Header image courtesy of Tung Cheung (via Shutterstock)
Do you find yourself stuck in a rut consisting of work, gym, drinks, weekend brunches, and work again? In a small place like Hong Kong, it can be easy to work yourself into a corner and think that you’ve pretty much been everywhere and seen all that needs to be seen, especially if you’ve been residing in the city for a few years.
Why not shake up your predictable routine by exploring someplace new? Whether you may have heard of them or not, there are certain small areas of the city that have evolved into little villages of their own, taking on a character that’s different to the larger district they belong to. Here are Hong Kong’s most interesting precincts to check out!
Sitting directly next to the expat-laden bar area of Soho lies Poho, referring to the groups of streets and alleys near Tai Ping Shan Street and Po Hing Fong. Guides for newcomers to the city always hype up “antique” shopping near Cat Street and Man Mo Temple, but we say leave the tourist tat and head up a little ways to Poho instead.
It’s all too easy to spend the good part of a day poking around the various boutique shops and cafés tucked away in nooks and crannies, many independent and found nowhere else in Hong Kong. Our favourite haunts in this precinct include vintage memorabilia store Nlostnfound, tiny indie bookstore Mount Zero, and stylish French lifestyle brand Château Zoobeetle.
There is also excellent nosh to be had here. Sit down for a breather and an excellent cup of tea at either Teakha or Green Ginkgo Tea, indulge in top-notch Nordic cuisine at Frantzen’s Kitchen, or tuck into a great curry fried rice at Yuk Kin Fast Food, a local dai pai dong (大排檔; Hong Kong street food stall). Don’t forget to that Elephant Ground’s new flagship location is just around the corner on Hollywood Road as well. Click here to read our full neighbourhood guide to Poho.
The little area near Sun, Moon, and Star Streets is a chill precinct up the slope from Queen’s Road East and away from the bustle of Wan Chai. We love its artsy vibe, and the fact that it has a range of stores that are very design-focused—have a look at the eclectic mix of products in O.N.S, Woaw, and Kapok to see exactly what we mean. A visit to Starstreet Precinct is also never complete without popping into Odd One Out, a boutique gallery dedicated to illustration and printmaking where you can purchase limited-edition works by local artists, and The Monocle Shop, the retail outpost of the famous Monocle magazine with products made for the global and chic traveller.
Should you be in need of a little sit-down, head to APT. Coffee to customise your own cup of joe, or check out the artisanal teas and teacakes in Basao. Nearby, Artemis & Apollo is a traditional Greek taverna, and Maison ES serves up French fine-dining with an Asian slant. We also like sitting down at possibly the last local remnant in this small area, Tak Yu, a cha chaan teng (茶餐廳; Hong Kong-style café) famous for their fragrantly silky Hong Kong-style milk tea and Indonesian fried rice.
Animal lovers, perk up: there is also a little-known stray cat sanctuary hidden away called Hug and Home, which rescues cats from the streets and houses them temporarily in their small workspace concept. Visitors pay by the hour to use the space, which is shared with the free-roaming felines, and enquiries about adopting the cats are welcomed. We challenge you to get any work done here! Click here to read our full neighbourhood guide to the Starstreet Precinct.
The traditionally working-class neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po has really seen a revival in recent years, with various indie cafés and experimental art concepts cropping up to the delight of Hong Kong’s hipster crowd. Most people already know about the treasure trove of electronics you can find in Golden Computer Centre and Apliu Street, so head south instead to the energised and buzzing area near Tai Nan Street and Ki Lung Street.
Scattered in between old garages and hardware stores, you’ll find plenty of leather workshops and speciality stores—for example, we spent an inordinate amount of time in Muze Pens, which stocks fountain pens sourced globally and a dizzying array of ink. Vinyl record lovers will definitely need to pay a visit to Vinyl Hero, White Noise Records, and Tai Nan Records—all amazing stores that serve to fuel our addiction to analogue music.
We also love trawling through the shelves of lifestyle stores such as quirky homeware shop Foreforehead, vintage store Shop Little Two (where we once found an adorable mini accordion in good working condition!), Midway Shop for their clean and minimalistic Japanese-inspired ceramics and home products, and Terra House, with their beautiful taxidermy pieces of butterflies and other insects alongside a cute (and very much alive) shop cat.
Most local Hongkongers—a dedicated coffee shop-loving people—visit this area to ‘gram food and drinks in various cafés, of which there is an excessive amount. Coffee shops of note include Café Sausalito, Coffee Matters, Common Room & Co., and Openground, which also has a design retail and exhibition space.
