A November 2004 trip
to Hong Kong by billmoy
Quote: Hong Kong’s outlying islands and New Territories provide a pleasant change of pace to the excitement of the metropolis, although they are getting busier too.
While I certainly enjoy and relish the nonstop excitement that is called life in Hong Kong, there is a lot more to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region than the central hot spots in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The Outlying Islands and New Territories include diverse experiences that will round out any visit to Hong Kong, provided you have a day, or three, to spare. You can get back to nature with hikes around the quieter, less-crowded islands, or have an exciting day with the horses at the Sha Tin Racecourse.
A trip to Lantau Island can be multidimensional, topped off with a visit to Ngong Ping. You can climb the path of 260 steps to pay homage to the giant Tian Tan Buddha, tour the popular Po Lin Monastery, and also try out a genuine vegetarian meal here. The scenery from the podium levels of the Buddha is breathtaking. If instead you want to see a swarm of quirky Buddhas instead of one enormous one, head over to Sha Tin for a surprising journey to the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. Another colorful sight is the Pak Tai Temple on Cheung Chau, the island site of the wildly popular annual Bun Festival.
Hong Kong is famous for its teeming numbers of skyscrapers, shops, and neon signs, but visitors should make an effort to appreciate the beautiful landscape consisting of rolling mountains and bountiful seas. They take center stage in the surrounding areas, so enjoy hiking over a semi-rugged ridge or along a picturesque beachfront. As Hong Kong evolves and expands, it unfortunately infringes upon its natural resources bit by bit. Enjoy this natural scenery while it is still here!
Acquire an Octopus Card upon your arrival into Hong Kong. It is good for almost every form of major public transportation (trains, buses, ferries, subway, trams, and even the Peak Tram) in central Hong Kong. Although it is not good for all of the buses and ferries of the Outlying Islands and New Territories, it will still get you on some, and you will need it while you are in central Hong Kong anyway. You can “rent” one of these valuable transit cards (they are like debit cards) from transportation hubs, such as the airport. Just remember to return the card before leaving Hong Kong to retrieve your deposit, less a minimal transaction fee that is really worth it for saving you from the headaches of fumbling with cash and coins.
They say Hong Kong is a very expensive place for travelers. While some things can be very pricey, I find that I spend no more money here than at home in Chicago. The cost of eating is generally cheaper outside central Hong Kong.
Visits to temples and monasteries are not only interesting experiences but almost always free, although donations are, of course, welcome. An invigorating nature walk or some quality time along the beaches of Lamma and Cheung Chau are budget-friendly ways to spend your time away from the frenetic pace of the more urbanized areas.
The ferries are perhaps the most enjoyable way to travel throughout Hong Kong, and you will definitely be trying out a few boats if visiting the Outlying Islands. Although not as dirt cheap as the Star Ferry, these other ferries are inexpensive, and it may be tempting to try out an extra island if you have the time and energy to spare.
Areas that have added New Towns are well connected to the public transportation grid, with bus and train service in order to move the thousands upon thousands of commuters around. On the opposite end of the spectrum, locals on little Cheung Chau depend on bicycles or their own feet to get around, unless they are part of the geriatric crowd who are shuttled around in tiny hospital wagons.
The KCR acts as the suburban railroad system, transporting locals to and from the New Territories, with access into central Hong Kong and conversely towards the border of mainland China. The MTR (Mass Transit Rail) subway links up with Lantau Island at Tung Chung, while the pricier Airport Express connects with the endpoint at Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, also on Lantau. The bus service on Lantau is not quite as efficient as in central Hong Kong, but they eventually get the job done and do provide you with some intriguing views of the island.
This slick restaurant is definitely part of the new wave of expansion that has catapulted Lantau Island from mere Outlying Island into a must-see destination. It is part of the “New Town” of Tung Chung that has sprung up adjacent to the old village and near the Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok (also on Lantau).
