HONG KONG – Architecture in the Back Streets

I’ve never felt more alive than I do when I walk down the back streets of Hong Kong at daybreak. Really, they are something else. The dilapidated dwellings and crumbling shopfronts are frozen in time. I find to be a welcome treat after all the wholesome sameness of new the shining new buildings along the harbour.

So I take myself on yet another tour of Hong Kong’s architectural marvels – both old and new, but mainly old. Who could ever get bored of exploring the fragrant harbour?

A high security property in Central

There is nothing to fear here – Hong Kong is safe so you are free explore the small alleys. There is no fresh air flowing down the lanes, trees and grass are rather sparse around Central so sometimes it does smell rather stale. For me, the scent of Hong Kong’s back streets is a melange of rotten vegetables, petrol fumes and chicken soup.

While this apartment block is quite scruffy on the outside…


..the inside appears to be pristine

It’s not tourist friendly in the alleys. It’s not friendly at all. However fabulous Hong Kong may be you would be foolish to expect a nice chat with the folk on the street, especially if you are a foreigner with a camera. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a conversation with a stranger in the street here. Then again, I’ve never made the effort to master Cantonese.

The local… sauce shop?

There is nowhere else in the world like Hong Kong so don’t sleep in, grab your camera and head out to the streets on your way have some yum cha for breakfast. This is the only time the streets aren’t too busy around Central and Sheung Wan.

The Pedder Building


Old tiles in the China Tee Club, Pedder Building

If you start out early – 7am is when it  all kicks off , which in Hong Kong is about the time that we are wandering home from a night out, and it’s not too hot at this hour of the morning.

Straight out of a Victorian tale of impoverished squalor


It can’t be safe up there

My preferred itinerary:

1) Johnson and Hennessy Roads, Wan Chai (and all the little shops on the side streets) to see the old facades of pawn shops

2) The lanes off Peel Street and Wellington Streets, Central

3) Ice House Street and Lower Albert Road

4) Nathan Road (and side streets thereof)

5) Des Voeux Rd West, Sheung Wan

Many of the buildings in these streets are untouched and not renovated – not yet.

Pawn shop in Wan Chai


Wan Chai apartments

Buildings of Interest, old and new:

  • Pedder Building
  • Bank Of China Building
  • Woo Cheong Pawn Shop
  • Chungking Mansions
  • Dairy Farm Building
  • Government House
  • The Helena May Club

Look them up: some some are modern, such as the Bank of China’s 1950’s structure and the grubby old Chungking Mansions is about the same vintage. The others are remarkable colonial heritage buildings.

What does it all mean?


Another sauce shop, the most specific shop signs I’ve ever seen are all here in Hong Kong

I love them, but the backstreets most of all…

Enjoy the exquisite shabbiness of Hong Kong.


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