What was Hong Kong like in the early 1960s and late 1950s? | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

What was Hong Kong like in the early 1960s and late 1950s?

I want to start by thanking you all for creating such a fascinating and insightful website. My grandmother lived in Hong Kong until she moved to England in 1960 or 61 when she was 20. She has been back to HK many times for holidays, but laments that she wishes she had stayed there. Of course I don’t mention that I wouldn’t have been born if she had stayed (I’m half Chinese and half white British)!

I am researching about old Hong Kong. I was just wondering if I could ask you a few questions that would help with my research. My grandma has told me some fascinating stories, but she is quite vague about certain details.

  1. What was travel like in the early 1960s? As in travelling from HK to England? She is Chinese, but her and her husband were educated professionals. Were different races permitted to travel together?
  2. What was accommodation like in HK? I understand it was very overcrowded, especially in tenements for refugees. It appears that white people had far nicer homes. What was it like for Chinese people who had money?
  3. What was the entertainment like in the late 50s and early 60s? I’m in my early 20s so I can only imagine!
  4. What were your favourite places to visit in old HK?

Thank you for taking the time to read this smiley


Your grandparents almost definitely travelled by ship. You can read Peter Yee's memories of emigrating by ship in 1964 - he was heading to San Francisco, but the departure and journey would have been similar. I suggest you read those parts to your grandmother and show her the photos, as sometimes that seems to start the stories flowing better than just asking for memories of the journey.

Thank you so much David. I have just read the article you linked. Very interesting read. I'm in the process of collecting some photos for her. These will make her smile! They will also be great conversation starters.

Hi there

I left HK for the UK in 1964 to join my father who had already emigrated in 1957.  He had indeed travelled by sea and it took him weeks to get there via the Suez Canal. 7 years later in 1964 I flew from Kai Tak by Boeing 707 (the ones that had propellers instead of jet turbines).  In those days the plane had to refuel often. I remember all the stops between Kai Tak and Heathrow:  Bangkok, New Delhi, Karachi, Beirut, and Rome. I think the cost of air travel started to come down in the 60s and was becoming more and more prevalent.  



Perhaps not the Boeing 707 as that had jet engines.

No, it couldn't have been Boeing 707.  

It must have been a Bristol Britannia that I first flew in. I got it mixed up with the ones that I flew with for holidays in the 70s.

Probably was a B707...just no prop blades!

In 1964 I was travelling constantly between HK and London and those stops were very fimiliar to me...I was on a B707.By that

time there were very few non-jets operating long-haul.


I remember traveling by Comet about 1959 and stopping at Bangkok, New Delhi, Bahrain, Rome and London Heathrow which was little more than Nissan huts.

We had Black and White TV from about the same time from Redifusion. Cabled TV English and Chinese channel only.

Most entertainment for kids were outdoors and sports based. Water sports were highly popular.


We flew to Hong Kong in December 1960 on a BOAC Comet 4.

A lot of free time was spent outside and Billy Tingle ran keep fit classes on the old Cricket Club ground that was opposite the Hilton.

I loved flying then with the various stops, and people dressed up to fly - no trainers or jogging pants!


In 1958 when I was a toddler my mother took my brothers and myself to London travelling in a BOAC Bristol Britannia turboprop.  In 1965 we went on a long trip to Australia by ship but this was by then was becoming a less dominant form of travel (we had had holidays to Japan in 1961 and 1964 and travelled by ship).  From 1967 I went to school in Australia making the trip once a year, always flying and usually on BOAC or Qantas 707s.  I remember my first flight to school was not very pleasant as it was a BOAC migrant flight for people migrating from the UK to Australia and was extremly crowded and cramped.

I don’t believe there was any racial segregation though most decidedly there was plenty based on affluence (is it any different now?)  - my father was half Chinese and the only thing I remember him mentioning was that at one time it was not possible for him to join the Hong Kong Club (though he did so at some time in the 60s).  I looked totally European though I am one quarter Chinese and went to a mostly Chinese school which was considered a bit unusual but not exceptional.

