The vestiges of the notorious, unofficial housing development that made up Kowloon City are long gone, but the spirit of the enclave remains. The rabbit warren of streets around Kowloon City are garnering developer interest—Sino Group’s The Avery, Chinachem’s Billionaire Luxe, and The Opulence (Hero Speed) are a few of the new towers dotting the district—not surprising given the prestige schools (La Salle College, King George V) nearby. But it’s the food and leisure that draws visitor. The tiny streets on a grid just south of the park and the surrounding roads offer up some of the city’s best — if you’re willing to look for it. It will be the closest food destination for future residents of Kai Tak, but until then, a day in Kowloon City is a like a day out of town.
Kowloon Walled City Park
Skipping the historic park when in Kowloon City is something only repeat visitors to the area do, but even they often stop to take in the 31,000-square metre monument to the former 19th century Qing garrison. Once a wretched hive that made Mos Eisley look like Beverly Hills, the park is now dotted with multiple unearthed relics — like the plaques of the main gate, a flagstone path and three canons — a chess garden, pavilions, zodiac garden, around the restored central Yamen Building/Almshouse.
Carpenter Road Park
Kowloon Walled City Park didn’t provide enough peace in the city? Directly adjacent to it is Carpenter Road Park, another patch of green outfitted with cycle and jogging tracks, playground, soccer pitch, basketball and volleyball courts, and a fitness station for the elderly, all inside a garden with more than its share of spots for lounging.
Kowloon Tsai Park
Still not enough nature? On the western edge of Kowloon City, at Inverness Road, Kowloon Tsai Park is perhaps best known for its gorgeous Bauhinia tree and garden — the symbol of Hong Kong. Try not to miss it when the Bauhinias flower and they bloom a vibrant purple. Who needs Japanese cherry blossoms?
Kowloon City Plaza
A $100 million regeneration in 2006 brought KCP from the brink of obsolescence and since then it’s become the neighbourhood mall, complete with popular fast food outlets, an AEON for day-to-day needs, housewares, casual clothing and more. Perched right on the border of the park, KCP is the last — or first — stop on any trip to the area.
Seven Kee Closet
Dealing in trendy duds and vintage clothing — with the occasional bargain still to be found — and other wares, since the mid-1930s in its original location across the street (it’s closing soon), Seven Kee has a long and varied retailing history. The new store pays homage to that history while offering up very modern outlet shopping.
Known for dishing up authentic Thai food at its restaurant around the corner, Ruamjai also operates a small grocery, which is an excellent spot for anyone giving Thai cuisine at home a spin. Pick all your curries, sweets, produce and condiments here and give it a go.
This recent arrival to the area is owned and operated by a returnee Chinese-Canadian who grew in the neighbourhood. Incorporating exhibitions designed to support and promote work by local artists, HighFive feels bohemian and homey without ever tipping over into pretentious and suffocating. A menu that features a daily fresh pasta, salmon gravlax and Yirgacheffe coffee certainly doesn’t hurt.
It’s not to all tastes, but those among us that appreciate tofu fa rejoice when we find a good one. If the more famed Yi Heung on Nga Tsin Long Road is closed, and even if it’s not, give Kung Wo a try. The tofu fa (in several flavours) is silky smooth, tasty, dished up to perfect sweetness. There are traditional street food style snacks, and outstanding fresh soymilk. It’s worth the trip.
Gladys’ Estate Coffee
Gladys’ is the kind of nearly invisible coffee window that’s a blink and you’ll miss it affair — and that would be a bad thing. All day breakfast? Check. Substantial, reasonably priced, tasty lunches? Check. A good cup of strong java? Check. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself waiting on the street. The staff is attentive and efficient, but the shop holds around 15 people. It’s worth the wait though.
Kowloon City is now as renowned for its ethnic mix as it was years ago for its lawlessness. Ask any Hongkonger and they’ll tell you to head this way for the city’s best Thai food, and Mini Bangkok is a good place to start. Utterly lacking in décor, cheap and with only the scantest suggestion of service, Mini Bangkok is all about the food.
Saeb-E-Hlee Lub Ped
Third time’s the charm with this under the radar eatery, which serves (arguably) the most authentic Thai food outside of Thailand, at least in Hong Kong. It’s also some of the most relaxed Thai dining in the area — and that’s saying something. Bottom line? It’s a cha chan teng … just with Thai food. The tom yum is creamy and coconutty, the pomelo salad juicy and tangy.
Tired of Thai? Tuck into some yakiniku at this Japanese outlet and get to grilling. Prime US beef, Japanese Wagyu and seafood platters for two are a great intro, but the menu has plenty sushi, sashimi, soups and sides for the less carnivorous.