Grub-wise, you absolutely must venture back nearer to Sham Shui Po proper to check out Hop Yik Tai for its Michelin-recognised cheung fun (腸粉; steamed rice rolls), Kung Wo Beancurd Factory for the silkiest tofu pudding, fantastic Malaysian dishes at Kedai Kopi Semua Semua, and fragrant tomato soup noodles at Tomato C Hing.
Roll down the hill on Aberdeen Street to reach the area we’re now dubbing as Noho (north of Hollywood Road, geddit?), made up of Gough Street, Kau U Fong, Gage Street, the lower part of Peel Street, and the alleys nearby. A far cry from its rowdier drunken neighbour Soho, Noho consists mainly of eateries with a smattering of interesting retail options.
Feather & Bone and Le Quinze Vins are there for all your upscale deli, wine, and cheese-related needs, while Greenfingers round the corner is a full-service florist for both interior and exterior plant-scaping, with professional and leisure classes on offer as well. Along Gough Street, there are quite a number of retail boutiques to explore, but our favourite has got to be the ironically named Homeless, a Scandi-inspired homeware store stocking plenty of quirky designs.
Really though, Noho’s main draw is its F&B scene. As tsukemen (つけ麺; dipping ramen) aficionados, we still can’t decide the winner between Shugetsu’s fish-based broth or neighbouring Zagin Soba’s chicken-based option despite frequently visiting both restaurants. Across the street from Kau Kee’s famous beef brisket noodles is Sing Heung Yuen with their fantastically rich tomato soup noodles—we prefer the rather childish option of eggs & sausages with macaroni, washed down with a side of their crispy buns drizzled with condensed milk.
Another good ramen option lies one street down the hill with Nagahama No.1 Ramen, alongside top-notch Vietnamese Cô Thành. Lastly, the people from one of our favourite Soho watering holes, The Shady Acres, have opened a new dive bar concept in Honky Tonks Tavern, and along one of the best Noho alleys, Man Hing Lane, no less!
What used to only be in the spotlight once annually for its Fire Dragon Dance has now transformed into an increasingly up-and-coming precinct with a charm of its own. Tucked away between Causeway Bay and Tin Hau behind the Central Library, Tai Hang is essentially a little cul-de-sac arranged in a grid formation rarely seen on Hong Kong Island. Over the years, it has become a small and vibrant community in its own right.
Various neighbourhood garages are now interspersed with cafés, eateries, and bars—you’d be surprised at how many are packed into this small group of alleys. Tai Hang is also great as a dog-friendly neighbourhood, and most places will allow you to sit and dine with your pooch in tow. We like going to Elementary for East-meets-West twists, New York Club for Thai and Shanghainese flavours, Dough Kitchen or Ask for Alonzo for Italian, or neighbourhood hang-out Tai Hang Bar & Grill for brunch. Hit up Niku Niku for yakiniku (焼き肉; grilled meat), Unar Coffee Company or Fineprint for coffee, Second Draft or Tipsy for drinks, and Tak Shing Tea Stall for a bowl of instant noodles and one of their famed milk teas served in a glass bottle.
Next door to Unar Coffee, there is also a fascinating (albeit confusing) shop which seems to sell plant-related things that we have not quite grasped the concept of—last time we went in, there were parakeets screeching outside, and on the shelves were a collection of terrariums, succulents, and poison dart frogs in tanks. Aside from the aforementioned Fire Dragon Dance which occurs over Mid-Autumn Festival, you can also see a bit of culture and history at the Lin Fa Kung Temple, a beautifully constructed monument from the Qing dynasty.
Nobody needs to be told to go to Mong Kok, so let us direct your attention instead to the triangular cluster of roads sandwiched between Argyle Street and Mongkok East to the north, and Waterloo Road and Ho Man Tin to the south. These four roads are mostly named after causes for celebration, such as Victory, Liberty, and Peace. You may think that there’d be nothing much of interest moving away from the retail haven of Mong Kok, and towards the mainly residential area of Ho Man Tin, but you’d be wrong.
The thing that characterises this precinct seems to be an excessive amount of pet shops, selling both supplies and actual animals. We’re for adopting, not shopping, so step away from that doggie in the window. Fittingly, there is also a high concentration of vet clinics and groomers, so this might be a good area to check out for veterinary and pet care services.
In terms of food, you’re absolutely spoilt for choice. Sushi Miyuki and Sendonya are more traditional Japanese restaurants while Peko Peko Eatery and The Little Devil Shokudo are more modern, Western-inspired affairs. Should you feel like having a snack, Hot Dog Link is a hole-in-the-wall that serves hot dogs with Hong Kong-style toppings, and there are also several bakeries in the neighbourhood such as J’aime Pain. Lastly, Ulvapig on Liberty Avenue is a butcher that specialises in pork reared locally, which apparently can be used to make amazing ramen broth.