A Laidback Sunday in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a bustling metropolis, but it's still possible to spend time here exploring a hip neighbourhood that's perfect for leisurely weekend strolling, shopping and eating.
It’s one of those Sundays. The kind that starts slow, waking up with you and moving at your pace. No rush, nowhere to be. You know the type. The one that feels like home, with just the right amount of ease and familiarity. Except this Sunday, you’re not at home. You’re not even in your own city. You’re in Hong Kong.
Just before the humidity creeps up high enough to render you immobile, you’re out the door and into the open arms of Central, one of Hong Kong’s busiest districts. You’re headed to Shing Wong Street, a peaceful nook off the main thoroughfare. You climb the narrow staircase, stopping when you reach Common Ground. You nab an outside table, or a space along the plant-lined wooden steps. You sip on your coffee ice ball tonic as the sleepy city stirs below.
The caffeine has kicked in as you walk along Bridges Street, past the Hong Kong YMCA. Its red-brick facade catches your attention, making you cross the road for closer inspection. The Grade 1 building was one-of-a-kind in its heyday, housing the city’s first indoor swimming pool. The external structure is almost in its original form, now an uncommon sight among its shiny new counterparts.
You continue on until a wide staircase opens up in front of you. You’re being invited down to Tai Ping Shan Street, a quiet pedestrian road with a smattering of low-rise buildings that seem to huddle together like children sheltering from the neighbouring skyscrapers. There is little indication that this is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city – but it is. When the British first arrived, the area became a de facto dwelling for Chinese workers, with overcrowding and poor sanitation. Today, it’s bright and sunny, and home to cafés, independent stores, pop-up galleries and quirky boutiques.
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As you wind through the smaller offshoot alleys, you start to feel as if you’re walking in an outdoor gallery. Almost every wall pops with creations from international and local artists. This is the birthplace of HK Walls, a street art and mural festival focused on opening up the creative process by encouraging passersby to observe and interact with the artists’ work. Artyze sits proud at the end of the street. No bigger than a parking space, this private gallery houses contemporary pieces from artists across cultures and nationalities. The neighbourhood is dotted with plenty of intimate little galleries like this to peruse. In the adjacent street, for example, contemporary gallery Over The Influence awaits, with this month’s newly opened exhibition on show.
Your stomach rumbles, and you opt to dine in Hong Kong style at the local dai pai dong (an open-air food stall). You can’t find the English name on display, but the street-side collection of plastic tables and stools is all the sign you need. You’ve taken a seat at one of the last remaining dai pai dongs in the city, where a speedy, no-frills Cantonese meal is soon set in front of you. This is the quintessential city experience.
Two doors down, outside a compact-double storey building, an unassuming bookshelf catches your eye. You open the door to Mount Zero, a cramped but homey space selling English and Cantonese books. Each one feels as though it was carefully considered before being added to the collection, which ranges from travel and art to culture and design. You trundle up the rickety staircase into the reading room. Perched on a wooden stool, you dip in and out of your book as the world goes by from the window.
The afternoon is in full swing; it’s time for an ice-cold beer. Luckily, you know just the place. Craftissimo is a bottle-store-slash-hangout with a craft beer offering spanning the world. The bartender lets you know that their selection is constantly rotating, but for today, you grab the Cha Chaan Teng Gose (a salted lime-flavoured drink perfect for humid climates) made by Hong Kong’s very own local brewery Young Masters. You can choose to take it with you on your stroll, but you opt to linger awhile. You savour the slight taste of salted lime on your lips as you soak up the sunshine alongside the other loungers on the back alley steps.
The sun has set. You’re ready to get off the street, but you’re not quite ready for dinner. You follow Square Street until you hit Hollywood Road and the entrance to Bibo. As the gold door slides open, your jaw drops. You are surrounded by original works of art by the likes of Basquiat, Banksy, Murakami and Kaws. Bibo is a French fine dining restaurant housed in an art gallery – but you’re just here for a cocktail. The D1 & TT is a work of art in itself; a twist on the classic G&T with citrus, tonic and tea. It’s all housed in a lightbulb, poured lovingly over a grapefruit skull-shaped ice block.
You retrace your steps back to Central, along Hollywood Road and onto Elgin Street. Dinner is the only thing on your mind now. The gold maneki-neko (fortune cats) wave as you descend the stairs into the dark den of Ho Lee Fook. The Chinese kitchen here pulls its inspiration from old-school Hong Kong and the trendy late-night Chinatown hangouts of New York in the 1960s. You recognise some of the ingredients on the menu, while others keep you guessing. And one thing is for sure: the wagyu beef short ribs will be the perfect end to one of those Sundays.