Western district stock has soared in recent years, with the MTR’s Island Line extended from Sheung Wan to Sai Ying Pun, HKU and Kennedy Town in late-2014. Easier accessibility has brought gentrification and an influx of expat residents, cool restaurants and bars, new property developments, rising rents and a shorter version of the Mid-Levels Escalator up Sai Ying Pun’s steep Centre Street.
The district’s past was less than salubrious, however. While Central became the administrative and business hub during British rule in the 19th century, Western was the dumping ground that saw an abattoir, morgue, mental asylum and brothels spring up. Excluded from the city boundaries, Chinese settlers made Western their home, and turned it into a thriving commercial area with easy access to the harbour.
Stroll through its neighbourhoods and reminders of the past are easily found even as the skyscrapers of Central encroach. Traditional dried-goods stores do a steady trade on busy Connaught Road West, which throngs with people, trams and traffic year-round. These stores, along with seafood and produce markets, are a favourite of chefs and food lovers, who find inspiration and flavours of Hong Kong in their many and varied offerings.
The further west you go, the quieter it gets, with a mix of residential buildings and greenery spilling down to the sea at Kennedy Town and Sai Wan, where old-timers still take a dip in the harbour by day, while millennials head there in the evening to snap sunset photos for social media posts.
So near yet a world away from Central, Western shows that you don’t have to stray far to see the evolution of a city, to enjoy the old and the new, the traditional and the hip, and to experience Hong Kong like a real local.