In many ways, Pok Fu Lam doesn’t feel like it’s on Hong Kong Island. For a start, it’s by the ocean – although admittedly an awful lot of places in Hong Kong can say that about themselves – with a position on the western end of Hong Kong island that gives it big, sweeping vistas over the South China Sea. Then there’s the fact that it’s demonstrably away from the bustle of the city, relatively tranquil considering how close it is to Central, with a quality of life that attracts wealthy expats and locals alike. They’re also drawn to its plentiful supply of high-end, spacious apartments, many of them located in some of Hong Kong’s biggest and best-known private luxury developments.
But in many other ways, this is an area that feels exactly like it’s on Hong Kong Island. Close to the western tip of the island, just four kilometres from Central, Pok Fu Lam combines a pleasant environment with convenience. It also has a range of services, particularly when it comes to leisure but in terms of education and transport too, that can rival more or less anywhere. This makes it a very popular area among families; with great schools, abundant things to do, a relatively leafy environment and some seriously sizeable homes, this is one of the more popular places on Hong Kong Island to bring up kids, at least among those who can afford it.
Pok Fu Lam faces west-south-west at the western end of Hong Kong island; follow the densely populated north side of the island until the buildings run out at Kennedy Town, swing left, head south for a short distance and there you are. That means it’s also at the bottom of the western slope of Mount Austin, popularly known as The Peak, although theoretically that name only refers to the residential bit at the top of it; regardless, what we have here is a very well-connected area.
It’s also very close to the somewhat gritty but useful town of Aberdeen, which lies further around the coast of the island to the south and east, along with a range of surrounding areas, including Wah Fu, which is between Pok Fu Lam and Aberdeen and mainly consists of public housing estates; other estates such as Tin Wan, Shek Pai Wan and Wah Kwai; and the heavily populated island of Ap Lei Chau, linked to Aberdeen by a road bridge. Aberdeen in particular is well served for transport and boasts some interesting shops and one or two good places to eat, as well as being the centre of Hong Kong’s sailing community, with both the Aberdeen Boat Club and Aberdeen Marina Club located there.
Pretty much wherever you live in Pok Fu Lam, you’re guaranteed a good view. The district is spread out over the lower slopes of a hill that leads down to the sea, so everyone gets enticing vistas, particularly as the area is characteristically Hong Kong high-rise. Of the big buildings on display, probably the most prominent is the Cyberport development in the south of Pok Fu Lam, which as well as a massive shopping mall, five-star hotel, cinema and other leisure facilities, is also a massive office complex with, as the name suggests, an emphasis on technology companies, plus residential projects including, most notably, the huge, high-end Bel-Air. There are numerous other big developments nearby, including the extensive, luxury Baguio Villa; plus nearby Hong Kong University owns a lot of accommodation, some of it aimed at teaching staff, very spacious and sometimes available to outsiders.
The main view from Pok Fu Lam is west towards Lantau island, with the smaller islands of Peng Chau, Hei Ling Chau and Cheung Chau in front of it, along with one of Hong Kong’s – and therefore the world’s – major shipping lanes, which can be either picturesque or noisy, depending on your point of view. Further to the south the view is very slightly blighted by the massive coal- and gas-fired power station on Lamma Island, its three massive towers clawing the sky like the legs of a broken upturned table – undoubtedly an eyesore, but a minor one compared to the glorious expanse of blue that dominates the view from most parts of Pok Fu Lam.
The area isn’t all identikit modern high-rises. At its heart is the historic Pok Fu Lam Village, somewhat ramshackle in appearance but full of character and probably one of the city’s earliest inhabited areas in modern times. More of Pok Fu Lam’s past can be seen in the beautiful colonial Béthanie building, formerly a sanatorium but now administered by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, along with the two nearby cow sheds, once part of the now long abandoned Dairy Farm and another relic of the city’s colonial past.
Hong Kong is filled with high-quality medical services, and its public healthcare system is remarkably good and almost free to residents – and for those who live in Pok Fu Lam, public medical services are right on their doorstep, thanks to the presence of the Queen Mary Hospital. As well as being the teaching hospital for the nearby University of Hong Kong, the Queen Mary is also the main accident and emergency hospital for the whole of Hong Kong Island.
