Thang Tran

Behind the neon lights and towering skyscrapers, explore the hidden gems and local life of Hong Kong.

The bustling affluence and dizzying pace of urbanization in Hong Kong (SAR) have stirred debates over sustainable development and cultural preservation for years. Yet hidden on the backstreets and narrow alleys of Hong Kong are pockets of traditional life still taking place in the heart of this hyper-modern metropolis. But how can visitors find these outposts?

One group of local residents has been trying to answer that question by creating tools that help protect the lives, cultural and spiritual heritage that have been cherished for generations. With an aim to build up more sustainable and dynamic Hong Kong, an organization called iDiscover created a mobile app and printed maps which enable users to explore and experience the historical essence of Hong Kong as well as a striking hand-drawn map and neighborhood guidebook.

Working with local residents, non-governmental organizations and universities in Hong Kong, the app’s creators mapped various tourist routes for both locals and tourists. An audio and visual team is responsible for recording stories of daily life while local artists create the visually striking hand-drawn maps. Because locals are involved in the selection, creation and introduction of  destinations and events, they highlight many roads less travelled on mainstream tourist guides to Hong Kong.

Visitors can explore areas like Kennedy Town (known as K-Town), which was once called the “backyard” and “wasteland” of Hong Kong because it was so far away from the downtown, at the end of the western metro route. Nowadays, K-Town is known for its vibrant bars and restaurants, while its famous Sai Wan Estate apartment blocks have been spruced up with colorful playgrounds. Sai Wan Estate, built into a hillside, is the oldest public housing estate still extant in Hong Kong, making it a must-visit for fans who want to take a close-up view of metropolitan history.

To experience traditional fishing villages, pay a visit to Aberdeen on southwest Hong Kong Island. Sai Kung, meanwhile, is reputed for its bay and islands where you can escape the crowds and noise and kick back in a seaside resort vibe, enjoy fresh seafood and go hiking in the mountains. Hoi Pong Street of Sai Kung District is filled with numerous cafés and little souvenir shops with both vintage styles and unique contemporary art.

Using the free mobile app, visitors can connect directly to locals, stop by their businesses and living quarters or even get involved in everyday activities. Family-run businesses and traditional craftsmen on the fringes of the city, normally invisible in the media, are now connected and opened to tourists. The app’s users can stop by veteran artisans who specialize in sewing or bamboo steamers used for Chinese dumplings, scavengers and recyclers of wood, generations-old family run restaurants or traditional handicraft workshops. In Sai Ying Pun, for example, you can stop by the shop of Yu Kwen Yick, a legendary family-run chili sauce brand since 1922. While Hong Kong is dynamic, modern and sophisticated, the traditional pulse of the city is still beating, waiting to be felt again by a new generation. iDiscover neighborhood guides have also  been created for destinations in Thailand, Myanmar, Phillipines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka.