Wan Chai: The Ultimate Guide

There’s more to this vibrant neighbourhood than just a red light district
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Wan Chai may be notorious for its red light district but it has so much more to offer. The district houses some of the most interesting architecture, as well as some of the best restaurants and bars in the city. Home to locals and expats alike, there’s not much you can’t find, but here’s our pick of some of the best things to do, eat and drink in this vibrant neighbourhood. The difficult part was deciding what to leave out. Sam Sinha

The best things to do in Wan Chai

Wan Chai Market

Shop at a street market

There are plenty of market stalls dotted around the area, but Wan Chai’s 'toy street' has the largest concentration of stalls and shops. Selling everything from live turtles, flowers and toys, to vegetables, meat and live seafood, the market streets are full of character and offer a fascinating glimpse into life in this bustling neighbourhood.

WOOLOOMOOLOO
Photograph: Courtesy WOOLOOMOOLOO
Restaurants, Steakhouse

Take in the view from Wooloomooloo's rooftop bar

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Take the lift right to the top floor of Wooloomooloo and, after a small flight of stairs, you’ll reach the restaurant's open-air terrace. The harbour view is partially obscured by other highrises but it’s still breathtaking. You can see out the other way over Happy Valley Racecourse and the hills beyond. The location, right in the heart of the neighbourhood, gives you the vantage point of the daily hustle and bustle in Wan Chai.

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Bars and pubs

A night out to remember (or not) at Ophelia

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Not for the fainthearted, Ophelia is one of Hong Kong’s most outrageous bars. From the live mermaids suspended above the bar to the drag shows and much more in between... it’s better if you find out for yourself – you’ve been warned.

Club Rhine Lockhart Road

Happy Hour on Lockhart Road

It’s got a bad reputation – and for good reason. But if you can stand the seediness and advances of the mama sans for a couple of hours, it’s a fun place to hang out at. We wouldn’t advocate entering the fully curtained girlie bars, but there are plenty of choices with Happy Hour deals usually displayed outside. These include stupidly long 'hours' that run from 3pm-3am as well as quirky deals like the change-saving 'any drink for $20 if you pay with a $20 note'.

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Music

Listen to live music at The Wanch

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Not to be missed, this Hong Kong institution is the best place to head to for cheap drinks and live music every night of the week. They’re champions of local bands and bringers of mirth for all who enter. Our best advice is to turn up with an open mind and see what happens.

Things to do

Sing your heart out at Red Mr

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One of the city’s most popular late-night warbling spots. At Red Mr, you can rent a private room with a huge screen and several microphones. The staff will bring you all the drinks you could want and the food’s decent too. There’s beer pong and table football for when you can’t handle the crooning any longer. But if you plan to sing all night, the song list is extensive with all the Cantonese and Western classics covered. Just make sure your microphone is charged up before you give your big performance.

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Shopping

Wan Chai Computer Centre

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If you’re after digital retail therapy, Wan Chai Computer Centre has everything you could imagine. There are cables and adaptors for devices we didn’t even know existed, and every type of laptop, camera, monitor, phone or tablet you could need. If you’re looking for bargains but don’t want to make the trip over to Mong Kok’s markets, this is one the best places on the island to indulge your inner nerd.

Things to do

Stroll down Lee Tung Avenue

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A controversial project when it was built as it involved the demolition of scores of old buildings, Lee Tung Avenue divides opinion. The pedestrianised street is now lined with colonial-era style buildings with big-name shops and hip eateries tucked within. There's even a whole store dedicated to Calbee Japanese crisps. It’s worth a look whether you love it, or love to hate it.

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Things to do, Cultural centres

Get cultured at the Hong Kong Arts Centre

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Founded in 1977, this is a hub of culture with numerous theatres, studios, classrooms and exhibition spaces crammed into its modest walls. The centre promotes both English and Chinese-language productions, working in conjunction with the Hong Kong Arts School. It also hosts year-round exhibitions from the city’s artists at the Pao Gallery. It’s a great place to visit, especially if you can catch an exhibition from a local artist.

Things to do

Catch a film at the Hong Kong Open Air Cinema Club

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Enjoy everything from indie flicks to blockbusters 21 stories up in the Hong Kong sky. Drinks and snacks are available and movie-goers are advised to bring their own blankets just in case it turns out to be a chiller rather than a thriller.

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Star Ferry

Take the Star Ferry

For the best cross-harbour experience, catch the Star Ferry from Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui. The route actually offers a better view than from Central, as you’re a little further away from the towering skyline. The ferry will transport you over to the the Kowloon peninsula in a matter of minutes. 

