The old town of Wan Chai is not just one of Hong Kong’s most historic enclaves. For the visitor, it’s a journey through a magnificent melee of colours and flavours where east and west fuse. Traditional and contemporary architecture sits comfortably shoulder-to-shoulder, at the heart of Hong Kong Island’s famed cosmopolitan mayhem.
Historic Wan Chai
On Queens Road East, worshipers whisper within Hung Shing Temple. Built upon a giant boulder in the 1850s, it was named after a local god of the sea. It sits on the site of the former shoreline (prior to land reclamation), and in line with feng shui, is oriented towards the sea. It’s hard to notice from the street, but its roof is adorned in Shiwan pottery.
Nearby is Wan Chai’s former post office. A Declared Monument-listed building, its letter pigeonholes have been beautifully restored. Today, as an environmental resource library, it houses conservation books, magazines, DVDs and interactive environmental displays. The collection of nature-themed stamps is gorgeous. And spot the Chinese mantras above the entrance calling for all to nurture the planet.
Evidence of Hong Kongers embracing environmentalism is found fronting the Hopewell Centre skyscraper. Mastered by German engineers from Green City Solutions, CityTree is a box of plants and moss, exhaling oxygen into the streets. Self-sufficient and sustainable, the flora inside this urban air-cleaning machine operates on solar energy.
On Stone Nullah Lane is one of Hong Kong’s most iconic landmarks. The 1920s Blue House is the city’s oldest remaining lingnan-style tenement building. It took its eponymous name due to the bold colour of its exterior walls (recently given a fresh lick of paint). Its site has been home to a temple, a clinic and a school. A section of it showcases The Hong Kong House of Stories exhibition. Community groups gather here to share local artefacts and books, run art, craft and carpentry lessons, and train as local tour guides - all in the name of preserving Hong Kong’s urban culture.
Over on Johnston Road is what used to be the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop. Built in 1888, and part of a conglomeration of former old tenement buildings, it was for many where personal items were reluctantly parted with. Restored by the Urban Renewal Authority in 2014, this heritage site now features The Pawn restaurant and bar, where Michelin-starred chef, Tom Aikens, offers a classically British menu.
Culinary Wan Chai
Food is fresh in Wan Chai. Every kind of scaled and finned is found at the Wan Chai wet fish market, along with all colours and shapes of Chinese vegetable.
Tea lovers head to Yeung Chun Lui on Spring Garden Lane. Three generations of the family have been brewing secret recipe medicinal herbs at this traditional herbal tea shophouse for over a century. But if coffee is your quaff, head to Coffee Roastery Lab on Johnston Road, which brews single origin and signature blends.
East meets west in Wan Chai’s new pedestrianized shopping strip at Lee Tung Avenue. Chinese lanterns hang above designer boutiques and gourmet eateries. Drool over the ‘Gelartiste’ at Givres. This gelataria seduces all with their signature rose-shaped gelato - culinary artwork in a cone!
Designer roses don’t just come in the form of ice-cream. Back on Queens Road East is extravagant Sicis. Blossoming before the mosaic walls and floors of this designer store are armchairs layered in giant crushed velvet and silk petals resembling roses. At AU$36,000 each, I look, but don’t lick! And a well-heeled Audrey bath (in the shape of a splendorous giant shoe) poises inside the window: priceless.
Hip Wan Chai
The constellations shine brightly at super-modern Star Street Precinct. Here was originally the site of Catholic cemeteries and Hong Kong’s first power plant. Today, in Hong Kong’s peaceful pocket of tranquillity, Sun, Star and Moon Streets are a charming labyrinth of boutique and bar-studded laneways.
On Star Street, Le Labo creates hand-poured candles and fine handcrafted essential oil-based perfumes. Have your favourite aromas hand blended to order or choose a Discovery Set: cutesy packs of 1.5ml glassed samples.
On Sun Street, Pride & Prejudice fans dine on French blue lobster at Darcy & Liz. And Moonshine and the Po’Boys whips up Cajun roast chicken, an interesting Pernod Clam Party dish and spicy blue crab rémoulade, along with a cracking cocktail list. Cheers!
From its past vestiges to its preserved shophouses, Wan Chai stirs the inquisitive and satiates the culture-hungry traveller.
Classy Stays Near Wan Chai
The Upper House
Enjoy calm and contemporary elegance at The Upper House, a small five-star hotel in the heart of Hong Kong. It boasts fabulous panoramic harbour and island views and easy access to many of the major sights.
Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
Choose from one of 542 contemporary rooms complete with either Victoria Harbour or garden terrace views. The WiFi is complimentary, there are nine restaurants and bars to choose from and there's a 50-metre outdoor heated pool and 400-metre jogging path.
Mira Moon is an award-winning design boutique hotel with 90 one-of-a-kind boutique rooms - and one striking penthouse - on the cusp of Wan Chai, in Causeway Bay. It features the latest technology, spacious rooms, an onsite restaurant and cocktail bar.
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong is renowned for its Chinese restaurants (there are nine restaurants in total), incredible views and ideal downtown location, with a slew of shopping and entertainment on its doorstep. It also flaunts an onsite spa, pool, health club and a 24-hour front desk.
Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island
This stylish, boutique hotel is wonderfully modern and inviting, with stunning rooms, a rooftop infinity pool, two restaurants and free WiFi. Every room features a flat-screen TV, Blue-ray player and Nespresso coffee machines.