We aways lived in flats usually in Kowloon Tong when I was growing up.  Though my father was a lawyer it was not particular large or impressive though it was a world away from the extremely crowded resettlement estates in nearby Kowloon City.   On visit to  Hong Kong a few years ago I visited the street where I grew up in the 1960s and it looked very much how I remembered it except our building had been pulled down.

I can just remember my parents getting our first television - I suspect this was about 1960 and also our first colour television in about 1971.  We only watched English language channels - I think there were two, at least later.  Other than that entertainment for us as kids in the 60s was going occasionally to movies.  In my memory they were always in very big cinemas.  If anything exciting happened in an action movie like an explosion or military attack I remember there would usually be a big exclamation of "Waah!" by much of the audience which my brother and myself always looked forward to.

The mention of the Comet reminds of my trip back to the UK in August,  after beng away four and a half years, flying from Kai Tak to Heathrow. I was seated next a precocious pre teen British girl and we both got on well playing games of Battleship, etc. to pass the time.  Maybe too well, because when we reached Bangkok , our first stop over, I was approached by the senior Air Hostess and gentlly told it was against BOAC policy for girls so young to be seated with an adult male so my seat was changed! Ann Buchannan was her name and I think her dad worked for Kowloon Wharves. Those were the days!

Worth a look


More early post-war memories of life in Hong Kong.

Scroll down through the text and you will find a number of comments about life in the colony.

Unfortunately there does not appear to be a ‘Search’ function available


1. My Dad was in the Army so we travelled to HK from UK in 1959 & back in 1962 by troopship. There were lots of civilian liners, many famous ones, that came from UK to HK, some taking emigrants from UK to Australia, but all stopped at Hong Kong carrying civilians coming to work in HK. Airlines like PAN AM, British Airways, Air France etc all flew to HK. As far as I am aware there was no segregation. Money was the main segregation mechanism.

2. As with all things if you had money then whatever race or class you are meant you got better accomodation. Obviously there not so many people living in Hong Kong at that time. Large numbers of rich Chinese lived on the Peak, Repulse Bay & in Kowloon Tong. I lived in Perth Street in Kowloon & we had the school, Las Salle College, where Bruce Lee went to school at that time at the end of the road. The big difference was the lack of huge skyscrapers & vast housing estates. They were building the first generation "squatter resettlement estates" when we were there, about 7 stories high & quite long. The other big difference was that the harbour was much wider between HK island & the mainland!!

3. We had black & white English & Chinese TV & Radio on Reddifusion cable. There were lots of cinemas.

4. The Peak, New Territories, the islands, boat trips. I was in the Cubs & Scouts so went to lots of places.


Thank you for all your responses! I thoroughly enjoyed reading all your stories of life in Hong Kong. This is all very interesting and helpful!


I grew up in HK in the 1950s and used to go to cinemas quite a lot as TV entertainment was still just a tiny dot on the horizon.  When I moved to the UK in 1964, I had to get used to the 'Continuous Performance' system in the majority of UK cinemas.  'Continuous Performance' never ever existed in HK.  It took quite some getting use to!   

HK Radio and Rediffusion - a bit of nostalgia

In HK I used to listen to radio and Rediffusion broadcasts for English language popular music or the latest hits. Here is the thing - can anybody remember the name 'Diana Fabiana May'?  It seemed that this name would pop up on radio every day, a name that was so ubiguitous that if you'd listened to broadcasts in HK in the early 60s you couldn't have missed it. She was constantly trying to request songs to be played, or for songs to be dedicated for someone's birthday etc. etc. As the name was only known on air, I dont think anybody actually knew who she was or what she looked like. I guess the 21 century equivalent of this would be a Youtube personality?    

Such names need to be treated with care.

A work colleague of a friend of mine used to spend considerable time and ingenuity making up false names with dubious connotations’ when read or spoken.

