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A Home Submerged in the Clouds: Hong Kong’s Vertical City

When asked where I live, this is the first image that comes to mind. 

It takes a second for people to realize that these pixelated rows of compartmentalized squares and rectangles are actually hundreds of apartments glued together. Living in Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, I’m constantly surrounded by the dizzying, almost claustrophobic image of high-rise buildings and streets brimming with people from across the globe. 

Having lived in Hong Kong ever since the age of four, I have long since grown accustomed to the vertical urban life that surrounds me. For instance, I live in a 75-story building on top of the Peak–the tallest hill on Hong Kong island with an elevation of 552 meters. During windy weather, it’s normal to feel the house shake and see trees knocked down the next day. As a result, every Hong Kong household owns a pack of duct tape to plaster their apartment windows with a criss-cross formation during typhoon season, especially those living on the upper floors. Growing up, I was assigned this very role of taping the windows in my family, and when the weather gets windy, I subconsciously walk towards the cabinet and find myself searching for our sturdy pack of duct tape. 

And the vertical life doesn’t just end there. Over the weekends, I casually grab lunch on the 102nd floor, where the clouds float below me as I look out the window. Biting into my char siu, I dine as if levitating above the city’s expansive landscape–a view I have grown accustomed to from living in this environment for much of my life. As a result, it often entertains me to witness overly eager tourists grabbing hold of their phones and taking incessant photos of the city view, exclaiming how they are indeed “on top of the world!” I chuckle as these tourists point toward double-decker buses in awe, ecstatic about the fast-paced, urban life that surrounds them.

To give some context, Hong Kong has over 9,000 high-rise buildings, 4,000 of which consist of skyscrapers that tower over 100m (328ft) high. The total built-up height of all the skyscrapers is approximately 333.8km, marking Hong Kong as the world’s tallest urban city. After all, Hong Kong is home to the 108-story International Commerce Centre, the 12th tallest building at 484m (1,588 ft). As a city that tops the world charts for the most skyscrapers, chances are that whenever you look up, you’ll see a tiny speck of the sky submerged in a dizzying array of luxury buildings. 

Upon arriving in New York for the first time, I was initially struck by its resemblance to Hong Kong. But a key difference is that in New York, skyscrapers are mainly concentrated in the Manhattan area, whereas in Hong Kong, the buildings and streets are much more densely populated. 

Yet interwoven in this bustling array of skyscrapers are cozy neighborhoods that instill the very essence of Hong Kong. The true gems of the city are nestled in these small alleyways, providing a delicate balance between the local and urban landscapes of the city. 

First off, let me walk you towards the western edge of Central. Here, you’ll find yourself standing at the heart of Soho (“South of Hollywood Road”), the culmination of the city’s artistry:


While Soho consists of various art galleries, antique stores, and trendy restaurants, the neighborhood’s cornerstone is the Central-Mid Levels Escalator, which is said to be one of the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator systems. In fact, riding the escalator is the perfect way to explore the ins and outs of the city, as you can always stop by a shop that caught your eye before hopping back on to continue your journey.

Riding this escalator encompassed a big part of my childhood, as I would hop on it every weekend for dim sum lunch with family and friends. Sandwiched between a narrow alley of buildings with local restaurants, the Central-Mid Levels Escalator fills me with bittersweet nostalgia.

Once you finish exploring the bustling streets of Soho and begin to walk eastward, you’ll find yourself situated in Wan Chai:

Lee Tung Avenue, Wan Chai

Notorious for being home to some of the best casual eateries, street markets, and cultural districts, Wan Chai is the perfect place to eat, shop, and soak up the city’s history all in one go. In particular, as this neighborhood was one of the first to be settled by the British, it embodies a series of unique architectural designs, including temples, civil buildings, and old residential housing that are still preserved to this day. 

In particular, what I love most is Lee Tung Avenue, a 200-meter-long stone-paved walkway that holds so much of the city’s vibrance with lines of dim sum restaurants, freshly baked egg tarts, cream puffs, cozy cafes, and more. During Chinese New Year, the streets fire up with red lanterns, reigniting the cultural essence of the city.

Next to Wan Chai is Happy Valley: 

Happy Valley

As the name suggests, Happy Valley is a neighborhood brimming with warmth and happiness. What is there not to love when you can indulge all you want in local cha chaan tengs (Hong Kong style cafe), grab a pineapple bun (or two) from King’s bakery–and when it consists of perfect trails to go on sunny walks with loved ones? During much of my middle school years, I lived in this neighborhood and truly loved its serene atmosphere, especially given how it is just a few minutes walk from Causeway Bay–one of Hong Kong’s most famed shopping districts–while still basking in the rays of sunshine and tranquility of the city. 

After exploring the urban neighborhoods that characterize much of Hong Kong, you’ll be surprised to find yourself surrounded by a whole new atmosphere in Stanley, home of the beach lovers: 


Stanley is the perfect getaway to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, with several beaches, hiking trails, and markets to spend your weekend at. Its atmosphere stands in stark contrast to other neighborhoods like Wan Chai or Soho, which are thrumming with urban life. In Stanley, take time and venture into the street markets hidden in the small alleyways while bathing in the sun for that vitamin D.

Now that we’ve finished our virtual tour, I hope you’ve come to realize that while Hong Kong is a city that fuels on its fast-paced vertical life, its true essence lies in the small cozy neighborhoods that imbue the city with a dash of color and charm. To me, home is a melange of the old and new, embodying a diverse spectrum of landscapes, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

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