Travelling to Hong Kong, China

Exploring a traditional Chinese village just minutes ?from downtown Hong Kong.

Travelling to Hong Kong: These islands are among the most authentic remnants of traditional Chinese coastal culture remaining anywhere. Back: The BCBusiness Guide to World

Exploring a traditional Chinese village just minutes 
from downtown Hong Kong.

With the old song “Slow Boat to China” playing in my head, I board a battered ferry in the heart of one of the world’s most dynamic modern cities. Forty-five minutes later, I am walking the streets of an ancient Chinese village. In many ways, this hamlet is further removed in time than in distance from raucous Hong Kong. In the decade that I lived there, I island-hopped to every place accessible by public transport, including nearby residential communities such as Cheung Chau and Lamma, and sparsely populated enclaves such as Tap Mun, Ping Chau, Po Toi and Tung Lung Chau. These islands, mostly vehicle-free, are among the most authentic remnants of traditional Chinese coastal culture remaining anywhere, each with its own distinct character. 

WEATHER  It’s generally cool from December to February and hot and humid between May and September. October and November are your best bets.

CAN’T MISS  On Hong Kong Island take the Peak Walk for great views of Hong Kong, mainland China and the islands. 

BEST BED  The Peninsula has a sense of place, history, excellent service – and a prime location.

COOL EATS  The Pawn, set in an ancient pawnshop in the Suzy Wong district, combines atmosphere with good Western-style food.

My favourite day trip, and the place where today’s ferry is carrying me, is to the somnolent fishing community on Peng Chau, where just 5,000 people reside. At less than a square kilometre, it is the smallest of Hong Kong’s inhabited islands.

In Chinese village fashion, most buildings along the narrow concrete lanes of Peng Chau’s central harbour-side village house a business of some kind: a store, small workshop, café or restaurant. Within a few minutes’ walk from the pier, I pass a variety of shops, some displaying rattan furniture or cheap plastic housewares, hand-painted pottery or pungent dried and powdered fish, seaweed, desiccated squid and piles of colourful vegetables. 

In this warren of lanes, I meet up with a friend, transplanted Vancouverite Stella Suen, who now works in Hong Kong. Suen shares my passion for island-hopping and especially this little gem. “You get to peek into low-rise houses that haven’t changed in decades, so you see glimpses of what Hong Kong must have been like in the 1950s or so,” she says. “I like this island because it’s so small and serene. It’s still a working fishing village,” she adds, pointing out the fish, squid and various other sea creatures drying in the sun on bamboo mats or hanging from fishing lines strung across front yards that we stroll by.

Leaving the village centre behind, we walk past fields and irrigated plots of vegetables, appreciating the sense of open space after cramped Hong Kong, and take the easy hike to the top of Finger Hill. At 95 metres, the island’s highest “peak” provides a pleasing view of Peng Chau and its surrounding waters, busy with junks, ferries, fishing boats and other craft. 

Back down the hill, the evocative smell of burning joss sticks draws us to the Tin Hau Temple, built in 1792. A temple to this protector of seafarers is found on all of Hong Kong’s seaside communities. Inside, statues of gods and goddesses strung with fake pearl necklaces sit in a row at the altar, sharing the temple with dozing dogs and prowling cats. “This temple facing the sea is extremely calming and beautiful,“ says Suen. “You can sit under the shade of some big old trees and just watch the sea.”

My visits to the islands always end at an outdoor table at a seaside restaurant, typical island spots with concrete floors, green and red plastic chairs and a string of bare bulbs hanging along the awning. The menu lists classic Cantonese fare such as steamed clams with ginger, fresh fish with spring onions and many more appealing – and some not-so-appealing – sea creatures. The simple fare is among the best I have had in a region that prides itself on its cuisine. On the back of the elaborate menu is the schedule for the ferry that will take me back to the 21st century.

My Secret Place
Greg McDougall

WHO: Greg McDougall, CEO, Harbour Air Ltd.
WHERE: Tyax Resort, Chilcotin Mountain Range
WHY: When not battling Vancouver’s traffic, I’m often doing a different grind: competitive mountain biking. Tyax Resort in the Chilcotins is the start of one of B.C.’s most remote single-track adventures. It begins with a seaplane trip into Lorna Lake, followed by a challenging 10-hour ride through subalpine forest, swamp and rangeland. The route combines stunning terrain with a challenging track – a great way to decompress after a hectic week.