Looking to explore a charming local Hong Kong neighbourhood? Located between Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town, Shek Tong Tsui takes its name from a stone pond found the days when granite was mined here. Later, the island’s brothels were relocated here from Possession Street in Sheung Wan. Shek Tong Tsui became HK’s red light district. After prostitution was outlawed in 1935, and following World War II, the area settled into a quiet city enclave. Today, there’s a buzz again, thanks to new shops, cafés and restaurants. Here, we get the inside scoop from a resident of this hidden gem in Hong Kong! Australian Karling Hamill is a photographer at So Lightly Photography. She tells us what it’s like living in Shek Tong Tsui, and reveals some neighbourhood highlights.
Setting the scene
The reason you chose this area of Hong Kong is: Because it’s a hidden gem and a peaceful cute neighbourhood with a local feel. It’s also nestled between bustling Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town, right on the water. In the old days, it was the brothel district, but now it’s an area that has maintained an old town feel. However, it still has lots of mechanics, local eateries, noodle makers and tiny temples.
Transport options in your neighbourhood include: Taxi, train, tram and bus!
The first thing you see when you walk out of your house is: The harbour, little local cafés and a school bus mechanic that is owned by a bold tabby cat.
The closest store to your front door is: A café called TGIF and the Buddhist vegetarian takeaway shop Po Lin Yuen. It gives meals away to elderly people who need them.
The unofficial uniform of your suburb is: Shorts and flip flops, with tops optional in summer. (For the workmen, anyway!)
If a celebrity moves in, it would likely be: Keanu Reeves.
When you’re in need of a dose of culture, you: Step outside and greet one of the many elderly locals who are no doubt gathering on the street talking to their friends. Alternatively, wander down the many meandering alleys that hide gorgeous temples, pastel buildings and noodle makers.
A mandatory stop for taking out of town guests is: A coffee at First Boy or FinePrint followed by obligatory photos at Hill Road. Then walk through the alleys off Whitty Street to watch my favourite noodle maker doing their thing and the offerings at the large temple. Afterwards, walk along the harbour or up the Peak (the quieter trail). Then return for a local lunch.
A common myth about your area is: That this hidden gem in Hong Kong doesn’t exist!
If you wake up at night it’s usually because of: Clanking of the boats in the harbour as they work on something in the middle of the night.
A massive late-night rager in your suburb involves: Sword Tai Chi at the harbour. Or you might find the CrossFit fanatics still at it at either of the clubs in this neighbourhood. (Yes, there are two!)
A few of the best things in the neighbourhood
Your hands-down favourite neighbourhood joint is: Kennedy Town Swimming Pool, which is actually in my little ’hood of Shek Tong Tsui.
You won’t find better local food than: I’m completely obsessed with A One Spicy Pork Chop Noodle. Plus, Aya for ramen, Jiang’s Hunan Chef, and Saam Hui Yaat for dim sum.
The strangest thing you’ll ever see in your neighbourhood is: Where do I begin? Wild boars coming down here by accident to dogs in sunglasses being wheeled around in blinged-up prams. You’ll also see older folk doing sword tai chi in the morning and then pushing chairs around late at night to congregate on the harbour and the little alleys for a good chat.
The best bargains in the neighbourhood are: Spices and the freshest coconut milk from Shing Fat, local dumplings, massages at the green door called Relax One Massage. (Ask for the blind master – he is brilliant if you have back or shoulder pain!) Also, flowers at the wet market.
The guiltiest local pleasure is: Shopping at the biggest Wellcome in Hong Kong. I know it sounds ridiculous but it’s the closest thing to huge grocery stores at home and sells everything including hot food.
One thing you’d never change is: The old tong lau and the winding alleys.
The city gives you five million HK$ to soup up your area, you: Preserve the old buildings in Shek Tong Tsui. I’d also give money to the local shops that have been around for decades so they don’t close!
This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.