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Hong Kong Urbanism Notes
And what to do when stranded at the Hong Kong Zhuhai Macao Boundary Facility
I recently spent 17 hours in Hong Kong in between my flights from Chicago and onward to Indonesia. If this were my first visit then it would be totally insufficient, but for me this was an interesting challenge to adjust to the timezone, fit in a couple of new locations, and come back to the airport refreshed.
Kwun Tong is a former industrial area in the eastern part of Kowloon. The area is getting some new development, but you still see some auto repair stuff and not many restaurants open mornings or late-night. To and from the airport you want to do A29 double-decker bus (more on that later).
My main goal was to visit the Kowloon Walled City Park, plus I wanted to either hike in a natural location (Devil's Peak) or "hike" through the city on the way to the Walled City. Because of misty weather and time constraints, I used Google Maps to find an interesting route through the city.
Choi Hei Road Park
This park opened in 2010 on a hillside which had been a quarry. I want to call it the Hong Kong High Line? From bottom to top, there are steps and a serpentine sidewalk. There isn't a lot of information in English about this?
The bottom of the hill is in the top left corner of the map. Along the way there are connections to the surrounding apartments. At the top landing, there are a few facilities and a bank of elevators which morning commuters were using.
Like most Hong Kong parks, you will see seniors doing Tai Chi in the morning. The Tai Chi Area is marked with a yin-yang on the map (sadly the circle itself is quite plain). They have some signs about the quarry geology and granite samples but nothing super interesting.
I was hoping for a spot with a harbor / skyline view, but it's more like you are hiking in between the giant Hong Kong residential towers.
Kai Tak Station Plaza / Station Square
This area over and around Kai Tak MTR Station is still under development, but it looks promising? It can serve as a park in between all of these modern buildings, with the ground floor having several restaurants and shops. Visitors started appearing in the Google Maps reviews in the past couple of months, to complain about the uneven construction and unclear naming.
Thanks to the J&N Bakery, who let me take my breakfast while looking for an ATM to pay cash.
San Po Kong Interchange Rest Garden
This wasn't a planned stop, but I was going through the underpass and figured it deserved a checking out:
The underpass connects Station Square and the buses on Prince Edward Road. In the middle of the interchange, they created two little island parks. I saw no one here, and they seemed adverse to having trash cans or anything else requiring maintenance. The green space in the lower area is in between roads, too, so it's not really used as a park. So I'd consider this more of a hostile or last-minute add-in urbanism.
Kowloon Walled City Park
A territorial loophole in colonial Hong Kong spawned an unplanned squatter city, which became known as the Kowloon Walled City for almost the whole 20th century (Kowloon is the name of the whole section of Hong Kong, so I'll use "the Walled City" to differentiate it).
In 1995 the area became a park. The surrounding Carpenter Road Park is quite nice with running track and sports facilities. Then inside the Walled City site is a waterfall pool, chunky rock pillars, and Chinese zodiac sculptures. Preserved memories include the original outpost, a small indoor display, a rock section named for a missionary, and a few sculpture/signs, mainly this one:
They dug up the foundations and found a sign from the original Kowloon outpost. I don't know if this is the best way to preserve that, but here it is:
As a millennial the Walled City has become an internet phenomenon for being Cyberpunk AF or having a dystopian crime-lord vibe or various libertarian and Orientalist takes. YouTube features grainy videos from the 80s and early 90s, usually with a visit to missionaries and non-profits doing work there.
In recent years there has even been a theme park in Japan, and a NSFW manga apparently? I think it's important to realize that inside the walls were real people, often living through great difficulties with no good alternatives. The city "worked" because it fed on the surrounding population's demand for black markets and cheap labor.
Wanted to highlight a comment from Dami Lee's video to point out that the Walled City is still with us:
Kwun Tong Promenade / Fly the Flyover 01 / VESSEL
I briefly stopped here to get a less-obstructed view of the Hong Kong harbor (though the cruise terminal is not far off).
"Fly the Flyover 01" was an unexpected find - this is a public art space and performance space which opened underneath the highway in 2013: https://www.ekeo.gov.hk/en/the-spirit-of-creation/innovative-placemaking-urban-design/fly-the-flyover-operation/index.html
In 2017 this expanded to a playground and other attractions, though I didn't see this part: https://www.littlestepsasia.com/hong-kong/play/outdoor-activities/fly-the-flyover-and-kwun-tong-promenade/
The two sculptures which I saw in this space appear to be a sincere celebration of the anniversary of the PRC:
Most of the Google Maps comments suggest it is good for skateboarders. From the website, it looks like the performance space (VESSEL) has dances and other events about once a month: https://vessel.org.hk/en/news/past/
In November 2023, a Hong Kong legislator for East Kowloon noted that few groups had booked an event due to rules and fees, and asked how much was spent on the park and event-booking operator (note the figures here are in HKD). https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202311/01/P2023110100572p.htm
Stranded at the Boundary Facility
I returned by the A29 bus, and assumed that the airport would be the final stop where everyone would exit. I was on the top deck and somehow believed that our stop was at a crosswalk or something and a few people were getting to the door... next thing I knew we were headed out of the airport, past the former quarantine hospital/dorms, to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Boundary Facility. This opened in 2018 for buses and permitted vehicles to cross between Hong Kong, Macao, and mainland China (to the north of Macao).
This rule might be more of an anti-loitering thing, but signs forbid entering the boundary facility without a valid ticket. Already concerned about missing my flight, I found an outdoor staircase down to the pick-up area. This part is not super well-labeled, but if you go into the Hong Kong city bus platform, the first one on the left is B4 bus to the airport (signage did not help me much, I just noticed a lot of people queueing).
The bus fare is 9 HKD. They don't accept tap-to-pay credit cards or give change, so have some coins or a bill on you.