If you are like me who grew up watching Hong Kong TVB Cantonese drama series, undoubtedly you would have come cross the name of the place “Cheung Chau“. Ever since I have moved to Hong Kong, more than twenty years after my TVB-influenced childhood days, I had always wanted to visit this island, one of the very few inhabited outlying islands of Hong Kong.
Today was the day I made my own wish come true.
Cheung Chau may look tiny on Hong Kong map, but it has far more to offer than it appears. With coastal trails, beaches, small rural valleys and temple-dotted villages, Cheung Chau boasts plenty to see and do in a day; and plenty to eat once you have seen and done.
After a 45-minute journey from Central Ferry Pier No. 5 (costing some HKD12), I arrived at Cheung Chang at 10 a.m. in the morning. From afar, the waterfront of Cheung Chau looked like something out of an European postcard. Quaint-looking buildings lined the waterfront, while multi-colored fishing boats bobbed up and down with the gentle waves.
You’ll hit the main street of Cheung Chau, simply known as the Praya, once you come out from the ferry pier. From here I turned left, walking along the waterfront being snap-happy (Cheung Chau is among the last fishing communities in Hong Kong, and is definitely the largest) towards my first destination, which was some 200 metres away.
Pak Tai Temple is the oldest temple in Cheung Chau. Every April/May, this temple is the focus of the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival, which is a dedication to the Taoist deity Pak Tai, translated as the “Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven”.
Legend has it that the early settlers of Cheung Chau brought an image of Pak Tai with them from Guang Dong. When the statue was carried through the village, Cheung Chau was spared the plague that has decimated the populations of nearby island. The temple was a dedication to the deity, built some years after the incident.
From here, you can approach one of the smaller shops in front of the temple to rent a bicycle. I rented one (no, not the tricycle above, but that would have been fun!) which I rode the whole time I was in Cheung Chau. It was HKD10 for an hour, HKD15 for two, and HKD20 for unlimited ride until 6 p.m. I think the rate is much cheaper than those touts along the waterfront. Do note, though, that you are not allowed to ride the bike at the ferry pier area and along the beaches from 12 p.m. on Saturday to midnight Sunday.
To my immense enjoyment, I do remember how to ride a bicycle (hehe) and the trails around Cheung Chau is definitely easy. Oh, did I mention that no cars or motorbikes are allowed on the island? Which is not surprising, considering the narrow alleyways and crowded side walk that made up the roads of Cheung Chau. Save for one police car, one ambulance and one fire engine (all mini-sized, and yes I saw all of them), the roads were free from annoying horns and traffic jam. What a relief.
Without much effort, I hit the Tung Wan Beach, which is definitely the most popular strip of beach in Cheung Chau though far from being pristine. From the coastline, I can see the Kwun Yam Beach (also called the Afternoon Beach) and the one large hotel on the island, Warwick Hotel. From here I also get to see some windsurfers – apparently this was where Hong Kong’s only Olympic gold medalist was born and trained.
Really, Cheung Chau is so small that within an hour you can literally get everything within sight, even if you didn’t get to visit them one by one.
By then, the sun was scorching hot and I can feel my back was drenched with sweat. Time for a break, and what else would be a better choice than ice cold beer! This bottle of Heineken cost me a mere HKD22. I was a happy boy sipping on the deliciously cold beer while watching athletic looking folks running up and down the beach. Nuts, I called them, but damn their tan looked good.
From here, I cycled back towards the main street of Cheung Chau in search for the venerable Banyan Tree, supposed located at Tung Wan Road although I didn’t managed to find it. The tree was so revered by the islanders that in recent years a restaurant opposite was knocked down instead of the tree to make way for a road extension.
Moving southwards, I cycled my way towards the small “town” of Sai Wan… if you can call a collection of short buildings and a small sampan pier a town. This is where the famous Cheung Po Tsai Cave and the Reclining Rock are located at.
The trail towards this spot is uphill, so I had to leave my bicycle behind. By then I was severely sunburnt and half wishing for another bottle of beer. But I pushed on, climbed the steep trail… only to be faced with a daunting-looking stairs leading downwards into some forest, where the reclining rock is supposed to be at. I took one look at the weed-infested stairs, and moved on.
The Cheung Po Tsai trail is another 150 metres away from the reclining rock. The walk was not that unpleasant despite the scorching weather, what with the public toilet (ah, water, I love ya!) and family picnic area (deserted, of course). The sea view from this high vista is pretty lovely. And so I took the trail eager for some cave action…
… only to be confronted by this dismal sight. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Cheung Po Tsai cave. Said to be the favorite hiding place for the notorious pirate Cheung Po Tsai, the cave is nothing more than a hole in the rock. Not sure if you can climb in – apparently you can rent torches from somewhere – but I am not going in there. Sore with disappointment, I made my way back to my bicycle and rode as quickly as possible back to the Praya for food.
Yes, I was starving! :D
There are many seafood restaurants lined up the waterfront near the Praya. The usual rule of thumb applies – look at where the locals are dining at. Also for Cheung Chau, where the islanders take their seafood very seriously, never ever order from a set menu. The cheaper price means frozen seafood, which is a far cry from the fresh, swimming variety in tanks. Pay a bit more for superior quality. In my case, I choose the way further away from the pier, a charming little place called New Baccarat Seafood Restaurant.
Don’t be daunted by the Chinese menu; there’s an English version, just ask for it. This streamed fresh fish cost HKD100 and was pretty good. Not fantastic, but good enough I am not complaining on the price. Actually the prices here are pretty similar from one stall to another. You can check by looking at their displayed menu at the store front.
This deep fried squid was worth every penny. At HKD48, it is crunchy without making your lips oiled all over, and the meat was fresh, succulent and juicy. This was served with a special kind of salt and soya sauce. Use them sparingly; a little too much of these might spoil the taste.
Shrimp paste is yet another specialty of Cheung Chau, and I just have to order a third dish. This stir fried spinach is pretty good but the portion is just too huge… or maybe I should have the sense not to order the dishes for one person. LOL. The vegetable dish, good for two meals, was priced at HKD35.
After such a satisfying meal, it was close to one p.m. Yes, because of the scorching weather, I only managed to last all of three hours on Cheung Chau. Nevertheless, I think I have seen most of what this island has to offer, and for a return visit I will definitely NOT do so during summer, and to come with friends for the company.
Oh, on the way back I took the First Ferry. There are two types of ferries servicing the Central – Cheung Chau route. The fast ferry is not airconditioned but will shorten your journey 15 minutes. The ordinary ferry will take 45 minutes and you have choice for either a general class, or deluxe class. I went for the Deluxe Class, of course, which cost a mere HKD18 for the trip back to Central.
Now excuse me while I go nurse my sunburnt :(
Click here for the full set of photos I took at Cheung Chau today.