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COOLEST STREET IN TOWN, Tai Ping Shan Street, Tai Ping Shan (太平山), Hong Kong

Perhaps it is the lack of traffic, or its proximity to the adjacent business and entertainment quarters in Central, Tai Ping Shan Street in Poho is like no other residential street in Hong Kong. It has its dark history of the 1894 plague, and forgotten stories of the early Chinese migrant workers. It has its fair amount of heritage buildings, old temples, side street deadends and stone staircases to construct a certain kind of vintage and causal ambience. It could be precisely the unique and rich cultural history and the causal mood of the area that have attracted a diverse community to station in the area, making Tai Ping Shan Street the coolest neighborhood in Hong Kong. A few years ago, some travel magazines and websites put Sheung Wan as one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods, and it was largely due to Tai Ping Shan Street in the district. The excitement of Tai Ping Shan Street originates from the influx of artists, designers, expats, and young residents who come to look for a more tranquil alternative to the nearby Soho. Gradually, it has become an interesting example of what Jane Jacobs would describes as a successful neighborhood focused on pedestrian permeability, mixed public uses, buildings of various ages, diversity of inhabitants, vibrancy of commercial and community activities, etc. While Teakha (trendy tea shop), Homey (family run cafe), Green Ginkgo Tea (Japanese lifestyle tea house), Frantzén’s Kitchen (Michelin recommended Nordic cuisine), Crit Room (sleek Italian cuisine), Reserva Iberica (ham shop), Espana Espana (Spanish fine dining), CRAFTISSIMO (international crafted beer), support a strong contemporary culinary scene, Fo Kee(科記), Yuk Kin(郁健) and Sun Bor Kee (新波記) continue to offer local fast food (street eatery) at street corners where neighbours and pet dogs mingle throughout the day. Art galleries, fashion boutiques, designer pop up shops, and hair stylists open their business just a few meters away from a cluster of the city’s oldest temples. The juxtaposition of the old and new, east and west, reveals the core spirit of what Hong Kong culture is all about. Apart from the exciting foodie scene and designer stores, Mount Zero Books has stood out in recent years as the hub that has brought the Poho community together. Situated at a dead end, the bookstore often organizes events right outside their door, fostering a strong community bonding. This is the bygone sense of community that has somehow disappeared in time as Hong Kong is being developed into a global financial hub. All the above excitement is miraculously packed in less than 200m of the one way street, forming some lovely streetscape that won’t be found anywhere else in Hong Kong.

But Tai Ping Shan Street wasn’t always about the stylish and trendy. Lying one street lower than Po Hing Fong, Tai Ping Shan Street was once the densest neighborhood in the Victoria City during the 19th century. While the terraces around Po Hing Fong and U Lam Terrace were home to upper and middle class Chinese residents, Tai Ping Shan Street was cramped with shared housing for migrant workers arriving from Qing Imperial China seeking opportunities in Colonial Hong Kong. Most of them had families in Canton or beyond, and they hardly knew anyone when they first arrived. The Buddhist temples, especially Pak Shing Temple (百姓廟), served as the main community hub for these newcomers. Free meals and accommodation were provided for the sick. When one passed away, body of the deceased would be stored in the temple for later transport back to Mainland China, or for simple burial in the nearby Po Yan Street near the current Tung Wah Hospital. News of the poor living environment and dire treatment of the sick and dead circulated back to London, forcing the colonial government to support local charity groups to establish Tung Wah Hospital as the city’s first hospital in 1870 to treat the locals with Chinese medicine (as most Chinese refused to take Western medicine during that time). Then the plague came in 1894 and the government was determined to tackle the poor living conditions of Tai Ping Shan by clearing some buildings to make way for the Blake Garden, and building the city’s first public toilet and shower facility at Tai Ping Shan Street. The area was cleaned up as time went by, but among the older generations, Tai Ping Shan is still haunted by the memories of the sick and dead. Even today, coffin stores and funeral homes still exist around the area, reminding people its darker past despite its contemporary bohemian flair. Today, Tai Ping Shan remains as the rare location in the city where a pub or a hamburger eatery can coexist with a coffin store side by side. It is the juxtaposition of paradoxes and clashes of cultures that make Tai Ping Shan Street and the Poho area the coolest neighbourhood in Hong Kong.

