Revisiting Hong Kong’s Western district


The Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences 


Last year I wrote about Hong Kong’s mid-levels and Sheung Wan districts, and within a year, the streetscape has changed immensely in this rapidly-changing city, so I have returned to see what is new and how things have changed.

My journey began from Mid-Level’s Caine Road, the once quiet residential street is now more bustling than ever thanks to the opening of new cafes and eateries. One of the new addition is IPC foodlab (38A), an organic cafe that advocates locally grown produce. The cafe provides eat-in or takeaway options and sells a range of healthy food products from around the world. Right next to it is Maison Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger Café, the French boulanger’s third outlet in Hong Kong. Aside from the bakery, there is also a small bar area for quick lunched/coffees, although the sandwiches are pricey, the quality is high. Another good lunch option is il bel paese (85), a long-standing Italian deli/grocery shop that has a few tables in the quiet back room where one can have a simple meal or coffee.


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Top left: IPC foodlab; top right: Rosie Jean’s cafe; bottom left: salad at il bel paese; Bottom right: Freshness coffee


It is hard to miss the global coffee craze in recent years, and as a coffee lover, I would be more than happy try a new independent coffee shop than the regular chains. And this craze is evident on the west side on Caine street as there are three new cafes here including the kids-friendly Rosie Jean’s Cafe (119), which provides a playground on the terrace for kids to play while parents can chill inside; one for the grown up and coffee connaisseur, Filters lane (111); and a cosy and friendly Freshness coffee (138). Having tasted Filter Lane‘s americano and drip filter, I would say that latter tastes better as I find their americano too acidic for my liking. Like Filter Lane, Freshness coffee is opened by a coffee enthusiast, I enjoyed their coffee but I found the service a bit too attentive, which made me feel slightly uneasy as I was the only customer there at the time.


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Flats or trainers are preferable here as there are steps and slopes everywhere…


The central and the western district of Hong Kong is full of steps and slopes, so high-heels are not recommended if you intend to walk a lot around this area. Ladder Street is one of the famous street (or rather steps) that starts from Queen’s Road Central and ends on Caine Road. And the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences is just off Ladder Street and 5 mins walk from Caine Road.


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Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences


Shamefully when I lived in Hong Kong (quite a while ago), I rarely visited local museums and I only found out about this ‘hidden’ museum in recent years. Established in 1996, this unique institution charts the historical development of medical sciences in Hong Kong. The institute occupies the original site of The Old Bacteriological institute, established in 1906 as the first purpose-built medical laboratory in Hong Kong and later the Pathological Institute. The listed Edwardian style architecture is a hidden gem in Hong Kong and it even has a small but pleasant herbal garden. The entrance fee to the museum is $20, and visitors can wander around the 11 galleries including a temporary exhibition on the ground floor. The museum is not very big but there are many interesting displays including x-rays of bounded feet, old medical tools and equipments, and information on historical events such as plagues to recent epidemic outbreaks in Hong Kong. I am glad that many original architectural details have been preserved inside the building, and it is one of the few places left in Hong Kong where visitors can imagine what it used to be like back in the colonial days.


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 Po Hing Fong – 2nd & bottom row left: Po’s Atelier; bottom right: Blake garden


The back of the entrance of the museum are steps that lead me to Po Hing Fong and Blake garden, an area where the bubonic plague broke out in Hong Kong back in 1894. Now the area is becoming trendier where new shops and cafes can be found, and one of them is Po’s Atelier (62 Po Hing Fong), a artisinal bakery/cafe opened by Japanese baker and chef, Masami Asano. I bought a small but pricey Oolong tea-flavoured loaf to try and I found it ok rather than outstanding. Right next to it is Cafe Deadend that serves food all day in a relaxing setting. Nearby on Tai Ping Shan Street, there is also a new tea house, Teakha, which is popular with tea lovers.


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Square Street – 2nd row left & middle: Droog; 2nd row right: Square Street; Bottom left: Saffron bakery cafe; Bottom right: Lof 10, a new cafe on Lam Terrace


Walking towards the east, I was pleasantly surprised by Dutch design collective, Droog‘s new store in Hong Kong on Square Street (47). Aside from the store, it also offers a gallery, dining room, outdoor kitchen, rooftop terrace and a bedroom. I love the calories-calculating stairs, it’s humourous, quirky and very ‘droog’.

Further down, there is a lifestyle/fashion accessoires shop Square Street (15) founded by Swedish designers, David Ericsson and Alexis Holm. All products here are designed and developed by the founders themselves, David is the designer of VOID Watches while Alexis is the designer of gram Footwear.


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Top left & right: Man Mo cafe; Main: Bibo and Upper Lascar Row; 3rd & bottom row left: Cupping room; Bottom right: Catfe


Upper Lascar Row or Cat street has been a popular tourist attraction for years because of the row of antique shops and stalls here. Bargains and authentic items are hard to find these days, but with two new eateries, the street is no longer confined to tourists or bargain seekers.

