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7 unique sceneries you will only ever see in Hong Kong

Things that can make anyone fall in love with the city

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
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We are always told not to take things for granted, but the truth is, we often do. We are so accustomed to living in Hong Kong that we’ve become oblivious to the simple yet most extraordinary and beautiful things around the city. The same old commute routes, sceneries, street stalls, or even good old street signs above our heads – we rarely notice how fascinating they are. From fluorescent neon lights to trees protruding through walls, there’s beauty hidden in every corner of Hong Kong. By Cara Hung and Natalie Lam

RECOMMENDED: Get to know more about our city's local culture and book yourself a staycation with heritage experiences, or read about these long lost buildings of Hong Kong's past.

Unique sceneries you will only ever see in Hong Kong

Neon signs
Photograph: Shutterstock

Neon signs

Flashing neon lights are hard to miss when you’re walking down the streets of Mong Kok. Beaming bright above seemingly endless rows of shops, the craft of neon signs first made its way into Hong Kong in the 1930s. After the war, as industries resumed development, the art of neon lights flourished. From cinemas and bars to entertainment venues and restaurants, these eye-catching signs were hung everywhere. Sadly, more and more neon signs are disappearing these days due to regulations that make it almost impossible to maintain them. So, appreciate them while you still can!

Bamboo scaffolding
Photograph: Shutterstock

Bamboo scaffolding

While most parts of the world construct their buildings with steel scaffoldings, our ever-changing, modern city still uses traditional bamboo. These magnificent structures are widely used in Hong Kong because they’re cheap and can also be disassembled and cut into different shapes at any time. The cultural role of bamboo scaffolding is even more significant when it comes to traditional festivities like the Hungry Ghost Festival, where bamboos scaffoldings are used to build traditional Chinese theatres. Suspended hundreds of feet above the ground, scaffolding workers are almost like Hong Kong’s very own Spidermen. Their ingenious skills and efficient work are simply spectacular.

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Alleyways
Photograph:Ann Chiu

Alleyways

Hong Kong may be known for its highrises and skyscrapers, but take a look beyond (or behind) these buildings, and you’ll find something truly unique. Take your adventures off the beaten path and discover the rustic beauty in Hong Kong’s many alleyways and backstreets. Down these alleyways, you’ll find graffiti-covered walls, dishwashers scrubbing away, random chairs and furniture, the occasional hidden bar or shop, smokers taking a break from work, or perhaps just trash and rodents. But all these textures, people, and everyday things truly reflect the city’s dynamics. The late great German photographer Michael Wolf was so enamoured by Hong Kong’s backstreet sceneries that he published a themed photo album called Informal Solutions, which highlights all the unique and strange sightings he came across down these alleyways. 

Dense buildings
Photograph: Shutterstock

Dense buildings

Unlike many other cities around the world, space is a rare commodity in Hong Kong. Well, unless you’re filthy rich or live on a farm. To say an inch of land is worth an inch of gold would be no exaggeration. In the 1950s and 1960s, a type of multipurpose building with commercial, residential, and industrial uses emerged in Hong Kong. These buildings served not only residential purposes but also became somewhat of a community for different kinds of small shops and family-style workshops. The frequent industrial and commercial activities, along with population movements, brought liveliness to these densely populated buildings and even turned them into artistic inspiration. Wong Kar-wai’s movie Chongqing Forest and Mondo Grosso’s music video Labyrinth have fully demonstrated the charm of Hong Kong’s tightly packed building landscape.

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'Instagrammable' housing estates

Speaking of buildings, ever noticed that only in Hong Kong are housing estates a 'cool' place to go to? From world-famous spots such as Choi Hung Estate and the Monster Building to lesser-known gems like Kwai Fong Estate and Choi Yiu Chuen, these residential buildings all make a striking photo for the 'gram. Just remember not to trespass or disturb the residents if you ever decide to visit any of them!

Stone wall trees
Photograph: Shutterstock

Stone wall trees

Of course, every city has trees, but not every place is lucky enough to accommodate stone wall trees. Stone wall trees are trees that grow out of cracks in stone walls. They can be found in every corner of Hong Kong, but mainly in the Central and Western District and Wan Chai. During the early years, a great number of slopes were levelled for housing purposes, and stone walls were built for consolidation. As time passed, seeds in soil along the stone walls slowly grew from the cracks. Marabut is the main type of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. With their roots growing along the walls, it forms a unique and strange kind of beauty that none can compare.

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Cha chaan teng
Photograph: Ann Chiu

Cha chaan teng

Whether it’s sharing tables with a complete stranger or receiving a cold eye from the waiter when you take too long to order, there’s always a slightly intimidating yet familiar atmosphere in cha chaan tengs. An atmosphere that makes Hongkongers love these eateries so much (aside from the affordable prices). These local eateries work at a fast pace, so it’s all about efficiency for them. If you take too long to order, you might hear a sigh or a tut from the waiter, and if you make complicated requests to your order, then you can take your soy milk sugar-free backside out the door. But before you vow never to go back to a cha chaan teng again, you should know that most of them are not trying to be rude, it’s just the way they communicate. Plus, if you’ve been working 12 hours straight every day of the week – like most cha chaan teng staff – you might get a little cranky every now and then if someone takes 10 minutes to order just a piece of toast and milk tea. Time is money, people!

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