HK Island, Sightseeing

First visit to Tai Kwun (Part 2): Prison Yard

After exploring the Parade Ground, it was time to head up through the Barracks Block and enter the Prison Yard, where the Victoria Prison was once located. This was the first and longest-running prison to date in Hong Kong, it opened in 1841 and is said to be the first western building constructed of durable material in Hong Kong. It was decommissioned in 2006.

The Prison started of small, but over time it expanded from Hall A to Hall F (I found some pictures of how the prison looked back then here).

In the World War II the radial design of Hall D was destroyed and most of the other buildings were damaged by bombing and had to be restored. The east wing (now known as D Hall) of the main block and a watchtower (now known as Bauhinia House) survive from this period.

Upon leaving the Barracks Block, the visitor path leads you to Hall A.

This is impressive to look at from the outside, but it is not open to the public. So I walked towards Hall B, and this is where the ‘Life in Victoria Prison’ exhibition is displayed. You are encouraged to enter the cells yourself so you can explore what life must have been as a prisoner.

Hall C is also closed, so on to Hall D, which also displays a few cells – and an exhibition about Prison Meals. Don’t expect indulgent food, but surprisingly there was quite a lot of different cuisines on offer! Hall D is also where several restaurants are set to open soon.

What is nice about Hall D is that it is adjacent to a big courtyard – again, lots of open space to run around (great for kids as there are no cars!) and on weekends there seems to be lots of different attractions. From open air concerts to artists and performers.

Hall E will be home to a bar (Behind Bar)– and is the entrance/box office for JC Cube, which is a 200-seat auditorium.

The two brand new buildings designed by Swiss studio Herzog & de Meuron that house the Tai Kwun Contemporary gallery and the J Cube are cleverly designed – they resemble the solid brickwork of a prison and the textured cast aluminium helps reduce reflectivity and glare from sunlight during the day, while it also reduces light pollution from the inside at night. Another plus point: they are made from recycled material: hundreds of car wheel parts.

Tai Kwun Contemporary is a 1,500 square metres arts space – which is currently showcasing Tai Kwun’s official inaugural exhibition, “Dismantling the Scaffold” (until August 15), which explores states of flux and transformation during the opening of Tai Kwun. Another exhibition, “Six-Part Practice” (also until August 15), curated by Kurt Chan Yuk-keung, is the first solo show of Hong Kong artist Wing Po So, who displays traditional Chinese medicine ingredients in a very creative, innovative and modern way.

Next to this is Hall F, which currently features an exhibition about Prisoners Admission – this used to be a former print workshop. I found all these exhibitions rather short and compact, but then there are guided tours and self-guided tours (via the Tai Kwun app), so this might be a good opportunity to explore this complex further.

Overall I really enjoyed the visit to this redeveloped historic site. I love that there is plenty of open space in the heart of the city, it is easy to access (also with a stroller), and it is a good combination of learning about history, strolling through shops and trying out different restaurants.

Of course, there are always downsides to such a big scale project – and yes, I am wondering why there is so much commercial space (but then access to Tai Kwun is free of charge) and it seems that so many areas that are not accessible. I wonder whether they have been restored or forgotten. For example, where did the police men eat/sleep, what happened during the Japanese occupation, what about war crime trials and yes, overall the stories feel ‘a little too positive’.

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Basic information

Address: 10 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Note that the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator is connected to the compound by a new footbridge constructed at the intersection of Hollywood Road and Old Bailey Street.

Opening hours:

  • Tai Kwun Site: 11am – 11pm currently, subject to change
  • Visitor Centre: 11am – 8pm

Tai Kwun Pass: There is no admission fee. However, in the current launch phase, visitors are encouraged to get a Tai Kwun Pass which gives you guaranteed access to Tai Kwun and is essential during peak times (e.g. weekends and public holidays). At off-peak times, a limited number of visitors will be able to enter without a Tai Kwun Pass, but this is currently capped at 3,500 visitors at any one time.

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