The fact that those who can’t live on The Peak usually live in Mid-Levels shouldn’t make this highly desirable area sound like second best. It’s not quite as high-end and exclusive, both physically and socially, as The Peak, but it’s much more affordable and still a very sought-after place to live.
For a start, there’s the location – within spitting distance of Central, and therefore highly accessible for the rest of city. You really can’t live much more centrally than this – at least not in a family-friendly, primarily residential area. There’s also its meandering streets, high-end housing developments and quality local services. Its lack of major roads and slightly elevated location make it relatively unpolluted by Hong Kong’s admittedly not too exacting standards, and quieter and more pleasant to walk around than most residential areas of Hong Kong Island. The biggest downside? There’s not exactly a lot of green space within the district itself; but, this being compact Hong Kong, greenery is only ever minutes away, with several parks at the periphery.
It’s sometimes difficult to pin down what Mid-Levels is. As the name suggests, it’s defined as much by what it isn’t – the place between The Peak and Central, part of the north- and north-east-facing slope of Mount Austin – as what it is. (Strictly speaking, only the centre of it is actually adjacent to Central, just up the hill; the western end of Mid-Levels is up the same hill from Sheung Wan, and the eastern end from Admiralty.) Fortunately, what it is turns out for the most part to be very pleasant, including 39 Conduit Road, where in 2009 an apartment was sold for HKD439 million (USD56.5 million – USD9,200 per square foot, the most expensive in the world). It’s fairly typical that the apartment in question was described as being on the 68th floor… of a 46-floor building. Hong Kong property developers frequently miss out any number containing a four – unlucky in Chinese culture – in their developments, and sometimes various permutations of 13 too for good measure. They must be hugely superstitious, because the only other explanation is that they’re trying to mislead prospective customers into thinking they’re getting a more prestigious address than they really are, and that couldn’t be true.
It can be difficult to define exactly where Mid-Levels starts and ends. It’s above Central on the hill, and below The Peak, roughly between Conduit Road and a road that changes name several times along its route, from Bonham Road to Caine Road to Upper Albert Road to Kennedy Road. But the district very much runs into Central, and also into the nightlife-oriented Soho and up-and-coming Sheung Wan, part traditional and part Central’s western adjunct. Neither is it quite clear where Mid-Levels segues into Western district. It also abuts the Admiralty business district, an adjunct of Central, to the north-east. Add in some interesting estate-agent-speak in the form of alleged places like “Mid-Levels East” – usually actually far away in places like Tai Hang, in the hills behind Causeway Bay and Happy Valley. In other words, it’s a pretty amorphous district, difficult to define. Mid-Levels, though, is more a state of mind – it’s strongly associated in Hong Kong minds with expats, and also with wealth and exclusivity. Along with towns on the south Side of Hong Kong Island such as Repulse Bay and Stanley, this is the quartier of choice for Hong Kong’s wealthy, apart from the very tiny percentage who can afford to live on The Peak. Where the south side is very family-oriented, Mid-Levels attracts a mixed crowd of families and young professionals, with the latter dominating the trendy, Soho-adjoining lower streets.
Sheung Wan, and to a lesser extent Soho and Mid-Levels, also combine elements of traditional Chinese life with modern developments and amenities, with mom-and-pop printers and shops selling traditional medicines, for example, lying cheek-by-jowl with swanky boutiques and bars.
The spine of Mid-Levels are the Central Mid-Levels escalators, commonly referred to simply as the escalator, and actually a series of escalators and travelators stretching over 800 hilly metres between Des Voeux Road in Central and Conduit Road, at the very top of Mid-Levels – a climb of 135 metres. As well as being lined with shops, bars and restaurants, the escalator, which travels downwards in the morning to help Mid-Levels commuters and upwards for the rest of the day, provides the quickest and most direct method of transport around Mid-Levels’ steep streets.
Mid-Levels is extremely well served for medical options. The Canossa Hospital, a non-profit, private hospital run by Roman Catholic charity Caritas, is located on the corner of Old Peak Road and Robinson Road. The same organisation runs a medical centre and dental clinic in Caine Road. Hong Kong Central Hospital and Tung Wah Hospital are just down the hill in Central and Sheung Wan respectively, and the Matilda International Hospital just up it on The Peak; even the public Queen Mary Hospital isn’t that far away, in Pok Fu Lam. Apart from Caritas, the area isn’t replete with medical or dental practitioners, but surrounding areas like Central and Sheung Wan are stuffed full of choices.
The world-renowned University of Hong Kong, which regularly tops tables of Asia’s best institutions of higher education, has its main campus at the western end of Mid-Levels.
