Hong Kong's Island Life

The Central Star Ferry Pier sits on iconic Victoria Harbour, against a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers, with more high rises on the shores of Kowloon opposite.

This is in keeping with Hong Kong’s image as a modern hub of travel and commerce – but board one of the ferries to Lamma Island and, a mere 30 minutes later, you’ll find yourself in a vastly different world.

Alight at Sok Kwu Wan pier and you’re met with views of rolling, green hills and a multitude of low-rises – there is a three-storey height restriction – with colourful awnings. Breezy alfresco restaurants suspended overwater line the walkway, with tank after tank of live seafood. Venture inland and you’ll soon encounter residents walking their dogs or riding bicycles – there are no cars – along the narrow paths, hikers visiting for the weekend eager to explore the verdant trails, and beach-goers barbecuing up a storm on Hung Shing Yeh beach on the island’s west. It’s this kind of laid-back, island living that keeps tourists and locals alike coming back.

Ellie Hann, a kindergarten teacher who moved to Hong Kong from Bath in England, has been living on Lamma Island for five years. “I liked the idea of living on an island away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong,” she says. “It’s so green and tropical with plenty of wildlife, plus there’s lovely beaches nearby as well as great hikes. And there’s Lamma Rainbow Restaurant, which is second to none.” Among the array of restaurants are cosy cafes, some of which combine tea and food with enjoyment of the surrounding wildlife, such as teahouse and organic herb farm Herboland.

Lamma is only one of 263 such outlying islands in Hong Kong, each with their own unique, relaxed way of life. Lantau Island, the largest among them, is where the airport is located. However, it’s also full of hidden gems – from serene Shui Hau Wan in the south, where the beach is teeming with clams ready for the picking, to Tai O fishing village in the west, where houses are built on wooden stilts over the water and where locals create delicious street snacks such as barbecued oysters and husband cake, a savoury pastry filled with red bean, peanuts and sesame.

Mainstream attractions such as the Tian Tan, or Big Buddha, can also be experienced differently. While many visitors will take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to the top, it is possible to hike up to it following the Lantau Trail, which starts at Mui Wo ferry pier and offers terrific sea and mountain views along the way.

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Lantau’s diversity is one reason why Hong Kong resident Annora Ng decided to vacation there with a visiting friend, giving rave reviews of the hiking and cultural curiosities. “There’s just so much to see on Lantau,” she recalls. “Monasteries, heritage preservation, local food. You could spend one day at a monastery, and another at a village. The people are much more laid back, too. I thought it was a very good introduction to Hong Kong.”

While Lamma and Lantau are relatively easy to travel to via ferry or train, there are plenty of other islands further afield that might take more planning to get to – but the journey is well worth it. Connie “Maoshan” Yuen, an illustrator and former architecture conservationist, first discovered the charms of Peng Chau, a sparsely populated island about 40 minutes from Central, cat-sitting at her aunt’s seaside flat. “It’s a little island frozen in time,” she comments. “Serene and peaceful, but lively in its own way. My favourite thing to do is to sit and watch the boats go by,” Yuen says.

Locals sell freshly caught fish, eat dim sum together every morning, and gather at the village square along the single main street, or head to Lung Mo Temple, where it’s believed that touching the dragon mother and her bed sculpture brings good luck.

There’s also Po Toi, a remote beach paradise with an excellent seafood restaurant, Ming Kee (+852 2849 7038), and Cheung Chau, site of the annual bun-snatching competition, where participants clamber up towers to grab the luckiest buns at the top. Cheung Chau is also a popular haven for water sports.

The islands are reminders of Hong Kong’s past, when fishing villages dominated rather than skyscrapers, and which today remain tranquil getaways with beautiful natural landscapes and insights into local living that should not be missed.

Images by Calvin Sit.

Originally produced by LUXE for Hong Kong Tourism. Explore more of the city's neighbourhoods at DiscoverHK

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Kee Foong

Whether on safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta or watching the opera at La Fenice in Venice, content consultant and ex-LUXE editor Kee believes that great travel experiences are made even better with a hearty meal, stiff drink, good company and a comfy bed. Follow Kee's adventures @keepicks

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