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Your neighbourhood guide to Aberdeen & Ap Lei Chau

By Catharina Cheung 21 February 2020

Header image courtesy of Андрей Бобровский / Wikimedia Commons

Located in the southwest of Hong Kong Island, Aberdeen could be considered the original Hong Kong. A heung gong tsuen—or ‘Hong Kong village’—was mentioned in Ming dynasty-era maps in the Aberdeen area, so when European explorers first arrived in Hong Kong and came ashore at the harbour of Aberdeen, they mistook the name of the village for the entire island!

By the time they realised the mistake, ‘Hong Kong’ was already being used to refer to the island as a whole, and the name simply stuck. To prevent confusion, the Chinese name of Aberdeen was changed to Heung Gong Tsai, or ‘Little Hong Kong.’ Follow our ultimate neighbourhood guide for things to do, see, and eat in Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau!

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What to do

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See a floating village

Aberdeen was—and still is—rooted as a fishing community. The Tanka tribe are traditionally boat people who fish for a living, and there are still some of these fisherfolk living on the boats in the harbour. Hop onto a sampan on either Aberdeen or Ap Lei Chau side for a little tour of the floating village.

In times of adverse weather, the harbour is used as a typhoon shelter where boats can return from sea and moor up safely. The geographical presence of the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter is, in fact, what made the area one of Hong Kong’s largest fishing anchorages in the first place.

Stroll along the promenade

Aberdeen Promenade is a great place to take in views of the harbour. There are several boats permanently stationed along the harbourfront, and many of these have now become restaurants specialising in seafood. Try your luck at finding a sampan restaurant; they traditionally served fishermen in the typhoon shelter with simple menus and low prices, but are a rapidly disappearing trade that pops up at irregular hours.

To the end of the promenade lies the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market, which opens in the early morning as fishermen return with their catches, and closes by the early afternoon. Catch a glimpse of the bustling frenetic energy of the market in action, but don’t get in the way or you’ll likely get an earful of expletives!

Visit a maritime park

No, we’re not talking about nearby Ocean Park. From Aberdeen, go across the water to the island of Ap Lei Chau and walk along the waterfront to reach the Ap Lei Chau Wind Tower Park. The length of the park is dotted with marine-themed decorations and monuments as a nod to the area’s history as a boatyard. Spot the replica of a trawler, a traditional dragon boat, and old boat machinery parts.

The wind tower itself is located at the far end of the park and is modelled after the sail of a fishing boat. Interestingly, the tower has solar photovoltaic panels that convert solar energy to power LED lights, so that the tower will change colours according to wind speed. Climb up onto the viewing platform for a panoramic view of Ap Lei Chau and the typhoon shelter!

Keep scrolling for the rest of the guide 👇

Photo credit: Holimood Yacht Blog

Pay your respects at historic temples

Fisherfolk have always had temples dedicated to deities to ensure successful voyages and a safe return home. Ap Lei Chau has a Hung Shing Temple dedicated to the God of the South Sea, which was estimated to have been built in 1773.

On the other side of the harbour, almost smack-dab in the middle of Aberdeen town centre, lies what may well be Hong Kong’s smallest temple. You’ll find the Hoi Wong Temple on the corner of Nam Ning Street and Chengtu Road—without these specific instructions, you’ll likely walk right past without even blinking. The tiny red temple sits randomly right on the roadside instead of as part of the building block behind it, but this isn’t a planning error on the part of the city council.

Hoi Wong Temple actually marks where the original waterfront used to be; in line with tradition, residents in the past had built a temple by the waters to bless those who go out to sea. As land reclamation went on, the structure simply ended up being shifted further and further inland.

Catch the Dragon Boat races

The Dragon Boat Festival takes place every summer, and though not as large-scale as the event on Shing Mun River in Sha Tin, Aberdeen also hosts dragon boat racing along the harbour for the Southern District.

For those who've never experienced it, dragon boats races are energetically highlighted by rhythmic drum beats meant to keep rowers in sync. Though each race may be over in a matter of seconds, the atmosphere is always fun and upbeat and the rowers’ performances are beyond impressive. Brave the crowds and join in the festivities this year on 25 June.

Where to eat

Photo credit: 山區麵包王 / Openrice

Nam Kee

Did you know that Aberdeen is the birthplace of the popular noodle restaurant group Nam Kee? The business began in the early 1980s and gained so much traction starting in Aberdeen that it has now spread across Hong Kong, expanding to approximately 20 branches in different districts.

When at the OG shop that started it all, don’t forget to order their speciality spring rolls with your noodles; they’re not your typical crunchy rolls with vegetable fillings, but are softer and made with fish paste wrapped in layers of tofu skin.

Jumbo Kingdom

Moored out in the middle of the water, Jumbo Floating Restaurant is probably the area’s most notable landmark. It was designed to look like a palace from imperial China and has been running since 1976. This huge stationary barge has several sections, including a fine-dining Chinese restaurant, a dim sum bar, and even a Chinese culinary institute. Together with the adjoining Tai Pak Floating Restaurant next door, it’s collectively referred to as the Jumbo Kingdom.

The attraction was featured in several movies and has been graced with a host of big-name visitors such as Queen Elizabeth II, David Bowie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Tom Cruise. Get to the Jumbo Kingdom via the free shuttle boat from a dedicated pier on Aberdeen Promenade, and mind you don’t get on the wrong shuttle as there are several along the stretch of harbourfront but all going to different locations.

Pro tip: Make the journey during dusk, so you can still see the vibrant shades of green, red, and gold, but also catch it with the lights on. We think this is when it rather looks like Yubaba’s bathhouse from Spirited Away.

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Where to shop

Image courtesy of Architexas / Instagram

Horizon Plaza

A trip to Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is an absolute Aladdin’s cave of designer outlets and fantastic furniture stores; on the other, it is also notoriously difficult to navigate.

Though it may not seem like much from the outside—really, it looks like an outdated warehouse in need of a coat of paint—you could be having a whale of a time checking out funky pieces at Tequila Kola before you decide to check out the Chloe outlet, and two hours later you’re still lost between floors with a rapidly dying phone and no toilet in sight.

For sanity’s sake, think about where to want to go beforehand, and grab a guide from the lobby. If your intrepid explorer skills are fully functional, then going to Horizon Plaza will no doubt prove to be a very fruitful journey.

Whiskers N Paws

The ground floor of Horizon Plaza also houses one of Hong Kong’s best pet shops. Whiskers N Paws stocks products with no harmful ingredients or animal by-products and the spacious store will no doubt have everything you need for your furry friends (plus tons more you didn’t realise you even wanted).

There’s also a 4,000-square-foot pet park out the back for dogs to play and socialise and a self-serviced shower station. What’s more, Whiskers N Paws hosts Hong Kong Dog Rescue’s dog adoption event every Sunday!

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Catharina Cheung

Senior editor-at-large

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.