While many travellers visiting Hong Kong Island will inevitably make a pitstop, or book their hotel stay, in the shopping mecca of Causeway Bay District, locals who want to get away from the overwhelming crowd for a bit of quiet will choose to go to a neighbourhood called Tai Hang a short walk away. Over 140 years old, it started as a fishing community and evolved into a Chinese residential area during the colonial era.
The UNESCO-listed Fire Dragon Festival
Tai Hang’s Fire Dragon Festival, held at the end of every September, is a unique tradition that can be traced back to the 19th century, when, in the throes of a plague, the locals got together to craft a 70-metre-long dragon to drive away evil spirits. Lit with 70,000 incense sticks, 300 locals performed a dance to the sound of drums and firecrackers for three days and nights. Miraculously, the plague disappeared and, ever since, the festival has become a yearly celebration.
Tai Hang Fire Dragon Festival
A Centennial District
From the Causeway Bay MTR station, take Great George Street, walk across Victoria Park and go down Fire Dragon Path. Gradually, the noise of traffic is replaced by neighbourly chatter, skycrapers by low-rises, as you come to Lily Street with its tiny temple. The small hexagonal structure, completed in 1846, is a Grade I Historic Building, with the famed Fire Dragon painted on its ceiling.
Built on a hill slope facing the sea, this rare gem of architecture is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, commonly known as Guan Yin by the Chinese. It was believed that the deity was seen seated on a rock, which you can view inside the temple today. Don’t miss the altar with Sixty Gods of Time, the Guardian and the God of Wealth.
Along narrow streets lined with seven or eight-storey buildings, we visit a couple more historic sites, like a fishermen’s stone house (let’s not forget that the harbour was right nearby before land reclamation turned Tai Hang into an ‘inland’ district) wedged between Chinese-style apartments, and pre-war villas on Shepherd Street and Second Lane.
Ai Hang’s Contemporary Dining
Here and there, you will see street signs from the 1960s and 1970s when they still used to be written in classic Chinese that read from right to left. Above all, instead of international brands, you will find local eateries one after another: Japanese, Taiwanese, Thai... Over 200 small independent food and beverage businesses have carved out their own niches in this tiny area.
We love Blisshive Bakery Café’s Italian blend coffee and homemade cookies, 0.5° Japanese Contemporary Cuisine + Bar’s underground feel, Daruma Ramen House’s al dente noodles, Zanzo’s street vibe and its private-label sake, and Classified’s eat-in wine shop concept. But save room for dessert next door, a contemporary dessert eatery so good that local celebrities go incognito to enjoy its sweet treats.
Blisshive Bakery Café
Related: Decadent dim sum in Hong Kong