Staffordshire Regiment cleaning plague houses in Tai Ping Shan in 1894.
[Credit: Wellcome Library, London. http://wellcomeimages.org. Creative Commons CC BY 4.0]
More than 100 years after the plague, Tai Ping Shan Street emerges from its shadows to become a neighborhood full of charming ambience.
Just a block west of the vibrant Soho entertainment district, a short flight of steps leads us to the tranquil Tai Ping Shan Street.
In the midst of trendy tea shops, sleek cafes, and fine dining restaurants, the local street eatery Yuk Kin (郁鍵) continues to serve up simple and hearty meals to all. Their corner location makes it a welcoming magnet for pedestrians and neighbours. It is one of our usual places to go for breakfast and lunch takeouts.
Selling a fashion philosophy of East meets West, Yi-ming Cheongsam Boutique finds Tai Ping Shan Street its perfect home to sell its cross-cultural style that combines traditional Oriental aesthetics and craftsmanship with contemporary Western styles and design.
Minimalist shopfront works fine for Khromis, a bespoke eyeglasses boutique featuring Italian design and Japanese craftsmanship, and Green Ginkgo, a tiny refreshing cafe where people come for matcha gelato and strawberry waffle.
Further down the road, Nordic gastronomy is another attraction of Tai Ping Shan Street. Operated by celebrity chef Bjorn Frantzen, Frantzén’s Kitchen is a sister restaurant of Frantzén in Stockholm, Sweden’s only 3 star restaurant in the Michelin Guide.
Just a few steps away from Frantzén’s Kitchen, Reserva Iberica also has its ties to Europe as an extension to the Reserva Iberica ham shop in Barcelona.
Tai Ping Shan Street is a magnet for designers, artists and craftsmen. Small art exhibitions and handicraft workshops often attract outsiders to the street during weekends.
The charming streetscape ot Tai Ping Shan Street provides the perfect setting to indulge ourselves to be nostalgic to Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love.
Branching out from Tai Ping Shan Street, Tank Lane is full of interesting street art and a small deity shrine.
Flanked both sides by century old temples, a flight of stair leads us to the lower part of Tai Ping Shan Street.
Close to 200 years old, the Kwun Yum (Chinese Goddess of Mercy) Temple is a remnant of a larger temple nearby and one of the oldest temples in the city. Just a metal door separates the historical temple with the display window of Artyze, a private gallery that promotes works of new talents in Asia Pacific.
Tai Shui Temple (太歲廟) is dedicated to the 60 Taoist heavenly generals. It is popular for worshipers to pray for good fortune whenever one’s birth year clashes with the zodiac of a particular year.
Across from Kwun Yum Temple, the Shui Yuet (Water and Moon) Temple is dedicated to Kwun Yum in her pre-Goddress state as a Bodhisattva with 1000 hands.
At the lower section of Tai Ping Shan Street, Kwong Fuk Ancestral Hall (廣福義祠) or Pak Shing Temple (百姓廟) is the biggest tourist attraction. Built in 1851, the temple is very significant for anyone who is interested in the history of Hong Kong. It is the temple dedicated to the ghosts of Chinese migrant workers who passed away in the colony.
Kwong Fuk Ancestral Hall also served as a charity facility to house the sick and a temporary morgue. It was the poor hygiene of the temple that led to public awareness about the healthcare needs of the Chinese, leading to the establishment of Tung Wah Hospital at the western end of Tai Ping Shan Street.
In response to the 1894 plague, the British colonial government erected the city’s first public bathhouse at the intersection of Pound Lane and Tai Ping Shan Street, right next to Kwong Fuk Ancestral Hall. The original building was built in 1904 as the first permanent public bathhouse for both men and women free of charge. The current multi-storey bathhouse was built in 1960.
Beyond the funky and trendy, in our opinion the most lovely spot on the entire Tai Ping Shan Street is Mount Zero Books. Situated at the deadend of a short side street, Mount Zero has become a community hub for all of us living in the neighborhood. They often make use of the deadend area to host community events such as flea market, movie nights, poetry reading, etc.
Often, they would host events before big festivals such as Christmas and Chinese New Year. Of course, that would not happen this year due to the pandemic.
In January 2019, a vibrant fair to celebrated the upcoming Chinese New Year was held in front of Mount Zero.
That day, we had a great time shopping for handicrafts, books, and artworks. Since then, we would check out Mount Zero every now and then, just to be part of the delightful community of the fascinating Tai Ping Shan Street.

SLOW LIVING IN POHO, Tai Ping Shan (太平山), Hong Kong

Staycation has become a new normal for most of us. Since the pandemic began in early 2020, international tourism has come to a complete halt. We have taken this peculiar opportunity to explore Hong Kong, walking away from our usual routes, making detours into unfamiliar alleyways, and find out more about the city’s fading memories. In the next little while, we are going to write about Hong Kong, the city where we stationed ourselves since 2014. Out of the city’s 1,106 sq. km of land, we will first focus on places within 15 – 20 minutes of walking distance from our apartment, in a 2.5 sq.km area between Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbour that we consider as our own neighborhood.

In the shadow of Hong Kong’s glittering skyline lies the historical Tai Ping Shan area (太平山) in Sheung Wan District (上環). Hundreds if not thousands of staircases crisscross the terraced terrain where streets are often narrow, steep and sometimes inaccessible to cars. Centered around the streets of Po Hing Fong and Tai Ping Shan, a fashionable neighborhood known as Poho has been the focus of the Tai Ping Shan area for quite some time. A diverse combination of fine dining restaurants, causal eateries, sleepy cafes, wine store, cheese and ham shop, antique shops, cool boutiques, bookstores, barber shops, Buddhist temples, churches, schools, small design offices, small museums, youth centres, residential apartments, etc make up a multifaceted community that is quite unique in Hong Kong, not to mention the rich architectural history and collective memories since the founding of the city. Poho is a neighborhood where east meets west, traditions collide with contemporary trends, elderly mingle with young expats, and where the beauty of urban diversity still prevails over the hustle of urban gentrification.

