Sheung Wan

Perched on the cusp of the old and new, Sheung Wan is an atmospheric quarter of Hong Kong and is perfect for a walking tour. Located in the north-west of Hong Kong Island, between Central and Sai Ying Pun, it is the oldest part of modern Hong Kong, for it is here that Commodore James Bremer, commander-in-chief of the British forces in China, took formal possession of Hong Kong on behalf of the British Empire after he stepped off the HMS Callilope on January 26, 1841.

Going by the rather unimaginative name ‘Possession Point’, the precise spot where Bremer stepped off his ship and set foot on Chinese soil is now considerably inland, thanks to widespread land reclamation. Sadly, the only reminder of this historic event is a commemorative plaque at Hollywood Road Park.

The colonists scripted many chapters in Hong Kong’s history since they seized Hong Kong from the Chinese but time seems to stand still in Sheung Wan. Here, traditional family-owned businesses and shops rule the streets, which are neatly defined according to the wares they sell. For instance, Cat Street, once a hub of stolen goods, now sells ‘antiques’, curios and memorabilia while Hollywood Road is where you will find ‘antique’ paintings, pottery, sculptures, embroidery, furniture and items made from jade. Typically reminiscent of Hong Kong’s distant past is Ko Shing Street, the heart of the wholesale herbal medicine trade, while the Western Market, dating back to 1844, is one of the oldest buildings in Sheung Wan.

If you want to literally see ‘old’ transition to ‘new’, stroll along Hollywood Road and then north to Gough Street. The area has been dubbed ‘NoHo’ or ‘north of Hollywood Road’. Once the home of printing presses, the neighbourhood now sports restaurants, boutiques and stores selling home appliances. At the other end of Hollywood Road is ‘SoHo’ or ‘south of Hollywood Road’, a fine dining area with a swanky nightlife. Known for its upscale bars, exotic restaurants, fashion boutiques, art galleries and antiques shops, this is an uber-chic section of Sheung Wan that comes alive when the sun goes down.

There’s another thing you can’t miss when strolling the streets of Sheung Wan – double-decker trams that cut right through this heritage quarter. Called ‘Ding Dings’ for their soft clanging as they crawl through the streets, these colourful streetcars offer a rich peek into the daily life of the locals who depend on the service to traverse the northern part of the island-city. The service is more than a century old and for only a few Hong Kong dollars, you can grab a front-row seat. It will take you through the old, dry food and medicine markets, swanky shopping centers and arcades, towering skyscrapers, ancient temples, antique galleries and neon-clad neighbourhods. You couldn’t ask for a better street-side view of this slice of Hong Kong life!