He would be delighted when he fooled sub-editors and got them published in 'spoof' letters in  one or other of the three English language newspapers ‘Letter to the Editor’ columns’, or similarly on the radio talk in shows.

Thanks IDJ for the advice but no fear there.  Weighing up all the evidence that I can remember, I think she was a real person. And she was probably just some local school girl who had nothing better to do and who loved hearing her own name mentioned on the radio. 

Boys can be just as vain. In the late 60s, I was staying in a students' hall (UK), and there was this guy who had a room right opposite mine and he used to have his radio on, listening to either Radio 1 or 2.  But he would always switch to Radio 4 just before he went to bed, listening to the Shipping Forecast. Eventually he confessed to me why he always did that. It was because his name was mentioned during the Forecast. His last name was Lundy.  


You may like to look at my extensive albums of photos on Flickr-while I mainly dwell on Korea, I have many other albums taken in HK from the '40s up to the '70s. The link is here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/58451159@N00/albums

Hi Red Panda

I was born in Hong Kong in 1947 and have been writing about my experiences growing up so that *IF* my grandkids ever were curious about their maternal grandmother, they would be able to get some idea of what my life was like in HK.

I've made pages which cover the years you're interested in so please take a look, if you're so inclined! laugh

The pages are listed here, for easy reference ...




I worked at Kai Tak Airport in 1963 to 1964 for Cathay Pacific Airlines. I remember the first day we got our new red ground hostess uniforms ...the same colour and style was kept for many years. There were 55 chinese girls and 5 European locals who manned all the stations from check-in,  information counters and ticketing, and VIP duties. I DID all three.  There was no segregation, everyone was equal. In those days there were still shanty towns and the ones above causeway bay used to flood and wash down the hills, also out near Lion Rock behind the airport. The rich still travelled in the peninsula hotel limousines, both chinese and others.  The Kadoorie family were as big then as they are now and Kadoorie Hill, Road and places like St George's Court were popular. The Hilton Hotel had the Eagles Nest on top and the Den in the basement.  Tea dances were popular, particularly Bayside, sunday at 4pm in Nathan Road.  I became an airline hostess and flew hong kong, Karachi, Kim house where passengers and crew stayed in the same hotel at many of the stopover. It would take 3 days out, 3 days back with rests and refuelling for leisure travellers where package tours were just starting up by air.  It was all magic times.

@Gaye Gordon - we flew by Cathay Pacific from Kai Tak to Osaka (via Tapei) in 1964 for a family holiday in Japan - I wonder if you could have handled us at the airport!  I was a little boy, very interested in airplans and excited by my first flight since I was a baby.  It was a Lockheed Electra, I remember.  Far preferable to the Japan Airlines DC6B on which we flew from Osaka to Tokyo a few days later where I was shocked to find my seat had no window!

Svgittins. Imagine fifty odd years ago we were at the same place. Yes CX flew Lockheed Electra aircraft and we were very excited when we got a Covair 880.   Kai tak Airport was spacious and shiny then. Arriving by combo for early morning departure check ins was amazing as departure hall was empty and quiet and then slowly came to life. When I joined the English airline later we flew DC6, a wonderful aircraft.  Lovely to hear from you.

Hi Doug,

Thanks for the flickr albums.

I am interested in the small British ship at Kowloon Wharf where the President Wilson was berthed. Is it possible to get a date for the photo? The Ref is M20wc51.

Many thanks


Quite often, there are no dates on the slides, and I can only give an approximate date. If a date isn't mentioned in the album, I have no other information on the photo.

Just from the price angle things seemed remarkably cheap, at least compared to the UK.  My first tailor-made suit, charcoal grey English Terylene/Wool cost me ten pounds,  HK160, in 1956, and a flashier U.S. pale blue Dacron one, HK$120.00.  A San Mig, then about the only beer available,  cost $1.50 everywhere except the Pen where they charged an extra 50 cents for the ambience. Taxis were $1.00 at the drop of the flag in Kowloon and on the HK side, where all the cabs were stripped down Mercedes,  $1.50. I remember I could take a taxi at Star Ferry and reach friends in Shatin for under $8.00. I think the KCR train was about $2.00 first class and of course KMB cheaper than that.

