For the long-delayed finale of my Hong Kong posts, we jump from the sprawling nature of Yuen Long back into some of the densest, most urban parts of the region.
We started our day by taking the metro to Choi Hung Estate, trying to arrive as early as we could. Every day, swarms of tourists and locals make the trek here to view some of the most spectacular public estates in Hong Kong. Surely, you’ve seen at least a few photos taken here posted on Instagram, or perhaps you’d recognize their English-translated name: Rainbow Estate.
Choi Hung Estate
Each Hong Kong MTR station is specifically designed to evoke certain aspects of its surrounding neighborhood. For Choi Hung station, the walls are playfully decorated with rainbows and coloured patterns.
Walking up to the estate, we couldn’t help but notice many others who like us, were obviously not local to the area. Expect to spot many camera bags, tripods, and selfie sticks in this area.
Upon arrival, we realized we were far too late in the morning to have the famed basketball court to ourselves. In addition to the scattered pairs of girlfriends and Instagram boyfriends, there was also a uniformed group of students filming a year-end video.
Despite the fact that this estate is one of the oldest remaining ones in Hong Kong, the colours create a sense of newness and wonder that contradict the traditional grungyness you would expect to see in such a dense region.
What we didn’t see was a single person actually playing basketball. My worry is that we, along with the other visitors, have made the area more or less a tourist area rather than a private residential area. If you do choose to visit, please don’t curse at people for actually using the basketball court as a basketball court, as I’ve heard of some self-entitled people doing so.
Chasing estates wasn’t the only reason for us to wake up early: Dim Sum also called us loudly from our slumbers.
Tim Ho Wan
Bedazzled by a Michelin star despite its modest appearance and prices, Tim Ho Wan was a brilliant dim sum experience. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, but we were impressed by every bite we took.
The affordable prices do come with two caveats however. Firstly, this is truly an authentic Hong Kong dining experience in that you’ll likely be sharing a table with strangers if you come in a small or odd-numbered party. (also, you’ll get angry stares and impatient remarks if you take too long.)
Secondly, expect a long wait. We were starving when we arrived, but luckily found a bakery selling matcha egg tarts on our way there. They were either the best egg tarts I’ve ever had, or just something to temporarily fill the void that was my stomach that morning.
After checking a quintessential point off our Hong Kong checklist, next up was another famous public estate, best known in its appearance in a Transformers movie.
Yik Cheong Building
While Choi Hung Estate seemed polished and calm, the Yik Cheong building and the surrounding area is anything but. Every inch of the area is filled with indications of life, from the overhanging plants to the overgrowth of makeshift clotheslines, it’s hard to describe just how it feels to be in the middle of it all.
The U-shaped building does wonders with light and shadow, creating a beautiful contrast which I’m sure could serve many metaphors about the inequality in Hong Kong.
We tried not to overstay our welcome, as the residents here have grown irritated at the tourists who treat their living space as a playground; enough so that they brought up banners in both English and Chinese notifying visitors to request permission before taking photos.
Ironically, tourists were standing and posing right above the aforementioned banners, so they certainly weren’t working, but like for Choi Hung Estate, please avoid disturbing the residents and the property.
Although many of Hong Kong’s densest areas have standout landmarks like the buildings and Michelin star- restaurants, some of the most wonderful treasures can be found if you venture past through mazes of alleyways.
Weaving through a classic-style Hong Kong mall, we couldn’t help but notice how dark it was. Some corridors were totally unlit, with the exception of the light trickling in from outside. Eventually, we saw a fluorescent glow which signaled we were on the right track.
歐陽昌, in State Theater Building
歐陽昌 (sorry, I don’t have an anglicized name and don’t want to butcher it) is a typeface master, who has been designing many iconic illuminated storefront signs in Hong Kong for the past few decades.
