On one side, the classic Chinese temple of Tin Hau Made one travel back to the heritage fishing village of Kowloon. While exactly on the opposite side, the British Edwardian Police Station Drew one around to the era of colonial platoon. Such contrasting architectures, right next to each other and many more along the walking trail - All part of the West Kowloon Cultural District of Hong Kong.
When it comes to visiting the heritage and historic part of Hong Kong, there is no missing Kowloon city. I remember visiting this HK neighbourhood eons back. Even back then, I remember how the place fascinated me with its vibrant culture. Turns out, it has now become a major art and cultural hub with the newly developed West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD). The place includes interesting West Kowloon walking trails that introduce you to a few famous landmarks in Hong Kong. These itineraries are about creating modern traditions where you can experience the amalgamation of the old heritage and the new contemporary world.
Two of these walking routes in West Kowloon Cultural District caught my attention – the first allowed me to virtually experience the diverse architecture and the second introduced me to the traditional craftsmanship there. While I could not physically walk to these locations, what I discovered made for a great virtual tour of West Kowloon. Through this post, I will cover what I discovered on my first West Kowloon walking trail of Hong Kong architecture. The 2nd post that follows later will cover the other route. Let’s begin our journey through the West Kowloon Cultural District.
Kowloon – the historic backdrop of Hong Kong
Kowloon is the peninsular part of Hong Kong, right across Victoria Harbour. The place has a long history where one part of it was given to the British by the Qing dynasty and the other was leased by the British for 99 years. A lot of it was left undeveloped by the British and used as a hunting ground. The developed part included a popular landmark called the Kowloon walled city which was largely residential for the Chinese.
Kowloon became densely populated after the 2nd World War when several refugees took shelter here. This is when several commercial and residential parts of Kowloon Hong Kong came about. Eventually, the region was expanded by reclaiming land on the west. Thus, arose West Kowloon.
Introduction to West Kowloon Cultural District
West Kowloon was originally inhabited by the local Tanka fishermen. The shoreline served as a dockyard for their ships as well as the Royal Navy. Around 40 hectares of land was reclaimed and today, this is what is popularly called WKCD or the West Kowloon Cultural District. This Hong Kong neighbourhood is being developed as a hub that offers a medley of experiences to travelers. It showcases authentic culture, heritage and traditions in a very contemporary setting. And this is what got me researching more about WKCD – and ultimately experiencing a bit of it virtually.
Various itineraries to discover WKCD
There are actually five itineraries in the form of walking trails to discover WKCD. These are termed as below –
- Where modern architecture meets history
- Made by hand – local art & craft in West Kowloon
- West Kowloon: art in panorama
- See Urban art in all forms
- Feast your way through delicious local flavours
Of these, the first two are what I personally enjoyed. This post as I mentioned is about the diversity in architecture in West Kowloon.
West Kowloon walking trail to discover the architecture in West Kowloon
On this virtual trail, there are actually 8 West Kowloon attractions. Some of these dates back to the 1800s. Even in those, there is a delightful fusion of colonial touch and the intricate Imperial designs. Check them all out –
Yau Ma Tei Theatre
Built in the 1930s- before World War II , the Yau Ma Tei Theatre was the focal point of all entertainment. Today, it promotes Cantonese opera. The theater has a very Chinese-styled roof and a sweeping arch. Adding to this heritage structure are Art Deco pillars. These have faces with various emotions.
Red Brick Building in West Kowloon
Currently, this particular building serves as the office for Yau Ma Tei Theatre. However, that wasn’t its original purpose. This Red Brick building is the oldest surviving water pumping station in Hong Kong. Even today, you can see its cast-iron rainwater pipes and hopper heads from the outside. This West Kowloon attraction has a lovely verandah with arches and corbels.
Yau Ma Tei Fruit market
The 1913 market originally sold everything that this West Kowloon area needed. It was around the 1960s that there were several other markets established and the focus of this particular one shrunk to fruits. What one can look out for is the 1960s Art-Deco style of architecture. For me, however, it was spotting the old plaques on the various shop fronts. I believe, these are the original signboards that one can still see to date.
Tin Hau Temple – my favorite virtual stop on this walking route
It was in 1865 that the local Tanka fishermen built a temple dedicated to their Sea Goddess – Tin Hau. She is said to roam and protect the seafarers by her miraculous ways. It was this temple that later got relocated to its current place in the West Kowloon district. The small temple was gradually expanded to include 5 buildings and one free school. The architecture of the Tin Hau Temple Kowloon is Chinese – typical of the Qing dynasty.
