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Hong Kong's historical treasures

The Blue House

Built shortly after the first world war, the Blue House is one of the last remaining buildings from this particular era still standing in Hong Kong — and certainly the most famous.

It has become an iconic symbol of Wan Chai — and of the struggle to preserve Hong Kong’s rapidly- The Blue House bep disappearing heritage.

The Blue House is a particular type of traditional building known as a ‘tong lau’, which would have had a shop on the ground floor and residential apartments above.

People still live in the building. The ground floor shop has now been converted into a small museum (called ‘The Hong Kong House of Stories’) that showcases something of the history of the Blue House and Wan Chai. The themes of the displays change from month to month.

A decade ago, the Blue House was under threat of being torn down as development money flooded into the neighbourhood. It now stands as a testament to the cultural preservation that can be achieved in Hong Kong with the right amount of dedication.

There is live music at the Blue House every second Thursday of the month, from 7pm onwards. Other cultural events — such as film evenings and painting workshops — take place on different Thursdays. Everything about the Blue House is free.

Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City was once the site of a notorious crime-ridden slum, but is now a beautiful park in the heart of Kowloon.

The park features a pleasant Chinese-style garden (modelled on the style of the early Qing Dynasty — circa 16th and 17th century), animal sculptures and an exhibition space about the area’s rich history. The walled city was originally developed as a small coastal settlement at the start of the 18th century. The Chinese massively bolstered the defences of the city in 1847 to guard against an invasion by the British, who were establishing themselves on Hong Kong Island at the time.

The 99-year lease over the New Territories granted to the British by the Chinese in 1898 did not include Kowloon Walled City, and for the next century ownership of it was disputed. At the beginning, the British tolerated a contingent of Chinese troops that was based in the city, but this ended once they got wind of a plot to stage an uprising.

Although both sides claimed ownership of the Walled City, neither did much with it, and this allowed the area to develop into a hotbed of criminal activity. The area became a haven for drug kingpins, prostitutes and gangsters. Between the 1950s and the 1970s, it was mostly controlled by the notorious triad mafia.

At its pinnacle, more than 40,000 people lived in an area of little more than 26 square kilometres. Buildings were hastily, and often dangerously, constructed, with no proper planning permission given. They were built haphazardly, close together and often on top of each other.

The government finally moved people out of the area in 1992, and tore down the over-crowded buildings.

Remnants of the outside walls still exist. Inside, there is a small but good exhibition of what the city used to be like. Some panels and interactive screen displays explain the history of the place.

There is a small kiosk in the Walled City Park that sells drinks and some packaged snacks. There is also a vending machine where you can buy drinks just outside the park. Just a few minutes from the park is a reasonably-sized Park n Shop supermarket.

Ping Shan Heritage Trail

The 1.6 kilometre Ping Shan Heritage Trail is located in the west of the New Territories, just below the Mai Po marshes. It links together a number of traditional Chinese buildings and temples, and is a great way of appreciating some of Hong Kong’s cultural and architectural heritage.

The trail represents such a distinctive part of Hong Kong’s history that we have provided a detailed map that will allow you to appreciate it in full (p314). An official map published by the tourist board can be picked up at many of the main sites along the route.

One particular highlight of the route is the oldest pagoda in Hong Kong, built more than 600 years ago. The architectural style is very different to more modern pagodas, and there are no others like it still remaining in the territory. The old colonial police station, which is now the visitor's centre, is also a must-see. Opening times of buildings on the route vary, but are typically 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm.

There are a few shops and refreshment stalls along the route.

Outside the Tang Ancestral Hall, you will find local villagers selling tasty sweets and homemade dumplings.

A five-minute walk from here, you will find a couple of proper restaurants that are worth eating at. For good Japanese-style noodle soup try Ramen Komachi. For something with a more Western flare, there is an American-style diner owned and managed by a Formula One fan just across the street: F1 Cafe. Just look for the half-Ferrari sticking out of the wall.

There are also some local shops on the road that leads to and from Kun Ting Study Hall.

You can start the walk from Tin Shui Wai MTR station (exit e3) or take the light rail tram to the visitor centre at Ping Shan and start from there.

The heritage trail is not a circular route, but you can choose to start and finish at the different stations (Tin Shui Wai MTR and Ping Shan light rail). Alternatively, you can walk the 15 minutes between them to make the walk truly circular. There is also another light rail station along the route: Hang Mei Tsuen.

Most of the trail is pushchair-friendly, although there are occasional steps.

Wong Tai Sin

The Taoist temple of Wong Tai Sin was completed in 1921 and is now one of the most famous temples in the whole of Hong Kong. The temple is dedicated to Wong Tai Sin, a Chinese deity associated with the power of healing.

Its architecture is in distinctive traditional Chinese style: grand red pillars, a magnificent golden roof, yellow latticework, and resplendent multicoloured carvings.

There are plenty of fortune tellers in the temple who, for a small fee, can give you a glimpse of the future.

To get to the temple, walk for about three minutes from exit B2 of Wong Tai Sin MTR station.

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