A 4km-long strip of the mainland ceded to Britain in perpetuity in 1860 to add to their offshore island, Kowloon was accordingly developed with gusto and confidence. The skyline here has never matched Hong Kong Island’s, thanks to Kowloon being in the flight path of the old airport at Kai Tak, though things could be changing: 2010 saw the completion of Hong Kong’s tallest building, the 484m-high International Commerce Centre (ICC), atop Union Square and the Airport Express terminal in West Kowloon. With rocketing rents and dwindling space along Hong Kong Island’s north shore, perhaps ICC marks a shift in venue for the SAR’s next wave of cutting-edge, harbourside architecture.
Initially, it’s hard to see how such an intensely commercial and crowded place as Kowloon could possibly appeal to travellers. One reason is the staggering view across the harbour to Hong Kong Island’s skyscrapers; another is the sheer density of shopping opportunities here – from high-end jewellery to cutting-edge electronic goods and outright tourist tack – especially in the couple of square kilometres at the tip of the peninsula that make up Tsim Sha Tsui. To the north, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok are less touristy – though even more crowded – districts teeming with soaring tenements and local markets, some of which sell modern daily necessities, others with a distinctly traditional Chinese twist.
These days, it’s not so clear-cut where Kowloon really ends. The original “border” with the New Territories to the north was Boundary Street, though now Kowloon district runs on for a further 3km or so, as the commercial emphasis shifts towards towering residential estates clustered around shopping plazas, parks and other amenities. A scattering of sights here includes one of Hong Kong’s busiest temples, the Wong Tai Sin, and its prettiest, the Chi Lin Nunnery with its Tang-style architecture and beautiful attached garden.