Don’t Look NowA mix of modern and old, peaceful and vibrant, hyper-local and exotic put Tai Hang on the hip radar

Strolling along the streets in Tai Hang, you may find it absolutely amazing what this tiny, overlooked neighbourhood sandwiched between Tin Hau and Causeway Bay can hold.

Once an area of poverty-ridden walk-ups and hillside wooden huts that lacked tap water and flushing toilets, Tai Hang rarely found itself in the public eye. The only exception being its 132-year-old Fire Dragon Dance on the Mid-Autumn festival, which features a 67-metre-long fire dragon aglow with lit incense and flashlights, winding its ways through the excited crowd.

But curious tourists and photo fanatics the event attracts don’t stick around. What remains is a neighbourhood that fully demonstrates the art of leisure living versus the hustle and bustle of Causeway Bay, located a mere one street away. “Here you enjoy the privilege of living in a quiet area while being able to hit the city’s nightlife hub in a 10-minute walk,” says Victor Wong, 25, a 10- year upper Tai Hang resident who works in financial media.

Offering small to large flats in older mid- to high-rise buildings, Tai Hang never disappoints its buyers. “The district provides a good mix of flats, in both the luxury and mass [sectors] … and it has become increasingly attractive to expatriate renters,” explains Yuky Chung, director of the residential property division of Hong Kong Homes.

Upper Tai Hang is sparsely dotted with neat luxury housing like Fontana Gardens, Serenade by Hong Kong Land and The Legend by Cheung Kong. “Upper Tai Hang, along Tai Hang Road, has all the characteristics of Mid- Levels, including low density [development], harbour views and greenery,” Chung adds.

While walking downhill from the affluent upper Tai Hang, you’ll end up in a different world: lower Tai Hang is a stark contrast. Situated much closer to Victoria Park and the Central Library, it offers smaller two-bedroom apartments for singles and young couples at affordable rents. Most interesting is Lower Tai Hang’s street life.

At one end residents and visitors will find grannies selling salted fish, restaurant staff washing dishes by the roadside or fruit vendors dozing off in the afternoon heat. A leisure walk gives you a fun glimpse of various activities including mahjong and card games going on inside shops and homes — often with their gates half-open, allowing for friendly peeps.

At the other, Tai Hang is a friendly little community where almost everyone knows each other. The local mom-and-pop shop, the family-run food stalls, wet markets, salons, mechanics and bonesetters offering Chinese acupuncture all take you back to the city’s good old halcyon days. “Even in Upper Tai Hang the housing is not as fancy as those hotel-like apartments above Kowloon Station that attract investors and speculators. Here, you feel more at home,” claims Wong, who hails from Wanchai.

And of course, an array of mouth-watering cuisine is readily available down the street. Better known as a niche food haven, Tai Hang offers almost every cuisine imaginable: French, Vietnam, Japanese, dim sum and desserts, not to mention all sorts of local delicacy. Almost every restaurant has magazine coverage proudly displayed, in the wake of the area’s “hip” designation. Diners from Causeway Bay flock to Tai Hang for al fresco dining, abundant parking spaces and escape from jostling crowds.

Nevertheless, little escapes the eyes of Hong Kong’s hungry developers. With the launch of more luxury residential projects in recent years, some believe Tai Hang is in the midst of a “modern renaissance” that will turn it into a dining and nightlife hub comparable to SoHo and Lan Kwai Fong in Central.

Three years ago, the rowdy Lower Tai Hang was spruced up by the arrival of 118 Tung Lo Wan Road, a new 32-storey luxury apartment where 1,200-square foot flats rent for $50,000. A few streets away a 103- unit luxury building, The Warren, launched in November. Targeting expatriate executives, a 543-square foot flat runs a hefty $10 million, ($20,000 per square foot), double the price of a secondary flat in the area. Next up is The Signature on Chun Fai Terrace by New World Development.

But analysts are not totally convinced of a drastic change in Tai Hang. “One cannot underestimate the difficulties of site amalgamation. Redevelopment for any older tenement is costly and time-consuming,” Chung notes. “[Even] The Warren is a small project … It is not likely to have any discernible effect on how people view the district.” However, a wave of redevelopment in the neighbourhood is by no means impossible. “High prices would speed up the [amalgamation] process,” Chung added.

Nobody can tell for sure what Tai Hang will look like in 10 years’ time, but the district’s perfect blend of luxury residences and nostalgic streetscapes that recall ’60s Hong Kong is intriguing for many, including younger homebuyers. “I definitely would like a flat in Tai Hang when I move out [from my family home] some day,” Wong states almost wistfully. “But looking at skyrocketing home prices, it’s more of a wish now.”