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Your neighbourhood guide to Shek Kip Mei

By Alison Fung 8 June 2021

Header image courtesy of @lifescapecollections (via Instagram)

On Christmas Eve 1953, a shoemaker attempted to light a kerosene lantern when he dropped a kindling onto a cotton duvet. Within minutes, the subsequent blaze ravaged the scrap wood and metal shacks of 30-odd refugee families on the slopes of Shek Kip Mei. By late night, the fire took away the homes of 12,000 families. 

Its melancholic past is still remembered today, but Shek Kip Mei eventually rose from the ashes to become the birthplace of Hong Kong’s public housing programme. Beginning from the turn of the century, Shek Kip Mei slowly blossomed from a shantytown and industrial hub into a quaint neighbourhood dotted with independent cafés, galleries, artistic workshops, and colourful backdrops for street photography. Follow our neighbourhood guide to find out what to do in Shek Kip Mei and where to get your creative juices flowing.

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Things to see & do

Soak up the view from Garden Hill

Evening time is when Hong Kong begins to sparkle. We all know that the views from the Peak and the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade are nothing short of majestic, but Shek Kip Mei has a secret spot from which to admire the panoramic vista of Sham Shui Po. Up a staircase behind Mei Ho House, Garden Hill is the perfect spot to watch the sun descend as bright lights, billboards, and taxis buzz with energy below the hills.

If huge crowds overwhelm you during Christmas and New Years Eve, Garden Hill is a great spot for you to see all the action from high above. You will be treated to uninterrupted views of the fireworks above Victoria Harbour, plus a lot of loud cheers and beer bottle clangs!

Shek Kip Mei Park

We all know about Sai Wan’s Instagram Pier, the Pink Bridge in Tai Wai, and the rainbow estate in Choi Hung, but how about the pastel walls and bridges at Shek Kip Mei Park? The auditorium at the park has gained popularity amongst Instagrammers for its pastel pink and blue benches. Grab a few more shots on the two-storey sky bridge, featuring pink railings and circular lamps that loop over a massive fountain.

Conveniently located just five minutes from the MTR station, Shek Kip Mei Park is also one of the largest parks in Kowloon. It has everything from an astroturf football field, jogging trails, and tennis courts to a rock climbing gym and playgrounds to keep you active all day long.

Shek Kip Mei Park, 270 Nam Cheong Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2777 1540

Bishop Hill

Built sometime between 1901 to 1910, the Bishop Hill Service Reservoir is a stunning sweep of Romanesque arches built upon red bricks and stone columns. For years, it laid untouched below the ground and away from view. It wasn’t until 2020 that the site was rediscovered. Currently, the site has been proposed to be listed as a Grade I historic building, and we hope that it will re-emerge as a heritage site to welcome public visits.

Unbeknownst to most Hongkongers, locals in the neighbourhood have been visiting Bishop Hill for decades, turning the reservoir roof into a community-made recreational space. You will find swings, small playgrounds, and other odd amateur designs of equipment that can help you hit your fitness goal. Bishop Hill itself is also full of small natural paths, old trees, and community-built shrines to explore.

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Admire old architecture

Tong lau (騎樓; Hong Kong tenement buildings) remained a mainstay of Hong Kong architecture until the 1940s, and were designed for residential and commercial uses. Many of them have survived to this day, whilst some are waiting to be demolished to make space for taller, glossier buildings. Stroll through Shek Kip Mei and you will find these disappearing structures hidden behind colourful estates and street markets. A few have adopted a more Westernised and streamlined design featuring curved corners and bold window frames.

Photo: @adrianing (via Instagram)

Learn about the past at Mei Ho House

Mei Ho House was part of Hong Kong’s very first public estate. Built in 1954, it was one of eight six-storey blocks created for the families who lost their homes during the 1953 Shek Kip Mei fire. Its unique layout—the Mark I H-shaped block—features two wings connected by a bridge, where communal facilities were located.

Now rejuvenated into a hostel, Mei Ho House has a small but illustrative museum showcasing life from the 1950s and beyond. Step into the past of Shek Kip Mei and stroll through the building to understand how it emerged from a humble community for Chinese immigrants into an industrial hub for family-run factories.

