7 Things You Will Only Find In Hong Kong
Chaotic and beautiful, Hong Kong is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Asia—a melting pot where old meets new and East meets West. With many of us spending our waking hours in MTR tunnels and office cubicles every day, it’s easy to get lost in Hong Kong’s busy lifestyle and forget about how gorgeous our city is. After all, where else can you find a breathtaking mix of cityscapes and natural wonders, or streets and alleyways that lined with ubiquitous neon signs?
Here, we present 7 simple yet extraordinary sceneries that can be only admired in this city that we are proud to call home. We heart you, Hong Kong.
1/7 Densely packed buildings
With an estimated population of over 7.5 million people in a 1,106-square-kilometre territory (according to government statistics), Hong Kong is world-famous as a concrete jungle where has been synonymous with sky-high property prices and small living spaces.
Despite being one of the most crowded places in the world, Hong Kong holds its own charm with a bristling cityscape that boasts unique juxtapositions of old residential buildings side by side with modern structures. Such dramatic scenery has been even used as the backdrop for a slew of famous films, including Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express (1994) and Rupert Sanders' Ghost In The Shell (2017).
From old-style buildings, such as tong laus and composite buildings that feature retail space on the ground and living space overhead, to modern skyscrapers and revitalised historic sites, these structures are not only meant for your camera lens. They also serve as visual reminders of the city’s history and Hongkongers’ collective memories.
2/7 Neon lights
Of course, a love letter to Hong Kong wouldn’t be complete without bringing up neon lights. More than just a symbol of the city’s vibrant nightlife, neon lights are also valued as a traditional Hong Kong craft which has been gracing our streets and beloved skyline since the 1950s.
Featuring Chinese characters and striking colour combinations, neon signs were originally a commercial product that designed to promotes bars, restaurants, pharmacies and other local businesses such as mahjong parlours and pawnshops. Today, these eye-catching signs are being replaced by more cost and energy-efficient LED lights, with more and more locals starting to appreciate them as an art form which showcases Hong Kong’s energy as the “Pearl of the Orient”.
If you want to get a view of some of the city’s remaining neon signs, we recommend going to Tung Choi Street in Mong Kok or Lockhart Road in Wan Chai. To fully immerse yourself in the neon heritage, pay a visit to the nostalgic Mido Café and capture that neon sign while sampling authentic cha chaan teng fare at one of the window-side booths.
3/7 Bamboo scaffolding
Do you know that Hong Kong is one of the very few cities in the world that still uses bamboo to build skyscrapers? Comparing with modern construction materials such as steel and iron rods, bamboo rods are cheaper, more efficient to build and strong enough to withstand typhoons.
A vital part of Hong Kong’s development since the 1800s, bamboo scaffolding can be frequently seen around town. Apart from constructing high-rises, the technique has also been used to frame the outdoor neon signs and to create traditional Cantonese opera theatres, as well as worshipping halls for cultural festivals, including the Cheung Chau Bun Festival and Yu Lan Ghost Festival.
These gigantic bamboo structures might look intimidating at first glance, with those brave supermen working hundreds of feet above the ground in teams with helmets and harnesses. But it’s a time-tested technique with roots that go back thousands of years in China, which makes it a respectable art form that deserves more attention in our daily lives.
4/7 Dai pai dong
Just like going to cha chaan teng or teahouses for yum cha, eating in dai pai dong is a quintessential Hong Kong food experience. Literally meaning “restaurant with a big license plate”, dai pai dong is a type of open-air food stall that delivers scrumptious Cantonese dishes at great speed and very reasonable prices. What we love particularly about dai pong dong-style cuisine is its powerful dose of “wok hei”—a distinctive, charred flavour that can be only achieved by cooking fresh ingredients over extreme heat.
Dai pai dongs were huge and ubiquitous in the 1950s, however, due to the growing hygiene concerns, the government had begun to restrict the licensing of these alfresco eateries. The licenses can be only passed on to the original holder’s spouse or children, and it's very difficult to keep the business alive in the city amidst rapid urban development. Today, around only 20 dai pai dongs are left. So before this culinary tradition becomes fully extinct, you should visit and support them, and treat yourself to a feast of authentic Cantonese comfort food while you still can.
Some of the best of the city’s remaining dai pai dongs include: Sing Kee, Ball Kee and Yuk Yip Dessert in Central; Bing Kee in Tai Hang; So Kee and Oi Man Seng Kitchen in Sham Shui Po.
See also: ArChan Chan's Debut Cookbook, Hong Kong Local, Is A Love Letter To The City
5/7 Stone wall trees
Stonewall trees are a spectacular landscape feature that can be only admired nowhere else but Hong Kong. Growing along the surface of stone walls which were built with traditional Chinese masonry techniques to stabilise elevated slopes for land development, these old trees are of high cultural value that mirrors city’s urban transformation over the centuries from a tiny island to a modern metropolis. Species with strangler growth habit such as ficus and Chinese Banyan are the major plants that contribute to this unique urban scenery, which can be found mainly in Wan Chai and Sai Ying Pun.
6/7 The world's longest outdoor covered escalator system
Many people would visit Central for its stellar line-up of bars, restaurants as well as art galleries, but only a few know that this hippy neighbourhood is also home to the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system—the Central Mid-Levels escalator. Stretching over 800 metres and spanning across a total height of 135 metres, the system runs from Queens Road Central to the residential Mid-Levels neighbourhood, which includes 14 entrances and exits that allow access to a plethora of interesting shops and alleys adorned with graffiti.
Fun fact: The escalator is also known as a famous film location that has been featured in Chungking Express (1994) and The Dark Knight (2008).
See also: 14 Great Hong Kong Movies To Add To Your Netflix Watch List
7/7 Double decker trams
Hong Kong trams—affectionately known as “ding ding” to locals for its double-bell that used to alert pedestrians—is a true icon of the city. You might have seen similar trams in cities such as London and Berlin, but Hong Kong is the only place in the world that owns the largest double-deck tram fleet.
These nostalgic trams have been running along the busy streets on Hong Kong Island since 1904, which are not only valued as the city’s most economical, eco-friendly mode of public transport, but also as a cultural experience that allows urbanites to slow down and rediscover the beauty of our home. The next time you’re looking for an activity to relax on the weekend, why not hop on a ding ding to travel and photograph around the town?
See also: 20 Hong Kong Photographers On Instagram Who Capture The Soul Of The City