On the second day of my recent visit to Hong Kong, my local family and I took a delightful and memorable day trip to Cheung Chau, one of the many islands – there are over 260 with areas larger than 500 square meters – that are part of Hong Kong. It is easy to see why Cheung Chau is a popular day trip destination: it is a relatively short ferry ride from Central, it is pretty, it is less crowded than the urban areas of Hong Kong, there are many interesting food stalls and restaurants, and there is a great beach for play and/or relaxation. We were only there for about 4 hours but our visit included many interesting experiences.
For geographic orientation, this overview map should be helpful. Many ferries depart from piers in the city area known as Central, which is located on Hong Kong Island’s north shore, just above the “H” on the map. Ferries go to several destinations, from the Star Ferry to Kowloon to high-speed hover ferries to Macau (to the west across the Zhujiang River Estuary). In my somewhat limited experience with the ferries, different speeds seem to be used to ensure that most journeys are no longer than an hour and a half – I think that is the hover ferry time to Macau. Of course, the Star Ferry takes just a few minutes to cross Victoria Harbor. There are two types of ferry that go to Cheung Chau, whose location is shown by the red pin on the map: the regular ferry takes about 1 hour and the fast ferry takes about 40 minutes. There are numerous ferry departures throughout the day, with typically two departures each hour, one fast ferry and one regular ferry. Cheung Chau Island is southwest of Hong Kong Island and southeast of Lantau Island.
The day of our excursion was a Saturday, and the family daughters had a few regular activities in the morning. So we converged at the pier in busy-Hong-Kong-family style – coming from different locations/directions. There is an elevated pedestrian walkway from the Central MTR station to the piers. From the walkway there is a great view of the Hong Kong Observation Wheel, which is a 60-meter ferris wheel with spectacular views of Victoria Harbor and the city areas on either side; it opened in late 2014. There are also numerous signs advising pedestrians that stopping is prohibited – but I stopped anyway, briefly, for a picture, making sure not to impede the busy pedestrian traffic.
My Hong Kong daughter and I, first to arrive at the pier, bought lunches for everyone; this involved stops at three fast food outlets for five total meals. Lunches in hand, we all gathered at the pier just in time for a fast ferry departure. After the rush to gather and board the ferry, it was good to have time to catch our breath, eat lunch, and anticipate the afternoon’s adventures while enjoying the 15-mile ride. The day was partly-to-mostly cloudy, and spray created some droplets on the windows through which I took pictures. This view shows the north shoreline of Hong Kong Island, with a container ship in the foreground and Victoria Peak in the background.
On Cheung Chau Island the harbor is on the west side, as shown in this map. The island is about 2 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. The narrow central area is the population center, with about 22,000 residents. The shape of the island gives rise to the nickname “dumbbell island.” This map shows my incomplete GPS track; I apparently turned the unit off during a stop and then forgot to turn it back on. We probably walked – or rather strolled – perhaps 2 1/2 miles, with almost no elevation gain.
The streets are very narrow; here is an example, a couple of blocks from the waterfront, which we reached after some initial explorations. The primary transportation modes on Cheung Chau are walking and bicycles; the latter can be rented. There are no cars. Emergency vehicles, such as police, fire, and ambulance, are all specially designed mini-vehicles.
From the pier we turned left and walked roughly north along a waterfront promenade, where there were numerous cafes on the inland side and various food stalls and stands seemingly everywhere. Almost immediately I noticed a boy enjoying what looked like a frozen slice of watermelon on a stick. These icy treats seemed quite popular and were apparently refreshing even on a day that was cool enough that many people were wearing hoodies. Note that the boy has, around his neck, what appears to be an ID pouch. The daughters in my local family carried similar ID pouches, containing the electronic key card to enter their apartment complex and their octopus card, a stored-value card used on virtually all public transportation in Hong Kong.
The many food stalls carried a variety of fresh items to take home and prepare. There were numerous fish stalls, like the one shown here on the left. Other stalls had attractively arranged displays of fresh vegetables and fruits. The fruit pictured on the right is dragon fruit, or pitahaya (Hylocereus sp), which is in the cactus family.
One stall had baskets of a special type of sun-dried tangerine peel; I think it is called chenpi. It is used as a seasoning in Chinese cooking as well as in traditional medicine. The color of the rinds ranged from orange to green, and I thought the shapes were visually interesting.
The Cheung Chau harbor was full of small, colorful boats. The hills in the background of this picture are in South Lantau Country Park, less than 2 miles away at the southeastern tip of Lantau Island.
After walking about 0.2 mile we turned right on a side street that led directly to a playground area with a temple behind it, on a small rise. It is Yuk Hui Temple, or Pak Tai Temple, which is a taoist temple. Pak Tai is a Taoist sea god. The temple is host to an annual event called the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, which begins on the eighth day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar, generally in May, and lasts seven days. This is apparently a huge event, with as many visitors as the ferry schedule and on-island b&b’s can accommodate. There are several lion statues and other artifacts of interest, including a pair of colorfully painted life-sized statues, I presume wooden. One depicts To Dei Kung, Earth God, and the other depicts Moon Goon, Door Official.
