Near to the buzzing commercial districts of Mongkok and Prince Edward, there is a slice of old Hong Kong still living and breathing in Kowloon City - complete with flat whites and all-day breakfast spreads served surrounded by decades-old Chinese medicine cabinets.

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Tai Wo Tang.

Remembered for its notorious Kowloon Walled City days and known nowadays as little Thailand, this local community is packed with low-rises remaining from the Kai Tak Airport days when strict building height restrictions applied. Apart from family-run Thai restaurants, grocery stores and massage parlours, there is also Tai Wo Tang - a new cafe opened in late 2018 that has become an Instagram hot-spot for a good reason.

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The cafe no longer dispenses medicine but its fixtures and fittings are intact.

Previously a Chinese medicine shop founded in 1932, Tai Wo Tang is housed in a pre-war Chinese building with verandas built in the 1920s. The ground-level shop was a family-run business, catering to ailments through traditional Chinese medicine, and earning itself a star-studded patient list ranging from local politicians to celebrities. After two generations of doctors, Tai Wo Tang lived on for five more years, run by a family relative selling ingredients for Chinese medicine. After 80 years, it finally closed in 2017.

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It's a hit with Instagrammers.

That is until 2018, when it was announced that the original shop would be preserved and refurbished as a modern cafe, retaining most of its iconic decor. Look out for the wooden Chinese medicine cabinet, that is close to a century old, lining the wall from floor to ceiling; the old folding metal gate; seasoned wooden benches, and of course, the original wooden banner bearing the Chinese characters for Tai Wo Tang painted in gold.

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This is a piece of Hong Kong history.

Though you can no longer get a dose of Chinese medicine for your cold there, Tai Wo Tang continues to be a bearer of old Hong Kong heritage and history. The only difference is, instead of the distinctly pungent herbal smell, you’ll find yourself in a space with the aromatic smell of freshly-ground coffee beans.

By Karen Chiang

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