The temple has a large courtyard connecting two halls. The interiors are very vibrant. The one place whose description fascinated me is called the 9 dragon wall. This is actually a bass relief of Chinese royal dragons – typical of Chinese palaces. Keep an eye out for the Tin Hau festival that takes place sometime in May. This is when you can witness the famous dragon dances, an exhibition of papercraft and tons of fishing boats decked with colorful flags.
Many of the Chinese from mainland, as well as Hong Kong, found their home in a small island called Penang in Malaysia. Even today, when you visit the place, you will see numerous heritage homes and Taoist temples similar to the one described here. Read about one such temple dedicated to the Sea Goddess in Penang.
Yau Ma Tei Police Station
While on one side of the street is the typical Chinese architecture of Tin Hau Temple, the other side of this street in WKCD is a very Edwardian architecture of the Yau Ma Tei Police Station. This place was one of the shoot locations of the famous Jackie Chan movie- Rush Hour 2. The police station was initially a small one but the place was expanded to make barracks during World War II. The place now holds a reporting section of the Hong Kong Police.
176–178 Shanghai Street
Around the corner on this West Kowloon walking trail is a typical Chinese building called Tong Lau. These buildings have a characteristic covered terrace on the ground floor. Look out for a huge signboard that says 1940. This is a four-floored building that was built in that year and still sports the terrace on the ground floor.
Kowloon Union Church – the most unusual of all architecture in West Kowloon
This West Kowloon attraction caught my attention for its unique amalgamation of West and East. Built in the 1930s, the Kowloon Union Church does not look like a typical European church but has Gothic features like red bricks and granite structures and stained glass windows. However, each of these has been fashioned with elements from Taoist architecture. For example, the stained-glass windows are in the shape of Bāguà zhǎng (Bagua Eight Triagram) – a feature of Taoist culture. The roof on top of those brick and granite exteriors is a sweeping one – a typical feature seen in Chinese architecture. In fact, it is quite rare too, as it is made of Timber.
Turns out the Kowloon Union Church is one of its kind and hence, one of the very famous landmarks in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong West Kowloon Station
This West Kowloon walking trail ends at a very contemporary train station. The highlight of this train station is the arched roof. There are stairs that take you up the green roof. The entire stretch has been landscaped with flowering shrubs and foliage plants – almost like a green park set at a height. The highest point of the roof gives you a gorgeous view of the Victoria harbour in Hong Kong.
The rest of the Hong Kong West Kowloon station has been designed such that there is plenty of sunlight lighting up its interiors. There are actually over 4000 glass panes fitted around the station.
When you see the ceiling from inside the station, you will feel as it were rotating. The rest of the interiors is filled with Art deco elements as well as steel and glass artworks. There are actually 6 artworks that one must visit when at the Hong Kong West Kowloon station. These have been done by various artists from Mainland China, France, Morocco, South Korea and Hong Kong –
- Map of Hong Kong Culture – Done by Qiu Zhijie. This is a green landscaped wall on the Level 3 departure hall
- Wallscape Hong Kong – This is on level B2 Adit connection to WKCD and has been done by MAP Office
- Mountains and Rivers without ends – Created by Wucius Wong in the Level B2 Arrival Hall
- Rilic – 486 – Located on Level G entrance and designed by Om Mee Ai
- Lost in Neon – This is near the Level B2 taxi stand. It has been created by Javin Mo
- Horizon on the border – Tozer Pak designed this piece near the Level 2 entrance.
A bonus end to this tour of West Kowloon Cultural district would be the Xiqu Centre which is dedicated to promoting Chinese Opera. The place has its own guided tour to explain the various architectural elements present within the building. The place is relatively new and was opened only in 2019.
The entrance has been conceptualized to represent a slightly contemporary version of the traditional Chinese Moon gate. The exteriors are designed like beaded curtains that have been slightly pulled back to reveal a lantern behind it. There are two sky gardens in the complex that offer you panoramic views of the Victoria harbour.
When you walk into the Xiqu center, you will be enveloped by the seamless curves and circles, all of which funnel down to a central space where the public performances and exhibitions are held.
The main auditorium is suspended 90 feet from the crowd, making it free of vibration and the surrounding urban noise levels. This adds to the acoustic pleasure of the performance. A highly recommended program in Xiqu Centre is the Tea House Theatre which has excerpts of popular Cantonese songs and stories – allowing one to get a lovely glimpse into the culture of the place.
That concludes my virtual tour of the West Kowloon Cultural District. I am curious to know what you think of this particular itinerary. Pin this if it has interested you and do share your comments below.
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This post has been written in association with Hong Kong Tourism Board. All images included in the post have been provided by them.
Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.