As you’ll soon discover, Upper Street (the English name for Sheung Wan) alludes to the ankle buckling ladder streets that bisect the neighbourhood’s steep hills, rather than its coveted zip code. There may be micro-cool cafes and speakeasies, but they stand cheek-by-jowl with Chinese herbalists and metalworkers: proof that local trades and traditions are rooted as deep as the hood’s behemoth banyan trees.
Sheung Wan’s history is written in its streets. Ginseng-perfumed Des Voeux Road West is the birthplace of one of Hong Kong’s oldest industries; dried seafood, whilst iconic Hollywood Road is where merchant sailors hawked their artifacts from mainland China. Today, quality antiques draw in serious collectors from across the world. If your pockets don’t stretch that deep, there’s always curio-laden Cat Street (great for souvenirs) that runs parallel to Hollywood Road.
From here, you can navigate the near-vertical, street-art strewn alleys and staircases (many, frustratingly, dead-end) to the sub-hood of PoHo – a maze of pedestrianised cobbled streets. It borders onto Blake Garden (the city’s first public park), where elderly locals play mahjong, to the noisy accompaniment of their caged pet birds.
As you might expect, the food scene is pretty eclectic too, running the gamut from no frills cha chaan teng local diners, to pricey Japanese tasting menus.
This enclave is best explored with comfy shoes and an empty stomach, one ladder street at a time.
The Fitting Room by Grana
With its Scandi-looking shopfront and colour-coordinated rails of clean tailoring, Grana could pass for any other high street fashion store. But there is one major difference – you can’t actually buy the Chinese silk joggers, cashmere crew neck sweaters or Irish linen shirts on display. This is fashion e-tailer Grana’s first bricks-and-mortar location, where customers can try offline, then go home and buy online. The man turning the fashion retail model on its head is Australian serial entrepreneur, Luke Gran, who launched the brand in 2014. His travels to Peru in 2012 introduced him to hand-harvested Peruvian Pima cotton, and a newfound passion for quality fabrics like Italian Merino wool and Mongolian cashmere. Grana’s friendly price point, achieved by dealing directly with mills, hasn’t stopped the likes of Gigi Hadid and Jessica Alba flaunting the luxe-look garments.
108 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, +852 6013 2118. grana.com
A two-minute walk
Man Mo Temple
Man Mo, which houses the gods of literature (Man Cheong) and martial arts (Mo Tai) was built in 1847 during the Qing dynasty, making it one of the city’s oldest temples. Inside, smoke lingers from giant incense spirals suspended from the roof (which can burn for up to three weeks) as locals and tourists shuffle between dazzling altars and golden urns. The temple also marks the start of the Central and Western Heritage Trail. This urban hike covers 35 points of historical interest in Sheung Wan, where revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen spent his formative years.
124-126 Hollywood Road
A seven-minute walk
There’s every chance you’ll walk straight past this popular Southeast Asian restaurant, staring at Google maps in utter disbelief. Concealed behind an old Chinese rubber stamp shop is a kitsch psychedelic interior and one of the city’s most hyped brunches. Walls plastered with vintage photos tell the fictional story of Mrs. Pound, a burlesque dancer in ‘50s Shanghai. Satisfyingly, the fusion menu is as quirky as the décor, with dishes like macaroni cheese stuffed with Alaskan king crab, ‘sriracha street corn’ and lip-smackingly good avocado fries.
6 Pound Lane, +852 3426 3949. mrspound.com
A five-minute taxi ride
Neglected for over a decade, this colonial era police barracks turned design-centric shopping hub was renovated to the tune of US$50 million in 2014, and hasn’t looked back since. The post-war compound’s 18,000-square metres of pop-up galleries, eateries and designer boutiques sell everything from 3D printed earrings and artisanal teaware, to edgy urban threads and hydroponic craft cocktails. And its subsidised artist studios (that you’re free to wander around) have been a lifeline to Hong Kong creatives faced with astronomical rents. Check out their ever-changing calendar for events and night markets held in the glass-canopied central courtyard.
35 Aberdeen Street, +852 2870 2335. pmq.org.hk
A four-minute walk
At this hole-in-the-wall, bean-to-bar chocolatier, you’ll find owners Sally and Mandy either roasting cacao or tempering chocolate, in-between serving up steaming mugs of their decadently thick signature drink. Perfect for a rainy afternoon.
1B, 49-51A Gough Street, +852 6163 3563.facebook.com/pg/HakawaChocolate
A seven-minute walk
Follow the pungent wafts of salty, dried fish to reach Des Voeux Road West (nicknamed ‘Seafood Street’) and Bonham Strand, where vendors have tra- ded since the early 20th century. The 200-or-so stores that spill out onto the streets peddle everything from dried abalone (a banquet favourite) to desert fungi. Step inside (dodging the absurdly expensive yellow discs of maw strung from the ceiling), where glass storage jars of sea cucumbers line the counters, and sacks spill over with exotic herbs.
If it’s dried, medicinal and edible, chances are you’ll find it here.
Des Voeux Road West Streets, Bonham Strand, Bonham Strand West.
A three-minute walk from Bonham Strand
Doing his bit to preserve the 3000-year-old craft of Chinese seal carving is self-taught chop-maker Raymond Chow Kai-Ki, who has been working from a small booth on Man Wa Lane since 1973. For just HK$250 (US$30), Chow personalises marble stamps (engraved with your Chinese script name), that are signed, sealed and picked up, rather than delivered, 48 hours later.
Man Wa Lane or Chop Alley (connects Des Voeux Street and Wing Lok Street), next to Sheung Wan station, A1 MTR exit.
A two-minute ding ding tram from Man Wa Lane station
Wrap up your Sheung Wan explorations at the city’s most iconic red-bricked building, Western Market, which is also the final port of call on the Central & Western Heritage Trail. Occupying an entire city block, the 1906-built, Edwardian-styled Mall’s first floor, known as ‘cloth alley’, is where locals in the know get their suits or cheongsams made. Satisfy your sweet tooth at one of the Chinese dessert shops or Bavarian-style bakeries, then sit back and admire the dramatic gothic interior architecture.
Des Voeux Rd Central, +852 6029 2675. westernmarket.com.hk
WORDS AND IMAGES: SARAH FREEMAN