by Tiffannie Ruth R. Litam
The old townhouses of 46 Graham St. / 48 Hollywood Road
There is something to be said about exploring a foreign city on foot, with only a map and your phone to consult for the unfamiliar but fascinating territory. Seeing the sights, feeling the wonder, and getting lost in the daily grind of everyday life different from yours is one of life’s pleasures. And when you walk the streets of Old Town Central (OTC), you get that exact feeling: curiosity and awe at the melting pot of time, culture, and color that is one of Hong Kong’s oldest districts.
Straddling the Central and Sheung Wan neighborhoods, OTC is a microcosm of the “other” city that never sleeps. Its sloping streets treat you to an experience of traveling through time, with heritage sights, modern galleries, and street murals welcoming travelers side by side. For hungry ones, everything from sidewalk kiosks to specialty stores offer a palatable spread like no other. And for memory-keepers, the alleyways are where the story begins: knick-knacks and curiosity shops are aplenty, so you’re sure to not run out of souvenirs.
Bruce Lee’s mural in Tank Lane
Indeed, taking a day to explore what OTC has to offer is worth your time and money—especially when you do so on foot.
The best and most budget-friendly way to explore a new place is to walk: it not only saves you the expenses of a guided tour, it also allows you to go at your own pace, with the itinerary tailor-fit to your interests.
A self-guided walking tour of OTC with no knowledge of it might be challenging and even overwhelming, considering how huge the district is. Fortunately, the Hong Kong Tourism Board has published a comprehensive guidebook and map to make things easier. Beautifully illustrated and informative, it is free for download on their website, or you can just grab one at the airport.
The front entrance of Tai Kwun
My best friend and I used these resources during our tour of the district. To make the most of our time, we went through the guidebook beforehand and simply selected the stops and shops we wanted to see. Essentially, we created our own tour route based on the resources by filtering the pit-stops by art, attractions, and food.
Here are some more tips to help you plan your tour:
Take the MTR
Everyone knows that the MTR is the best way to navigate Hong Kong. And because we availed of the Airport Express Travel Pass (for HKD250, you get one express ride to the airport and unlimited rides on the MTR, MTR Bus, and Light Rail for three consecutive days), we opted to travel to OTC via the MTR instead of by taxi or bus.
Utilize Google Maps
Downloading the app on your phone will be your best decision on the tour. Yes, walk around and get lost, but always have the app and your pocket WiFi ready just in case you get a little too lost.
Avoid the “hot” tourist destinations
When we worked out our tour route, we chose to avoid the more popular tourist destinations that would have high foot traffic. As such, not only did we skip the long lines, we also got to see more of everything else.
Back to the future
The facade of and inside Tai Kwun
If there was one “hot” tourist destination we hadn’t planned on visiting but delightfully stumbled onto anyway, it was Tai Kwun. Formerly Central Police Station Compound, this heritage site is a testament to exquisite Hong Kong architecture and history well worth the stop. Another transformed arts and culture center is PMQ, the previous Police Married Quarters. This is the place to go to for fashion lovers and creative minds: from studios and exhibits to eclectic shops, there’s a treasure for everyone here.
The man smiling down from 21A Lyndhurst Terrace
Speaking of the arts, a definite must-see in OTC are its murals. Aside from being great photo-stops, these larger-than-life murals can be found on numerous building walls around the district. Some favorites include the smiling man (21A Lyndhurst Terrace), a rainy night in New York (45-53 Graham St.), the famed old townhouses (46 Graham St. / 48 Hollywood Road), and that of Bruce Lee (Tank Lane).
Breakfast spread Merienda spread
In terms of must-try food that won’t hurt your pockets, there’s plenty of options. I suggest the crispy bun and socks milk tea of Lan Fong Yuen for breakfast, as well as the wonderful egg tarts of Tai Cheong. For heavier meals, head over to Yat Lok for roast goose; and for merienda, give Oddies’s eggette waffles or Flamingo Bloom’s floral teas a try.
Ultimately, OTC is a beautiful district that thrives on contrasts coexisting. Art, culture, and history take centerstage where OTC lets its penchant for finding new purpose in the old and weaving new stories through them flourish in a perfect balance of time. And by doing a self-guided walking tour, it’s a rich experience that doesn’t have to break the bank.