Get to know Hong Kong’s Sai Ying Pun

Once a quiet fishing port, Hong Kong's Sai Ying Pun has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past 150 years

Get to know Hong Kong’s Sai Ying Pun
Source: Wikimedia Commons/姒姓賢寧

After checking out our guide on the best spots to hit up in Sai Ying Pun, you might be curious to learn more about the history behind this charming neighborhood. Once a quiet fishing port, this district has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past 150 years, now boasting a bustling community of nearly 15,000 residents. With the government's urban renewal projects and the extension of the Island Line, Sai Ying Pun has developed at lightning speed. Traditional Tong Lau buildings are making way for sleek high-rises, while trendy restaurants and boutiques line the streets. Read on to dive deeper into Sai Ying Pun's history, and you'll uncover a neighborhood showcasing the local tradesmen and businesses that have shaped its identity.

Early Sai Ying Pun

Sai Ying Pun Hong Kong
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Let's go back to the mid- 1800s, when Sai Ying Pun was a sparsely populated and undeveloped spot nestled along the coast. By the 1880s, the British military pitched its tents in this very spot, marking the beginning of Sai Ying Pun's journey and giving the area its name, meaning "West Camp" in Cantonese. As refugees seeking refuge from the Taiping Rebellion trickled in, the district started buzzing with life. By the late 1800s, Sai Ying Pun saw a surge in immigrants from mainland China, prompting the government to revamp its building ordinances to accommodate the growing population.

But unfortunately, this district isn't without its share of challenges. In 1894, a devastating epidemic of bubonic plague struck, leaving a dark shadow over the community. Yet, Sai Ying Pun soldiered on, with new buildings rising and the population steadily climbing. Fast forward to the early 1900s, the streets of Sai Ying Pun witnessed a flurry of activity. Sewerage systems were installed, streets were macadamized and buildings started sprouting up, including the iconic Berlin Foundling House and a Sailors Home, which offered lodging and services for sailors​.

Urban development

The turn of the century heralds a new era for Sai Ying Pun. With the establishment of the Urban Renewal Authority in 2001, the neighborhood underwent a facelift, transforming into an "Elite Neighborhood" with modern amenities and sleek architecture. Redevelopment projects like "Island Crest" (縉城峰) and the Centre Street Escalator Link reshaped the landscape, while the opening of the Sai Ying Pun MTR station in 2015 ushered in a new wave of connectivity.

Sai Ying Pun's gentrification journey

In Sai Ying Pun, change kicked off with the construction of the Centre Street Escalator Link, echoing Central's lively Soho vibe. Now, bars and cafes dot the escalator path, turning High Street into a hotspot for dining and nightlife. Local businesses have made way for stores tailored to the shifting community. Since the opening of the Sai Ying Pun MTR station in March 2015, the area has drawn crowds thanks to its accessibility and proximity to the Central Business District (CBD). As gentrification takes hold, sleek high-rises are replacing old Tong Lau buildings, offering modern living spaces for the growing population.

The rise in demand for gentrified living speaks volumes about the changing face of Hong Kong's population and their aspirations for a more upscale lifestyle. Sai Ying Pun, snugly situated near the CBD, has become a sought-after spot for urban renewal initiatives, drawing in both locals and expats in search of a mix of convenience and elegance. With its well-connected MTR stations and vibrant streets, Sai Ying Pun isn't just another historic neighborhood; it's a lively hub teetering on the edge of a major makeover, providing a peek into the evolving urban fabric of Hong Kong.

Island Crest

This historic district on Hong Kong Island has caught the eye of the government, leading to a vibrant gentrification plan in recent years. It's been brought on by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) and Urban Renewal Authority (URA), who've been on a mission since the early 2000s to spruce up the area. Old Tong Lau buildings have made way for green pocket parks, perfect for a game of hoops or a leisurely stroll. And let's not forget the crown jewel, the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park, a sprawling oasis on the harbourfront inaugurated in 2011, complete with football and basketball courts, a lush lawn and a jogging track.

Now, let's talk about Island Crest, the makeover maven of Sai Ying Pun. This project didn't just change the scenery; it reshaped the entire vibe of the neighborhood. Say goodbye to old Tong Lau buildings and hello to sleek high-rises, transforming the area's skyline in a flash. But it's not just about looks; Island Crest brought a whole new street dynamic, with open areas on the ground floor seamlessly connecting to the bustling streets. These newfound spaces have become popular spots for the elderly, who flock to them for relaxation and chit-chat, adding their own touch of charm to Sai Ying Pun's evolving landscape.

Sai Ying Pun today

Today in Sai Ying Pun, since the completion of the Sai Ying Pun MTR station, property prices have shot through the roof, with apartments fetching prices that could make your head spin. But it's not just housing that's feeling the pinch; everything from rents to everyday necessities has become less affordable, pushing out longtime residents and replacing them with a new wave of middle-class dwellers. And as the neighborhood transforms, so do its traditions, with old rituals and customs fading into memory as hipster culture takes center stage. But amid all this change, there's a silver lining: a newfound sense of community, brought to life by social enterprises and community initiatives.