The forgotten museums of Hong Kong
With the history and heritage museums crossed off your list, where to next? Time Out staff visit some hidden tombs, ancient villages and former hospitals often neglected by visitors...
Tung Wah Museum
Hidden in the courtyard of the Kwong Wah Hospital, you’ll find something unexpected – a heritage building decked out with historical wooden couplets and memorabilia detailing the history of the Tung Wah Group. The museum was formerly the Main Hall Building, originally housing hospital beds. Now, it’s the only remaining building from the initial 1911 construction. The central room of the hall is certainly the most magnificent. Here, colourful wooden couplets given to the Tung Wah Group are on open display. Some date back to the late 1800s and commemorate major events and charitable donations made by the group. Two side rooms house old paperwork and artefacts, as well as an exhibit tracking the history of the Tung Wah Group. Note – the group, the oldest and largest charitable organisation in Hong Kong, established the first hospital practising traditional Chinese medicine, as well as the first free school for underprivileged children.
Kwong Wah Hospital, 25 Waterloo Rd, Kowloon.
Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum
If you ever get bored with Soho, we suggest you pay a visit to this well-preserved Edwardian mansion. We guarantee it’ll be the best $10 you spend in the area. The museum, formerly a residence for the noble Ho family, mainly exhibits Dr Sun Yat-sen’s life with extensive focus on his close relationship with Hong Kong, where he received his secondary and university education. Artefacts include report cards from HKU, handwritten letters, meeting photos and documents. Along with the two permanent exhibitions, catch videos that detail the stories of Dr Sun’s extraordinary life and the mansion’s history. Their lectures, hands-on activities (like stained glass making) and film shows are all highly recommended.
7 Castle Rd, Mid-Levels.
Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb Museum
During the construction of a new development in Sham Shui Po in 1955, workers discovered a tomb while levelling a hill. The site was excavated and workers recovered 58 pieces of pottery and bronze; but what’s more fascinating is what they didn’t find. No skeletal remains were inside, which still puzzles archaeologists today. Inscriptions inside the tomb, as well as the recovered objects, have dated it to the Han Dynasty (AD 25-220). Unfortunately, the tomb is not open to the public, but a window pane built at the front entrance allows you to peer inside. While the exhibitions of the museum, which detail the tomb’s discovery and architecture, are nothing to write home about, the sheer existence of an ancient tomb within spitting distance of a primary school and residential estates is mesmerising.
41 Tonkin St, Sham Shui Po.
Tao Heung Museum of Food Culture
Given Hong Kong’s reputation as a gourmet paradise, it’s fitting that we should have a museum dedicated to the culture of food. The first thing you see as you enter is a traditional dai pai dong, complete with a large chopping board and plastic siu mei hung up. In addition, there is a set-up of cha chaan teng booths, decorated with birdcages and laid out with displays of dim sum in their steamer baskets. The tour guide explains the history of these Hong Kong specialties and their places in society. Less familiar is the display of a Manchu Han Imperial Feast, a traditionally grand Chinese banquet that no longer exists due to its menu consisting of animal species which are now endangered. Note – appointments have to be made three days before visiting the museum, so make sure to plan ahead.
9/F, 15-29 Wo Shui St, Fo Tan.
Sam Tung Uk Museum
Literally meaning ‘three-beam-dwelling’, Sam Tung Uk is a well-kept 2,000sq m village traditional to the Hakka. The museum allows visitors to re-live the life of an ordinary immigrant farmer. The Chan (Tshin in Hakka) clan leader, Chan Yum Sing, built Sam Tung Uk in 1786 when his family moved to Hong Kong from Guangdong. As the family expanded, his children started building different halls around the house and gradually developed an entire maze-like village. This is an excellent showcase of Chinese folk architecture, where every room and hall not only reveals that family’s position in the clan, but also their daily rituals and customs.
2 Kwu Uk Lane, Tsuen Wan.
The University of Hong Kong Museum and Art Gallery
It is, perhaps, less well-known that the HKU Museum and Art Gallery is the oldest museum in Hong Kong. But the Chinese antiquities which it houses reflect its age and heritage. Walking through the hushed and sparsely decorated SH Ho Gallery, you will see ceramics placed behind glass panes that date from the Neolithic period to the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), graduating from small and crudely-made muddy-brown pots to a huge, glazed blue-and-white jardinière from the Jiajing period. Keep an eye out for a small underglazed blue water pot from the Tang dynasty (618-907), the earliest known of its kind. We were most impressed by the Bruna Celeste Gallery that houses intricately-cut wood carvings (mostly from the Qing dynasty) which deserve a closer look.
The University of Hong Kong, 90 Bonham Rd, Mid-Levels.