I live in Wan Chai.
That seems to come as surprise to some people when they meet me. While Central or Sheung Wan might seem like the hub of hip, people overlook all that is stylish about Wan Chai. There are so many reasons to love this ‘hood. Yet to many people, when they think of Wan Chai it only brings to mind the sleezy doorways of Lockhart Road. In truth, Wan Chai is a fascinating mix of old and new, east and west. I live in a different world from that of the busy streets of Hong Kong’s Red Light district. I refer to where I live as SoChai, Southern Wan Chai. (Truth be told, where I live is more like East Chai, but that does not sound as good.) Towards the water, from Hennessy northwards, I refer to as No(no) Chai.
As a neighborhood, SoChai has an amazing variety of interesting sights to offer visitors and residents. There are famous landmarks like the Blue House on Spring Garden Lane, the revolving restaurant at the top of Hopewell Centre, and the Hung Shing Temple on Queen’s Road East. However, this neighborhood holds some other, more hidden treasures as well.
This well-preserved temple is tucked in a side street and not easily visible until you are standing in front of it. The roof and grounds can be seen from above on Kennedy Road, but most passersby would not give it a second glance. Originally built in 1863, this temple is larger and more ornate than the Hung Shing, built in 1847. Across the street from the temple, there is a dance studio and a little known art gallery called Red Elation. The gallery owners chose an out of the way but fantastic spot to house their business. The space is welcoming and events there take on a special quality due to its location.
This behemoth of a home, built in 1921 by a Shanghainese family, has stood abandoned for many years. It was used as a “comfort house” or military brothel by Japanese soldiers during their occupation of Hong Kong in the last World War. Due to its history, the house is said to be haunted. It was slated it to be demolished (along with all of the other Ship Street houses which are already gone) and there was supposed to be a very large skyscraper being built on the land. That plan has been put on hold. I am not aware of what the current plans for Ship Street are but I certainly hope that through some miracle, the amazing mansion at the top of the hill is preserved.
While the cozy environs of Star Street are no longer a secret, there are still places on the quieter lanes of the neighborhood which are lesser known. St Frances Street and Yard have quaint shops, restaurants, and bars to explore. As the popularity of the Star Street area grows, many changes are happening to the shops on the ground and first floors of the buildings on Moon, Sun, Electric and Wing Fung Streets. If you are not familiar with the area, take a walk around. You are guaranteed to find something delightful, whether a French Restaurant, specialty deli, wine bar, or a hairdresser nestled back into these little side streets.
Classified Mozzarella Bar- Wing Fung and Star Streets (pictured above)
A restaurant dedicated to cheese. Do I need to say any more?
1/5 Nuevo – Star Street at Wing Fung Street
While the menu here is not authentic Spanish tapas, they have found a way to harness the welcoming spirit tapas joints in Andalusia embrace. A great place for dinner or drinks while watching Star Street go by.
Slims – Wing Fung Street at Queens Road East
This small casual bar is indeed just that, slim. It is a great place to go for happy hour. The fact that they serve food comes in handy, just in case you are on your way to getting drunk enough to start thinking it is funny to throw the peanuts into your colleagues’ beer mugs.
Across the street from Starbucks on Queen’s Road East, is the small entrance to Wan Chai Gap Road. The first part of this road allows occasional traffic while the rest of Wan Chai Gap Road is pedestrian and rises sharply from Kennedy Road. The vertical climb pauses at Bowen Road, which is a lovely place to take a walk, run, or bike. For the more adventurous (and fit), Wan Chai Gap Road continues uphill from Bowen Road to the top of Stubbs Road. Across Stubbs is one of entrances to Aberdeen Country Park. With its reservoirs, picnic areas and vast trails, it’s easy to forget you’re in Hong Kong while wandering around some of the trails in the park. There are many living creatures to behold here. Birds of prey can been seen coasting the breezes above the park and I’ve even heard stories about pythons. However, I have personally never seen anything more menacing that this beautifully decorated caterpillar (above)…