The best restaurants in Wan Chai

Restaurants

Le Garcon Saigon

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One of the best Vietnamese restaurants in town, Le Garcon Saigon is headed by Aussie-Viet chef Bao La. Bao takes traditional ideas and techniques – usually involving cooking over charcoal – and updates them with modern twists. His mission is to show off the diversity of Vietnamese food – without a bowl of pho in sight. Instead, you can enjoy smoky meat and fish dishes served with mountains of fresh herbs and full-flavoured sauces. Be sure to wash all of these down with a Saigon beer.

Restaurants

Bo Innovation

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With intelligent, innovative and even humorous plates, ‘Demon Chef’ Alvin Leung’s three-Michelin star masterpiece is a must try if you have the budget (it’s one of the pricier restaurants on this list). Rather than the ten-a-penny east-meets-west fare we’re so used to, Bo Innovation offers a refreshing fusion of traditional and modern Chinese ideas. A top spot for a special occasion.

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Restaurants

Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-fried Buns (Wan Chai)

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This unassuming shop is tucked away on Thomson Road – a street full of hardware shops.The signature buns are prepared fresh in-store and are filled with rich pork bone broth and topped with sliced spring onions. The Shanghainese soup dumplings are available with various fillings, as well as sauces to dip into. Just be careful to let these cool slightly before you bite into them.

Restaurants

Joy Hing BBQ Shop

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Serving some of the finest char siu rice in the territory at rock bottom prices, Joy Hing is a must for authentic Cantonese roasted meats. The barbecued pork is so good there’s even a Facebook group dedicated to the humble appreciation of the dish. The tiny shop fills up quickly so try to arrive early. Otherwise, do as many locals do and order your meats to go.

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Restaurants

Capital Cafe

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Set up in homage to traditional cha chaan tengs, as well as Cantopop singers and movie stars, Capital Café serves up excellent renditions of the greatest hits, including scrambled egg on thick buttery toast, hot milk tea and HK-style french toast. The restaurant is typically cramped and hectic, but with friendlier service than Australian Dairy Company on the other side of the harbour. The set menu costs $40 and will fill you up for the rest of your day exploring the neighbourhood.

Restaurants

Qi - House of Sichuan

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For a lip-numbingly good time, this Northern Chinese eatery offers a fiery menu of stir-fried meat and seafood dishes. Try the chilli dungeness crab, a mountain of fresh crab stir-fried with an even bigger mountain of chillies with garlic salt and sichuan peppercorns. You’ll be glad you shelled out for it.

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Restaurants

The Pawn

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Housed in a magnificent heritage building revamped from a former pawn shop, The Pawn maintains its colonial charm while serving refined modernised British fare helmed by head chef Tom Aikens. Surrounded by modern chic furnishings, diners can tuck in traditional and modern dishes at the ’kitchen’ or head over the Botanicals bar, which looks out to the bustling Wan Chai neighbourhood below. 

 

Restaurants, Spanish

22 Ships

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On the hip side of Wan Chai, Ship Street houses 22 Ships, which delivers a boundlessly creative tapas menu. From the stable of chef Jason Atherton, the team uses modern touches – foams, gels and novel flavour combos – to update classic small plates. Stop here for brunch and enjoy their free-flow beer offers during the weekend.

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Restaurants, Thai

Samsen

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Samsen is a cut above some of the other excellent Thai restaurants in the neighbourhood. Former Chachawan head chef Adam Cliff’s take on Thai street food hits the spot with standout dishes such as huge bowls of wagyu beef boat noodles with crispy shallots, and fried Thai noodles with juicy tiger prawns. No reservations here, but you can pop across the road to Stone Nullah Tavern – or to 7-Eleven next door – for a pre-dinner drink and the restaurant staff will call you when there’s a free table.

Bars and pubs

Tai Lung Fung

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The interior offers a nostalgic nod to historic Hong Kong with old movie posters, neon signs and antique clocks hanging from every fixture. Tai Lung Fung – local slang for the showy or ostentatious – is a great after work watering hole that stocks a solid range of craft brews and decent wines and spirits. It’s easy to while a way a few hours in this atmospheric setting.

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Bars and pubs

TED's Lookout

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If you want to hang out with Wan Chai’s trendy crowd, then head to Ted’s Lookout. There’s usually a buzzing atmosphere and, with a good range of Japanese beers, clever cocktails and excellent sliders, this is a solid spot to chill out after a day out in Wan Chai.

Looking for a place for drinks?

Deligator
Deligator, on Johnston Road
Bars and pubs

The best bars in Wan Chai

Once infamous for being the seedy heart of Hong Kong Island, Wan Chai has shed much of its sleazy reputation in recent years. The wider neighbourhood is now home to an increasing number of top tier bars – which come with some of the best cocktails and amazing rooftop views. 

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