By LUXE City Guides; images by Calvin Sit
Urban up & Comer
Kwun Tong is being reborn. What was once Hong Kong’s industrial heartland is now becoming the city’s newest business district, complete with gleaming office towers and creative hotspots. Construction cranes are busy redeveloping the old Yue Man Square commercial zone into a new heart for the district.
But the transformation hasn’t lost sight of the past. What makes Kwun Tong so exciting is how the new is playing with the old. Inside its old industrial blocks, there are designers, musicians, entrepreneurs and artists, making this one of Hong Kong’s most creative districts. You’re as likely to discover an intriguing art installation as you are a new designer handbag when you explore Kwun Tong.
And it’s all very easy to get to. Hong Kong’s oldest and busiest MTR line channels through the district, connecting all of its neighbourhoods, from Kowloon Bay in the east to Yau Tong in the west, passing through Ngau Tau Kok, Kwun Tong and Lam Tin along the way.
The revitalisation of Kwun Tong’s old industrial areas isn’t the only story. In the far eastern part of the district, the centuries-old fishing village of Lei Yue Mun has become a popular destination for weekend seafood excursions. And just uphill, the 19th century military ruins of Devil’s Peak are attracting a new generation of explorers.
Stroll along the waterfront and enjoy one of the city’s best views at the Kwun Tong Promenade.
Learn about carbon-neutral architecture or just chill out at ZCB.
Have seafood cooked for you at the multitude of restaurants in Lei Yue Mun.
Climb Devil’s Peak and explore historic ruins with beautiful harbour views at Gough Battery.
Hunt for treasures in the Camel Paint Building, a secret shopping paradise.
Sip on craft beer in a cool factory complex at Moonzen Brewery.
Even as the rest of Kwun Tong’s Yue Man Square district is being redeveloped, Lucky Indonesia has held on, dishing up the same Indonesian classics it has served for decades. Old-school interiors feature tile walls and leather banquettes, and you can feast on dishes like gado-gado (a type of vegetable salad with peanut sauce), nasi goreng (fried rice) and satay. The food is delicious enough to have earned the restaurant a recommendation in the Michelin Guide.
46 Tung Ming Street, Kwun Tong, Kowloon (View on Map)
+852 2389 3545
Hong Kong’s high density means large open parks are a rarity, but they do exist — and one of the best is Jordan Valley Park, which sits high above Kwun Tong. Built atop a former landfill in 2011, the park is renowned for its sprawling lawns, which are popular on the weekend with picnicking families. They even helped spawn local group Lawnmap, which organises grassy cultural activities. Some of the park's other attractions include botanical gardens, a jogging track, a greenhouse and two model car racing circuits.
71 New Clear Water Bay Road, Kwun Tong, Kowloon (View on Map)
Designed to showcase the potential of carbon-neutral architecture, ZCB (Zero Carbon Building) includes a pavilion that hosts events and exhibitions. Built using sustainable construction materials, the pavilion is powered by rooftop solar panels. Age-old techniques like cross-ventilation, a wind catcher and shading devices keep the building cool, while more high-tech features include a lift powered by its own kinetic energy. The surrounding green area is a pleasant respite from Kowloon Bay’s office and industrial blocks, and there’s also a park cafe, & Square Cafe, where you can sit outdoors with a coffee, wine or beer.
Contemporary art gallery Osage has been based in Kwun Tong since 2004. Its current space on Hing Yip Street is a destination for thought-provoking exhibitions, with a particularly strong emphasis on Southeast Asian art. For years, Osage has supported Hong Kong artists like Adrian Wong, who is known for his cheeky, psychology-based installations and performances, and Wilson Shieh, an illustrator who uses classical Chinese ink art techniques to reference contemporary Hong Kong life.
Few tourists ever visit this Kowloon Bay housing estate, but it’s a window into typical Hong Kong neighbourhood life. Take a break in the so-called “mushroom huts,” a cluster of dining pavilions so named because of the distinctive shape of their roofs. Nestled under a grove of towering horsetail trees, the mushroom huts are home to restaurants that dish up traditional Cantonese cuisine — think steamed fish, sweet and sour pork and spicy black bean clams — as well as afternoon tea time snacks. It’s as authentic a Hong Kong experience as you can get.
