Having been to the original Forbidden City in Beijing, does the Hong Kong Palace Museum live up to its hype? To some extent, yes, it’s worth the price of the ticket to visit.
Housed in a Chinese-Western fusion building in line with the other major museum in West Kowloon, the impressive red doors signaling entrance to the Hong Kong Palace Museum is an insta-worthy spot for museum goers who are fans of Chinese period dramas. Insider tip to come dressed in traditional Chinese clothes for maximum wow factor. Once in, you will need to go through security checks, check in large bags and umbrellas at the door and you’re all set to explore on your own.
Clockwise from top: exterior of the Hong Kong Palace Museum, painting of the army, trade art of Hong Kong. Photos from Uno Ma, Wang Shuang and Crystal Zu
Mapping Your Visit
Spanning several floors, the first matter to decide is whether to work your way from the ground up or from the top floor down. Most museum goers appeared to prefer the former, so going against the tide is the smarter option if you don’t like crowds. On the way to the top floor, you will be treated to an amazing vista of the Victoria Harbour from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the middle floor of the museum. If you only managed to get the night tickets to the museum, here’s the time to get side-tracked by taking photos of the shimmering nightlights of the Central skyline.
From far Left: red doors to the museum evoking the Forbidden City’s entrance, artwork made from precious stones, ceremonial robes, wind-up clock. Photos from Wang Shuang.
Exhibitions of Donated Artifacts and Modern Art
For general admission ticket holders, the top floor exhibitions are not especially alluring as they are devoted to special ticket holders who paid double the price to see the special exhibitions in addition to the regular ones. On the upper floors, there is an exhibition room devoted to local artists’ modern renderings of the Forbidden City exhibits which need more explanations to be understood. Another exhibition is made up of generous donations of artefacts from local benefactors with tribal jewellery, trade art alluding to Hong Kong’s history as a trade port and Chinese wooden furniture display. The trade art is similar to those on display in the Hong Kong Maritime Museum in Central. The highlight of the upper floors is marvelling at the interior design of transparent geometric shapes hanging from the ceiling which match the seating in the centre of the palace museum. Perhaps this is a modernist nod to the Forbidden City, which is built according to intricate mathematical calculations from the spacing of the buildings and to the layout of the various buildings.
Main Exhibitions of Palace Life
Moving on, the main exhibitions are centred in the ground and lower floors where palace life is explained in a series of artefacts married with modern twists. One feels strangely immersed in the Chinese palace life of yore upon entering the ground floor exhibition halls where you are greeted with a video of the Forbidden City then taken into a tour of the interior decoration of the palace, devotion to religion and filial piety of the emperor Qianlong. Particularly helpful and appealing is exhibition and video on dietary habits of the longest-living emperor of China, Qianlong emperor. His discipline in eating with the seasons and focus on a balanced diet which varied with age is revealed through a video of his dietary habits which is further reinforced in a Chinese painting of birthday celebrations for the emperor’s mother (Empress Dowager) and the hotpot cooker used by the emperor himself.
Clockwise from left: teacup with poem, clock gifted to the emperor with pagoda statue, the officials of the Chinese Dynasty, women of the Chinese Palace.
For those who find watching historical clips and admiring artefacts yawn-inducing, the Hong Kong Palace Museum goes out of its way to sprinkle interactive elements among the exhibits. Tiny cocoons allow visitors to delve into the sounds and poetic meanings of poems carved into cups and bowls with English translation of the poems read out. One gets the chance to experience Chinese calligraphy writing on large LCD panels in a hall where the Emperor’s painstaking calligraphy is on display.
Hong Kong Palace Museum vs Forbidden City
The focus on interactive displays and English translation for all the exhibits at this self-funded museum is higher than in the Forbidden City in Beijing, so this is an appealing edge for foreign tourists. Wheelchair-bound visitors and families with baby strollers will also appreciate the easy access to all the exhibits via lifts versus the many stairs and steps which one needs to navigate at the Forbidden City. While nothing beats seeing the real thing, the Hong Kong Palace Museum does justice to offering a 4D storybook of life at the Chinese palace to English-speaking visitors and the younger generation in need of spicing up their Chinese history lessons. Next up when the mainland Chinese borders open–a visit to the Forbidden City and stroll through the palace–best done on non-mainland Chinese holidays.
Hong Kong Palace Museum-
Hours: Mon, Wed, Thurs, Sun: 10 am-6 pm, Fri-Sat: 10 am-8 pm. Tues closed
Address: 8 Museum Drive, West Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui
Tip: Buy tickets online at least 2 weeks in advance.