Hong Kong's neighbourhood: Mid-Levels

Posted on May 26, 2013 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

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Main: Government House on Government Hill; bottom left: Hong Kong Botanical garden; bottom right: View from Government Hill


Hong Kong's Mid-Levels has always been a prestigious residential area and only the English were allowed to live in the area back in the early colonial period! It was relatively quiet and 'unspoilt' until the world's longest outdoor escalator was built in 1993, then the area started to change. Due to Hong Kong Island's unique geography... hilly with steep slopes and narrow street, the escalator was proposed for residents from the area to commute to and from Central ( the business district) without the need of transport.


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Left: the Mid-Level escalator; middle: a view of the street from the escalator; one of the streets connecting mid-levels to Sai Ying Pun.


The escalator, which starts from Central and goes all the way up to Conduit Street has turned the entire area from a quiet residential area into a bustling and trendy district full of restaurants, bars and galleries ( as depicted in Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express). Due to lack of regulations, many low-rise 'tong lau' have been demolished and are replaced by residential high rise. The area is now over-developed and over-priced, is this still the ideal residential area in Hong Kong? Perhaps not anymore. However, having said that, as we move away from the escalator, there are still interesting and historical sights that are not very touristy and can be explored on foot.


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Princes Terrace, a quiet street just off the escalator


Dr Sun Yat-Sen museum is located in a beautiful historical building called Kom Tong Hall on Castle Road ( No.7). The Hall was built in 1914 and was named after the former owner of the Mansion, Ho Kom-tong, the younger brother of the prominent philanthropist Sir Robert Ho Tung.

The museum has both permanent and temporary exhibitions where visitors can learn about Dr Sun Yat-Sen's life, his revolutionary activities and Chinese and Hong Kong history from the late 19th century. But the highlight is the building itself, it is hard to find charming buildings like this in Hong Kong now that have not been stripped away and turned into some kind of commercial-related premises.


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Hong Kong University is not only the oldest university but it is also considered to be the most prestigious in Hong Kong and one of the best within the region. The university's main campus covers 160,000 square metres of land on Bonham Road and Pok Fu Lam Road, and the main building is one of the few best remaining examples of colonial architecture in Hong Kong. As you walk around the building or campus, you feel like you have been transported to another era or continent ( Europe) even and it feels so different from the Hong Kong we are normally used to.

The campus is open to the public and visitors can either book on free tours given by their Green Gown Guides ( who are student volunteers) or plan your own self-guided tours, iTour which can be found on the website.


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Main & bottom left: The main building at Hong Kong University; bottom right: Hung Hing Ying Building on the campus


Before reaching the main entrance of the university, there is the Fung Ping Shan building, which was original built in 1932 as a library for Chinese books. In 1953, it was converted into the University Museum and Art Gallery ( 94 Bonham Road), which is the oldest museum in Hong Kong and it is free to the public.

The museum and art gallery has both permanent and temporary exhibitions, and houses a thousand Chinese antiquities, ceramics, sculptures, calligraphy and paintings. Often there are interesting exhibitions and retrospectives on contemporary local and Chinese artists that are perhaps less established internationally. There is also a tea gallery where one can enjoy Chinese tea in a subdue environment. This is one of my favourite museums in Hong Kong because it is never too busy, and you can really slow down and enjoy the art in your own pace.


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Top left: map of the campus; Bottom right: The Fung Ping Shan building, entrance to the University Museum and Art Gallery


For those who are interested in the British colonial architecture, there are plenty to be found in this area partly because many historical schools are located in this area including two that have been declared as monuments in recent years: King's College ( 63A Bonham Road) and St Stephen's Girls College ( 2 Lyttelton Road).

There is also the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences ( 2 Caine Lane), an Edwardian-style building that was The Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, founded in 1887 by the London Missionary Society. Since 1996, it has been turned into a museum that is dedicated to the historical development of medical sciences in Hong Kong.


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Top left: the Neo-classical exterior of King's college; top right & main: the back and side gates of St Stephen's Girls College


Walking towards Sai Ying Pun, there is one building that really stood out and I later learned that it used to be an old mental hospital but now it is used as Sai Ying Pun Community Complex ( 2 High Street). Built in 1892, the original building was designed by Danby & Leigh (now Leigh & Orange), however, only the the granite facade and arched verandah were preserved because it was abandoned for 20 years from the 1970s and was badly ruined by two fires. Interestingly, the building is also known locally as the 'High Street Haunted House' before it was restored and rebuilt as a community complex in 2001. With or without ghosts, this historical building is fascinating and is definitely one of its kind in Hong Kong.


