Header image courtesy of Tung Cheung (via Shutterstock)
Amidst the rapid urbanisation and redevelopment in Hong Kong, it can be easy to overlook our city’s cultural heritage. Fortunately, there are organisations and that are doing the important work of collecting and displaying the beautiful stories lost in time while the city moves forward. Some of these organisations have established “story houses,” which are usually located in historically significant buildings, and are designed to preserve and present the stories of and within the building, as well as the respective districts they inhabit. If you want to get a better understanding of the history of a district or a niche part of Hong Kong history, here are some of the best story houses and archives that tell invaluable tales from the good old days.
Located in Wan Chai, the Blue House is without a doubt one of the most prominent historical hotspots in Hong Kong. The building was declared a Grade I historic building after watching over the neighbourhood for decades. Interestingly, the monument only got its name in the 1990s after the government acquired the building and repainted the walls in its now-iconic colour. In 2010, the historic building was transformed into a story house called the Wan Chai Livelihood Place, (later renamed Hong Kong House of Stories), by local NGO St James Settlement.
Now, the Blue House offers exhibitions, community tours, and workshops that tie together the different cultures in the neighbourhood. The Heritage Interpretation Area observes and interprets objects left behind by former occupants, and allows visitors to write their own stories behind the pieces. Be sure to keep an eye out for any of their other activities!
Hong Kong House of Stories, 72A Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai | (+852) 2833 4608
Despite being largely uninhabited, the island of Yim Tin Tsai has been able to retain and present its rich Hakka heritage to visitors after huge heritage conservation efforts were made to preserve the culture. Ching Po School (澄波學校), the only primary school in Yim Tin Tsai and a vessel of childhood memories for many former residents, has been repurposed into an exhibition centre for relics and stories of the precious island known for its salt industry.
Teaching in a different form, the school is but one of the many things worth seeing in Yim Tin Tsai, which is now experiencing a renaissance as an art island and weekend destination, where you can even partake in salt-making workshops at Hong Kong’s last remaining salt pan! Catch a kaito to Yim Tin Tsai from the Sai Kung Public Pier with a round-trip ticket ($60).
Click here for our full guide to Yim Tin Tsai.
Ching Po School, 3 Yim Tin Tsai Village, Sai Kung
Ap Chau may be the smallest populated island in Hong Kong, but it carries the rich fishing history of the Tanka people and some of Hong Kong’s most unique geological features. Managed by local villagers, the Ap Chau Story Room tells stories through photos and fishing tools used by former villagers, and you can even learn their dialects and shanties.
In order to get to Ap Chau, you have to take a kaito (街渡; small, motorised ferry) from Ma Liu Shui. Best Sonic Industrial Limited provides transportation to and from the island ($90 return ticket), but the ferries are only available on weekends and public holidays, so be sure to plan ahead and give them a call on (+852) 2555 9269.
Ap Chau Story Room, 73 Ap Chau Village
With only 50 people left on the island, Kat O’s history is one that would quickly disappear without the important work done by Kat O Story Room. The heritage project documents the island’s Hakka heritage and lives of the fishermen who used to inhabit it using items provided by former island residents, relics donated by Fanling temple Fung Ying Seen Koon (蓬瀛仙館), historical photos, and verbal accounts.
Being a remote location like Ap Chau, Kat O can only be reached by kaito (街渡; gaai1 dou6) ferry. Contact Best Sonic Industrial Limited on (+852) 2555 9269 for more information on transportation. While you are there, look around on the scenic island and try out their customary dishes and snacks recommended in this guide.
Kat O Story Room, 143 Kat O Main Street, Kat O, New Territories
Once a refuge for the victims of the Shek Kip Mei fire in 1953, Mei Ho House (美荷樓) now houses a museum replicating and illustrating the lives of the Grade II historic building’s residents from the 1950s to 1970s, and documenting the beginning of the public housing policies in Hong Kong as a result of the tragic fire.
Mei Ho House has also been revamped as a heritage hostel, so not only can you see the history, but you can actually stay in the historic building and get an idea of what it may have been like to live in.
Click here to check out our guide for what else to see and do in Shek Kip Mei.
Mei Ho House Youth Hostel, Block 41, Shek Kip Mei Estate, 70 Berwick Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 3728 3500
Even before the golden years and New Wave, the Hong Kong film industry had already been prolific, but much of that part of history has yet to be recovered. That’s where the Hong Kong Film Archive comes in. Focused on restoring old films and promoting local cinema history, Hong Kong Film Archive is a government-owned archive in the city. They publicise the restoration processes, put forth publications, and hold exhibitions about old movies or cinematic cultures. In light of the pandemic, they have also been holding online events such as talks and virtual tours—check out their website for more.
Hong Kong Film Archive, 50 Lei King Road, Sai Wan Ho | (+852) 2739 2139
Loved for its wide-reaching routes and bold red roof, the red minibus is so iconic that it inspired The Midnight After (那夜凌晨，我坐上了旺角開往大埔的紅VAN; 2014), a controversial local sci-fi thriller and novel. But other than their reputation, red minibuses are also recognised for the handcrafted signs displaying the price and destination at the front window of the bus.
Hawk Ltd, a company that specialises in hand-painted minibus signs, has recently established an archive house dedicated entirely to their craft and the beloved vehicle. Even though the archive house is not open to the public because of the pandemic, you can still join their sign-painting workshops ($350) and guided tours around the archive house.
Hawk Ltd, M/F, 39 Battery Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 9017 9587
Established by the local production company Hong Kong Creates, Silver Stationery Shop exhibits stationery used in the older days of Hong Kong, as well as unique stationery pieces from overseas. At the shop entrance, you will see boxes of stationery, anything from unused exercise books to the multi-tier pencil cases everyone used to obsess over, donated by locals. They also hold mini-exhibitions of historic collectables from time to time and sell donated pieces for charity.
They may not be open all the time, so it’s best to call ahead to check. But even if they are not open, you can still visit Silver Café—which sits opposite the stationery shop—and get a view from the outside of the shop.
Silver Stationery Shop, Shops 301 & 302, 3/F, 618 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok | (+852) 9889 4999
San Lau Street, the location of the Sha Tau Kok Story House, is actually a single building comprising 22 blocks connected by their roofs. The building was built in the style of the Guangzhou veranda (廣州騎樓; gwong2 zau1 ke4 lau4) that is rarely seen in Hong Kong. Carrying memories of a fading community in its distinctive architectural style, the building was listed as a Grade II historic building in 2011.
While it would be amazing to see this site in person, the Story House is unfortunately located within a restricted area, so unless you can find a resident as your guarantor and successfully apply for a permit, there is no way for outsiders to physically visit Sha Tau Kok Story House. But not to worry, you can get a glimpse of the forbidden town of Sha Tau Kok here. If you get the chance to enter the area, though, feel free to call and arrange a visit to the Story House.
Sha Tau Kok Story House, 1/F, 7 San Lau Street, Sha Tau Kok, New Territories | (+852) 9232 8546