This establishment has a very cosmopolitan look about it. Catstreet Cafe is part of a gentrified complex called CityGate, consisting of modern buildings and a plaza enhanced by cutesy sailboat bench seating and still-growing palm trees. It is near the MTR station going to central Hong Kong, and you can transfer to the airport as well. There are a few outdoor tables for a pleasant alfresco meal. The young wait staff sports bright-orange tops for a contemporary appearance to tag along with the overall decor. The clubby interior includes magazines, which you can peruse while you wait for your food to arrive.
I ordered a lunch special of melon soup, spare ribs, and white rice. This is not the sort of fruity melon, like cantaloupe or watermelon, but a Chinese melon, so the soup broth is akin to a light vegetable soup. The spare ribs had a rich gravy, and the meat was not as fatty as that served at other restaurants. The price was reasonable, though you can definitely eat more cheaply at other Chinese restaurants without as much Westernized ambiance. Hey, no ducks hanging in the window here.
I would not necessarily make a trek to dine at Catstreet Cafe. However, if you are in the midst of a transfer while visiting the ever-growing list of attractions on Lantau Island, by all means have a tasty and relaxing meal here.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 9, 2006
CityGate, Shop G20, Tung Chung
+86 852 2109 1131
This restaurant is a good place to have dim sum if you are visiting Cheung Chau around lunchtime. “Long Island” translates into “Cheung Chau,” so you should feel good that you are dining at a place named after the island.
If you are coming from the ferry pier, make a left and head north a few paces past the racks crammed with colorful bicycles. This is a fairly large restaurant off the western shore of central Cheung Chau Village, with a main dining room and an outdoor sitting area covered by an awning. The exterior of the establishment certainly does not impress, but color photos of the menu items are on a billboard above the entry. While waiting to be seated, you can see some of the dim sum selections being shuttled to eager diners. The main hall was full when I arrived, and the awning was losing its battle to shield the scorching sun from its outdoor patrons, so I was escorted by the hostess to sit in the back room. This low-key area, with its pink walls and quaint flowery tablecloths, which had its own entrance off the back street, had the feel of an interior in a matronly home. Grand dim sum palaces will have those famous steaming carts displaying their colorful morsels of food, but here you order food selections off a menu card. They feature fresh seafood selections, as the seas are teeming with all sorts of sea creatures.
I chose some familiar selections, like steamed barbecue pork buns, rib tips with black beans, and pork shuimai (meatball-like dumplings). I tried to order something else, but they had run out of it already. It was past noon and dim sum items can go fast, so this was not a surprise to me. None of these dishes were earthshakingly different or delicious, but they were freshly prepared and went down well with a hot pot of tea. Besides dim sum, they serve notable seafood dishes amongst their entrees.
Although I went by myself, I do enjoy the dim sum experience whether I am in Chicago, New York, or Hong Kong. Ideally, go with a few people so that you can order lots of plates and try all sorts of foods. Perhaps if you can squeeze into the main room at Long Island, you can have a richer dining experience.
Long Island Restaurant
51-53 Sam Hing Street
+86 852 2981 1678
Attraction | "Cheung Chau Island"
Cheung Chau, which translates into “long island,” is a small three-pronged landmass just southeast of Lantau Island and several miles west of central Hong Kong. Centrally located, Cheung Chau Village has a good number of people but never feels overcrowded. Wander about and you will definitely enjoy nature while also encountering a few cultural highlights along the way. Cheung Chau is a smaller version of Lamma Island, one of the other Outlying Islands slightly closer to central Hong Kong.
The only way to get here is by ferry, and transport while on the island is limited to bicycles and these small hospital golf carts that seem to carry elderly locals around the island. The refreshing lack of cars frees you to enjoy some pleasant hiking about the island. Enjoy mundane scenes, like colorful boats docked at the harbor, freshly caught sea creatures drying en masse in the strong sunshine, and locals fishing or frolicking at the casual beaches.
The Pak Tai Temple is the ornate structure at the north edge of the main village. It is the site of the annual Bun Festival, which draws locals in droves to temporarily overpopulate the tiny island. This Taoist festival honors the god Pak Tai with floats, costumes, and the mad grab for lucky buns by extremely superstitious Chinese visitors. The temple itself is lavishly festooned with a colorful cornucopia of figures great and small. Ferocious dragons line the roof tops, balanced by more peaceful scenes of flowers and birds. Have a look about and admire the wealth of richly detailed surfaces.