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Top left: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception; top middle: a blue 'tong lau' on Bonham Road; top right, middle left & main: the old mental hospital; Middle right: an old 'mansion' on Robinson Road


Religious monuments

Hong Kong's multiculturalism and multi-faith society is evident in this area because of the different religious monuments here. One of them is the Gothic revival style Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception ( 16 Caine Road) built in 1888 and serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong. Nearby there is also another historical Catholic chapel, Sacred Heart Chapel ( 34 Caine Road) built in 1907.

Walking up towards Robinson Road, there is the rather 'hidden' and 'mysterious' Ohel Leah Synagogue ( 70 Robinson Road) was commissioned by a Jewish banker, by a banker, Sir Jacob E. Sassoon and designed by Leigh & Orange in 1902. (There are no photos because I was told by the security guard that I wasn't allowed to take photos of the building's exterior even though I was standing on the street!) I have been wanting to visit the synagogue for a long time but never got round to it, so will have to wait until my next visit. Tours at the synagogue can be arranged via their website, but visitors can also attend their Shabbat services and enjoy their Shabbat dinners.

By coincidence, I stumbled upon the other 'mysterious' monument, Jamia Mosque's ( 30 Shelley Street) open day while I was traveling up the Mid-Levels escalator one afternoon. I was thrilled especially knowing that it is normally only open to Muslims! The Mosque was built in 1849 while the extension of the building took place in 1915. The green Arabic style building looks so exotic next to the residential high rise in the area, it was a shame that I didn't have my camera on me at the time. The mosque also offers shelters to poor disciples, and currently there is a small community of around 20 Pakistani households living in the vicinity.


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Apart from the botanical garden ( which had written about in the earlier post), there are some small local parks and gardens ( parks and gardens in Hong Kong are not the same as Western ones, there is usually no grass or lawn!) like the historical ( built in 1936) King George V Memorial Park ( EasternStreet and Hospital Road) and the rather hidden and quiet West End Park right next to St Stephen's Girls College on Lyttelton Road.


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Top left: West End Park; top right: A small communal garden 'hidden' bewteen Kotewall and Conduit Road; Bottom left: King George V Park; Bottom right: Old staircases can still be seen in the area


Coffee, cafes & bakeries

There are many eateries in the area, but I will just list a few places for coffee, tea and bakeries around the Mid-Levels rather than the trendy SoHo:

Books & Co. ( 8-10 Park Road) was mentioned in my previous entries on secondhand books.

BO-LO'GNE café 41 Aberdeen St) - I discovered this tiny Japanese-style bakery and cafe a few years ago before it was featured in a TV food programme, then it suddenly became the 'hottest' bakery/ cafe in town with long queues outside daily. Soon afterwards franchises appeared in shopping malls and so the queues finally disappeared. This bakery originated from Kyoto and is famous for their Danish style buttery bread ( nice but rather pricey). Aside from bread, the cafe also serves Japanese style Western dishes like fish roe spaghetti and pork cutlet sandwich. The cafe is usually quiet in the weekdays after lunch hour, so it's a great place to relax with a book without feeling rushed.

Il Bel Paese ( 95 Caine Road) is actually an Italian deli but in its back room there are a few tables for lunch and snacks. The deli is well-known for their tiramisu, I have never tried it, but I did enjoy their homemade salad and bread.

New Blue Pool Restaurant & Bakery ( 71 Caine Road) has been serving freshly-baked Hong Kong style bread and quick lunches in the area for over 40 years. It is especially popular with students, local residents and nearby office workers because of its no frills, substantial lunches at very reasonable prices. Traditional bakeries are disappearing fast in Hong Kong, so many still come here for nostalgic reasons and for their fresh traditional style bread, cookies and cakes.


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Top left, middle & bottom left: Another fine day tea saloon; Top right: Olympia Graeco Egyptian Coffee; Bottom right: BO-LO'GNE Café 


Tea Saloon by Another Fine Day ( 80-82 Peel Street) - My friends who opened One Fine Day ( which I have mentioned before) on Princes Terrace have opened a more spacious new tea saloon round the corner. Their new saloon serves lunch, afternoon tea and specialty tea. For those who enjoy British style afternoon tea sets and don't feel comfortable inside the 5-star hotel settings, then this is a more relaxing and cozy option.

Olympia Graeco Egyptian Coffee ( 24 Old Bailey) - Although this is not a cafe and I have written about this before, but I still can't resist recommending this coffee bean shop just off Caine Road. Since Mr Ho passed away about 2 years ago, his son and daughter have taken over and are continuing to serve customers like their father has done for decades. Now they even deliver to offices and residential addresses, so hopefully more people will enjoy their high quality and reasonably priced coffee.



Last but not least, the trees as in other parts of Hong Kong are rather interesting esp. the one on the top of Aberdeen Street that has a stall leaning against it!


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There are many other historical and fascinating districts in Hong Kong and I will write more on them in the future...


This post was posted in Coffee, Hong Kong, Food & dining, Architecture, Travel and was tagged with Coffee, Hong Kong, Food & dining, architecture