Hong Kong, in many travelers’ mind, is either a busy commercial city or a paradise of shopping and eating. It’s somehow a fact and you must have great experiences for your holiday here. But, would you like to explore this tiny and beautiful city beyond that? Sham Shui Po, my growing up district, is situated in Western part of Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong, might be a “new” sight for travelers who love historical and cultural exploration. It is a place where alternative groups can be reached, heritage sites can be found, and typical food can be tasted.
Alternative communities in the poorest district
Sham Shui Po, the poorest district according to government documentary, is always a home for alternatives groups. Various nationalities are represented in the district of approximately 388 300 population. This includes Hongkongers, migrants from China, Vietnamese, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Philippine, Pakistan……Even though they speak different languages and share different culture, friendly neighborhood can always be felt in the district. Don’t miss the chance to interact with the groups here and try to listen their stories.
Historical buildings in the oldest district
Mei Ho House (Youth Hostel):
Mei Ho House (Chinese: 美荷樓) was part of Shek Kip Mei Estate which was the first birth of public housing project in Hong Kong. In 1953, over fifty thousands people were suffered from a devastating fire at the slum area in Shek Kip Mei. The resettlement estate were then built by the Colonial government to shelter the homeless victims who lost their home in the accident. It was named as Shek Kip Mei Estate. And Mei Ho House was one of the 29-block building. This 7-storey building is now the last remaining block to be preserved and re-established as youth hostel.
It becomes a good accommodating choice for backpackers. I spent three weeks to stay there in a double bed room with my husband, Dick on the first month we got married. Everything there impressed me so much. The 50s-60s decoration brought us back to the period of old Hong Kong. The Chinese style calendar, old toys, wooden chairs……every single parts are memorable. If it is your first time to come to Hong Kong, Mei Ho House is always one of the best place to feel the taste of Hongkong, together with the activities you are suggested to do in Sham Shui Po.
Every backpacker living here can also enjoy a fruitful breakfast at the Full Cup Café. After having a full breakfast, Dick and I like to walk up the hill behind the hostel. We enjoyed the view of Sham Shui Po from the top. It only takes 15 minutes by walk. On the ground floor of the building, there is a museum which shows you the historical development of public house in Hong Kong. Spend half an hour there and know more about old stories of Hong Kong.
The Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC)
A former Shek Kip Mei Factory Estate is reused as a multi-disciplinary arts village and arts centre. It is now named as the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC) and operated by a registered charity. This industrial building, was one of the typical cottage industries half a century ago, locates 300m away from Mei Ho House. It is worth a visit for those who love art and culture.
The Centre is now a famous place for art community, in which the studio facilities are provided. Young artists are also supported to develop their art talents. The public are welcomed to visit the art centre as well. There is a Jockey Club Black Box Theatre where you can enjoy performing art (dance, drama, music, etc.). Two levels of exhibition Galleries are also good place for the public to experience art and culture.
Visit www.jccac.org.hk to get further information.
Tong lau tenement houses
“Tong lau” is a local term of Hong Kong shophouse. They are two-to-four-storey buildings which are easily to be seen along the street in Sham Shui Po. The ground floor is mostly commercial shop such as rice shop, dried seafood shop, restaurants, etc. The upper floors are residential accommodation which is still functioning nowadays.
The architectural structure of tong lau is a kind of integration of Chinese and Western styles, which was very popular in early 20th century in Hong Kong. Although most of them are replaced by new tall private building, few typical tong lau can still be found in the District. You can find one situates in the corner of Pei Ho Street and Tai Nan Street. And also find another one situates in Yen Chow Street where it opposites to Golden Computer Centre.
Police station (colonial structure)
Beside the tong lau tenement houses, there is also colonial building can be found in Sham Shui Po. Sham Shui Po police station situates at the junction of Yen Chow Street and Lai Chi Kok Road. It was built before World War II and operated as a military camps and police station by British colonial government. The station is still serving the district day by day. And its outlook has been kept until now.
The station is one of the typical landmark in Sham Shui Po. After taking photos, you can walk a bit forward to visit a local plaza, Dragon Centre, as well.
Five suggested activities in Sham Shui Po
Experience the culture of “yum cha”
Yum cha (drinking tea) is a particular term to describe the eating activity in teahouse where people can eat dim sum with a bowl of Chinese tea. It is a traditional way of having breakfast in Hong Kong. Since I was young, my mother took me to teahouse almost every day and dim sum is probably one of my favorite dish in Hong Kong.
Dim sum refers to a wide range of small dishes which were originally provided in teahouses. Most dim sum are served in bamboo steamers in a small portion, such as siu mai, char siu bau (steamed bread with pork inside), prawn dumpling, rice rolls, etc. There are also fried dishes like deep fried wan ton (kind of dumpling), spring rolls, and so on. If you are traveling with friends or family, the best way to enjoy the meal in teahouse should be ordering wide range of dishes, then put all dishes in the middle of table and share them together by using chopsticks and a small bowl.
Few old-styled teahouses can still be found in Sham Shui Po nowadays. In those teahouse, staffs still keep the old method to serve. Staffs push the trolleys and walk around in the teahouse. The steamed dim sum are prepared in the kitchen first and served on the trolley next. There is gas/ fire inside the trolleys to make sure warm dishes are served. People can choose what they like when a trolley comes across.
Taste the typical street foods
Fuk Wing Street is one of the famous street in Sham Shui Po, where you have no chance to feel hungry. Fuk Wing Street is also named as “Food Street” among Hongkongers. Over 50 types of cuisines can be tasted here. Some national cuisine are famous and good quality, such as Indian, Singapore & Malaysian, European, African, Sichuan, etc.
One type of food you must try should be the street food. There were many hawkers in Hong Kong. Hawkers cooked different kind of snacks by using a wooden trolleys with fire or gas, then served the food on a side of street. Although most of the hawkers are now replaced by food stalls, you can still taste the street in the District. Popular food including fish balls, beef organ and egg waffle are highly recommended.
Buy fresh veggies at wet market
Wet market is the main place to get fresh food for every household. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be found in the market every morning. Bring along with your camera and take a walk at the market in early morning. For budget travelers, evening is the best time to buy cheap food as the stalls are nearly closed and the owners like to reduce prices to avoid any stocks.
Take a walk at Ap Liu Street
I always believe that every community can maintain their local economic system in their own way. Ap Liu Street is an amazing place to show you how the grass roots recycle the unused materials and reuse/ resell them in the community. There is a huge flea market in Ap Liu Street, which sells all kinds of electronics and electrical stuffs. As a Hongkongers, if I find something is missing and would like to look for it, Ap Liu Street is always the first place I think of. Both new things and second hand goods can be found there.
Shop at the famous Golden Shopping Centre and Golden Computer Arcade
While Apliu Street is famous for electronic parts, the Golden Shopping Arcade found on the other side of Cheung Sha Wan Road is famous for computer hardware and related items. “Golden” is a famous area for all Hongkong to search for computer stuffs in a very low price. When you come across with the computer festival which is held every year in “Golden”, you can easily found new model of IT products in a lower price.
Enjoy your visit in Sham Shui Po!