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Hong Kong: Old is gold in Sham Shui Po

Tai Nan Street in Sham Shui Po has been featured heavily in films such as Transformers: Age of Extinction and Rush Hour 2. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Tai Nan Street in Sham Shui Po has been featured heavily in films such as Transformers: Age of Extinction and Rush Hour 2. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Graffiti on shop shutters and buildings add to Sham Shui Po's vibrance. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Graffiti on shop shutters and buildings add to Sham Shui Po's vibrance. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Kwan Tai Temple in Sham Shui Po. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Kwan Tai Temple in Sham Shui Po. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Its old-world feel belies its appeal to almost any type of traveller

Sham Shui Po’s signboard strewn streets are easily recognisable as the icon of 1960s Hong Kong.

Despite being one of the earliest areas in Hong Kong to be developed, Sham Shui Po’s rustic charm continues to draw photographers, artists and filmmakers to it even to this day.

On weekends, its streets and alleys overflow with people looking to find the best deals at flea market stalls, or sample some of the best street food in the territory.

No matter where your interests lie, there is something for everyone in Sham Shui Po. Follow our handy guide to see where to go:

For the foodie

The cha chaan teng and roadside stalls (dai pai dong) at Sham Shui Po have been around since the 1960s.

Sham Shui Po Street Food
The roadside stalls in Sham Shui Po offers interesting street food. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Kwei Lin Street is one of the most popular places to grab something to eat. While the whole stretch is lined with delicious fare both local and international, Hop Yik Tai is where you want to be.

Its signature dish, rice rolls (chee cheong fun) served with soya and sesame sauces, netted them a place in the Michelin Guide 2018. The eatery is so popular that a queue starts forming an hour before its 6.30am opening time.

Another Michelin Guide award winner on Kwei Lin Street is Kwan Kee Store, which makes all sorts of traditional Hong Kong confections such as white sugar sponge cake and Malay steamed cake fresh. But by far the most popular item on the menu is its red bean pudding cake (put chai ko) — which you simply must try, or risk kicking yourself.

But you can’t visit Sham Shui Po without stopping by Fuk Wing Street, where Kowloon’s most famous dim sum spot is located.

Be prepared to wait for at least half an hour for a table at Tim Ho Wan, in the territory where it was born. Still, its barbecued pork buns are definitely worth the wait.

For the tech geek

The Golden Computer Centre in Fuk Wa Street is akin to Singapore’s Sim Lim Square. The shops here sell everything from motherboards to graphics cards, to processors and random-access memory (RAM) upgrades — in short, anything you might need to overhaul or construct your personal computer.

If you like being surprised by random finds, head to the Apliu Street Flea Market. Stalls typically open from 10am to about 8pm Mondays to Saturdays, while Sundays and public holidays see them open slightly later, around 12.30pm.

Apliu Street
Stalls at Apliu Street Flea Market typically open from 10am to about 8pm Mondays to Saturdays, while Sundays and public holidays see them open slightly later, around 12.30pm. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Known jokingly as the “men’s paradise”, the stalls along the street offer a whole menagerie of odds and ends. Pick up an old film camera for your collection, or get a box of diodes for your next soldering project.

Apliu Street is also one of the best places to get camera gear at competitive prices — be it lenses, flash units or other accessories. Many of the more established shops, like Ying Kee Trading, have been around for decades, and are known worldwide for their extensive catalogues. If you are paying by cash, you can try asking the staff for further discounts.

For the aspiring fashion designer

A vital part of Sham Shui Po’s history is its status as a hub for textiles and fabrics.

During the post-war period of the 1950s, many Chinese immigrants flocked to Sham Shui Po as refugees. Most of them started dressmaking boutiques and fabric shops to eke out a living, accelerating the district’s light-industry growth, a period that extended well into the 1960s.

Today, the dressmaking boutiques have all but disappeared, either having shut down or moved to different districts like Tsim Sha Tsui. However, the textile shops are still out in full force, particularly on Nam Cheong Street and Ki Lung Street.

Fabrics at Nam Cheong Street
A dizzying array of textiles can be found along Nam Cheong Street and Ki Lung Street. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

The latter, known colloquially as Button Street, boasts iconic pop-up stalls that sell fabric by the yard. It is one of the cheapest places to buy fabric in Hong Kong — but be prepared to make wholesale purchases.

Most shops will only sell you fabric in lengths of three to five yards, but those on a budget can buy scraps that will set you back roughly $20 HKD (S$3.42) apiece.

Wet Market Sham Shui Po
The streets in Sham Shui Po are full of life. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

For the photographer or artist

The weathered concrete of the 1960s public housing units stand in stark contrast to the glass and steel of the high-rise skyscrapers in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok to the south, making them endlessly fascinating architectural structures to photograph or sketch.

Further adding to Sham Shui Po’s charm is the graffiti art on the shutters and walls of certain shops around the district.

With the Hong Kong government’s permission, non-profit organisation HKWALLS held their 2016 street art festival in Sham Shui Po, inviting 49 different artists from 17 different countries to leave their mark on Hong Kong.

If you are interested in visiting all the graffiti locations, download the HK Urban Canvas app for free on the Apple App store or Google Play Store to access an area map.

Here’s a tip: It is best to scout for these shops before 9am, as they will be closed, putting the shutter art on full display.


When the shops are open, you can use the HK Urban Canvas app's augmented reality function to overlay an image of shutter art over the storefront. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

But if you visit when the shutters are already open, don’t worry — you can use the app’s augmented reality function to overlay an image of the shutter art over the storefront, letting you have an idea of what the shop would look like when closed.

For the watercolourists and sketch artists: it’s tempting to stay for hours in a street corner coffee shop (cha chaan teng) to paint the vibrant colours of Sham Shui Po, but be mindful of taking up space that others might need. 

As turnovers tend to be short in Hong Kong, people tend not to stay too long after they’ve finished their meal, as a matter of courtesy. 


Graffiti on shop shutters and buildings add to Sham Shui Po's vibrance. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

For the film buff

Directors often use Sham Shui Po as a shooting location for many films. As a result, film buffs have often made pilgrimages to the legendary filming sites of famed directors Wong Kar Wai, John Woo, Stephen Chow and Johnnie To, among others.

Those who are less familiar with the older films made by these auteurs can also settle for site visits to the filming locations of Hollywood blockbusters.

Tai Nan Street, for instance, featured heavily in Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, as well as a chase scene in Jackie Chan’s martial-arts masterpiece Rush Hour 2. It was also the main filming location for Oxide Pang’s 2007 Cantonese film The Detective, starring Aaron Kwok.

When you visit said street in person, it may not look quite as chaotic, since many of its street signs have since been taken down due to government regulations. Nonetheless, that sense of déjà vu you’ll get when seeing it with your own eyes is something else entirely.