Island School, a secondary school that is part of Hong Kong’s international-standard English Schools Foundation, is on Borrett Road. There are also plenty of schools with religious backgrounds: the Christian secondary St Paul’s Co-educational College is on MacDonnell Road; St Joseph’s College, a Catholic boys’ secondary school, is on Kennedy Road; St Margaret’s Girls’ College Hong Kong, a Catholic girls’ secondary school, is on Caine Road; and Carmel School of Hong Kong, a Jewish international elementary school, is on Borrett Road and Robinson Road. Also for younger children are the Woodland Mid-Levels Montessori Pre-School, on Caine Road, and Glenealy School, an ESF primary, while there’s another renowned secondary not far away in Sai Ying Pun, in the shape of King’s College.
Mid-Levels’ location is just about as convenient as it gets. Depending on where you are, Central is a matter of either minutes or seconds away, even on foot, while The Peak is just up the hill – although there aren’t quite so many day-to-day reasons to go there. Admiralty is just around the corner, Western district right next door, and everywhere else on Hong Kong island is easily accessible. And of course the Central Mid-Levels escalators (see above) make getting to lots of places on foot quite a bit easier.
The major absence is a station on Hong Kong’s MTR subway system, with the nearest down the hill in Central and Sheung Wan. Neither does Mid-Levels have many major roads – that’s one of its charms, especially given its inner-city location. Garden Road and Cotton Tree Drive flank it to the south-east, and a lot of road journeys to Mid-Levels are forced to take a circuitous route along them; residential streets in Mid-Levels tend to be perpendicular to them, running south-east to north-west, and getting up and down the hill by road can take longer than it feels like it ought to. With the lack of trains, however, people living in Mid-Levels who don’t have their own private transport will find themselves forced to rely on the roads, using either Hong Kong’s fleet of readily available and generously priced (not sure if this means expensive or good value…) taxis, or the plentiful bus services that visit the area. Among the latter are the 3B from Pokfield Road to Central, the 12 from Central Pier to Robinson Road, the 12A from MacDonnell Road to Admiralty, the 12M from Admiralty to Park Road, the 13 from Central to Kotewall Road, the 3 from Pokfield Road to North Point, the 23A from Robinson Road to Lai Tak Tsuen and the 23B from Robinson Road or Park Road to Braemar Hill.
Shops and Services
Mid-Levels itself has a few restaurants on Caine Road and Robinson Road, and several lining the escalator, but there are a whole lot more in nearby Soho, which more or less merges into Mid-Levels. Soho gets its name because it lies to the south of Hollywood Road, and for many years Hong Kong’s Democratic Party fought a mildly farcical campaign to get its name changed to the magnificently unimaginative Staunton/Elgin Street Themed Dining Area, because of the supposed sleazy associations of its existing name. Fortunately the old name has stuck, and the area, just about Hong Kong’s swishest nightlife spot, is full of restaurants serving just about every cuisine on earth to a generally pretty high standard, albeit at prices inflated by the area’s notoriously sky-high commercial rents. The area also hosts a plethora of bars, quite a few nightclubs and even one of Asia’s few comedy clubs. The many eateries, bars and other night spots of Central are also within spitting distance, and nothing on Hong Kong Island can’t be reached via a fairly painless taxi ride.
Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, filled with plants, birds and larger species, and Hong Kong Park, as concreted in places as most of the city’s parks but with some very pleasant corners and containing the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, sit close to each other at the edge of the district. Head up the hill from Conduit Road at the very top of Mid-Levels, and you immediately come to the plentiful green expanses of Pok Fu Lam Country Park, surrounding the residential areas of The Peak. At the north-western edge of it lies Lung Fu Shan Country Park, while the Millionaires Row of Bowen Road, which runs out of Mid-Levels to the east, also provides a charmingly leafy environment.
Neighbouring Central is home to an awful lot of Hong Kong’s cultural life, and plays host to venues including the Hong Kong Fringe Club and Hong Kong City Hall, with a cinema in the International Finance Centre shopping mall. Within Mid-Levels itself, there’s the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre on Kennedy Road, The University of Hong Kong Museum and Art Gallery at the western end of the district and the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum in Castle Road.
For sports lovers, Hong Kong Park Sports Centre and Hong Kong Squash Centre are on Cotton Tree Drive, and Sheung Wan Sports Centre isn’t far away. There are also several private members clubs close by in Central, including the super-traditional Hong Kong Club, the trendy China Club and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, formerly a journalists’ haven but now open to everyone.
Mid-Levels is well served for local shops and services, with Caine Road and Robinson Road in particular lined with interesting independent options, including delicatessens, interesting clothing shops, stores selling organic produce and even an impressive range of pet-related services, as well as chains including both of Hong Kong’s major supermarkets. And if they’re not enough, there’s no need to worry: some of the best shopping in the world is on your doorstep in Central, with other prime districts such as Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui a very short ride away.