One does not think “archaeology” when visiting Hong Kong, but there is a notable carved rock located near the Warwick Hotel. It is about 3,000 years old and is displayed like a convict under glass and behind bars in a somewhat obscure spot by the hotel. The short hike from the central village to the rock’s holding cell is pleasant enough, and don’t forget to have a look back at Tung Wan Beach along the east coast.
The paths are well marked, such as the one to the Cheung Po Tsai Cave. Supposedly this was a hideout for renegade pirates years ago, and they were apparently very skinny pirates, as the crevice-like cave entrance is definitely not for the squeamish or claustrophobic. Perhaps a more serene setting is at the dramatically situated cemetery, where the headstones face towards the eternally scenic panorama of the blue sea. As a living person hiking along this ridge of the island, the views were splendid, but some could be even more spectacular if not for the overgrown vegetation. Perhaps it is refreshing that it is so, that living trees and plants were not needlessly pruned (or just lopped off) in the name of progress merely for the sake of a view, even an eternal one.
Attraction | "Lamma Island"
Lamma Island is a good place to get away from bustling central Hong Kong, yet is merely a short ferry ride away from it. Although Lamma and Cheung Chau are in ways two of a kind as ideal day trips, Lamma’s larger size makes it preferable to arrive early to have more time for that aggressive hike on the island. Give yourself a bit more time and you will probably appreciate Lamma’s subtle pleasures more than on a rush through here.
The main town on Lamma is Yung Shue Wan along the northwest coast of the island. A natural thing to do is to hike from Yung Shue Wan to the other main town of Sok Kwu Wan along the eastern coast, or vice-versa. You will pass by beaches, such as the popular Hung Shing Yeh Beach. Locals tend to casually hang out at the beach, but they do not bask in the sun like Westerners. The locals will keep their clothes on for the most part, so in a way, their collective modesty saves themselves from getting skin cancer from the strong Hong Kong sun.
For the most part, Lamma is like one big nature preserve, so you will enjoy lots of different flora and fauna on your hike but encounter very few landmarks. The distances from point to point are not that short and the terrain is moderately hilly, so keep that in mind once you set forth on your hiking path. It was marvelous to spot giant clusters of bananas and the occasional butterfly in this moderately tropical environment. You may also notice many kinds of fresh sea creatures served at Lamma’s highly regarded collection of seafood restaurants. The sheer number of little fishing boats in the harbors should be a dead giveaway that fishing is a big industry here. If you do not want a full meal at a sit-down establishment, there are plenty of shops and stands for takeaway snacks like fish balls on a stick.
The ferries come and go from several ports on Lamma, though the busiest one is at Yung Shue Wan. I rode aboard a ferry coming from Aberdeen (along the southern shore of Hong Kong Island), and it made a brief stop at the northern outpost of Pak Kok Tsuen before ending at Yung Shue Wan. On my departure leg I hopped on a ferry at Yung Shue Wan that took me back to the neon-embellished northern shore of central Hong Kong.
+852 2807 6543 (HK T
Attraction | "Lantau Island"
Most people will be surprised to find out that Lantau Island is about twice the size as the densely populated Hong Kong Island. The highest peak on Lantau (Lantau Peak, or Fung Wong Shan) is also about twice as high as Victoria Peak. Lantau is quite mountainous and has been a relatively quiet member of the Outlying Islands until recent developments have elevated its profile. The new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok was constructed upon landfill at Lantau. The Big Buddha at Ngong Ping was built in 1993 and has lured countless visitors to it and the Po Lin Monastery. Then there’s the new Hong Kong Disneyland theme park, which debuted in late 2005 in the Penny’s Bay area near Discovery Bay. The Tai Yue Shan (Big Island Mountain) of Lantau will never be the same.