Places to relax in the late fifties on the Kowloon side  were the Round Up Room at the Miramar and a few years later when Manson House was built,   Dairy Farm's Golden Phoenix Nighclub and the Highball Nightclub on the floor above. (jackets and ties required) There was also the Piano Bar above the Princess Theatre with Larry Allan to play your favourites. For those who were in a romantic mood there was the nightclub at the Carlton Hotel on the Taipo Road overlooking Stonecutters, etc.

If you were hungry and wanted a filling meal for around HK$5.00 Tsimshatsui  had several Russian restaurants where a four course  set lunch was $4.50 and an equally filling  set dinner $5.50. To put these prices in perspective I was earning HK$880.00 a month  in 1956 all found (as a junior officer on a local ship).It could be my imagination but prices did not seem to go up much over the next sixteen years when HK  was first my home port and then later my home.




Thanks Doug.

Red Panda,

My mother flew from HK to London about the same time as your grandmother in August 1960 with a toddler and a baby in tow but otherwise on her own as a 37-year-old.  She wrote a couple of days later that “ the air trip was not particularly enjoyable as the infants played up most of the time. [The toddler] shrieked at the top of his lungs every time he had to have the safety belt fastened and the [baby] fretted and wanted to be on my knee all the time, the rack on which the carry cot rested was faulty, and eventually gave way. Fortunately, I was able to catch the [baby], as it fell, the hostess said she would report it at Karachi, but nothing was done about it, whilst I was on the plane. I was very disappointed in the service. Until the final crew change I had the devil's own job to get food or drink for the infants, and always they had to wait until after the adult passengers had been served. Not once did anyone offer to relieve me and twice when I asked the air hostess to sit with them, whilst I went to the toilet she had disappeared when I returned, and a neighbouring passenger was sitting with them, whilst the [baby] shrieked her head off. On this second occasion, also, the hostess had given her a bottle of milk I requested without securing the top properly, and all the sheets and blankets and the carry cot were consequently soaked in milk. I didn't leave the plane once. At least they gave me the option of remaining on board. BOAC were again anything but helpful when I arrived at London airport, and I was left to flounder about looking for my luggage. With [the baby] under one arm and my coats and camera, and two or three bags on the other. Fortunately, a fellow passenger came to my assistance. And then when I got through customs there were [my parents in law]. I actually saw [my mother-in-law] before I went through the Customs Hall. But of course, they wouldn't let her through to help me, the customs came down on me for three pounds 12 shillings on the transistor sets, but [my brother] informed me that it's equivalent would still be more here. Anyway, so much for BOAC service! I can't recommend it. And you [her husband] would definitely be unhappy travelling tourist class, as there is very little leg room. I thought the food was very disappointing also.” These were the good old days when seat pitch according to a Which? article in 2017 was 37/38 inches in 1958 on a Comet 4 Tourist Class compared to 31 inches on a Boeing 747 Economy class in 2017. This would have been my mother’s first long haul flight as she had come out to HK by sea during the Suez crisis which prolonged the voyage via the Cape to 6 weeks, maybe more.


The above posting strikes a chord as my family’s experiences flying by BOAC on the Hong Kong-London route were similar in the 1960s-70s.

Travelling with a baby, our experiences were the same as posted with regards to cabin crew who had no empathy whatsoever to those travelling with babies and small children. The only exceptions were the very few Asian BOAC female cabin crew members on board at that time.

From over-hearing cabin crew’s conversations on a number of the Hong Kong route flights over the years, my impression was that their overriding interest was only the next of four or five “staging-post/crew-rest/lay-overs” for a few days “Me time” between their route segments, and the merits or otherwise of the hotels and facilities laid on by the airline for them.

