Wan Chai is best known for its bars and exotic nightlife, made famous by Richard Mason’s novel and the subsequent film The World of Suzie Wong. While the occasional scantily-clad woman still beckons from doorways along Lockhart Road, the emergence of chic, new eateries have led a local reclamation of the forgotten parts of this engaging district.
Here are five reasons to visit Wan Chai:
Pak Tai Temple – Two gnarled trees stand guard at the entrance to this secluded and beautifully restored little temple, which is over a century old. Pak Tai is Cantonese for ‘Northern Emperor’ who, according to legend, defeated the Demon King and is worshipped for his courage and devotion. Though small, this quiet temple is a great, easily accessible spot to experience Hong Kong’s spiritual side.
The Blue House – One of the few remaining pre-war balconied tenements (or Tong Lau) in Hong Kong, this Grade I classified monument gives a glimpse of what Wan Chai once looked like. Just around the corner is the Wan Chai Visual Archives, a community art space that explores the implications of urban redevelopment for the community, through workshops, exhibitions and collaboration projects. The neighboring Tai Lung Fung is a quirky East-West fusion café decorated with old fashioned children’s toys, and is worth stopping by for a cheeky mid-exploration refreshment.
Street Markets – The lanes connecting Johnston Road and Queen’s Road East are packed full of vendors selling everything from fresh produce, goldfish and potted plants to iPhone cases and Halloween costumes. Wander along Spring Garden Lane and you may stumble upon an old barber shop, mahjong parlour or pawn shop tucked between ramshackle residential lowrises. If you’re feeling adventurous, sample the local delicacies like wonton noodles, fish balls or herbal tea at one of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
Gastronomy – The Pawn combines the iconic exterior of an old pawn shop with hearty British fare. Stop by for a Sunday roast, afternoon tea or sip one of their delicious signature cocktails on the outdoor terrace overlooking the tram line. Nearby French café Passion by Gerard Dubois has an incredible selection of delectable baked goods, sweet treats, and freshly made salads and sandwiches. Tapas bar 22 Ships, recently opened by Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton, is also a great place for a quick bite. But if you’re looking for high-end Chinese cuisine, try the luxurious Fook Lam Moon, famous for its abalone and often frequented by Hong Kong celebrities.
Star Ferry – Starting near Bauhinia Square, the site of the 1997 handover ceremony, this must-do Hong Kong experience lasts longer and is less touristy than the one that leaves from Central, affording more time to appreciate the distinctive cityscape on both sides of the harbor.
If you are in Hong Kong from 29 November – 16 December be sure to check out Detour 2012, a pop-up exhibition that showcases local artists and designers, which will be held in the former Wan Chai Police Station.
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Passion Cafe photo by Passion Cafe all other Photos by Samantha Woods