Old, dirty, and considered by some to be ‘gangster town’ – Sham Shui Po is actually much more than meets the eye. If you’re adventurous enough to journey this far into Kowloon, you might be surprised to discover a treasure trove of culture, food, and cheap goods.
Notorious for being gang territory throughout the 1900s, Sham Shui Po still looks a backdrop straight out of Young and Dangerous.
You'll quickly notice the ramshackle buildings and a population older and much poorer than the rest of Hong Kong. As living expenses in this Sham Shui Po is low, you'll also notice many immigrants from South Asia and the Middle East. Hawkers fill the streets with their merchandise, from remote controls, vinyls, to fruits and street food... and even saw blades (seriously). Make no mistake however -- like the rest of Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po is actually incredibly safe.
In the two years I've lived in the area, I have never witnessed anything remotely seedy. No muggings, kung fu battles with triads, or dead bodies. So it's very, very unlikely you'll run into anything exciting yourself. With that said, I'd recommend you keep a close eye on your valuables, and be sure to wear backpacks on the front rather than on the back.
On another note: at the bottom of this page is a handy map complete with all the locations I mention in this guide. I'm too nice.
Featured image (modified with text): flickr/tears2012
THINGS TO DO SHAM SHUI PO:
Kam Shan Country Park, aka Monkey Mountain
Okay, before you go on Google Map and call me out - no, Monkey Mountain isn't strictly inside Sham Shui Po. It may even look quite far away, but you can actually walk along Tai Po Road from Sham Shui Po and end up at Monkey Mountain in about 40 minutes (or if you're not suicidal, you can simply take bus 81).
As the name denotes, there are indeed lots and lots of wild monkeys here, making for excellent Instagram (or whatever social media) photos. Do refrain the urge to feed them as these guys can get rather aggressive, though you'll probably see people do it anyway. Make sure you don't smile though, as monkeys take the showing of teeth as a sign of hostility.
Kam Shan Country Park covers a huge, beautiful area, and has more trails than you or your friends will want to do. Be on the lookout for the vantage points with awesome views over Tsing Yi, Shatin, etc.
Pro Tip: if you know you sweat a lot, make sure you bring at least one litre of liquids. You know what - bring a litre even if you don't sweat a lot. You'll thank me.
Kam Shan Country Park: Kam Shan, Hong Kong Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR exit D2 > hike up Tai Po Road for about an eternity
Sham Shui Po Police Station
This place will be immediately recognizable to anyone who's seen Jackie Chan's Police Story. Built in 1924, the Sham Shui Po Police Station is one of the oldest police stations in Kowloon. It is a Grade III historic building, which basically means it's important but not that important.
Anyway, unless you're reporting a crime (knock on wood), you probably have no reason to go inside. It's still worth a quick look, however, as it is situated conveniently next to Dragon Centre, the Hawker's Bazaar, and Sham Shui Po Park - all of which we'll explore below. The police station also makes for a cool photo, if you're into that kind of thing.
Sham Shui Po Police Station: 37A Yen Chow St Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR exit C2
Sham Shui Po Park
It's an ordinary park, filled with trees, grass, joggers, and old people practicing tai chi. Unless you live in the area, there's really not much reason for you to visit as there are better parks around Hong Kong - parks that are close to 7-Elevens so you can, you know, grab beers and drink outdoors. I am including Sham Shui Po Park on this list not for it's physical merits but rather for it's historical significance.
History time! Believe it or not, Sham Shui Po Park is built atop the Sham Shui Po Barracks, a British military facility used by the Japanese as a POW camp throughout WWII. Alas, none of the previous military structures remain, though there are numerous plaques erected across the park to commemorate all those who perished inside the camp, including two maple trees (a very rare sight in Hong Kong) dedicated to fallen Canadian soldiers.
Most locals don't even know about this tid bit, so if you want to impress somebody, go ahead and tell them Sham Shui Po Park used to be a major POW camp!
Sham Shui Po Park: Lai Chi Kok Road, Sham Shui Po Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR exit C2; walk northwest along Lai Chi Kok Road
Fuk Wing Street (toys, cheap knick knacks, seasonal goods)
Here comes the section you've all been waiting, shopping. To start off, we'll check out Fuk Wing Street, where you'll be able to find store after store of hip toys, such as Lego and Marvel action figures - all on the cheap. Do bare in mind that, while some stores here do sell genuine products, a lot of these toys are counterfeit. If you're a serious toy collector, skip Fuk Wing Street.
