Wan Chai, Hong Kong, certainly has more attractions than the Lockhart Road hostess bars and British pubs. Wan Chai is a commercial hub filled with office workers and shoppers who flock in from the outskirts and frequent the noodle shops at lunchtime.
Shopping is one of the things to do in Wan Chai—check out Tai Yuen Street for toy stores and the Wan Chai Computer Centre for tech gadgets and parts. It's also interesting to explore the history of the area— watch the daily flag-raising ceremony taking place in Golden Bauhinia Square, site of the handover of Hong Kong from the British back to the Chinese on July 1, 1997.
Named after its bright blue exterior, the Blue House is a string of heritage tenement blocks at 72-74 Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai. After a close call with developers, the Blue House has been classified as a protected historical building and is one of the few remaining examples in Hong Kong of pre-war tenement buildings.
The Tong Lau balcony buildings that meld Chinese and Western architectural influences are unique to Hong Kong—the main floor is commercial and the upper floors are apartments, each with a small balcony. The tenements remain in use for shops and apartments today. You'll find the Hong Kong House of Stories here, a museum and community center. The Old Story Narrative Space is one of the exhibition spaces of the Blue House Project where artifacts have been collected from the building in order to reconstruct the lifestyles of those who lived there through history.
Watch the Flag Ceremony at Golden Bauhinia Square
It was here that Hong Kong’s famous fireworks and flag-waving took part to mark the Hong Kong handover. Governor Chris Pattern and Prince Charles of England handed Hong Kong back over to Chinese President Jiang Zemin while Chinese troops and British sailors saluted as it rained heavily. The date, July 1, 1997, and the event are marked by the Golden Bauhinia statue in the square of the same name. It's the closest Hong Kong has to a patriotic attraction. Each day at 7:50 a.m. the police band raises and salutes the national flag. On the first of every month, a full police pipe band plays a few tunes dressed in their traditional regalia.
Squeezed in between the skyscrapers of Wan Chai, "The Pawn" was (as the name suggests) once a Chinese pawnshop founded in 1888, although you wouldn’t guess that from looking at the building today. After dodging the bulldozers, the century-old building was gutted and the façade was restored to accentuate its British colonial heritage. Inside is a British gastropub called The Pawn, although you don’t need to buy bangers and mash to look around; the rooftop on the fourth floor is open to the public and is a great place for a picnic.
Visiting one of Lockhart Road's infamous hostess bars (locally termed "girlie bars") isn't recommended, but walking along this neon-lit strip while being hassled by mama-sans is still a Hong Kong experience. Made famous by the novel and film The World of Suzy Wong and visiting American servicemen on R&R from Vietnam, the "scene" isn’t as wild and steamy as it once was. But one stroll up Lockhart Road proves that the saunas and topless bars are still doing a booming business. In many ways, this is Wan Chai's most famous attraction.
See the Views at the Hopewell Centre
Once the tallest building in the city, the Hopewell Centre has been overshadowed by much loftier constructions. But if you want to get a birds-eye view of Wan Chai, then its glass-fronted elevators still can't be beaten. Rising from the third floor to the 52nd, the elevator zips up the outside of the building and affords fantastic vistas across the whole city. You'll find a revolving restaurant at the summit of the skyscraper, although the Cantonese food is priced as high as the setting.
You can follow the Wan Chai Heritage Trail to learn more about Wan Chai, one of the earliest settlements in Hong Kong. The trail (you can download a pamphlet in English from the website) is divided into two parts, architectural and cultural. The whole walk takes about two hours and has a total of 15 stops. The architectural trail includes Blue House, Wan Chai Market, and Nam Koo Terrace. The Pak Tai Temple, Old Wan Chai Post Office, and the Hung Shing Temple complete the cultural trail. Taking a stroll along this historic route is an easy and free way to experience not only the city’s culture but also to appreciate both its colonial and modern architecture.
Wan Chai has many Dim Sum restaurants where traditionally you order by the piece from little trolleys that are wheeled around the dining room. One of the most well-known Dim Sum establishments is Fook Lam Moon, where you can get a budget lunch with favorites such as har gau (a traditional Cantonese dumpling) and steamed spareribs.
An elegant (and pricey) place for Dim Sum is the Dynasty Restaurant at the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel. The fresh and creative offerings include things like truffle sauce vegetarian dumpling and crabmeat deep-fried toasts.
The Tai Yuen market is a colorful place packed with brightly colored gifts, housewares, clothing, and toys. You can find old-fashioned traditional toys as well as those colorful plastic toys that attract the eyes of children.
Located on Tai Yuen Street, the market has shops that represent the toys of the 1980s, the era when most toy manufacturing companies left Hong Kong for Mainland China. Along with the toys, you can pick up some great Chinese decorations for some ideal souvenirs.
The Wan Chai Computer Centre is the place to find modern electronics as well as that elusive part for an older piece of electronics. Walk inside and you'll find a collection of independent stall owners. The stores inside offer better prices than those located outside near the entrance. There is a Dell Experience Center where you can see the latest from this company as well as shops with a full range of popular brand name items, some with official warranties and some without.
The Hong Kong Tramway, with a 100-year history, is known as the “Ding Ding” tram because of the sound it makes when the driver steps on the brake. This slow-moving, double-decker tram goes from east to west across the northern shore of Hong Kong Island, connecting areas such as Central, Causeway Bay, and Wan Chai. It's an inexpensive way to go sightseeing, as you can ride all day for less than a dollar.