Come with me and explore my favourite island of Cheung Chau (長洲). Cheung Chau is a tiny island off Lantau, famed for its well-preserved working fishing village and superlicious seafood restaurants, hole in the wall fish ball noodle soup purveyors and street food hawkers lining the shoreline fringe. With an area of 2.45 square kilometres (0.95 square miles), you can cover its entire length and breadth on foot.
If you have time to visit only one super-commutable yet remote island in Hong Kong, you will have no regrets for taking a day trip to Cheung Chau. Shh! Don’t say I didn’t tell you! Cheung Chau is one truly hidden gem. Once you know Cheung Chau, this super charmer will gently call your name and draw you back for your next visit and more in the years to come. Don’t say I did not warn you first!
Compared to its uber famous and richer big brother, Hong Kong Island, Cheung Chau island is its poorer forgotten sibling who is still stuck in its 70s past but loving it! Watch out for the odd tourist who will abruptly stop dead on his or her tracks, having spotted yet another Instagram or selfie opportunity. I love Cheung Chau’s old but colourful fishing boats, the old bicycle leaning onto delapidated buildings for a well-deserved respite from the heat, laundries of all kinds gently nodding their heads gracefully whilst being suspended atop our heads from precariously positioned bamboo poles, well-fed but eagle-eyed kittens who is always on the prowl and quick to swoop in for discarded leftover fish tossed out by fishermen and watching the sun bathing fishes basking in the glorious sunshine. I almost forgot that I am on vacation in Hong Kong.
It won’t be in my nature to forget about eating. After all, I live to eat. Bag yourself some jumbo deep fried fish balls, drenched in curry or satay sauce or if it floats your boat, have the fish balls in its natural state. The street food hawkers will be really happy to serve you should you be feeling peckish for some snacks. If you have the time to sit down for lunch, enjoy a bowl of fish ball noodle soup. It is a bit plain tasting for the Western palate so remember to use your chopsticks to dip the fish ball in a little chilli oil. It’s yummylicious! Fish ball noodle soup is a must eat in Cheung Chau. For teatime, enjoy some long-forgotten Hong Kong desserts such as steamed red bean cakes, steamed white sugar cakes or if you have a salty tooth, enjoy some marbled tea eggs or help yourself to more fish balls.
Cheung Chau reaches a feverish climax during the one-week-long Cheung Chau Bun Festival (包山節). Throngs of tourists of all nationalities will flood its gates. According to the ancient folklore, the annual ritual had started in 18th century when the villagers who were plague-ridden and infiltrated by nasty pirates prayed fervently for protection. Nowadays, Cheung Chau seizes the opportunity during the Bun Festival to showcase to the world the wonders of the Chinese culture. The lion and dragon dancers greet you as your eyes are mesmerised by the legendary heroes dancing on stilts, martial art sifu and the parade of floats carrying Chinese deities. Even the local McDonald’s will pay a homage by selling veggie burgers for a change. The prized Instagram and photo opportunity is at Pak Tai Temple with three gigantic 60-feet bamboo towers (包山) covered with buns. The participants will race up the top of the bun towers, collecting as many hard-earned buns as they can lay their hands on, flinging them into the sacks slung on their backs, whilst continuing their feat within a three minute time limit. The location of the bun on the tower determines its score and the buns are clearly colour-coded for identification. The luckiest person will bag the prized bun at the pinnacle of the bun tower. Three cheers to these brave men and also women! It’s certainly a health and safety hazard at least from a western point of view. Having met an unfortunate bun tower accident in 1978, a steel bun tower is introduced when the competition with an added safety first mantra resumed in 2005, this time only 12 well-trained athletes are permitted to ascend the heights of a bun tower. Don’t miss the fun and festivities of the Cheung Chau Bun festival 2017 on 3 May 2017!
Should you miss the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, have no fear. I find that Cheung Chau in its natural unhurried state, is at its most charming. There is plenty of chance to people watch. Sit on the bench, stop and take a deep breath of fresh and salty sea breeze. Most importantly, count your blessings for you have had the chance to see the glorious Cheung Chau before Cheung Chau is tempted away by his richer elder brother with the lures of high rise buildings and the inevitable traps of modernity. When at Cheung Chau, check out the locals who go about their daily life. An old fishermen sitting on his fishing boat, clearly oblivious to the watchful eyes of my camera. The occasional friendly old grannies will try to talk to you on their way to the market, before returning with an armful of vegetables and the catch of the day. I remembered vividly the local children’s laughters filling the air as I beamed contentedly and continued to wander aimlessly admiring the beautiful narrow streets of Cheung Chau. Mimic the locals and do yourself a favour by renting a bicycle, escape the chains of your hectic lifestyle and peddle away from the cares of the world into the arms of Cheung Chau.
- Cheung Chau Cheung Kee (長洲張記)
Signature dish: Fish ball noodle soup, beef brisket soup
Address: 83A Praya Street, Cheung Chau, Hong Kong
- Kam Wing Tai Fish Ball Shop (甘永泰鱼蛋)
Signature dish: Fish balls and Meat Balls
Address: 106 San Hing St, Cheung Chau, Hong Kong
- Sun Chiu Kee Tea Food Snack Shop (新照记茶餐小食店)
Signature dish: Traditional HK snacks such as marbled tea eggs, steamed red bean cake, steamed white sugar cake(白糖糕) and fish balls
Address: G/F, 18 Tung Wan Road, Cheung Chau, Hong Kong
How to Get Here from Hong Kong island
- Central (Pier No. 5) – Operated by New World First Ferry