Bibo is a new art-centric French restaurant that showcases installations and works from established names from Basquiat, Kusama, Hirst, Koons, and Murakami to Banksy, Kaws and Invader. Further down is Man Mo cafe, a new fusion dim sum cafe opened by a Swiss chef. I had lunch with my friend here and we really enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere. However, the dim sum was slightly hit and miss, some dishes were excellent while some were average. Yet it is a courageous move for this expat to reinvent dim sum in a city that is well known for it.

On Queens Road Central, the Assie-style Cupping Room is popular choice for coffee lovers. The cafe is bright and modern, accompanied by friendly and attentive service. The owner of the cafe is a 2-time Hong Kong Barista Champion, and the cafe is renowned for their single origin filter coffees (brewed to order). I was recommended Boa Vista and it arrived with some information on its origin and taste. The coffee does not come with milk, which shows how ‘serious’ they are about the coffee… for around $60 per cup, it is not something that I would order daily, so this was a treat for me. On Jervois street nearby, there are also two cafes where serious coffee is being served including the tiny Catfe (85) and Barista Jam (126-128).


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King George V memorial park


Over the past decade, new restaurants, shops and galleries have all moved upwards and westwards from Central, and this gentrification has caused business owners to look beyond Sheung Wan towards the more residential Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town.

The word Sai means “west” and Ying Pun means “camp”, especially military camp because this was where the early British military stayed. One of the landmark in the area is the King George V memorial park built in 1936, the year that King George V died. Built on a slope, the masonry walls of the park were found to be the remnant of an important medical complex in early Hong Kong. There are many old trees growing on the walls here and it is quite relaxing to walk under the shades. At the moment, part of the park is closed due to a new MTR station being built here, things will no doubt change a lot when the station finally opens later in the year.


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Top left: La Rotisserie on Third Street; the rest: Glow on Second Street


Apart from the MTR station, the completion of the city’s second outdoor escalator on Centre Street (right by the Centre Street market) has also brought about changes to the area. On both High street and Second Street, new Western style restaurants are opening up constantly. I stumbled upon a small oyster bar and seafood grill, Glow on Second Street and decided to try it out. The lunch set included a ceasar salad, garlic bread and half a grilled lobster with a side purple potato mash. And together with coffee, the bill came to HK$168, which is fairly reasonable for the quality and environment.


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Top left and middle: Centre Street and the new escalator; top right: Centre Street market; 2nd row left: a noodle shop; 2nd row middle, right & 3rd row left: Tsi Lai Heung Egg Roll Shop


Like the original escalator in Soho, this new escalator has brought convenience to the local residents and injected a new vibe to the area, but the downside is that property and rental prices are now soaring. This also means local businesses have been squeezed out and the once vibrant local community will soon disappear.

I love the small traditional family-run shops in Hong Kong, but sadly they are disappearing quicker than the opening of Starbucks. Years ago, my friend took me to Tsi Lai Heung Egg Roll Shop on Third Street (66) where egg rolls and other traditional Chinese sweets are freshly made by hand on the premise. I don’t come here often but when I do, I can never resist buying a few packets of egg rolls, ‘Phoenix roll’ (a flat egg roll filled with shredded coconut) and other traditional snacks because the quality is so much better than the prepacked ones from other more well-known brands.

Further down on Centre Street, there is a long-standing dessert shop, Yuen Kee (32), which is famous for their traditional Chinese dessert soups like sweet almond, black sesame or walnut. This family business has been around for a hundred years, and the current owner is the third-generation of their family. The place has barely changed over the years, yet it remains popular with the locals, people don’t just come for the desserts but also for nostalgic reasons. It would be a real shame to see these shops disappear due to gentrification in the area.


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Top left: Kau Yan Tsung Tsin Church; the rest: the old Tsan Yuk Maternity Hospital & The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage


My last stop in the area ends at The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage (CACHe), a non-profit conservation group on 36A Western Street. At first, I did not realise that the entrance to the centre is actually on Third Street, but I was happy to wander around the old Tsan Yuk Maternity Hospital (now the Western District Community Centre). The three-storey Georgian style building is a listed building built in 1922. The maternity hospital was opened by the English missionary group London Missionary Society, but it eventually moved to a new premise on Hospital Road (opposite the King George V memorial park) in 1955 due to bed shortages and limited places for patients.

It took me a while to find the entrance as it was covered by scaffolding, but once inside, I was pleasantly surprised to see many original architectural features like the windows, fireplaces and high ceiling. In the main room, there was an exhibition Hong Kong in the Storm – Hong Kong Typhoon Historical Photo Exhibition showcasing many historical photos and invaluable collectibles that documents the history of Typhoons in Kong Kong. The centre also organises workshops, talks and walks related to Hong Kong’s heritage, so it is worth checking the website out for future events.


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Walking in the area, I noticed some old ‘tong laus’ (tenement buildings built in late 19th century to the 1960s) and it would be sad to see these buildings being demolished. Gentrification is not the issue, but the government or urban planning team needs to get more involved to maintain a balance between the old and the new. I hope that even when the new MTR station opens, the area will not completely lose its authentic feel, but then again, this may only be my wishful thinking.



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