In addition to cheap knick knacks like stationeries, umbrellas, and keychains, most of these stores also carry seasonal products catered to the expat crowd. Around October, you'll find Halloween masks and paints. In the summer, you'll see inflatables of all sizes hanging from ceilings - perfect for your junk trip.
Pro Tip: parents, try to avoid bringing your kids here. All too often I see kids throwing hissy fits, asking their parents to buy everything. Don't let that be you!
Apliu Street Market (electronic parts, flea market)
Even if you don't intend on buying anything, Apliu Street Market is worth a visit. It offers a unique local experience that rivals even the Temple Street Night Market in Yau Ma Tei.
In the retail stores on the sides, you'll come across electronics (radios, cameras, cheap smartphones), electronic parts (LED, soldiering stuff, wires), and even devices you will never need or knew existed (binoculars, laser distance meter, I even saw a few radiation testers). Along the street-side market stalls, you'll see used goods, t-shirts, laser pointers, and much more than you can imagine. You really have to go in-person to see the wealth of selection.
You'll be able to bargain at the market stalls but don't bother wasting your breath with the retail stores. Chances are that you'll find what you're looking for at Golden Arcade instead.
What is special about Apliu Street is its energy and its bustling crowd. From early afternoon to late nights and all day on weekends, Apliu Street will be packed. Locals from all over Hong Kong love to come here to buy god-knows-what, so be prepared to literally rub some elbows.
Apliu Street Market: Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR exit C2
Cheung Sha Wan Road (fabrics, clothes)
I never visited this area much as I know absolutely jackcrap about fashion, but if you're looking for fabrics in bulk for whatever reason, definitely hit up Cheung Sha Wan Road. You'll need to know what you're dealing with beforehand as there is an insane amount of materials to choose from and the shop keepers will probably not speak a whole lot of English. These stores mostly specialize in wholesale but you'll also find some shops dealing in retail.
Cheung Sha Wan Road: Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR exit C1
Hawker's Bazaar (fabrics)
Pretty much the same thing as Cheung Sha Wan Road... only this giant tent-like structure will most likely be demolished by the time you read this. The Hawker's Bazaar has stood for more than 40 years and houses an absurd number of licensed and unlicensed fabric stalls.
From the outside, the Hawker's Bazaar looks like a small shanty town or storage area. You may even walk by without noticing it. Once inside, you'll see clutters of materials covering every available surface, with some stacked high enough to reach the ceiling - which, as you can guess, poses a bit of a safety hazard.
The government has been trying to clear out the bazaar and it's inhabitants to make way for housing. Last I heard, the owners were given notice to relocate to a temporary market nearby but were refusing to leave. If you're interested in reading up on the Hawker's Bazaar, there's a great article on SCMP that can shed some light on the situation.
Hawker's Bazaar: No.373 Lai Chi Kok Road Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR exit C2
Yu Chau Street, aka Bead Street (well, beads)
The stores here, to my astonishment, sell beads. Yeah. I have no idea how they stay afloat. You'll also be able to find other DIY jewellery stuff, like ribbons, crystals, and embellishments. What the hell would anyone do with beads?!
Golden Computer Arcade (computer parts, phone accessories, videogames)
Let's be honest: you've probably been on the hunt for a selfie-stick. Lucky for you, Golden Arcade is the answer you've been waiting for. This is your one-stop shop for all the electronic-related stuff you could ever want (unless you want radiation testers, then go back to Apliu street).
The mall is split into three floors, with the second floor only accessible from the outside. Here is what you'll find on each floor:
Basement: computer components (thermal paste, fans, graphics cards, you can even get PCs custom built), lots and lots of phone accessories (cases, external batteries, the aforementioned selfie-stick)
Ground Floor: videogames (in various regions, just don't expect to find Xbox games), movies, music, laptops, a bit of phone accessories
Second Floor: wholesale computer stuff, some computer parts and phone stuff
This is a great place to get souvenirs; you can easily nab a ton of cheap screen protectors for all your friends and family and call it a day. If you wind up buying a few items from the same store, don't be afraid to try to bargain for a small discount.
Pro Tip: Due to the tight corridors + high amount of people, be extra wary of pickpockets
Golden Computer Arcade: 146-152 Fuk Wa Street, Sham Shui Po Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR exit D2
The reason why Sham Shui Po's only shopping mall is under Food and not Shopping is because Dragon Centre has actually transformed itself into somewhat of a massive food court over the years.