On 20 January 1841, the British landed on the shore of Sheung Wan and established 156 years of colonial rule on Hong Kong island. Just east of Sheung Wan, the British picked the waterfront and hillside area known as Central to established the heart of their newly founded Victoria City, the capital city of Colonial Hong Kong. On the slope of Sheung Wan just above the British landing spot, the city’s first Chinese residential neighborhood Tai Ping Shan emerged right away and soon developed into the densest place in Hong Kong. Wealthy Chinese businessmen mingled with newcomers from China looking for job opportunities in this dense neighborhood. A devastating plague in 1894 swept through the streets of Tai Ping Shan, and completely transformed the physical characteristics of the neighborhood as the British decided to tackle the density and hygiene of the area and established the first hospital catered for Chinese patients. Since then, Tai Ping Shan never looked back and has transformed into the cool Poho. With the world’s most expensive property prices, Hong Kong is a synonym for rapid urban transformations. Residents across the city are used transient living conditions throughout their lives. Poho’s narrow alleyways and staircases have somehow managed to escape dramatic changes and remained a tranquil but energetic urban oasis just a stone throw away from the world famous financial district.

Centered around the pleasant Blake Garden, the POHO area of Tai Ping Shan has become a fashionable neighborhood in recent years. While the century-old temples and trendy cafes and bookstore on Tai Ping Shan Street make up a beautifully diverse community that is rare in Hong Kong, the Old Pathological Institute (Museum of Medical Sciences), Blake Garden, Pak Shing Temple and Tung Wah Hospital have all played its crucial role in the distant memory of the 1894 plague.
The pedestrian streets and stairs in Tai Ping Shan are popular for all kinds of filming, from movies, television series to advertisements. U Lam Terrace (儒林台), one of the several pedestrian only terraces built in the early years of Hong Kong.
At the corner of U Lam Terrace and Tank Lane, the sleepy cafe Lof10 has become a popular hub for dog owners in our neighborhood.
Reached at either end by stairs only, the pedestrian only U Lam Terrace is a pleasant example of Hong Kong residential terrace from a bygone era. “U Lam” literally means “forest of scholars” in Chinese.
The vintage ambience of Poho attracts nostalgic visitors during weekends.
Once the densest neighborhood in the city, a century later Poho becomes a livable neighborhood sandwiched between the waterfront business district and the affluent Mid Levels.
Opened in 1906, the Bacteriological Institute was a medical laboratory to tackle the plague and other infectious diseases in Hong Kong. Vaccines were produced in the building until 1970s. The building was named the Old Pathological Institute in the 1960s after the main facility was moved to a newer building. It was turned into the Museum of Medical Sciences in 1996.
The 1894 plague in Hong Kong claimed thousands, and forced one third of the city’s population to flee. Originated from the Chinese province of Yunnan, the plague arrived in Hong Kong in 1894 and through Hong Kong’s maritime trade, eventually spread to all continents in the world except Antarctica.
A historical staircase adjacent to the Museum of Medical Sciences leads to Po Hing Fong (普慶坊), a century old neighborhood of wealthy Chinese.
In recent years, Po Hing Fong has been transformed into a trendy spot in recent years. Named after Po Hing Fong, this area of Tai Ping Shan is now commonly referred to as Poho, a haven of slow living: hand drip coffee, European bakery, private gallery, pottery workshop, artist studios, vintage clothing, yoga workshop, etc.
Compared to the dazzling Soho entertainment district nearby, Poho is relatively peaceful, causal, and warm.
Below Caine Lane and behind Capo pizza shop hides the lovely Tutu clay workshop.
Between Po Hing Fong and Tai Ping Shan Street lies Blake Garden (卜公花園). As the epicenter of the 1894 plague, buildings in this part of Tai Ping Shan were bought and demolished by the British colonial government and turned into Blake Garden.
Today, Blake Garden is a small urban park with hard courts for football, basketball, badminton and volleyball.
Given the density and the sloped terrain of Hong Kong Island, Blake Garden is a precious open space for the Poho neighborhood.
Sleepy cafes of Po Hing Fong have become popular gathering spots for expats, creative professionals and the young generation.
Another stair street known as Pound Lane connects Po Hing Fong to higher terraces.
Landings between stair streets have become venues for more cafes, galleries, yoga workshops in recent years.
The tranquil Tai On Terrace (大安臺) above Po Hing Fong has attracted small design companies to set up their offices in an urban oasis kind of setting in just 15 minute of walking distance to the city’s financial centre.
The western end of Po Hing Fong stands Tung Wah Hospital. Established in 1870, Tung Wah Hospital was the first hospital in Hong Kong to receive Chinese patients. Due to the mistrust to Western medicine in the past, the hospital originally treated patients with Chinese medicine. Before Tung Wah Hospital, Chinese patients preferred going to Pak Shing Temple in Tai Ping Shan Street for treatment and a peaceful death.
A 1870 photograph taken from Tung Wah Hospital looking southeast towards Po Hing Fong and Caine Road. A group of houses in the left part of the photo would be torn down in 1894 to tackle the plague outbreak.
[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]