A Tour of the Hong Kong Museum of History! 🏮🍚🌃
Traveling to a country allows you to experience for yourself what a country is like now — the pop culture, new fashion trends, and local sayings that you wish you had at home in your native language. Yet, to fully understand a place, you must know the history of it.
That is why nearly every year that I’ve visited Hong Kong I’ve made time to go to the Hong Kong Museum of History.
My experience within the museum is different each time I visit it; I gain more knowledge of Hong Kong each year I grow and educate myself about my mother’s home, and depending on who is with me, I’m able to gain a different perspective on the portrayal of historical events or timely souvenirs that the museum displays. Since my grandparents have different experiences in Hong Kong compared to my mom, cousins, and relatives, I’m able to learn something new from each and every one of them.
I love how much more I learn about Hong Kong each time I enter this museum, and that is why I am super excited to bring you (yes, you! Free virtual admission to this amazing museum on a tour led by the one and only me! 😄) through this museum with me!
The Hong Kong Museum of History (or, in Chinese, 香港歷史博物館) is located in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, and it’s also right next to the Hong Kong Science Museum, so if you want to visit both of them, it would be very convenient to do so. 👍 Tsim Sha Tsui is also a big tourist area of Hong Kong, so transportation won’t be a problem.
Note Before We Continue: I do speak fluent Cantonese and have a pretty good understanding of the Hong Kong Cantonese culture, so my interpretation and commentary of things within this museum will be different than that of a complete foreigner traveling to Hong Kong for the first time. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy this post, whatever level of understanding you might have of Hong Kong, and perhaps even learn a few new things about Hong Kong history and culture throughout this tour! 😊
Let Us Now Enter
The Hong Kong Museum of History!
The permanent exhibit of this museum is “The Hong Kong Story” and consists of eight galleries that follow the timeline of Hong Kong from the very beginning of its geological creation to the present. Once you enter the museum (the first floor) you take the escalator down to the ground floor and start in the first gallery: The Natural Environment!
Hong Kong is known for it’s busy streets, neon lights, and crowded cities, but Hong Kong is also a place of hidden natural beauty. There are places in Hong Kong where boats will take you out to the islands to see unique rock formations that can be found all over Hong Kong. The beginning of the gallery introduces you to Hong Kong 400,000,00 years ago and walks you through its geological formation whilst you wander in a very cool rock cave structure. 🙃
Once you wander deeper into the tunnel, you’ll come across a mini theater that will rotate through shows in Cantonese, English, and Chinese Mandarin (if you speak all three, lucky for you because you won’t need to wait until your language pops up for the showing 😊). I think the shows change depending on the time or day, but nevertheless you should still go in there because the light effects are very interesting. I believe, if I remember correctly, that at one point during the showing the ground looks like lava 😯, so it’s definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss out on.
After watching the show, you’ll move on the forest portion of the museum, which is one of my favorite parts but because I was so excited I didn’t take many pictures of this part (le sigh 😐) but at least this adds to the suspense and will encourage you to see the place for yourself! Though Hong Kong is too small for national parks to dot the land like in the United States, there are still many lovely nature parks and reserves that portray a calmer, more tranquil part of Hong Kong that is often overlooked by tourists. My personal favorite is the Hong Kong Wetland Park, but if you want to look at other natural and beautiful places within Hong Kong, here’s a link to get you started on that.
The second gallery is about Prehistoric Hong Kong and consists of detailed and life-size rendering of early Hong Kong inhabitants on a beach diorama, which I never appreciated the detail of until this year. Like many places in this world known for its bustling cities, its hard to imagine Hong Kong without its towering skyscrapers and population of over 7 million people, but this gallery reminds us all to focus on and appreciate the nature left in Hong Kong. 🌲
Though I do love the forest of the second gallery, I find that the information displayed within the museum really starts to get interesting in the third gallery. In the third gallery, The Dynasties: From the Han to the Qing, I learned how different parts of Hong Kong became populated due to mass immigrations throughout the different dynasties, and also encountered a display that inspired another future trip of mine in Hong Kong:
The model of the Kowloon Walled City!
This year I had my mom with me as I traversed through this museum, and she was able to explain to me in depth why the Kowloon Walled City was a significant place within Hong Kong.
