CHINA  |  Hong Kong, China Travel Guide
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Hong Kong's Outlying Islands

Hong Kong's Outlying Islands

Hong Kong's Outlying Islands are the antithesis of what you might expect from the modern metropolis of Hong Kong. Quiet, secluded and traditional, they offer beaches, hikes, temples, fishing villages and some fine seafood restaurants. If you’re in Hong Kong for anything more than a couple of days it’s certainly worth taking a boat out to one of the islands and, for more of a break, maybe staying overnight. The Outlying Islands are actually part of the New Territories, but the three described below are best accessed from Hong Kong’s Outlying Islands Ferry Pier, next to the Star Ferry Terminal in Central.

Lamma Island

Lamma is a gem, only 30 minutes from Hong Kong Island by boat, but a million light years away in terms of pace and atmosphere. The island is only five square miles but it offers a range of attractions, including excellent hiking paths, beaches, quaint towns and renowned fish restaurants. All can be linked in a lovely short hike.

Yung Shue Wan was once just a fishing community which developed small-scale industry in the post-war period, but later became popular for young foreigners to live away from the city and developed something of a hippy culture. Although most of this scene moved on post-handover, the legacy continues in the form of a number of cool cafés and bars and a few longterm expat residents. There are also a few hotels and apartments in the town that offer lower rates than the city. Yung ShueWan is a relaxed place to base yourself if you don’t mind the half-hour boat ride every time you want to go downtown. On the other side of the island Sok Kwu Wan is famous for its fish restaurants and is connected to Yung Shue Wan by a paved hiking trail.With no public transport on the island, walking and cycling are the only options for getting to its beaches and hilltop pavilions – a refreshing change after the traffic-laden streets back in Central.

If you’re too hot for a hike, help is at hand in the form of Hung Shing Ye and Lo So Shing beaches, only a 15-minute walk from Yung ShueWan and Sok Kwu Wan respectively. Both have good swimming, offshore pontoons, changing facilities, lifeguards and shark nets. Lo So Shing is the prettier of the two, especially since there is a power station marring the view at Hung Shing Ye. During the week you might have the beaches more or less to yourself, but on the weekends they can get busy. If the main beaches are packed, Hung Shing Ye has a northern section, known as Tai Wan To, which isn’t shark-netted, and if you’re willing to take the risk you’ll find it quieter here.


Lantau is the largest of Hong Kong’s islands, famous for its rugged highlands, quiet beaches and three (very different) constructions that reflect the dynamic balance between traditional and modern in Hong Kong. The award-winning airport designed by Sir Norman Foster and the brand-new Disneyland are both built on reclaimed land and lie on Lantau’s north and east coasts respectively. In the far west sits the world’s largest seated bronze Buddha on the Ngong Ping Plateau, now linked by the 360° Skyrail. Tsing Ma Bridge, which links the airport to the mainland, is the world’s longest road and rail suspension bridge. At the eastern end of the island the utopian suburbia of Discovery Bay is home to many of Hong Kong’s expat families, who relish its man-made beach, car-free environment and modern housing complexes, which are linked to Central by fast ferry.

The main reasons to come to Lantau are the Giant Buddha at Ngong Ping, the stilted fishing village houses of Tai O and the island’s beaches. Many of the sites detailed can be linked on foot and Lantau offers some of Hong Kong’s best hikes, including the 44-mile Lantau Trail or shorter routes such as the Fanlau Trail from Shek Pik Reservoir around to Tai O.

Po Lin Monastery and the Giant Buddha

Lantau’s isolated hills first attracted monks to the Ngong Ping plateau in 1927, although the construction of the Giant Buddha in 1993 and the Skyrail in 2006 has put the monastery firmly on the tourist map, and so it has lost some of its tranquility. Still, the monastery remains a genuine place of worship and meditation and its gardened complex is certainly worth a look around. There’s also a great vegetarian restaurant in the monastery, which serves inexpensive meals between 11:30 am and 5 pm. If you want to stay and hike in the surrounding hills, the SG Davis Hostel is basic but beautifully located. The reason that most people come to the Ngong Ping plateau, though, is to admire the enormous seated bronze Buddha, which at 85 feet is the tallest of its kind. There are 268 steps to the top, from where you’ll properly appreciate its size as well as enjoy fine views across the island’s mountainous interior and out over the South China Sea. If it’s a foggy day in winter, though, the plateau can resemble Scotland more than Hong Kong. The Ngong Ping 360° Skyrail presents a stunning 20-minute ride from Tung Chung MTR station up to the monastery. Not only is the journey beautiful, it also makes for an easy day-excursion.

Tai O Village

Tai O is one of the last remaining places in Hong Kong where people still live in stilt houses, which are raised above the salty creek to prevent tide damage, although this watery location didn’t stop a fire which raged through the village in the year 2000. Tai O today is far from small, but the once-nomadic Tanka boat people have retained much of their traditional lifestyle and they still make the pungent shrimp paste and dried fish products they have survived on for hundreds of years. The salt trade, which used to be a mainstay of the Tanka, has declined to nothing, however. If you want to eat but aren’t so keen on the dried fish, then there are a few basic Cantonese restaurants that serve fresh seafood.

Cheung Chau Island

South of Lantau Island, Cheung Chau (Long Island) is a tiny dumbbell- shaped speck in the sea measuring less than a square-mile, yet it is one of the most densely populated places in Hong Kong. Its current population is about 30,000 but, unlike nearby Lamma and Lantau, there are very few expats. Most residents commute into the city to work, which can leave the island feeling decidedly empty, except on the weekends when locals and tourists flock. Even when it’s busy, the island retains a certain charm and its main promenade, Praya Street, even manages to feel a little Mediterranean on a summer evening. Cheung Chau also has some good beaches, lively temple festivals and even a few pirate legends. Cheung Chau is said to be one of the longest inhabited islands in the area, and during the 18th century it was a safe haven for pirates attacking the busy trading waterways between Macau and Guangzhou. There’s a cave out on the south island where Cheung Po Tsai, the Delta’s most notorious pirate, is alleged to have hidden and perhaps even stashed his treasure!

Exploring the Island

Boats arrive at the narrowest part of Cheung Chau, from where you can access both of its two formerly separate islands. Cheung Chau is motorvehicle- free (apart from its mini fire engines) and so small that the best way to enjoy its manifold minor sights is to amble (or cycle) along the network of paved trails that run across the island. Before long you’ll have stumbled into everything. Cheung Chau is an easy place to keep on exploring and might be worth an overnight stop if you want a break from the city – note that prices can halve during the week. While the food scene isn’t fantastic, there is still plenty of good and reasonably priced seafood found in the restaurants lining the harbor. If you come on a day-trip there are also some good picnic spots. After an amble across the island you might feel like relaxing on a beach and Cheung Chau has plenty of these – Pak Tso Wan and Tung Wan are two of the best, although note that shark nets are removed from the latter in winter.

Last updated December 4, 2010
Posted in   China  |  Hong Kong
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