View of the ocean from Ling Kok Shan on Lamma Island, Hong Kong. (Photo: He Keyao/GT)
Good news just popped up this week for travel lovers. According to MTR Corporation, a high-speed rail line running from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and on to Hong Kong is currently undergoing trials and is expected to enter service in September, which means that people can travel directly from Beijing to Hong Kong by train soon. The Beijing-Hong Kong journey will take only nine hours and costs around 1,000 yuan ($150), opening up a new travel experience for people living in the mainland to tour the city.
So what's the best way to enjoy a lovely weekend in Hong Kong, apart from shopping and walking around the city? If you love nature and are tired of squeezing through crowds of tourists to see popular attractions, my top recommendation is Lamma Island.
Travel like a local
Hong Kong has more than 260 outlying islands but only four have large residential communities and can be easily reached by ferry: Lantau Island, Cheung Chau Island and Peng Chau Island and Lamma Island. Picking a lovely day to get away from the bustling city and spend it with friends and family on an outlying island is the most leisurely way to relax for locals.
Lamma Island was once called Pok Liu Chau or simply Pok Liu, which means literally "parking island," because it was the place where foreign boats trading with Guangzhou stayed during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. Located to the southwest of Hong Kong Island, Lamma Island is the third largest island. There are two docks on the island, Yung Shue Wan in the north and Sok Kwu Wan in the south, and it only takes 30 minutes to get to either by ferry from central Hong Kong.
The world seems to slow down once you step on the island. No cars, no traffic, no high buildings. The little hilly island preserves an old-fashioned lifestyle and people ride bikes or walk on narrow winding roads. Nature is everywhere - various trees, flowers, butterflies and cute pets from local communities lying outside doors immediately make one forget about the pressures of city life.
Shops and souvenir stores are concentrated around Yung Shue Wan while most restaurants are located near Sok Kwu Wan, so I chose to start my journey from the north so that after a few hours of walking, I could reward myself with some good seafood.
Leaving from Yung Shue Wan, I passed through a residential area before heading to Ling Kok Shan, a little mountain perfect for hiking. Most buildings are less than three-stories high, painted white and separated by stone pavement side roads, creating an impression of a clean and quiet vintage fishing village. I could see flowers, graffiti and cute homemade signs for stores and snacks and homemade cooking was available along the way, which is a bit like Xiamen's Gulang Island but much less commercialized.
Stretching seven kilometers in length, the island covers an area of less than 13.6 square kilometers and it only takes more than an hour to walk across Ling Kok Shan, which is more than 200 meters in height. Following the narrow mountain road, you can treat yourself to a feast for the eyes: beautiful curvy coastlines and a wide view of the sea stretching forward until it reaches the blue sky. There is a pavilion on the top of the mountain that offers the best viewing point.
Hung Shing Yeh Beach is one attraction that you cannot miss after coming down the mountain. The best received spot on the island, the beach has been featured as one of the "top 10 beaches in Hong Kong" by The Guardian.
Away from the large tourist crowds, the niche attraction offers a quiet and beautiful seaside, with changing rooms, volleyball nets, toilets, drink stands and a restaurant. A shark net floats out in the water to keep the swimming area safe and clean. Soft and powdery sand, clean water, a green mountain backdrop and a wide beach with a rocky area… all of these elements make it the perfect place to spend a summer afternoon or have a barbecue in the evening.
In addition, the island's Tin Hau temples are also great places to visit to learn more about local culture. Tin Hau means Goddess of the Sea and the temples that honor her are commonly found in Chinese coastal communities. However, what distinguishes the one at Yung Shue Wan from others is that the lions guarding the entrance are Western-styled in appearance, a reflection of the area's East-meets-West cultural integration; another temple at Sok Kwu Wan houses old and interesting artifacts from before the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
After a few hours' walk to the south and a good time on the beach, you will be ready to head to the final destination of the tour - Sok Kwu Wan, the perfect place to please your taste buds. Seafood is highly recommended, with the Rainbow Seafood Restaurant is a good choice.
With more than three decades of history, the restaurant is known for its seafood dishes and has treated many celebrities and their families, such as well-known actor Chow Yun Fat, actor and singer Nicholas Tse and Eason Chan. Fried scallops, steamed fish, fried mantis shrimps, spotted crab porridge and scalded bamboo shrimps are among the most popular orders. The place is just beside the sea and you can enjoy the food along with a good view of the bay.
Another must-eat snack is the local sweet tofu that you can easily get anywhere on the island. It is served with brown sugar and is very tender. Local stores will often ask if you want it cold or warm, I personally recommend that you have it cold because that adds to the flavor.