Pok Fu Lam is one of the oldest residential neighbourhoods on Hong Kong Island but is it the best? It certainly offers a standard of living far removed from the urban jungle of some areas of the city. CLAIRE LOCKING unveils a few highlights of the neighbourhood.
For many expats in Hong Kong, Pok Fu Lam (which you’ll often see written as one word, Pokfulam) is something of an enigma. It’s a coastal neighbourhood on the fringes of Mid-Levels, yet it can’t quite call itself the Southside. There are, however, thousands of expats living in the so-called “Garden Neighbourhood”. They love its community atmosphere, waterfront location and wide choice of affordable homes. Residential buildings in Pok Fu Lam range from high-rise blocks to colonial walk-ups.
Pok Fu Lam can, in fact, claim several firsts in the history of Hong Kong. It’s the place where the territory’s floral emblem, Bauhinia blakeana, was first discovered. Plus, it was also the site for Hong Kong’s first reservoir, Pok Fu Lam Reservoir, built in 1883. That reservoir is now part of a country park and the starting point for many a yummy mummy’s morning hike. The area was the site for several of Hong Kong’s first colonial institutions including the city’s first dairy farm, the Béthanie and the University Hall.
Today, many of those historic buildings are still standing and give residents a constant reminder of the city’s colonial past. The Béthanie on Pok Fu Lam Road was built in 1875 by the French Mission as a sanatorium for priests from across the region to come and recuperate from tropical diseases. The building was sold to Hongkong Land in 1974, and for five years was under threat of demolition. Thankfully, it was taken over by the Government again in 1981 and declared a Grade II listed building.
Today, it is part of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts as their School of Film and Television. If you don’t manage to get an invitation to the regular weddings, concerts and private parties that are often held there, then book yourself into one of the guided tours that take place twice a week. The tour is something of a hot ticket, with dates being booked up in advance. But lucky visitors will get to see the beautifully preserved Neo-gothic chapel, the original Dairy Farm’s octagonal cow sheds (the last animals only vacated in 1983) and the basement museum.
Across the busy Pok Fu Lam Road is another heritage gem, University Hall. The building itself dates back to 1861 when a wealthy Scottish trader Douglas Lapraik built the impressive Douglas Castle as his Hong Kong home. His occupation was to be short lived, however, as he returned to the UK in 1864. Since then, the building has been a monastery, a bible printing press and a military barracks during the Japanese occupation. Today, University Hall is the home to 100 lucky male students and the scene of some of the University’s oldest traditions from the famed Halloween Ball to the Affay Camp, the once-a-year opportunity for female students to enter and experience this boys-only institution.
Those who have been in Hong Kong for a while will have witnessed quite the evolution of the complex called Cyberport. This complex is many things – a FinTech hub (backed by the Hong Kong government), a hotel, a shopping centre, and a place where your family and dogs can roam free. If you’re living in this area, the retail hub is very handy. The Arcade offers everything from Cinemas to supermarkets. There is also home styling stores and kids activities in this centre. It’s quite the destination.
Cyberport also boasts one of the island’s only outdoor cinemas dedicated to screening world-class operas and musical performances. Listen to your favourite arias on a beanbag under the stars complete with a picnic. They also show the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in a family-friendly environment up on the rood. Another favourite is the Cyberport weekend market. The laid-back atmosphere and variety of arts and crafts on offer is attracting visitors and locals alike.
The neighbourhood is widely believed to have it’s own mini-microclimate and it is often true that when the mist won’t budge in Mid-levels, the sun will be shining in Pok Fu Lam. Outdoor activities are already plentiful with hikes for all abilities in Pok Fu Lam Country Park, riding at the Riding for the Disabled stables off Pok Fu Lam Road, and everything from rock climbing to tennis available at the University-owned Stanley Ho Sports Centre.
Pok Fu Lam is a rare gem in this hectic bustling city. It’s a neighbourhood that manages to cling on to some of its colonial past as well as offering expats affordable housing, open spaces, amenities and an enviable coastal location just a seven-minute drive from Central.
Pok Fu Lam is an area of Hong Kong with many expat residents who are proactive enough to get involved in development and change in their neighbourhood. If you want to make a difference in your neighbourhood then get behind your councillor. Find out who he or she is and start a dialogue. Also, register to vote; if you don’t vote then you don’t have a voice.
If there is something worth making a noise about, consider setting up a neighbourhood residents’ alliance. Also, keep your eyes open; if you see a construction site, ask what is being built and why. You might not be able to stop the construction but you may be able to have some influence on the plans.
Finally, there is a dedicated website set up by the government for residents to report problems and make suggestions. Whether it’s a noisy neighbour or a broken street light. The site is www.1823.gov.hk, or you can email your issue to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about Hong Kong neighbourhoods in our expat guide to where to live in Hong Kong.