18 Kai Yip Road, Kowloon Bay, Kowloon (View on Map)
This multidisciplinary space is at once a gallery, lifestyle shop and cafe, with a spacious terrace overlooking the bustle of How Ming Street below. Dedicated to the art of living well, HOW Department promotes a happy lifestyle through handcrafted furniture and homeware, much of it imported from Japan. The cafe serves healthy comfort food like spaghetti with portobello mushrooms and there’s even an on-site hair stylist who keeps up to date with the latest Japanese trends.
For trends, food, shopping, relaxation
When renowned Swiss architect Jacques Herzog was in Hong Kong on one of his regular visits, he noted that some of the buildings he found most inspiring were the city’s giant industrial blocks: huge concrete edifices studded with mismatched windows, old signs and air conditioning units. “They’re ugly,” he said. “But full of individual life.”
For decades, Kwun Tong was one of Hong Kong’s biggest industrial hubs. Then the factories relocated to mainland China, leaving an abundance of relatively affordable space in a city where space is a luxury. Designers, musicians and small businesses began to move in, giving new life to the foreboding industrial structures.
Today, the transformation is obvious. Just head to the Kwun Tong Promenade, a former recycling depot that is now one of the city’s most attractive harbourside parks. Bands often play shows underneath the nearby highway flyover, with an old flour mill as a backdrop, while an illuminated steel sculpture pays homage to the giant bales of paper that once occupied the waterfront.
Wander a few minutes away and you’ll come across sleek new office towers and shopping malls. The government hopes to transform Kwun Tong into a new central business district called CBD2 and this plan is already bearing fruit. In Kowloon Bay, on the district’s western edge, the 19-storey shopping mecca MegaBox towers over a rapidly changing skyline of new office towers.
Just across the street, you’ll find ZCB, an experimental project and parkland designed to showcase the potential of carbon-neutral architecture. The park pavilion often hosts exhibitions, but even if there’s nothing going on, it’s a pleasant place to chill out.
Wine-loving tycoon Pan Sutong is one of the people involved in transforming the area. He recently completed a new office tower on Kai Cheung Road housing four upscale restaurants. The flagship eatery is Le Pan, whose vast wine cellar is matched by the experimental French food of Singaporean chef Edward Voon.
“Basically, I’m self-taught and I was attracted to French cuisine by the discipline and precision that are required to do it well,” Voon says. “It’s a cuisine with a strong personality, which I love. I’ve always been artistic and I find contemporary French food very beautiful. Creating and presenting it is like theatre to me.”
For all the slick newcomers to Kwun Tong, however, the area’s spirit still dwells in its old industrial buildings. You’ll find treasures in places like the Camel Paint Building, a huge multi-block outlet shopping complex where people flock to find the latest cosmetics and fashion — along with wine, craft beer, camping gear and pretty much anything else you can think of.
Not far away, you’ll find places like Marble, Print & Clay, a printmaking studio run by artists David Jasper Wong, Bambi Lam and Terence Leung. It hosts regular workshops and events. Lam says they were surprised to find many old-fashioned, one-man print shops still in operation when they moved to Kwun Tong. “They all give us their opinion,” he says, laughing.
Start from Zero is another neighbourhood studio. Founded by local graffiti artists Dom and Katol, the brand has now branched out to include woodworking and interior design, and they throw open their doors to the public on many weekends.
Kwun Tong’s spacious industrial units have long given people the opportunity to explore their interests in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a high-priced commercial space. Former cinematographer Fung Wing-kuen takes advantage of this to store his vast collection of vintage and antique objects. You’ll find everything from mid-century lamps to old apothecary cabinets to classic bicycles in his space, which is called Simple Living. Fung says he started by collecting cameras. “Later on, I couldn’t stop.”
End your day of industrial exploration with a visit to Moonzen Brewery, located on the second floor of a Shing Yip Street factory complex. “We want our beers to tell stories,” says founder Laszlo Raphael. Some are inspired by Chinese mythology, like the Jade Emperor IPA, while others tap into Chinese ingredients: the Yama Porter is made with Sichuan peppercorns, while the Flaming Mountains is made with muscat grapes harvested in far-west Xinjiang province.