On the last flight we took by BOAC on the HK route we were travelling on an early B747 Jumbo-Jet and sat alongside a centrally placed galley. We had to spend the night listening to the female cabin-crew congregating in the galley continually swearing and using foul language.  During their washing up activities of cups/glasses etc, water was splashing out from the gap between the galley curtains over adjacent passengers. Asking them to desist and to moderate and lower their language had little effect.

Luckily, for our next flights, Cathy Pacific Airways and British Caledonian Airways were offering their newly won alternative services to the UK from the monopoly of BOAC, which we gladly took up. My family and I have never again flown on BOAC /BA since other airlines commenced HK/UK services.

I was amazed recently to come across a 1960s-70s BOAC leaflet titled “Before You Take Off” specifically on aspects of the ease of travelling with babies and children on the airline. Certainly, we never saw copies of this at that time. And apparently the cabin crews had never read nor heeded the contents either!

BOAC-Before you take off-with babies-Advice leaflet-cover only
BOAC-Before you take off-with babies-Advice leaflet-cover only, by IDJ

I was  stewardess flying for BOAC in 1960.

I never came across anything like the lady described described in her article.

The skycots (as we called them) were always very securely fastened.

And we were particulalry trained to help with babies and children.

 I came to live in HK in 1961 and have loved it ever since and hope to continue to do so.

My husband was one of the pilots that flew the first Convair for Cathay Pacific from San Diego to HK in 1962.

When i arrived Cathay only had 5 planes, 2 Electras, 2 DC 6's and 1 DC 3. I also worked at Kai Tak as a ground hostess checking in passengers so I  remember  it all well.

Of course there is always some variations in treatment.

When I first started flying in 1959 on an Argonaut from London to Kuwait. We used to check into a tin hut at Heathrow and then stroll across the tarmac onto the airplane. There was no security for aircrew.

Carol Rance


I'm doing research on aspects of Hong Kong, and I could sure use your help.

Does anyone remember how long it would take to drive from the Peninsula Hotel or thereabouts to Sha Tin during the 1950s? Was it under an hour or more?

Kind regards,

T.P. Lee.

The journey time I recall would have been under an hour in the 1950s.

Became quicker once the Lion Rock tunnel was built.

Thanks, Mike!

I lived as a child of 9 - 12 in HK 1959 - 1962. In those days TV picture was black & white & came by cable. The cable company I think was Redifusion. You rented the TV. There were English & Chinese channels. I did not watch much TV in those days as life in HK was so amazing outdoors & there was so much to do (Scouts, Cubs, swimming etc). 

Hello everyone, I am the original poster. I have since found out a lot of tragic things from my grandmother and, for her entire life, she has been in fight or flight mode. From the day she was born through to her adult life in England, she has experienced trauma upon trauma. She is very open with me and previously thought no one would be interested in her life story so she kept quiet :( She is quite amused that I have written (currently) 20k words about her.

She flew from HK to London via the BOAC airline and then to Manchester. She travelled alone and met her fiance for the first time in England. I think a family member arranged this marriage. When she fled China to HK (Kowloon), she worked in the admin department of a factory that made leather gloves for rich white Americans (sent overseas). Later, she helped hand stitch pearls and sequins to expensive cheongsams and delivered them to rich white people in the affluent areas of HK.

She said she rented a small box room with her sister in law. Apparently the landlord owned a house that you had to pass through to get to the flats. I'm not quite sure what she means by this. I would be grateful if anyone has any pictures of the type of flat that my Nana described.

Edit: Also, what is HK$1 in 1961 worth today? Does anyone have a picture of this factory in Kowloon?

You could look here


and related links


About HK$16 to the British pound I seem to recall.


That is a really interesting website! So in 1961, £1 was worth HK$16?

A 1960 tourist guide quotes HK$16 to the pound.

No doubt it would have fluctuated by a few cents around that figure over time as exchange rates will do.

Perhaps it was a flat built on the roof of the house? They were very common at the time.