HomeTravelHong Kong bids farewell to Jumbo Kingdom, the world's largest floating restaurant

Hong Kong bids farewell to Jumbo Kingdom, the world’s largest floating restaurant

Locals gathered alongside the waterfront to give the floating restaurant its remaining farewell.

Measuring about 260 toes lengthy, the colossal three-story Jumbo Floating Restaurant was well-known for its gigantic inexperienced and pink neon signal studying “foon ying gwong lam,” Chinese for “welcome.” In its heyday, it was a part of the largest floating restaurant in the world.

For almost half a century, it was the fundamental boat of Jumbo Kingdom, which additionally included the older and smaller sister restaurant boat Tai Pak (courting again to 1952), a barge for seafood tanks, a 130-foot-long kitchen boat and eight small ferries to transport guests from two close by piers.

In latest years, Jumbo Floating Restaurant was the solely considered one of the group that was operational and open to diners.

“Jumbo Floating Restaurant has left Hong Kong today,” Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited, the firm that owns and operates Jumbo Kingdom, confirmed in an announcement launched after the towing was accomplished.

“A unique icon for residents and tourists alike, Jumbo Floating Restaurant has stood proud in the Southern District of Hong Kong Island for the past 46 years. Throughout this journey, it has been a great honor for us to share beautiful collective memories with local and foreign visitors.

“We sincerely thanks all in your love and care. We take this chance to ship you our greatest needs for a brighter future,” the assertion stated.

Remembering an icon

CNN Travel visited the restaurant in 2018 — filming its seafood barge, its main restaurant boat and its beautiful, rarely seen venue floor as well as talking to some of its longest-serving staff.

It was a much-loved neighbor of CNN’s Hong Kong office. On a sunny day, Jumbo Kingdom had been a favorite subject to photograph from the office’s windows.

The restaurant certainly looked worn down, compared to its glorious days, but still exuded a glamorous old-world charm.

The approach to the floating restaurant — only accessible via a special Jumbo-branded boat — was one of the most dramatic restaurant entrances in the world.

Upon arrival, you’d see the lavish Imperial-style façade with reliefs covering the entire wall, massive commissioned paintings in the stairwell and plenty of colorful Chinese-style motifs including a golden throne in the dining hall.

It was lined in neon lights, a neighborhood Hong Kong craft that has begun disappearing as the metropolis modernizes.

A younger Kenny Chan poses at Jumbo in the Nineteen Nineties.

Courtesy Seayou Explorer Travel Limited

“Jumbo was the designated place for dim sum for us. Jumbo additionally served a higher that means as my mother and father and I held our wedding ceremony banquets there. It’s a practice for many people who had been rooted from both a fisherman or boating background, to host our wedding ceremony banquet at Jumbo,” says Kenny Chan, founder of Seayou Explorer Travel Limited.

Chan’s parents were one of the fishing village families living in Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter. His wife also grew up on a boat.

“I can nonetheless recall how excited I used to be, as a child, every time I had the likelihood to hop on a sampan and go to Jumbo. The journey wasn’t simply transportation — it made us really feel like we had been visiting a palace. There’s no different place in Hong Kong that would ship the similar feeling.”

Those fond memories of his childhood at the Aberdeen fishing village in the harbor inspired him to found Seayou in 2018. The company offers private charter services as well as a sampan cultural tour called Aberdeen 1773 Cultural Tour that included a stop at the Jumbo Kingdom before its departure.

“The cultural, symbolic and tourism worth of Jumbo is important and cannot be quantified… We do perceive that sustaining Jumbo could also be difficult. We’re simply downhearted to see the authorities jeopardizing its personal plan [to invigorate the neighborhood] set in 2020 and their resolution to ‘not intervene’ [in Jumbo’s fate],” says Chan.

Members of the Chan family attend a wedding banquet at Jumbo in the 2010s.

Members of the Chan household attend a marriage banquet at Jumbo in the 2010s.

Courtesy Seayou Explorer Travel Limited

A floating marvel

In its golden days, the restaurant vessel starred in lots of native and worldwide films together with “Enter the Dragon” (starring Bruce Lee in front of Tai Pak), “Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge” and Stephen Chow’s comedy “God of Cookery.”

It was a “should” stop for visiting celebrities including Queen Elizabeth II and the late Prince Philip, Jimmy Carter, Chow Yun Fat, Elizabeth Taylor and Tom Cruise.

“A restaurant on this scale on a floating construction is sort of distinctive in the world. It displays the shut relation and historical past Hong Kong has with the sea,” says Charles Lai, an architect and founding father of Hong Kong Architectural History.

“Some dismissed its architectural significance because it was solely a ‘fake’ imperial design however I disagree — it is an fascinating try [at] reworking a floating house [into] an historical Chinese palace. If we take a look at the historic context, it was constructed at a time when this imperial-style Chinese aesthetic wasn’t even inspired in China (“Old Things” had been to be eliminated throughout the Cultural Revolution). So Jumbo Kingdom mirrored how Chinese in Hong Kong then had a higher craving or ardour for these previous Chinese traditions.”

Jumbo Kingdom_Nightview

A view of the restaurant at night, lit up by its famous neon lights.

courtesy of Jumbo Kingdom

The end of an era

Of course, its golden age didn’t last.

As the fishing population at Aberdeen Harbour dwindled, Jumbo Kingdom has become less popular among locals and tourists.

The company revealed that the restaurant had been suffering a deficit since 2013. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown of the city dealt the final blow.

In March 2020, the restaurant’s owners said that they had accumulated a loss of over HKD100 million ($13 million) and announced that the restaurant would be closed until further notice.

Several proposals had been put forward to save the historic icon, but its high maintenance cost had deterred potential investors.

Hong Kong’s government didn’t seem to be eager to get involved, either.

The Antiquities Advisory Board ruled that ships — unlike buildings on land — weren’t a part of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, meaning Jumbo wasn’t eligible for city protection.

Without a “white knight” rescuer that the city had been waiting for, the group decided to move the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, the main boat, to an undisclosed shipyard away from Hong Kong before its operating license expires this June.

Tai Pak, the smaller and older boat, as well as the recently capsized kitchen boat, are currently still parked at the harbor. Nothing has been confirmed about the future of these boats so far.

No matter what happens next, Hong Kong has lost one of the largest — and shiniest — jewels in its crown.

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