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Cheung Chau

Started: 2013-01-04 08:32:55

Submitted: 2013-01-05 22:25:57

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits the outlying island of Cheung Chau

Christmas Eve was a regular working day in Hong Kong, but there were still plenty of people out and about as we went on our tourist circuit for the day. I decided to take a ferry to one of the outlying islands; I had several to choose from and picked Cheung Chau.

This involved getting to the ferry pier. Successive waves of land reclamation have pushed the piers further out into the harbor and further from the business districts (and the sprawling Central/Hong Kong station complex), and as I was leading the way to the ferry it didn't help that I took a wrong turn on the nest of skywalks and ended up at the high-speed Macau ferry pier, on the opposite end of the ferry piers from the one I wanted. I eventually found the right pier and we boarded the ferry for Cheung Chau.

Kowloon and the International Commerce Centre
Kowloon and the International Commerce Centre

As we were pulling out of the ferry pier, I noticed the Fireboat Elite, which replaced the Sir Alexander Grantham (which we saw the previous day), docked at one of the piers, but Calvin did not seem especially impressed when I pointed it out.

Kiesa and Calvin look out the ferry window in Cheung Chau harbor
Kiesa and Calvin look out the ferry window in Cheung Chau harbor

The regular-speed ferry Xin Guang was a nice way to get to the island; I even got data coverage on my phone most of the way. As we were pulling into the harbor Calvin seemed less impressed by the boats and barges and cranes than I expected him to be, possibly because he was already overloaded on waterborne vehicles for the day. We disembarked on the main tourist strip, which reminded me of nothing so much as Pearl Street, crawling with tourists (most of them Chinese, of various descriptions) with tiny shops selling various knick-knacks. The most popular seemed to be small pillows shaped like buns; this island is the site of the annual bun festival, where the locals build towers covered with buns in front of the local Taoist temple and compete to climb the tower.

Banyan tree on the waterfront in Cheung Chau
Banyan tree on the waterfront in Cheung Chau

We headed down the main strip in search of the restaurant we'd chosen for lunch (in hopes of figuring out, in advance, where we could eat vegetarian food) but found it closed. We contemplated our options and bought a couple of buns from a nearby bakery and a couple of satsuma mandarin oranges from a grocery store and sat on a bench overlooking the harbor to eat lunch. The buns with sweet red bean paste were good (though Calvin wasn't especially enthralled), but some of the other buns had dubious (non-vegetarian-appearing) contents.

Boats in the harbor in Cheung Chau
Boats in the harbor in Cheung Chau

After our lunch-snack, we headed out to explore the island by following the walking tour in my Lonely Planet guidebook. (Kiesa was not impressed by the live fish and crabs in the wet market, and Calvin wanted to make sure the crabs wouldn't pinch him.) It took us to the Taoist temple dedicated to Tin Hua (the local version of the sea goddess Mazu), which I thought was fascinating but Calvin was not impressed by. Kiesa took him to the nearby playground while I continued looking around.

Pak Tai Temple
Pak Tai Temple
Tiger altar at Pak Tai Temple
Tiger altar at Pak Tai Temple

We continued looking around the island (fueled by an ice cream snack) and walked on a narrow road to the south-west side side of the island. (The island's roads are too small for full-size vehicles; I saw some vehicles the size of golf carts but most residents appeared to use bicycles and the occasional scooter.) The road climbed quickly into the outskirts of the island's inhabited region, where small houses clung to the hillside, then continued climbing into the jungle above. Presently the road entered a cemetery, sprawled across the hillside with innumerable little tombs arranged facing the sea with their back to the mountain (in what I took to be good feng shui), each bearing a name (in Chinese) and sometimes a photo. There appeared to be some work going on, though it wasn't clear what, and I saw bones sitting on top of one of the markers near one of the workers.

Tung Wan Beach
Tung Wan Beach
House above Peak Road in Cheung Chau
House above Peak Road in Cheung Chau
Grave markers in Cheung Chau Cemetery facing the sea
Grave markers in Cheung Chau Cemetery facing the sea

We walked through the cemetery and soon reached another village, which turned out to be accessible via a shorter route back to the ferry pier. We followed the signs to the alleged cave at the end of the island, which seemed to be mobbed mostly by courting couples. The trail led by the edge of the island, so we walked overlooking the South China Sea, with waves lapping on the rocks. I could see some of the other outlying islands through the light haze, as well as the open expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Granite boulders and the South China Sea on the western edge of Cheung Chau
Granite boulders and the South China Sea on the western edge of Cheung Chau

The 'cave' proved to be a tiny crack in the rock where one could climb in, though it was deep enough that one would need a flashlight to explore in detail. I did not have a flashlight (nor a flashlight app on my phone, as most of the other visitors were using), so I climbed down into the first level and declared my exploration complete. Legend held that the cave was used by a major pirate in the area in the early part of the nineteenth century, until he gave up piracy to become a government official, but my guidebooks suggested the cave was a bit small to really have been of much use.

Calvin at the opening to Cheung Po Tsai Cave
Calvin at the opening to Cheung Po Tsai Cave
Calvin climbs on a rock while Jaeger consults the guidebook
Calvin climbs on a rock while Jaeger consults the guidebook

We took the shortcut on the shoreline back to the ferry pier and caught the Xin Fei back to Hong Kong Island as the sun was setting across the water. I looked for pizza for supper (in the hopes that we might find something a bit more understandable, in English, and also on the theory that I embrace a cosmopolitan diversity of cuisines that allows me to enjoy pizza while in Hong Kong) and found Pizza Express in Central. Now that I had enough experience on the ground to know precisely how to interpret Google Maps' directions, I found the place (next to the covered, raised escalator that takes people up and down between Central and the residential (but still high-value) Mid-Levels) and managed to get a table for an hour and a half, which turned out to be just enough time to eat supper.

Sun setting over fishing boats in the harbor at Cheung Chau
Sun setting over fishing boats in the harbor at Cheung Chau

As we walked back to the MTR stop to head back to our hotel, I noticed what looked like crowd-control barriers as if for a parade, and wondered what sort of Christmas-related event the local government was preparing, but with Calvin falling asleep (and Kiesa and I not too far behind, still trying to catch up on sleep from travel) I didn't want to stop to investigate in detail.

For a parallel account of our third day in Hong Kong, see The Third Day (Christmas Eve). For more photos from Cheung Chau see Photos on 2012-12-24.
Scott Galvin, age 23, is a highly sought mentor and motivational
speaker. An avid fan of salsa, user-centric web design, and techno
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vision. He enjoys helping high-tech firms define their online strategy,
and he's advised many Fortune 500 companies, including Apple Computer,
Motorola, and Sun Microsystems. As a business student, he applies his
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Collins, Colorado, and drives a beat up Integra. For speaking
arrangements, call 303.944.9964
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