After hearing what my mom had to say about the Kowloon Walled City and doing some research of myself online, I made plans to visit the remnants of the city (all the buildings had been torn down and it’s now a peaceful and beautiful park). I won’t give away too much because I have a post coming up about the Kowloon Walled City, but this really shows how I learn something new about Hong Kong each time I go to this museum. Even someone who has lived in Hong Kong their entire life will gain something positive from walking through this museum 😊
My absolute favorite part of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, though, is the fourth gallery about the Folk Culture in Hong Kong! As a result, I took the most pictures within this gallery and also asked the most questions about Hong Kong culture during this part of my trip. I kept calling my mom over to displays to ask her to explain the meaning behind them, and also to hear her relate these cultural aspects of Hong Kong to her life. Having someone who knows the Hong Kong culture really well with you really enhances this portion of the museum because it adds a more human aspect to these displays.
This particular gallery focuses on the lives of the four main ethnic groups within Hong Kong: the Boat Dwellers, Hoklo, Hakka, and Punti peoples.
It was lovely being able to see an aspect of the Hong Kong culture that one won’t be able to easily experience in the touristy areas of Hong Kong; seeing something as simple as a still life of shrimp paste drying beside the ocean, recognizing that it’s such a common sight to see on the outskirts of Hong Kong, and being able to ask my mom to explain more about the significance of such simple thing made me feel so happy and connected to the Hong Kong culture. 😊
I would highly recommend that you read the signs placed around this gallery of the museum because that is best way to learn about the intricacies of the Hong Kong culture. After reading all these tidbits about Hong Kong folk culture, you’ll walk out of the museum and see Hong Kong in a whole new light. You’ll notice so many more little details and quirks that you may have missed before, and the best feeling is that you’ll understand where those details and quirks originate from because you’ve been to the HK Museum of History! 😄
The colorful part of this gallery that will immediately catch your eye is where all the explosion of color is — displays of paper lanterns, beautiful and intricately embroidered clothing, and descriptions of festivals such as the Seven Sisters Festival will dot your vision every way you turn.
In addition to the things mentioned above, there are also displays regarding the traditional workings of marriage in Hong Kong, what foods people would eat during these festivals, and life-size houses that you can actually walk through. The rooms are filled with items people in the past would have had in their homes, and I loved how I was able to immerse myself in the scene and imagine what life in a house like that could have been like.
Of course, the culture of the Chinese Opera Theatre can’t be missed (note that “theatre” is spelled in the British way on the sign because Hong Kong used to be a British colony, and therefore Hong Kong uses the British English way of spelling things! 👍) so there is an entire section of the gallery dedicated to it!
I do remember going to a Chinese opera once, but because I was very little, I didn’t appreciate the culture behind it — or the entire experience, really. I just found it boring because I was tired, but I would love to go see a Chinese Opera again and relive the experience with a different mindset than the one I had when I was a child. 😊
And lastly, to wrap this gallery up, we have something that I’m very interested in learning more about: the Cheung Chau Bun Festival! They have a life-size bun tower within the gallery, and though this tradition isn’t practiced anymore because of the danger involved with climbing up a 60-feet bamboo tower covered with buns 😅, it’s still fascinating to read about this historical fact of Hong Kong.
Before you leave the fourth gallery, you’ll pass by a display of old-style toys that people used to sell, which is a nice reminder to think about how different of an assortment the children of newer generation has in choosing toys compared to older generations, when the toys displayed below would be their form of entertainment.
At this point, if you’ve really taken the time to look through the museum (and you arrived in the morning), then you would realize that wow, you’re tired from walking around and diligently reading all the descriptions of the displays! You’ll also probably be hungry from using so much mental power make connections between the culture of Hong Kong and your own life, so the next logical thing to do (at least in my mind) would be to…
go to the 茶餐廳 in the museum!!!
(“cha chaan teng” for all the non-Cantonese speakers 😉)
There are so many things about this 茶餐廳 that is just so right in capturing the feel of a Hong Kong 茶餐廳, from the bird cages that the restaurant has hanging next to the windows to the actual dishes they serve, but basically you can’t go wrong with anything you order on the menu. However, I do have some recommendations:
This drink is basically malt put in milk, which sounds really lame when I write it down like that 😅 but it’s so good. There is always malt that hasn’t melted yet on the bottom of the cup, so I love to take my straw or spoon and scoop that delicious half-melted malt out to eat 😋
The above Chinese characters is how you would see this drink written down on the menu, but if you really want to sound like a local, say you want “熱 Horlick” in Cantonese when you order.
This is basically ham and macaroni pasta in soup that if you go to Hong Kong and leave without eating this at least one time… have you really been to Hong Kong then? 🤔 It’s a classic dish that every 茶餐廳 will have, and it’s something you’ll want to get if you’re in Hong Kong.
