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For Your Next Hong Kong Trip, Explore The Old Streets of Sham Shui Po

Culture, history, and snake eateries await.
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By now Hong Kong may not feel quite so far from home. It's a popular shopping destination, and among the more common picks for Filipinos looking to get out and about. We already know its tall buildings, its posh hotels, its upscale retail options, its beautiful metropolitan vistas, and of course, its Disneyland.

But there's another side to Hong Kong that's worth seeing—a side that's lesser-known to tourists and different from the Hong Kong that most people know. This is the side you'll see in Sham Shui Po—a district in Kowloon and a part of Hong Kong that demands to be explored.

For decades, Sham Shui Po has been home to a working-class population, including migrants from rural China, low-income families, and senior citizens. Today, it's still lined with the kind of old buildings and bustling street markets that characterize downtown areas, but it's also evolving.

Like certain parts of downtown Manila, pockets of culture have opened up in Sham Shui Po over recent years, and the result is an eclectic mix of old and new. Wet markets and wholesale stores aren't too far from creative communities and third-wave coffee shops in Sham Shui Po. So here is now one of the best places for travelers to get a taste of the raw and unfamiliar Hong Kong, where we can seek the much-romanticized experience of authenticity.

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So if you're looking to head out to Hong Kong sometime soon, consider the side of it you haven't seen. Here are a few things to do, see, and experience in the Sham Shui Po district.

Walk the streets.

Sham Shui Po isn't a place to tour—it's a place to explore. The street markets and stores here are so densely packed over such a large area that part of the joy is just walking around aimlessly. It's a little like Divisoria, but just a bit cleaner and more orderly: There are wholesale shops where name-brand fashion designers from all over the world come to source fabric. There's an electronics and appliances market called Golden Computer Arcade, which is a little like Greenhills in San Juan and Gilmore in Quezon City. There are military surplus goods, there are toys, there's street food and all manner of pasalubong. There's also a lot of street art scattered about, painted on walls and building faces—more than enough to see, do, and discover for yourself.

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Eat snake at Shia Wong Hip.

One of the more unconventional things to do at Sham Shui Po is to grab a bite at Shia Wong Hip, where they serve traditional snake dishes. If you enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 3, you're going to want to live it out by snacking on snake soup and fried snake. Their bestseller here—and the dish you're going to want to try—is the "Secret Recipe Snake Soup," which tastes like regular lomi with a bit of a kick.

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Clockwise from top: Deep Fried Spiced Snake, which tastes like chicken wings; Secret Recipe Snake, which tastes like lomi; and Softshell Turtle Soup, which tastes a little like the broth inside balut.

Try some of the world's best soybean products at Kung Wo Tofu Factory.

Kung Wo Tofu has been featured in the Michelin Guide for its soybean products, which are made using traditional methods. Tofu pudding and bean curd are two of the main attractions, but if you're just swinging by, you could grab a bottle their soymilk, which tastes great.

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The storefront of Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong, an establishment famed and even mentioned in the Michelin Guide for its soybean products made the old-fashioned way.

Pop pastries at the Michelin-recommended Kwan Kee Store.

Another Michelin-approved store here at Sham Shui Po is the Kwan Kee Store, a specialty shop for traditional rice pastries. White sugar cake and glutinous rice pudding are among their recommended desserts.

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There's excellent food at just about every corner of Sham Shui Po's marketplace.

Cop a backpack at Doughnut.

Doughnut is a brand of stylish and super-functional bags and backpacks. One of its stores is located in Sham Shui Po, where it demonstrates the district's new energy and its pockets of youth culture.

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Hong Kong-based label Doughnut makes utility bags and backpacks with specific needs in mind: daily commutes, outdoor expeditions, and travel. Their store in Sham Shui Po signals the arrival of youth culture in the area.

Eat pork buns and dim sum at the Tim Ho Wan.

Don't settle for just any Tim Ho Wan; grab a bite at the Tim Ho Wan. Sham Shui Po is also home to the world-famous dim sum restaurant's flagship store, which is much less glossy and more authentic. Tim Ho Wan founder Mak Kwai Pui still works the kitchen here sometimes, as part of his dedication to the traditional dim sum.

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We would have like to call him Tim, but his name is Mak Kwai Pui, the founding chef of Tim Ho Wan, who sometimes works the kitchen of the flagship store in Sham Shui Po.

Get a history lesson from a youth hostel.

The Mei Ho House is now a youth hostel with a nice cafe and accommodations for tourists, but its real attraction is its heritage. Mei Ho was once one of the H-shaped resettlement blocks that were built to house victims of a big fire that razed the Shek Kip Mei area of Kowloon in 1953. And because this also marked the beginning of Hong Kong's public housing policies, Mei Ho is now the site of a museum that details the history of urban poor resettlement in the area. If you'd like to see Sham Shui Po in the context of its socioeconomic and sociocultural history, Mei Ho is an enlightening place to visit.

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Mei Ho House is a youth hostel now, but it's also home to a museum that shows the history of urban development in one of Hong Kong's poorer areas.

Apart from the museum, Mei Ho also has a nice cafe where guests and hostellers hang out.
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See the city from Garden Hill.

To top everything off, climb up Garden Hill (near the Mei Ho House) to get a panoramic view of Sham Shui Po. It's a five-minute climb and a quite a bit of a hike if you aren't in shape, but worth it when you get to the top. You may have been to Victoria Peak before, but you probably haven't seen Hong Kong from up here.

It's quite a hike to the top of Garden Hill, but manage it and you'll get to see a beautiful panoramic view of Sham Shui Po district.
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Of course, these are just a few recommendations of things to do at Sham Shui Po. One of the best things about the place is that because of its sprawl and density, it feels like there will always be something new to explore and experience.

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