Ngong Ping is a fine place to visit for the spectacular scenery itself. The site is not along the island coast but situated in the mountainous interior, so most visitors will get to appreciate a scenic looping bus ride on the way from the ferry or bus terminal. I always like to visit the Tian Tan Buddha statue first and then head to Po Lin Monastery, but choosing the reverse course works fine as well. There is no cost to climb the 260 steps to the Buddha, except a bit of physical labor, of course. There is a ticket booth where you can purchase meal tickets to the notable vegetarian restaurant if you desire the well-rounded Buddhist experience, but I declined (if you buy a meal ticket, you can visit the museum for free). This statue holds the distinctive title as the largest seated bronze Buddha in an outdoor setting. Its podium consists of several levels and numerous statues of figures presenting offerings to Buddha. The surroundings are quite impressive from this elevation, and you will enjoy the interplay of the statues with the mountainous backdrop. Note that the Buddha’s face is cast in shadow instead of sun in the afternoon, so go early for more enlightened Buddha photographs.
Po Lin Monastery is very colorful, and don’t forget to have the vegetarian meal if you bought a ticket. Stroll amongst the different buildings and observe some of the ceremonial rituals practiced by visitors.
Lantau is dotted with population clusters like Mui Wo, Tai O, and Tung Chung. The latter is rising thanks to its proximity to the airport, as the “New Town” there has increased the population of the entire island.
There are numerous ways to get to Lantau, and they seem to be adding new connections to the already elaborate public transit network. An MTR station connects Tung Chung to the airport and to Hong Kong Island, although a more leisurely ferry ride from Hong Kong adds to the overall experience. A new cable car “skyrail” under construction between Ngong Ping and Tung Chung should lure even more visitors to Lantau.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 9, 2006
Lantau Island-Lantao Island
Mouth of the Pearl River
Attraction | "Sha Tin"
At the first glance of a map, the New Territories may seem like the rural filler separating glamorous and exciting central Hong Kong from mainland China. Although for the most part these areas are residential areas where locals live their lives, there are some interesting things to see and do for the visitor who wants to experience another slice of Hong Kong.
The population of the New Territories has grown thanks to the planning of “New Towns” (yes, everything seems to be “new” in Hong Kong sometimes). One of them is Sha Tin, which has expanded to basically combine several old villages into a slightly less neon-fed version of central Hong Kong. Besides the shopping centers in Sha Tin (including an Ikea store) and the accompanying traffic, the former “sandy field” includes the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the Sha Tin Racecourse, and the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery.
My visit to Sha Tin was centered on visiting the monastery, located a bit northwest of the Sha Tin KCR rail station. You will pass Pai Tau Village, a desperate attempt by locals to retain a small piece of the “old” Hong Kong that is rapidly disappearing thanks to continual expansion and modernization. These small buildings with quaint shops are dwarfed by the modern towers surrounding them, as well as the lush rolling hills of the landscape. You will also pass by the Po Fook Hill temple before stumbling upon the desired entrance path past a chain link fence with yellow signs pointing the way.
You will be hard-pressed to find a more colorful monastery complex than the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. I did not count them, but it is said that there are around 12,800 large and small Buddha statues located on the grounds. The way leading to the monastery is lined on either side by life-size golden statues, each one with a distinct look. Most of the statues are reverently posed, but there are some bizarre and cartoonish ones with exaggerated expressions and features. Some have superhuman qualities, like an extra-long arm or stilt legs, while one figure is Bosch-like with little arms growing out of its eye sockets.
Once you get to the main monastery level, there are several buildings, including a bright-red pagoda with nine levels and, of course, a Buddha seated within each of the arched openings. Climb up the stairs inside the pagoda and peer over the statue shoulders to see the landscapes that the Buddhas are gazing at. On the grounds is the embalmed corpse of the founding monk, covered in gold leaf and creepily situated behind glass. Sometimes the place feels more like a theme park rather than the austere monastery you may have been expecting, but kids will probably enjoy the quirky and colorful features here as much as you do.
Sha Tin Town Hall
1 Yuen Wo Road
+852 2694 2511