(But honestly, if you get anything else on the menu by literally randomly pointing to a random dish, it’s probably going to be a good dish. You can’t lose with 茶餐廳 food 😆)
Butter Pineapple Bun… need I say more? The middle picture above is the one with the 菠蘿油 — highly recommend 😊
Anyways, after eating at the wonderful 茶餐廳 in the museum, you will be free to resume your exploration of Hong Kong history by going to Gallery 5 on the second floor: The Opium Wars and the Cession of Hong Kong!
In the past, I didn’t pay much attention to the descriptions and captions of this gallery, but this year I took my time to understand the Opium Wars and why China decided to lease Hong Kong to Great Britain as a colony. My knowledge of this part of Hong Kong history is still shaky, but I’m determined to read more books about this period of Hong Kong to better understand my grandparents’ and mother’s lives in Hong Kong while it was still a British colony — and see how that will contrast with modern Hong Kong and the current political affairs dominating it.
The next portion of the museum encompasses a whole new feel, and it made me feel like I really just walked into Hong Kong during the British colonial era. All the buildings felt and looked so British; the sixth gallery of the museum, Birth and Early Growth of the City, makes it so that you are actually walking through streets that look exactly like the streets of 20th century Hong Kong.
You’ll first be greeted by by a three-story building like this:
After exploring the port scene in which the building faces, you can enter through the entryway of the building and enter into an old street lined with shops that give you the most realistic glimpse into Hong Kong lifestyle in the early 1900s that one could ask for.
Grocery stores, Chinese medicine pharmacies, tea shops… this gallery has it all. You don’t have to be skilled at putting yourself in other people’s shoes to vividly imagine what living in this era of Hong Kong’s history could be like with the aid of all these shops, buildings, and descriptions.
I would highly recommend that you take your time walking through this particular gallery and also (this might be a piece of unexpected advice) to go off the beaten path a bit. Don’t follow the herd of people through the main street of this gallery and walk out after only ten minutes of exploring it; go into the shops, walk up the stairs, and see what you can find!
For example, I was walking in this quiet shop when I suddenly found stairs leading to the second story. It was up there that I got an overview of the entire street from above, and also found a hallways with the portraits of Hong Kong governors lining one of the walls. Few people were upstairs, and it was nice to be able to relax and slowly read the captions without the pressure of needing to move on so other people could read the captions as well.
Also, another hidden spot I found within the museum was this:
I had wandered away from my traveling companion (aka my mom 😇) and ended up discovering this alleyway-like part of the museum that had no one walking through it, and there was a cool display of a banana market/store in the back! 🍌 There is a lot to explore within this gallery of the museum, and it really does feel magical in the sense that it’s like you are actually exploring a city within the museum. 🏙😊
Ooooh, and don’t miss the train they have out in this gallery:
The seventh gallery is about the Japanese Occupation, which I didn’t take many — um, any — picture of 😅, and the eighth and last gallery is about the Modern Metropolis and the Return to China. Though this gallery covers a lot regarding the politics of this era, the part that I found to resonate the most with me is the portion of memorabilia that the museum had of old items from Hong Kong.
While walking through this portion of the museum, I just thought these items were cool — I didn’t realize how much insight they gave into the lives of people during the 1900s until I went to my great-grandmother’s home and realized how many of these items she had in the house, such as the plastic brush and the Camel thermos that you see in the pictures above.
Similarly to the sixth gallery, the eighth one also has examples of old shops from the 1960s that allow you to temporarily immerse yourself in that particular time period of Hong Kong.
After the last gallery, you’ll probably feel quite tired from your few hours in the museum. Your feet will throb a bit no matter what kind of shoes you’re wearing, and your eyes will feel a bit dry and glazed. But in the end, through that external physical tiredness, when you step out of that museum into the real world and stand still so that your eyes can ajdust to the sudden light, you’ll realize how much more powerful you feel.
Once you learn something, no one can reach into your mind and physically take it away from you; and thus, knowledge is empowering. I believe that education is one of the strongest weapons one can have, but it’s also weapon that is the hardest to get your hands on. It takes years to make it strong and solid and refine the details of, but with museums like these, I feel my own education of the world getting stronger. That is why I’ve written this post for you guys 😊 — if you ever travel to a new place, make sure you don’t just go in to take some aesthetic pictures and leave. Take your time to get to know the place, people, culture, and history better.
In the end, that makes the difference between a traveler and a tourist. 🌃
If you’ve read this post all the way to the end, thank you so much! I hope my commentary and pictures were momentarily able to transport you to the Hong Kong Museum of History 😄 and that you enjoyed this post!
Thanks for reading, and I will cya next time!