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Island life in Hong Kong

LUXE City Guides
  • Written by LUXE City Guides, Images by Calvin Sit

The Central Star Ferry Pier sits on iconic Victoria Harbour, against a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers, with more high-rises on the shores of Kowloon opposite. This is in keeping with Hong Kong’s image as a modern hub of travel and commerce — but board one of the ferries to Lamma Island and, a mere 30 minutes later, you’ll find yourself in a vastly different world.

It’s so green and tropical with plenty of wildlife, plus there’s lovely beaches nearby as well as great hikes.

Alight at Sok Kwu Wan Pier and you’re met with views of rolling, green hills and a multitude of low-rises — there is a three-storey height restriction — with colourful awnings. Breezy alfresco restaurants suspended overwater line the walkway, with tank after tank of live seafood. Venture inland and you’ll soon encounter residents walking their dogs or riding bicycles — there are no cars — along the narrow paths, hikers visiting for the weekend eager to explore the verdant trails, and beach-goers barbecuing up a storm on Hung Shing Yeh Beach on the island’s west. It’s this kind of laid-back island living that keeps tourists and locals alike coming back. 

Lamma houses

Ellie Hann, a kindergarten teacher who moved to Hong Kong from Bath in England, has been living on Lamma Island for five years. “I liked the idea of living on an island away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong,” she says. “It’s so green and tropical with plenty of wildlife, plus there’s lovely beaches nearby as well as great hikes. And there’s Lamma Rainbow Restaurant, which is second to none.” Among the array of restaurants are cosy cafes, some of which combine tea and food with enjoyment of the surrounding wildlife, such as teahouse and organic herb farm  Herboland .

Tai O Store

There’s just so much to see on Lantau...Monasteries, heritage preservation, local food.

Lamma is only one of 263 such outlying islands in Hong Kong, each with their own unique, relaxed way of life. Lantau Island , the largest among them, is where the airport is located. However, it’s also full of hidden gems — from serene Shui Hau Wan in the south to Tai O Fishing Village in the west, where houses are built on wooden stilts over the water and where locals create delicious street snacks such as barbecued oysters and ‘husband cake’, a savoury pastry filled with red bean, peanuts and sesame. 


Mainstream attractions such as the Big Buddha can also be experienced differently. While many visitors will take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to the top, it is possible to hike up to it following the Lantau Trail, which starts at Mui Wo Ferry Pier and offers terrific sea and mountain views along the way.


Lantau Island diversity is one reason why Hong Kong resident Annora Ng decided to vacation there with a visiting friend, giving rave reviews of the hiking and cultural curiosities. “There’s just so much to see on Lantau,” she recalls. “Monasteries, heritage preservation, local food. You could spend one day at a monastery, and another at a village. The people are much more laid back, too. I thought it was a very good introduction to Hong Kong.”

Lantau Island

It’s a little island frozen in time...Serene and peaceful, but lively in its own way.

While Lamma and Lantau are relatively easy to travel to via ferry or train, there are plenty of other islands further afield that might take more planning to get to — but the journey is well worth it. Connie 'Maoshan' Yuen, an illustrator and former 'architectural conservationist', first discovered the charms of Peng Chau, a sparsely populated island about 40 minutes from Central, cat-sitting at her aunt’s seaside flat. “It’s a little island frozen in time,” she comments. “Serene and peaceful, but lively in its own way. My favourite thing to do is to sit and watch the boats go by,” Yuen says.


Locals sell freshly caught fish, eat dim sum together every morning, and gather at the village square along the single main street, or head to Lung Mo Temple , where it’s believed that touching the sculpture of the dragon mother and her bed brings good luck.

There’s also Po Toi Island , a remote beach paradise with an excellent seafood restaurant, Ming Kee Seafood Restaurant , and Cheung Chau, site of the annual 'Bun Scrambling Competition', where participants clamber up towers to grab the luckiest buns at the top. Cheung Chau is also a popular haven for water sports.


The islands are reminders of Hong Kong’s past, when fishing villages dominated rather than skyscrapers, and which today remain tranquil getaways with beautiful natural landscapes and insights into local living that should not be missed.

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The Hong Kong Tourism Board disclaims any liability as to the quality or fitness for purpose of third party products and services; and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, adequacy or reliability of any information contained herein.

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