In a small adjacent outdoor courtyard there was an ornamental tree with distinctive leaves and beautiful yellow blossoms. I think it is called sunshine tree (Cassia surattensis, or Senna surattensis). The dangling seed pods announce that this tree is in the Fabaceae, or legume, family. It is most likely native to the Surat region of India, and it is an imported ornamental species in Hong Kong.
Sidebar: Associated with the playground was a public toilet facility. During my weeklong visit to Hong Kong I noticed that there were quite a few public toilets, for example at barbeque (picnic) areas in the country parks. This facility had 4 or 5 stalls in the women’s section: two traditional style (you need to squat to use them) and the rest western style. It was my first exposure to traditional Chinese toilets, though I would later find more at country parks – without the western alternative!
After enjoying the temple we walked south one block inland from the promenade, stopping at a couple of shops to browse local crafts and other items and make a few souvenir purchases. Just past the pier area we turned east and walked along a relatively main street; I did not notice street-naming signs but I think it was Tung Wan Rd. We passed a small garden surrounded by a chain-link fence that was festooned with love locks, apparently an attraction associated with a b&b. I went inside to look around and found a small display where visitors could purchase – and then decorate – heart shapes or locks. The remaining “walls” were pretty much covered with hearts and locks, and other visitors posed for pictures.
Continuing up the main street, which led to the main beach, it seemed that there were non-stop food stalls with tempting snacks, both savory and sweet. We shared several sticks of fish balls and other sticks of garlic tofu, and learned that a particular special bun shop was either closed or was out of buns for the day. The girls shared – and showed off for me – Thai ice cream rolls and an elaborate spiral potato chip. One of the interesting aspects of these small food stalls was watching the owner prepare the snack.
Next we arrived at Tung Wan (East Bay) Beach, named because it is on the east side of Cheung Chau and in a bay (see the map, above). The beach is along the narrowest part of the island. The day was too chilly to go into the water, but the girls had been looking forward to some play time on the pretty, sandy beach. In this picture the area between the booms is a designated swimming area, though there was no seasonal lifeguard on duty. A building next to the swimming area houses changing areas, showers, and public toilets. On a warmer and sunnier day this beach would be both beautiful and crowded.
At the north end of the beach I noticed a few people windsurfing and a couple of others kiteboarding. My impression was that everyone who was in the water was wearing a wet suit, indicating chilly water. The windsurf sails and the kites were pretty and colorful.
After sitting at the promenade edge of the beach and people-watching, I decided to take a walk in the sand and go over to the water’s edge, where I wanted to pose with my hand in the waters of the South China Sea. I felt like I was connecting the dots with two earlier occasions of dipping my hand in the water: on the first occasion I was at the (south)western edge of San Francisco Bay at the beginning of a multi-day trek across the Peninsula with a group of friends; and on the second occasion I was finishing the trek at the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean. This time I was essentially at the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, some 7000 miles away.
After relaxing and watching the girls make sand walls and see them wash away in waves, we decided to see if we could find an ancient rock carving that had been noted on a directional sign. We walked a short distance past the south end of the beach and eventually found the short flight of steps that leads to the exhibit, a declared monument designated by the Antiquities Authority. As can be seen in the picture, there is a small open roof over the rock face where the carvings are located. We noted at least three rocks with carvings. The age of the carvings is not known, though it is speculated that they could be 3000 years old. They were discovered by a geologist in 1970.
As we walked back to Tung Wan Beach I noticed a small shorebird a short distance away. I believe it is a long-billed plover (Charadrius placidus). The long-billed plover is native to East Asia, breeding in the north and wintering farther south, including in Hong Kong. The picture is a bit grainy, as I needed to zoom in significantly.
There was also a pair of Eurasian tree sparrows (Passer montanus) at the edge of the sand. The current range of the Eurasian tree sparrow includes most of temperate Eurasia and Southeast Asia. The American tree sparrow looks somewhat similar but is not closely related. The key characteristics, such as the rufous crown, white cheeks, and black throat and ear patches, are clear in the picture, though once again I had to zoom in significantly.
When we reached Tung Wan Rd we retraced our steps back toward the pier area, again passing the many food stalls. At a small plaza area there was a gathering of about a dozen dog owners with their pets. I’m not a dog expert, but they all looked to me to be golden retrievers. It seemed to be a social event, with lots of posing for pictures.
Once we reached the pier we simply boarded the next ferry bound for Central; this time it was a regular ferry. Once we were in the main traffic lane, a hover ferry passed us, presumably on its way to Macau. The edge of Lantau Island is in the background.
As it turned out, the timing for the return trip was perfect for enjoying the sunset. I spent much of the trip at the stern of the ferry on the deck outside the main passenger compartment, enjoying the views and snapping pictures.
By the time the ferry approached the pier at Central, sunset was complete and the city lights had come on. This view across busy Victoria Harbor shows the south edge of Kowloon. The tall building is the International Commerce Centre, which is 1588 feet tall and is the tallest building in Hong Kong; it was completed in 2010.
From the ferry pier at Central we walked back along the elevated pedestrian walkway, with a night-time view of the Hong Kong Observation Wheel, to the MTR station. From there it took us most of an hour to arrive at the apartment: a typical travel time to get across the city.
It had been a lovely and interesting day visiting Cheung Chau Island. The next day I was planning a modest hike with part of my Hong Kong family on a popular hiking trail.