Thursday, 9 June 2016

Four Places in Hong Kong: Fishing Village, Hiking, Gondola, Skyscrapers

When you think of Hong Kong 香港 you may conjure up images of its sparkling night view, looming sky scrapers and huge shopping malls. I saw on a hiking show before that almost 80 percent of Hong Kong’s land remains undeveloped and natural. Hong Kong may not have the tallest mountains but it sure has a lot in its terrain. In addition, it is made up of many small islands and I highly recommend you to explore outside the crowded and polluted centre of the metropolis. In this post, I will introduce four places in Hong Kong I visited this year: Cheung Chau Island, Dragon’s Back, Big Buddha and a rooftop garden in Central.

Cheung Chau Island 長洲

Cheung Chau
Cheung Chau 長洲 is hardly a hidden gem because many locals take day trips there for fresh air and seafood. However, tourists don’t usually place it high on their priority lists if they only have limited days in Hong Kong.

Cheung Chau is a small island off to the south west of Hong Kong and is a ferry ride away from Central 中環, a CBD district. Go to Central Pier 5 and you will find two ferries to Cheung Chau. The slower ferry takes 55-60 minutes and costs HKD 13.20 Monday to Saturday and HKD 19.40 on Sunday. The faster ferry takes 35-40 minutes and costs HKD 25.80 Monday to Saturday and HKD 37.20 on Sunday. You can look at the ferry schedule here.

Ferry in Hong Kong
Once you step off the ferry you will be met by a street of busy shops selling various souvenirs and food. The island retains the Hong Kong roots as a fishing village. Back in the 1840s Hong Kong was a fishing village with a population of 4000. Now it is one of the world’s metropolises with over 7 million people.

The main means of transport on Cheung Chau are bicycles and not cars. There are quite a few bicycle rental shops for visitors to ride and explore. However, the main shops and restaurants are located near the ferry terminal and the crowds on the street make it difficult to bike smoothly and safely. There is no need to bike if you’re staying in this area. If you plan to go more inland then the roads are relatively clearer. Yet, walking in any direction from the ferry terminal to the edge of the island only takes about an hour. It is definitely not necessary to rent a bicycle.

Right outside the Cheung Chau ferry terminal
A very popular place to visit is Cheung Po Tsai Cave 張保仔洞. He was a pirate of the South China Sea and was rumoured to have hid treasure in this cave. The cave is now empty save for some garbage that people have left behind. The cave is very dark and steep in some parts (the sign said 1-2 metre descends!) It is not safe to just use the flashlight on your phone because you will likely drop it while trying to balance yourself and never find it again in pitch black. Appropriate footwear and clothing is also important of course.

Entrance to the cave
In addition to nature and bicycles, another thing Cheung Chau does not lack in is its abundance of food. Being a fishing village, the famous thing to eat is seafood. My friend who I was travelling with is allergic to shellfish but we still found many other delicious options!

Street food is plentiful including my favourite put chai go 砵仔糕, a steamed rice flour pudding. Famous Cheung Chau desserts include the large mango and durian mochi. The mango one is made with an entire half of a juicy ripe mango. The big steamed buns 大包with the words peace 和平 are famous especially during the Bun Festival 包山節 in May. Another big food is the large fishball skewers 魚蛋. The fishballs were the size of a baby’s fist. We went at around 10am and there was no queue but when we walked past the fishball shop again, there was a line of over 30 people!

Mango mochi
Big steamed bun
Big fishballs
We walked past a pizza place run by a New Yorker. The pizza ingredients were fresh and baked in a brick oven. It was delicious and you can check it out if you want to eat something other than the conventional seafood.

Pizza in Cheung Chau

Dragon’s Back 龍脊港島徑

View from Dragon's Back
An even closer to nature option to explore Hong Kong is to go hiking. One of the well known trails is Dragon’s Back 龍脊港島徑. It is famous among locals and tourists probably because it is one of the easier trails with great views. It had a one star rating for difficulty but for people not used to Hong Kong’s humidity it could feel a lot more difficult. 

We met at Shau Kei Wan  筲箕灣MTR exit A3 and took bus 9 towards Shek-O 石澳 and alighted at To Tei Wan 土地灣. When we were waiting for the bus, an 80 year old granny commented that we were going hiking so late in the day (it was around 4pm at the time). I suppose she could tell that we were going to Dragon’s Back because most people who took that bus were hikers.


The trail is 8.5 kilometres long and takes about 4 hours to finish but we cut it by half. The view was great and we could see Stanley’赤柱 beaches. It was still humid at 4pm but the sun wasn’t as scorching. There wasn’t much shade on the trail so I definitely would not advise going in the afternoon. There were some ascends with stairs but also enough descends that made it easier to walk. Overall I didn’t find it too difficult and it was convenient to get to by public transport. Remember to spray mosquito repellent!


The sun was setting around 7pm that day and we would not have finished the entire trail by the time it got dark so we left on the Shek-O Trail halfway. In total we hiked for about 2 hours. The bus stop was just across the street from the end of the trail. We could have taken bus 9 back to the MTR station but a red van/minibus came first. These vans are mostly used by locals since it is difficult for tourists to understand their routes. They don’t necessarily have a steady schedule but are very frequent and travel short distances hence you can reach your destination directly and quickly. The red vans are cash only and green ones accept the Octopus Card. It cost HKD 8 on the red van back to Shau Kei Wan MTR.

Big Buddh天壇大佛 and Ngong Ping 昂坪360

Big Buddha
A much more comfortable option near nature is taking the Ngong Ping 昂坪360 gondola to see the Big Buddha 天壇大佛. You can get to the base of the gondola from the Tung Chung 東涌 MTR station. The gondola ride goes fairly high up in the mountains and is a popular tourist spot. We lined up for an hour to buy our tickets and around another hour to get on the gondola on this Saturday morning. It cost HKD 255 for round trip tickets. You can find a 10 percent off coupon on their website

Ngong Ping 360
Airport seen from the gondola
The gondola ride was about 20 minutes long and had a good view of the airport. On this day it got mistier and mistier as we ascended the mountain. The Buddha’s head would go in and out of sight as the clouds covered its face.

Big Buddha up close
Wisdom Walk
There were quite a few things to see here with a temple, gift stores, many food options and a Wisdom Trail. Be sure to spray bug repellent as up in the mountains they are plentiful. It was pretty fun to ride the gondola and the Buddha was even bigger than I imagined. In general, I wouldn’t say I learned much about Hong Kong or Chinese culture here. It is worth coming once for a half-day trip, though I don’t think I will be visiting again anytime soon.

Rooftop Garden in Central 中環

Central
Back to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, I found a comfortable option to observe the busy Victoria Harbou維多利亞港 from above. My friend and I found this place by accident when we went to IFC Mall (International Financial Centre) after our day in Cheung Chau. We saw a sign that said roof garden so we took the escalators up to the roof where a few restaurants and bars had outdoor seating overlooking the harbour. Then we noticed that the patio chairs and tables between the bars were free for public use. The plaque on those tables even said that you will not receive restaurant service if you sit there. The majority of people who used this space were expats who bought their own food and drinks.

Victoria Harbour
The next time I came was with friends and we got beverages from the supermarket in the basement of the mall and admired the light displays of the skyscrapers across the water. This must be one of the most budget-friendly options with an excellent view in Central!
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