Hong Kong's Yick Fat Building

And here, you thought your apartment building was cluttered

Yick Fat Quarry Bay
The Yick Fat Building is part of the hectic Quarry Bay district. Robert Schrader

Few places in the world illustrate the idea of urban overcrowding more than Hong Kong, either colloquially or factually. The city's "Kowloon Walled City," which has since been converted into a public park, was once thought to be the world's most densely populated structure, although officials found it difficult to ascertain the actual number of people who lived there.

To be sure, while the Yick Fat Building, located across Victoria Harbour on Hong Kong Island, is likely nowhere near as populated as Kowloon Walled City ever was, its stacked tenements give the same aesthetic impression, to say nothing of the amazing Hong Kong photo opportunities that exist elsewhere in the special administrative region.

Yes, you heard that right—you can visit the Yick Fat Building! But more on that in just a second.

The History of the Yick Fat Building

In spite of how ubiquitous the Yick Fat building has become, its history is decidedly ambiguous. Indeed, there's little to separate it from any of the other tenements (and there are countless ones!) that rise around it; it's very clear neither the most densely populated one, nor the one with the greatest population number overall.

Rather, the most meaningful history of the Yick Fat building might lie in the stories of the residence itself. If one approaches you when you enter (more on how to do that in a few paragraphs), you might engage him or her in conversation, particularly if he or she speaks more than a little English, or if you speak more than a little Cantonese or, in some cases, Mandarin.

Although the long British history of Hong Kong means many people in central areas like Kowloon or Sheung Wan speak English, this becomes decidedly less likely the farther you move from the nucleus of the city.

Yick Fat in Popular Culture

On the other hand, the Yick Fat Building more than makes up what it lacks in historical significance in pop culture relevance. The building has long been a prize for photographers (yours truly included), and (much) more famous ones like France's Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze, who used a picture of it as the cover for his 2012 book Vertical Horizon.

Even more recently than that, the article featured in Michael Bay's "Transformers," but although the shots of the building in the movie catapulted it to international fame, it was what happened behind the scenes that really told the story.

You see, when Bay visited the building in late 2013 to begin filming the shots, he was confronted by two men who lived in the building, who requested a commission of 100,000 Hong Kong dollars (~$12,900) for filming their home. (No official word as to whether Bay and his crew paid the fine, although there is ample speculation on both sides.)

All of this is to say nothing of the hundreds of Instagram photos taken at the Yick Fat Building (sometimes alternately transliterated from Chinese as "Yik Fat Building"), none of which resulted in extortion, according to their captions anyway—you should be lucky, unless of course you bring a professional film crew to the building with you. 

How to Visit the Yick Fat Building

The Yick Fat Building is located just east of Hong Kong's Central Business District, on Hong Kong Island. To reach the Yick Fat Building, take the Island Line of the Hong Kong MTR to Tai Koo Station, then get out at Exit B and head west on King's Road for two blocks. The Yick Fat Building will be located behind you, if you're looking forward at the road. You can walk around its periphery if you'd like, but the most striking views come from inside the courtyard.

And that's the awkward part. You see, since the Yick Fat Building is a public housing tenement, it's someone's home—many thousands of someones! This is neither legally nor even really ethically dubious, but it does feel a bit strange, as you make your way through the meat markets and laundry shops that line the entrance tunnel. 

Other Alternative Hong Kong Destinations

The Yick Fat Building is one of many amazing architectural wonders in Hong Kong. If you want to make a morning, afternoon or day of it, considering adding visits to Choi Hung Estate (MTR: Wong Tai Sin) and Lai Tak Tsuen (MTR: Tin Hau).

Another lesser-visited place to visit in Hong Kong is Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, which is sprawled on a hilltop a short walk from Sha Tin MRT station. Although it's surrounded by housing tenements on all sides (though none, admittedly, are as photogenic as Yick Fat), you'll soon forget you're in the middle of a city at all as you walk up the snaking path lined by golden Buddha statues.

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