Run-down residential buildings, dense public housing estates, a spiral staircase and the last swimming shed in Hong Kong are among gems frequented by young mainland Chinese visitors to the city who increasingly eschew well established tourist traps.
As “golden week” – a seven-day stretch of holidays starting on National Day on Monday – begins for mainland Chinese residents, obscure locations that offer a perfect selfie opportunity in crowded Hong Kong are the attractions of choice for tourists from across the border.
These spots are scattered citywide – from Sham Shui Po to Quarry Bay, Sai Wan and Yuen Long.
On a rooftop of a shabby 10-storey residential building on Tai Nan Street, thrill-seeking visitors scale a two-metre tall fence just to dangle their legs off the edge for a photo to brag about: when captured at an appropriate angle, a colourful building opposite with a mural design titled the “Rainbow Thief” forms the perfect backdrop.
The artwork, splashed onto the facade of a building, was created by Madrid-based artist Okuda San Miguel in 2016. It begins with a three-dimensional animal head at the top, followed by psychedelic colours that run to the ground.
But “Rainbow Thief” in Sham Shui Po is just one of other attractions in Hong Kong popular with more discerning visitors in recent years.
A gorgeous mess of windows in Quarry Bay
The claustrophobic 46-year-old Montane Mansion is an urban photographer’s dream, as it seemingly melds into Oceanic Building and Yick Cheong Building on either side, forming a mishmash of juxtaposing windows, air conditioning vents and hanging laundry.
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An elongated courtyard on the ground floor offers views to gawk at, especially at night when household lights come on. Part of the area’s fame comes from its Hollywood cameo in the Michael Bay blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction.
The location has acquired mythical status on Instagram, and so many oglers have flocked there that management imposed a photography ban in February, which, unsurprisingly, has been mostly ignored.
The colours of Choi Hung
Choi Hung, which means rainbow in Cantonese, is a district in East Kowloon known for its symmetrical public housing blocks. You may not see a real rainbow at the estate, but the fresh palette of paint tones that fade into each other on the facade of blocks lives up to its namesake.
The estate’s cheery colour spectrum is further brought out by its surrounding sports grounds, painted in contrasting navy blue and curry yellow, with a few palm trees adding to the relaxed quaintness of the place.
It is one of the oldest public housing estates in the city and won a silver medal in the annual Hong Kong Institute of Architects awards in 1965.
A dreamy Sai Wan waterfront
Swimming sheds, mostly in the form of wooden piers, were built along coasts decades ago for people to enjoy a summer dip in cool waters. Today, only one remains in Sai Wan, in the form of a damaged wooden bridge.
It serves senior citizens and residents who swim at daybreak, but come sunset, it has become a photo hotspot for visitors, some of whom go there for wedding snaps.
The waterfront presents another side of Hong Kong, away from the concrete, glass and steel of the Victoria Harbour skyline. Here, waters turn glittery gold as the evening sun lights up the horizon. In the distance, you may spot an occasional passing ship among the islands peppering the picturesque sea.
Shots of the Sai Wan swimming shed are popular on mainland social media, and the area is expected to see many camera-toting visitors over the holiday period.
Built in the 1960s, the shed faces Green Island and is linked to Kennedy Town MTR station by a four-minute walk down a winding road.
Tunnel and spiral vision in Yuen Long
A 60-metre walkway linking Tai Kei Leng Road and Long Ho Road in Yuen Long has gained popularity for its unique apple-green walls and ceilings that make for some arty perspective shots. Tucked under Yuen Long Highway, it is a key passage for villagers in the Tai Kei Leng area.
In Yuen Long Park, the seven-storey Aviary Pagoda may boast panoramic views, including of Tin Shui Wai new town about 3km away, but it is a spiral stairwell inside the structure that has stolen the limelight.
Looking through the centre of the stairwell, a winding kaleidoscope of shapes and patterns, punctuated by the streaking baby blue of stair rails, greets the eye.
A police time capsule in Yau Ma Tei
This 96-year-old compound has been declared a historical building by the Antiquities and Monuments Office. Its Edwardian architecture, stone staircases and wooden rails provide a snapshot of the city’s colonial past. Before reclamation works, the station sat on the waterfront.
A three-storey Old Block in white and light blue holds offices and long corridors with arched wooden doors, while an iconic portico greeting the streets outside is a photo-taking spot popular with visitors.