This semester, I’m trying to venture off Hong Kong Island more often to see what else Hong Kong has to offer. I feel like I’ve done the main tourists sights now and that Hong Kong has a lot more to offer beyond the it’s built up urban areas. When my mum came to stay with me for a week, I wanted to show her the other side of Hong Kong; the scenic side. So I took her to see the Big Buddha on Lantau (the bus is a lot cheaper than the cable car and takes you past lovely scenery) and we spent an afternoon cycling around Cheng Chau. More recently I have spent the day exploring Lamma island with this semesters new exchange students.
It’s not quite beach weather yet in Hong Kong (or at least not warm enough to get down to your swimwear), but it is pleasantly sunny and, if your used to British weather, it can occasionally feel almost like summer. As you are probably aware, people under the age of thirty five rarely go on walks. We walk from A to B, we engage in more active outdoor activities (walking as exercise? that surely hardly counts), or we use outdoor spaces as gathering places to hang out with friends but when was the last time you heard a student say that they were going on a walk. However, here in Hong Kong us exchange students have been doing a surprising amount of just that… only now it’s called exploring, or going on a hike. Hong Kong’s hilly landscape allows us to get away with calling any walk a hike or a trek, even if we’re just wearing jeans, the route is well paved and it only takes an hour. My point is that with such lovely outdoor scenery available (about 40% of HK is natural park land) and the perfect weather to enjoy it, before it gets so hot and humid such activity becomes arduous, its no wonder that us students have suddenly discovered the appeal of going on walks (sorry…hikes!). So with numerous, and regular, dirt cheap ferry services, the islands seemed like the perfect place to start.
Cheng Chau – I asked a local student once where their favourite place was in Hong Kong and she replied with Cheng Chau. It’s one of the more populated islands in Hong Kong but, with its complete lack of cars, is a nice break from the city. It has it’s own unique character and, with decorations being put in place for Chinese New year, it was looking very colourful when we visited. A lot of people come to Cheng Chau at the weekends and it also has a few B&Bs to cater for tourists but I liked that it managed at the same time not to feel too touristy. As mentioned, my mum and I rented bicycles for the low price of $10 HKD an hour (less than £1). There is only about an hours worth of cycling to do on the island however as much of it is hilly and far more accessible on foot. So after having an all-day english breakfast for lunch (yes I know I’m in Hong Kong but I’m getting a bit tired of rice and noodles) we returned the bikes and walked along the mini Great Wall. It’s just a nice path around part of the island, so likening it to the Great Wall seems a little ambitious to me. Cheng Chau also has a few nice beaches where you can windsurf or just chill.
Lamma – Larger than Cheng Chau, but less populated. We really enjoyed the 3km trail across the island. You arrive by ferry at one of the two main villages and walk to the other. Lamma, perhaps due to it’s lower local population, appears to cater more exclusively to tourists and expats than Cheng Chau, judging by the types of shops and restaurants (as well as their prices). For more money than my student budget will allow, there is plenty of choice for seafood and your meal will be fresh from the tanks of fish lining the street. There are also organic vegetarian cafes and shops and well wine merchants. Ignoring the large power station on one end of the island, I thought Lamma was perhaps the more picturesque of the two islands. It also doesn’t have any cars and here you can also rent bikes, but don’t expect to get very far before you are forced to get off and push them up the hills.
If you come to Hong Kong I would highly recommend taking spending a day away from the city, on one of the islands. Whichever one you choose, the chilled out pace of island life and lack of traffic noise will be a welcome contrast from the city and (though not quite literally) a breath of fresh air.