July 22, 2010
A marvellous melting pot of Eastern and Western influences, shops, soaring skyscrapers, sumptuous seafood and spectacular scenery, Hong Kong pretty much has it all. Its main ports of call, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon have more than enough to keep any visitor happy, but in a territory of some 200 islands, it would be a shame to miss out on what lies beyond the sights and lights of the big two.
It would take a lifetime to explore the region in full, so here’s a simple starter guide to our favourite offshore and outlying areas and experiences”¦
You simply can’t visit Hong Kong without a trip to Lantau Island. The awe-inspiring Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery and the incredible Ngong Ping 360 cable car experience would probably be highlights of anyone’s holiday, but there’s more to Lantau than immediately meets the eye, and we’re not just talking Disneyland. If you’re hopping over from Hong Kong Island try and make a day (or more) of it, exploring the Lantau Trail which takes in most of the island’s other attractions including the lovely Lantau Peak (Fung Wong Shan) – for those up for a hardy trek and love a good scenic sunrise.
The 12th Century Tung Chung Fort, whose canons (still intact!) once guarded the island against smugglers, is also a worthwhile stop. Further along, near Lantau’s western tip lies the famous fishing town of Tai O, the ‘Venice of Hong Kong’. While some of the stilt houses that line the waterway haven’t faired as well as Tung Chung’s canons, this is still a picturesque place. It’s also a good site to catch a boat for Chinese White (sometimes pink) Dolphin watching.
Of course, being Hong Kong’s largest island, Lantau is well served by buses if you’re not into hiking.
Just 25 minutes by ferry is all it takes for a complete change of pace. Though it lies so close to it, car-free, low-rise Lamma is a scenic sanctuary from the Hong Kong hubbub.
There are two options for landing here, Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan. The latter has all the truly sublime seafood (you could also take a punt on pigeon), but it’s best to save stuffing yourself until dinnertime. Instead, dock at Yung Shue Wan, browse the shops and have a light lunch before heading down to the golden sands of Hung Shing Yeh Beach via the small Tin Hau temple. Then just follow the trail to Sok Kwu Wan for the big feed before departing.
Lamma is the obvious weekend getaway for most HK residents, so if you want a truly tranquil time, make it a weekday outing.
Cheung Chau, home of the springtime Bun Festival is a bit of a hotbed of heritage and tradition, with the stone lion-guarded Yuk Hui Temple being the main draw among several sacred sites. The Taoist shrine dates to 1783, but houses artefacts that date well before its own construction. Tung Wan is a pretty beach with a bonus: bronze-age carvings (Declared Monuments of the territory) of mysterious origin sit not far from the water. Rather than specific attractions though, the best thing about Cheung Chau is the small island (almost Mediterranean) vibe; its waterfront al fresco dining and narrow lanes.
Not the outer islands, but certainly a must-see, the Sai Kung Peninsula in the New Territories is vast area of almost endless wonder, and boasts one of the world’s great seafood meccas in Sai Kung Town.
The real treats though, require a bus ride out to Sai Kung East Country Park: 45 km² of unspoiled beauty. Hiking the trails here, through tiny villages, listening to the birds, looking up at the incredible Sharp Peak, you’re pretty far from the likes of Central and Kowloon, but you might feel a million miles away. The ultimate destination on any trip this far east however, should be Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay). Like many of nature’s hot spots, it’s not the easiest/quickest place to get to, but the rewards are well worth the walking. Pristine white beaches, nestled in ragged coves with a backdrop of the greenest hills, this might be the most magical place in Hong Kong. If you’re a surfer, this is definitely your HK stop, if not, the water is probably too dangerous for more than a dip at the edge, so just relax and take it all in. If you want to make it extra idyllic, try to avoid weekends.
Virgin Atlantic fly daily and direct to Hong Kong. Check out the website for the best deal on fares.