Also located in Pok Fu Lam are a cluster of other public hospitals: the Duchess of Kent’s Children’s Hospital at Sandy Bay, which as well as kids focuses on spinal and orthopaedic issues; the Fung Yiu King Hospital, where the focus is on geriatric care; and the MacLehose Medical Rehabilitation Centre, which provides help with long-term disabilities and following serious injuries.
For private hospitals you’ll have to travel a little further, but not too far. The Matilda International Hospital is just up The Peak, the Tung Wah Hospital is close to Central in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Central Hospital is located exactly where the name suggests and there’s also the private non-profit Canossa Hospital in Mid-Levels. For general practice and dental services, the Queen Mary is a good starting point; but, as ever, you don’t have to go far in Hong Kong to trip over a high-quality private doctor.
Educationally, the western end of Hong Kong island is dominated by Asia’s top-ranked academic institution, the University of Hong Kong, which has its main campus at the western edge of Mid-Levels on Bonham Road and Pok Fu Lam Road and sprawls out towards Pok Fu Lam, with its Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine actually located there.
The educational needs of children are also well taken care of. West Island School and Kennedy School, both in Pok Fu Lam, are both part of Hong Kong’s international-standard English Schools Foundation, which also includes South Island School in nearby Aberdeen. Slightly further along Hong Kong Island’s south coast, in Wong Chuk Hang, is the Canadian International School. Private non-profit independent school the Independent Schools Foundation Academy is also in Pok Fu Lam, while the Christian St Clare’s Girls’ School is on its northern fringes and Kellett School, Hong Kong’s English international school, has its primary campus in Wah Fu.
Thanks to Hong Kong’s somewhat tortuous collection of one-way systems and the difficulty of building big roads in a high-density city (the fact that most of it’s made up of hills doesn’t help here), it’s very easy to get into the centre of Hong Kong from Pok Fu Lam, but not quite so straightforward to get back again. Pok Fu Lam Road, unsurprisingly enough, is the main street through the district; in one direction it leads up through Western district towards Central, connecting with a highway that whisks you eastwards to the town centre in minutes; in the other it heads down towards Aberdeen. A couple of roads lead off it in the direction of The Peak. The Airport Express station in Central is just down the highway, and with travel time to Central rarely more than 10 to 15 minutes, the rest of the city is pretty accessible, too.
What Pok Fu Lam currently doesn’t have is any form of rail transport. The city’s tram system runs out a long way before it gets that far out, and the MTR metro system even further away. However the latter situation is hopefully set to change, with the stop-start plans for the new West Island Line and South Island Line still under review. If they do go ahead – and don’t hold your breath here – then both Cyberport and Wah Fu will get stations on the South Island Line (West Section), linking up with University station on the West Island Line and on towards Central, and Wong Chuk Hang on the South Island Line (East Section), with a connection on towards the big interchange at Admiralty.
There are, however, an awful lot of buses serving Pok Fu Lam, as well as a truly staggering number serving nearby Aberdeen and its surrounding estates.
Shops and Services
Pok Fu Lam isn’t exactly overloaded with shopping options, although there’s a sizeable mall at Cyberport and smaller shopping centres dotted around the area’s housing developments. Fortunately, Aberdeen is just around the corner and Central’s numerous temples of Mammon not too far away either. Likewise there aren’t a huge number of bars or restaurants here, but you really don’t have to go far to find plenty.
In terms of cultural venues, there’s a big cinema in Cyberport, and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ so-called Landmark Heritage Campus in the graceful colonial Béthanie building. The University of Hong Kong also has an excellent museum and library, and hosts regular arts performances.
Despite its lengthy coastline, Pok Fu Lam doesn’t have much in the way of beaches, but this is Hong Kong and there’s always one fairly close by. Neither does it have a lot of parks, but it’s an inherently green area anyway, and it has the very extensive Pok Fu Lam Country Park, leading up the slopes of Mount Austin to The Peak, right next door.
The presence of the university is a boon for sports lovers, in the form specifically of Sandy Bay, where the Stanley Ho Sports Centre provides a pretty full range of sporting facilities, and is cheap for non-university members to join. Further afield, sports facilities in the surrounding areas include Western Park Sports Centre, Aberdeen Tennis and Squash Centre, Pao Yue Kong Swimming Pool in Wong Chuk Hang, Kennedy Town Swimming Pool, Smithfield Sports Centre in Kennedy Town, Aberdeen Sports Ground, Aberdeen Sports Centre, Ap Lei Chau Sports Centre and Wong Chuk Hang Recreation Ground.