The brewery has a stylish taproom stocked with antique furniture, beer ageing in ceramic yellow wine pots and images of Chinese gods screen-printed by Marble, Print & Clay. You would never know it was there from the grimy industrial corridor outside, but every Friday, Moonzen invites the public to tours and tastings: a lot of life behind an unassuming facade.
For history, culture, food, hiking
Every Mid-Autumn Festival, families gather on the beach at Lei Yue Mun to eat mooncakes and burn candles. It’s a special spot: one of the last bits of natural shoreline on Victoria Harbour, bordered by a picturesque rock and stilt houses that frame a glorious view of Hong Kong’s skyline.
Those families aren’t the only ones who have taken advantage of the location. The villages of Lei Yue Mun are some of Hong Kong’s oldest settlements for a reason. They sit at the narrowest point in the harbour, and for centuries have been a haven for seafarers and their families. At first, there were pirates; they were eventually replaced by fishermen and miners who worked in the nearby quarries. Today, Lei Yue Mun is a favourite stop for seafood lovers, but it offers even more than fresh fish and razor clams.
Although it feels a world apart from the hustle of urban Hong Kong, Lei Yue Mun is just a short walk from MTR Yau Tong Station. You’ll know you have arrived when you spot the fishing boats moored in the Sam Ka Tsuen typhoon shelter. From there, a pedestrian promenade takes you into a covered arcade lined by tanks of live sea creatures.
If you’re in the mood for seafood, the procedure is simple. Find a restaurant and inspect their tank. Do you feel like lobster? Crab? Geoduck? Clams? They’re all there, kept alive in seawater. You just need to point at whatever is making your stomach grumble and the restaurant staff will fetch your dinner, take it to the kitchen and prepare it in classic Cantonese fashion.
There are dozens of seafood restaurants in Lei Yue Mun and competition is fierce, but a few stand out above the rest. Gateway Cuisine is known for having the best view, thanks to its unobstructed waterfront location. Happy Seafood is praised for its baked lobster with cheese and steamed scallops with garlic and glass noodles. Lung Tang Restaurant makes an excellent Chiu Chow-style cold flower crab.
After dinner, don’t forget “Shui Heung Yuen for some sweets,” advises Alexandre Fontaine, who makes sure to stop by the bakery whenever he is in Lei Yue Mun. Founded by confectioner Lee Kui in 1957, the shop is known for Chinese-style pastries like wife cakes, coconut cakes and almond cakes.
As you approach the beach, seafood restaurants give way to small houses, but there’s reason to press on. The Lei Yue Mun Wishing Tree is a wishbone-shaped banyan invested with good fortune. Passersby tie ribbons to the tree in the hopes of improving their luck.
Keep going and you will soon arrive at the Tin Hau Temple, built more than 200 years ago in honour of the goddess of the sea. Although there are more than 100 temples dedicated to Tin Hau in Hong Kong, this one is particularly atmospheric, tucked behind giant boulders inscribed with messages of good fortune. There’s even a historic cannon — a reminder of the days when piracy was rampant in Hong Kong.
When the British arrived in Hong Kong in 1841, piracy was just one of their concerns. They were also worried about invasion by competing empires — especially Russia — so in the late 19th century, they built a network of batteries and redoubts around the harbour. Just 20 minutes uphill from the Tin Hau Temple is Devil’s Peak, home to the ruins of the century-old Gough Battery.
You’ll find the remnants of bunkers, sentry posts, explosives magazines and gun emplacements. “It’s interesting to wander through a war relic in a city that has a relatively peaceful history,” says hiking enthusiast Daryl Chan. The battery saw intense fighting during the Japanese invasion in 1941, but for most of its history, it has sat idle, except for the weekend visitors who come to admire the ruins.
It’s an easy excursion. “The hike is not too strenuous but it provides a great view of the harbour,” says Chan. You can see the narrows of Lei Yue Mun just below — and it’s easy to understand why generations of pirates, fishermen, military planners and now weekend visitors have found this watery passage so alluring.
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