Unable to compete with better shopping alternatives at nearby places like Mong Kok or Kowloon Tong, Dragon Centre is known today as a stage for celebrity appearances and for it's wealth of food. While some boutiques and retail stores still remain, like Sincere, Wellcome, and Giordano, there are far more restaurants in comparison - over 50 different eateries in total. If you don't fancy looking through each floor, skip straight to the real food court on the eighth floor, where you'll find mighty cheap eats and tons of cuisines to choose from. The catch is that finding a seat may prove quite difficult at peak hours and on weekends.
Take a look down the central atrium and you'll notice nets spread across every few floors. Why? Well, along with an arcade and a small skating rink, the ninth floor of Dragon Centre also hides a cool oddity - Hong Kong's only indoor roller-coaster.
Don't get excited though - it's been out of service for close to a decade now. If you're lucky, you might be able to catch it on a test-run and find out first-hand why an indoor roller-coaster is a terrible idea (hint: it's deafening).
Unfortunately, I was never able to find out why it stopped running. Rumor has it that people have fallen off the ride and died (the nets are meant to catch objects not people; a woman committed suicide and fell through the nets in 2010), but my guess is that the roller-coaster was simply too costly to maintain. Nonetheless, still cool!
Note: as with most restaurants in Kowloon, the food court menus do not have much in English - thankfully, there's enough pictures so you'll still know what you're getting into
Literally translated to 'stall with a big license', Dai Pai Dongs are basically outdoor street-side restaurants. These restaurants offer affordable meals and specialize in fried and greasy dishes, so health freaks beware.
Some popular dishes are sweet & sour pork (生炒骨, pronounced san chow gwut), black pepper fried clams (黑椒炒蜆, hut jill chow heen), roasted pigeon (燒乳鴿, siu yu gap), and my personal favorite which may make you shake your head - soy sauce goose intenstine (滷水鵝腸, lo shui awe churn).
With sanitation being an obvious problem, Dai Pai Dongs have become pretty rare in Hong Kong. Nowadays, instead of being fully outdoors, they often have an air-conditioned store front and some tables outside along the sidewalk, allowing you to choose where you'd like to sit.
If you're need dinner options, maybe give Dai Pai Dongs a shot. Don't fret too much about the ordering process - menus generally have pictures and if worst comes to worst, just point at and pray.
Keung Kee Dai Pai Dong (強記大排檔): 219 Nam Cheong Street, Sham Shui Po Oi Man Sang (愛文生): 215 Lai Chi Kok Road, Sham Shui Po Siu Choi Wong (小菜王): 43 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po
Wai Kee Noodle Cafe (pork liver instant noodles)
Pork liver might sound yucky, but even on a regular week day, you'll see massive lineups outside Wai Kee. The fact that Wai Kee has managed to open up three storefronts on the same street off their signature pork liver noodles alone should tell you something.
Wai Kee offers many other items, but everyone pretty much orders the same thing - pork liver instant noodles. Pork liver doesn't taste bad per se - in fact, a lot of locals swear by it, but it is not my cup of tea. If you're curious enough and are able to stomach the grease (you can see them floating in the above photo), ask for 'jyuu yun meen' (豬潤麵).
Note: again, no English on their menu
Wai Kee Noodle Cafe: 62 & 67 Fuk Wing Street, or 165-167 Pei Ho Street Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR exit B2
Lau Sum Kee Noodle House (dried shrimp roe noodles)
A quick way to tell whether a restaurant is worth your consideration, as I've been told many times, is to look at how cramped the seating is. The cramp-er (I know, I just made a word up) means more customers, which in turn means better food. Lau Kee Noodle House is very cramped (Wai Kee too, for that matter).
From afar, it looks like some weird brown powder, but it's actually shrimp roe. While I can't tell you exactly how shrimp roe is made, I can definitely tell you it is not as easy process, which is why Lau Sum Kee is one of the only places in Hong Kong that offers this dish. If you're in the neighborhood, you might as well give it a shot. To order it, say 'ha zi lo meen' (蝦子撈麵). If you fancy some wontons to go with, then say 'ha zi wun ton lo meen' (蝦子雲吞撈麵).
Note: you guessed it, no English either
Lau Sum Kee Noodle House: 48 Kweilin Street or 80 Fuk Wing Street Getting There: Sham Shui Po MTR exit D2
And that's it! Phew, what a journey. Please do not hesitate to leave me a comment if you have any suggestions or criticisms about the format/content of this guide. If you know of something cool that I should have covered, shoot me a message and I'll have it updated in.
Get out there, grasshopper, and explore Sham Shui Po like a Quasi-Local.