Mei Ho House, Block 41, Shek Kip Mei Estate, 70 Berwick Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2788 1638

JCCAC

Formerly known as the Shek Kip Mei Factory Estate, JCCAC was once a hub for small, family-run businesses and factories. At the turn of the century, the factories were eventually deserted, and the nine-storey building was transformed into an arts and cultural space featuring installations, galleries, workshops, and cafés.

From tie-dying workshops, sketching sessions to wedding ring making, you will find an extensive range of workshop offerings at JCCAC. In addition, there is a weekly market in the atrium that showcases handcrafted goods made locally by artists and jewellers in Hong Kong.

JCCAC, 30 Pak Tin Street, Shek Kip Mei | (+852) 2535 1311

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Where to eat & drink

No Milkshake No Life

Say cheese! No Milkshake No Life has a scrumptious menu full of grilled cheese sandwiches, including the Crazy Cheers cheese sandwich ($78)—a bread pocket stuffed with so much cheese that eventually everything spills out. Better yet, try the crab cheesesteak grilled cheese ($128) for a protein-filled option.

Cheese and cheese sandwiches aside, the modern eatery also specialises in splurge-worthy milkshakes. From the classic banana chocolate ($59) to key lime pie ($69), there is a long list of both classic and bizarre flavours to choose from. For the wine connoisseur, be sure to try the red wine milkshake ($69).

No Milkshake No Life, Shop G01, Mei Kwai House, Shek Kip Mei Estate, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 9816 3818

Café Golden

Nestled on the first floor of JCCAC, Café Golden serves Western favourites like the all-day breakfast, pasta and desserts, and an impressive list of coffee for those looking for a mid-day caffeine fix.

Café Golden’s hazelnut latte ($44) is a popular choice for its smooth and creamy texture. Looking for an Insta-worthy drink to brighten up your feed? You’ll want to order the Fujisan oat milk ($48)—a gradient blend of purple and blue topped with a generous layer of milk foam to resemble Mount Fuji. Pair it with a perfect plate of pasta, such as the delectable clam & crab stick spaghetti with cod roe sauce ($89), to kick off your day.

Cafe Golden, Room 05, 1/F, JCCAC, 30 Pak Tin Street | (+852) 2408 8255

Toolss

A café-slash-stationery shop, Toolss is a beloved coffee shop taking up a small corner between the Pak Tin Estate and JCCAC. Besides serving up classic all-day breakfast combos ($108), they have a unique selection of Bento boxes like the Japanese curry beef ribs bento ($65) and lobster sauce with broccoli bento ($65).

Whether it’s an espresso or one of their creatively-curated lattes, the drinks at Toolss are freshly brewed. On a hot day, try the coconut latte ($45), the lychee latte ($45), or even the ice apple Earl Grey tea ($48). Toolss also has an extensive food menu, including made fresh-to-order salads, and various pasta and burgers.

Toolss, Fook Tin Building, 38 Wai Chi Street, Shek Kip Mei | (+852) 3954 5135

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Zeppelin Hot Dog

Lifting inspiration from diverse culinary traditions from around the globe, Zeppelin Hot Dog serves up hot dogs that are made locally in Hong Kong. The Shek Kip Mei branch is nestled on Wai Lun Street, just across Pak Tin Estate. Choose between the deep-fried prawn hot dog ($36) or the Japanese bonito hot dog ($30) for a twist on traditional Japanese flavours. For those who love things hot, try the chilli Mexican hot dog ($48). Zeppelin Hot Dog also features a rendition of the hearty German-inspired sauerkraut hot dog ($50).

Zeppelin Hot Dog, Shop 82, Pak Tin Shopping Centre, 1–3 Wai Chi Lane, Shek Kip Mei | (+852) 5596 5529

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Alison Fung

Editor

A town girl who grew up on the rocky west coast of Canada, Alison has now found her permanent home in Hong Kong. When she’s not chasing down culture and travel stories around the city, you will find her exploring alleyways, searching for hidden speakeasies, or trotting around the globe to places she dreams of visiting.

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