Last updated: 04:00 PM ET, Tue October 27 2015

Virtual Tour Takes You Into Hong Kong's Past

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | October 27, 2015

Virtual Tour Takes You Into Hong Kong's Past

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Hong Kong has changed a lot over the decades. Even in recent years, new buildings have popped up on the already-crowded skyline. Recent regulations, including one that is meant to phase out neon signs, have also altered the way things look at street level.

Today, the former British colony and gateway to Mainland China is one of the world’s most-modern places. It’s easy to forget history when you are surrounded by high-end boutiques and glass-covered skyscrapers, but Hong Kong has had a very interesting narrative over the past century or so. 

A hidden history

Yes, Hong Kong has had an exciting (sometimes chaotic) past. The territory’s main districts, on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon, are relatively small and densely populated. They have been made over again and again as they were transformed into their modern incarnations.

You can still see some of the traces of the past: the narrow alleys of Kowloon, the tram to Victoria Peak, the handful of historic buildings that have been preserved, and the New Territories villages that have been affected little by the nearby urbanization. Mostly, though, Hong Kong looks nothing like it did 50 or 100 years ago.

A virtual look into the past

The best way to uncover historic Hong Kong is by taking a virtual tour. Booking engine Hotel Club, which offers deals on hotels in the territory, has created a virtual tour that uses photographs to show what Hong Kong was like in its pre-skyscraper days.

The Virtual Tour of Historic Hong Kong uses current images from Google Street View. Historic pictures of the exact same locations and features are laid over the modern street view. Site visitors can hover over the older pictures and make them fade out so that they can see how they line up with the scene from current times.

Changes (and a few constants)

HotelClub worked with a historian to choose streets, monuments and buildings that best demonstrated Hong Kong’s changing landscapes. For example, one of the first images visitors to the site see is Kowloon’s famous Nathan Road. Now dominated by brand name boutiques, the overlaying pictures show what it looked like in 1920: a dusty car-less street with a handful of pedestrians and a rickshaw.

If you look closely the images of the past, you can find a few constants. The staircase from the 1870 picture of Ladder Street, which leads up to the famous Mo Man Temple, is still evident, though it now has a huge high-rise building on one side.

A few sites, like the KCR Clock Tower, have not changed since their historic photo was taken (in 1954 in the tower’s case). However, everything around that one feature is almost unrecognizable. The tower is the only remaining part of a train station that once stood on the site.

Understanding the past in a very modern destination

On one hand, the virtual tour of Hong Kong can help you put the sights that you see on a trip through the territory into historical context. On the other, it can help you appreciate the breakneck pace of change that has turned Hong Kong into a major international destination for business and tourism.

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