歐陽昌 went from apprentice letterer to owning his own business in just a few months when he started in the 70’s. Over three decades later, he’s still the only employee, electing to create every single sign on his own. Now in his 60’s, his hands are not as agile as they were in his youth. He worries that this long-practiced art will eventually be lost with him and other “masters of words” being slowly forced into retirement.
Despite his solemn practice, he is always ecstatic to share his stories with visitors, welcoming us to move things around and capture whatever we liked in his personal studio. One of his observations is that he feels it’s the foreigners who appreciate his art more than locals at times.
歐陽昌 shared one particular story with us about how a group of tourists from Europe struggled to express their admiration for his work since they didn’t speak a word of cantonese. They ended up with a sweet selfie though, which we were proudly shown.
As if to prove the unfortunate reality of Hong Kong, the mall he works in is slated to be torn down in the near-future to make room for something new and likely unaffordable for the current tenants.
Some quip that if you visit the same neighbourhood in Hong Kong every year, it’ll be as if you’re in a different place each time due to how quickly things change. While some may see this speed as societal progress, I wince at the thought of discarding the once-significant pieces of the past; the pieces that were once the progress that brought us to where we are today.
歐陽昌 works out of an area called North Point, which also has a famed market where a tram runs bisects the two sides of street stalls. Already, you see modern styled buildings encroaching on the landscape.
Alas, the best we can do is to keep whatever stories and memories we can take with us. Hence one of the reasons I enjoy photography so much: it helps us capture the moments that would otherwise be lost with the passage of time. Either those too seemingly small to commit to memory, or the important ones you never thought you’d lose.
Anyways, with those heavy thoughts out of the way, the next day we visited another Instagram-famous location: the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.
The repeating tiles and the uniquely angular design of the building play together beautifully, making it a perfect destination for a photoshoot.
The Cultural Centre is located in Kowloon, bordering Victoria Harbour. The area itself is very European in feel, and is right near the famous Peninsula hotel. We would have explored more, but I believe it was 40 degrees on this day, so after checking out a few places, we retreated into the nearest place with AC.
Hui Lau Shan
In efforts to cool down during a sweltering day, even for the time we were there, we dropped by somewhere which was equated to the “dairy queen” of dessert chains in Hong Kong. I can assure you, the mango pudding and mango mochi was some of the best I’ve ever had. While Hui Lau Shan opened a chain in Vancouver recently, nothing can beat the fresh mango desserts I had here.
Briefly cooled and satisfied, we took a boat from the Star Ferry Pier across the river back into Central.
About $0.50 CAD and 10 minutes later, we were right back in Central. Our final destination though, was The Peak: a cool 4km in length and 500m in elevation away from our location.
With the sun just a few hours away from setting, we prepared for our trek with a bowl of ramen and set forth on the excursion. Coincidentally, it was the same chain as the one we ate at in Osaka, just casually double the price.
One mistaken assumption I made prior to agreeing to do this trek by foot was that like Vancouver, the temperature would drop as the sun sank close to the horizon. It didn’t make a noticeable difference that night however, and we made this entire journey in the same 40 degrees we experienced throughout the whole afternoon.
Drearily power-walking through the humid air, we watched as the sun set before we could make it to the top. Despite this slight letdown, we enjoyed seeing the sunset filtered through the trees leading us up the secluded pedestrian path up to the peak.
As we grew closer and closer, I was expecting a little viewpoint at the top, peaceful and still surrounded by nature. I hadn’t done my research beforehand, and was definitely not expecting to see what was actually at The Peak: a giant shopping mall inundated with tourists.
Despite the tremendous crowds, we found little breaks large enough to get a few shots highlighting the beautiful skyline view of Hong Kong.
In the end, I was very grateful to have been able to see Hong Kong both from the perspective of a tourist, but to also learn the story and significance behind each place I visited. It truly is a special experience, to be toured through a foreign city with somebody who grew up in it.
Hong Kong wasn’t initially on my travel bucket list, but given the amount of things we weren’t able to fit into our schedule, we’ll definitely be back. Perhaps not in the middle of a heat wave again though.