] Where: 34-38 Stanley Street, Central Djibouti Remember that “open a restaurant in an alley trend”? Well, Hong Kong invented that. And one of the first was Djibouti. Even now, the restaurant/bar attracts a cool crowd attempting to get their hands on the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Come for the baba ganoush, stay for the lavender-based cocktails.   Where: Shop 1, G/F, 2 Landale Street, Wan Chai High end RyuGin It has long been a boasting opportunity for Hong Kong travellers to say they have enjoyed a meal at RyuGin. Located on the 101st floor of the ICC, Hong Kong’s tallest building, the modern Japanese restaurant offers lucky diners panoramic views of West Kowloon’s harbor and Hong Kong’s skylines. As for the food, Michelin star chef Seiji Yamamoto flies ingredients from Japan on the daily, with the ten-course Kaiseki meal earning the restaurant two Michelin stars.     Where: West Kowloon, Hong Kong L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon If it's French fare in small portions you're after, you'll feel right at home at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.   Located within The Landmark (HK's luxury shopping center), the restaurant is owned by legendary chef Joël Robuchon, who holds the most Michelin stars in the world.   Where: Shop 401, 15 Queen's Road Central, Central To drink: No matter what you choose to drink, there’s guaranteed to be an outlet close by dedicated to serving it up in style. Cupping Room Coffee culture is thriving in Hong Kong, where the locals like their brews served strong. Cupping Room has four cafes serving up its own beans roasted in Hong Kong. Filters Lane At Filters Lane in Central the young staff busy themselves creating the perfect cup of brewed coffee from the beans they have roasted in the New Territories or imported blends. Even the decaf is thick, dark and robust.   Where: 111 Caine Rd, Mid-level, Hong Kong Craftissimo If your taste runs more to beer, you are going to want to visit Craftissimo in Sheung Wan, a dedicated craft brews bottleshop, or search out Craft Brew & Co. that has craft beers on tap. [caption id="attachment_46645" align="alignleft" width="600"] Craftissimo for dedicated craft brews (Photo: Leigh-Ann Pow)[/caption] Where: Tai Ping Building, Shop D, G/F, Sheung Wan, 22-24A Tai Ping Shan St, Sheung Wan
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Shanghai is a city buzzing with activity, so when it drizzles don't let the wet dampen your trip. We've found six indoor activities to keep you occupied - in the rain or shine. 1. Try a dumpling-making course Eating dumplings is a Shanghai institution not to be missed, but if you want to replicate these steaming little parcels of bliss at home, take a dumpling making course while there. [caption id="attachment_25547" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Learn how to make these steaming dumplings with the Chinese Cooking Workshop in Shanghai.[/caption] Try Chinese Cooking Workshop's Dim Sum classes to learn the ropes. The kitchen offers a range of public courses to take part in, as well as hosting private group courses, which could be good if it's a family affair.   The Dim Sum courses go for two hours and are staggered throughout the week in morning, lunch and afternoon classes. The group scheduled wok and dim sum courses are beginners-friendly and each lesson starts from making the dough, through to completing the dim sum.   Address: no 370 Wulumuqi Rd (South) near Zhaojiabang Rd 2. Visit the museum for the dying The Nankeen Exhibition Hall (637 Changle Road) in the French Concession is a small gallery and shop celebrating the beauty and tradition of this 3000-year-old dyeing technique. [caption id="attachment_46155" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Blue Nankeen; a cotton fabric rich in Chinese history.[/caption] Originating thousands of years ago, blue nankeen is a style of Chinese textile that began on the Silk Road, though it's actually made of cotton. The fabric is rich in history, often used  by Chinese commoners to craft things such as clothing and household linens like tableclothes and drapes. It was a traditional gifts at weddings and births.   The little shop-cum-museum is reached by zag-zagging down laneways, and then past a courtyard where (on sunny days) billowing lengths of fabric are strung up to dry.   Address:  637 Changle Rd, Xuhui Qu, Shanghai Shi, China 3. Go to the antique markets Ignore the tourist trinket stalls crowded around the stunning 18th-century buildings at the busy Yu Gardens and head for the ‘Antique Markets’ in the bowels of the building, where you will find ramshackle little shops overflowing with dust-covered treasures. [caption id="attachment_25545" align="alignnone" width="667"] Uncover treasures at the Yu markets in Shanghai. Don't forget to haggle.[/caption] Everything is apparently from the Qing Dynasty but you should haggle like it was made last week (which it probably was).   Keep smiling and never insult the vendors by offering a ridiculous price, and you will have huge fun here. 4. Get custom glasses frames Getting glasses made at Han City Plaza is quick and easy.   There are myriad shops and kid-in-a-candy-store numbers of designs to choose from in this rather unprepossessing centre, and it takes as little as 20 minutes to have prescription lenses fitted into the frames you choose. Be ready, you need to haggle hard if you're after a good deal.   Address: 580 Nanjing Xi Lu 5. Eat authentic at Han Mama's Perch on blue and white ceramic stools at long tables and order from Han Mama’s home-style Taiwanese menu.   The signature dish is an unctuous mix of noodles with huge chunks of crumbling, slow-cooked Uruguayan grass-fed beef.   Everything is delivered with crisp efficiency by white-jacketed staff and tastes delicious; the atmosphere is funky and bustling.   The reviews reveal a nourishing, satisfying experience that's authentic and great value for money, much like the below found on TripAdvisor.   "The braised beef was tender and awesomely good. The broth was well balanced and the noodles were cooked to perfection." Reslimpan, Shanghai, China   Address: 123 Nanyang Lu 6. Visit the Long Museaum West Bund The Long Museum West Bund is a masterpiece of curving lines and vast spaces filled with Chinese, Asian and European contemporary art, Chinese classical art and visiting exhibitions.   The passion project of art collectors Liu Yiqian and his wife, Wang Wei, the space also has an art bookstore, cafe, restaurant overlooking the river, children’s exhibition hall and concert hall.   It's well worth doing your research on the website to find out what's coming up at the gallery - and filling your diary with key dates!   Address: 3398 Longteng Avenue, Xuhui District Shanghai   7. Scale the world's largest indoor waterfall Okay, so you might be doing your best to avoid the wet at all costs, but this magnificent indoor waterfall - and the 'Cloud Forest' it's housed in is well worth a visit, rain, hail or shine.   Simply take the elevator to the top of the Gardens by the Bay and descend the winding ramps. which will give you an incredible glimpse of the show-stopping vegetation. The rain that falls drops from 100 feet above the floor, and produces one of the most show-stopping attractions for guests.   The waterfall is housed in a giant greenhouse-style enclosure and provides a wonderful home for the spiraling walkways that'll keep you captivated the whole way through.   Address: 18 Marina Gardens Drive Singapore   Open daily from 9am-9pm. 8. Head over to the Science Centre and brush up on your knowledge No, heading to a Science Centre doesn't have to feel like going to back to school. It can actually bring to your attention some of the advancements in the world that you might not be aware of.   It's a family day of fun as you head to Jurong East and get to explore interactive presentations, games and displays. The website will present you with an ever-changing list of exhibitions, with some of the most notable being the 'CSI Experience', the 'Human Body Experience' and the kinetic garden.   Address: 15 Science Centre Road, Singapore Open daily from 10am to 6pm.   MORE... 48 hours in Shanghai
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