Famed for its local delicacies and natural attractions, the south-western island of Cheung Chau offers the perfect escape from the city.
Have you ever looked between the bustling skyscrapers, over the glassy harbour water, and wondered what a glimpse of a traditional Hong Kong village may have looked like? If so, you should consider a day trip to one of Hong Kong’s most popular island retreats - Cheung Chau Island. A contrast from the fast-paced life inside the main city, the island boasts clean air, tranquil quietness, and a laid-back atmosphere. Come here for the local delicacies, clean beaches, and to get a dose of Hong Kong’s history.
Cheung Chau, which translates to ‘Long Island’, is an island approximately 10km southwest of Hong Kong Island. The island is also referred to as Dumbbell Island (啞鈴島) because of its unique shape. Historically, the island was inhabited by fishermen who lived on ancient Chinese boats named ‘junks’. Over time, the island transformed from a small village into a trading hub for the sailing and fishing industries. Much of the original architecture remains intact, so in some areas of the island, you feel like you’re walking through a place suspended in history.
Only accessible by sailing, the best way to get to Cheung Chau is via the ferry from Central. A fast ferry ticket takes 35-40 minutes to reach the island, and only costs around HKD$24 (£2.40). For those with weak stomachs, fear not - the ferry journey is comfortable and smooth, with plush indoor chairs, as well as an on-deck seating area. We would recommend sitting outside overlooking the horizon. The views of the harbour across the open water are spectacular. Seeing the high-rising waterfront from the ocean gives a new, refreshing view of Hong Kong - how could you not fall in love with the city?
When you arrive on the island, you will notice the abundance of bicycles and brightly coloured buildings upon exiting the ferry pier. The most popular types of transport are by foot, bike, or rickshaw. Cars aren’t permitted on the island - which is part of the reason the air is so clean here. There are many places you can hire bikes and rickshaws for as low as HKD$50 (£5), but be careful - you’ll be riding alongside the agile island residents.
If you’re visiting the island for a historic experience, the local cuisine is where you should begin. In fact, it’s one of the biggest reasons people frequent Cheung Chau. Due to its fishing heritage, the most popular options here are seafood based. Like mainland Hong Kong, many street food vendors will sell popular choices like fish balls, dim sum, and dried fish - all freshly made from the fishermen’s daily haul. You’re also able to bring your fish of choice to a restaurant where they’ll cook it for you.
Beyond seafood, one of the most famous dishes on Cheung Chau is their mango mochi. At only HKD$15 (£1.50), naturally gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, and vegan, there’s no wonder this sweet and chewy snack is so popular amongst the residents and tourists alike. Mochi is made from glutinous rice flour and water and pummelled into a soft and chewy dough. Unlike regular mochi you may see elsewhere, the Cheung Chau delicacy is large and long and contains fresh fruit. The exterior is thin and soft, offering a delicate texture against the thick, juicy slice of mango inside.
This fishing island has a long history of pirates. Have you ever seen Pirates of the Caribbean 3? The villain, Sao Feng, was based on one of the most fierce pirates in Asia - Cheung Po Tsai. The pirate hid his treasures in various caves around Hong Kong, and there’s one right here on Cheung Chau. If you head down to the most southwestern part of the island, you will discover Cheung Po Tsai Cave. If you’re expecting a guided tour of a large, well-lit cavern, think again. The cave is dark and airless at times, with tight crevices and low ceilings. If you can get over the oppressive sensation, you can find markings thought to be made by Cheung Po Tsai and his crew hidden between the cramped rocks. Discovering these gems of history definitely makes the claustrophobic experience worth it.
If you’re less interested in a slice of history and crave sand between your toes instead, there are two official beaches for you to choose from. The first and closest is Tung Wan Beach, at only an easy, well sign-posted 5-minute walk from the ferry pier. Soft sun-kissed sand stretches along a 400-meter bay. Due to its popularity and central location, there is a lifeguard service and lots of amenities within reach. These include cafes, restaurants, changing rooms, showers, and a children’s playground. The second, smaller option, is Kwun Yam Beach, also known as Afternoon Beach. Around a quarter of the size, this is a location for those looking for somewhere with a more chilled out atmosphere. Similar to Tung Wan, Kwun Yam has changing rooms, showers, and a bathroom. However, because of the more secluded location, the amenities are much more limited, with only a single light refreshment kiosk. There’s something for everyone in both locations - whether you’re interested in lounging on the golden shoreline or learning a water sport like windsurfing, kayaking, or kite surfing. Avoid the temptation of dipping into the muted waters of an ungazetted beach - the lack of lifeguards and shark nets makes them unsuitable for swimming. If you crave a quiet beach day, visit Cheung Chau on a weekday instead of a weekend.
To commemorate your visit to Cheung Chau, why not get a souvenir? Head over to Island Workbench on the southern strip of the village to pick up thoughtful, sustainable, and locally sourced keepsakes. Here, they stock pieces made by local Hong Kong and Cheung Chau artists. Their most popular items are their fishnet bags, which are made by retired fishermen on the island. Their intent is to keep the art of fishnet weaving alive and celebrate their place in Cheung Chau’s current and historic culture. They also stock clothing, jewellery, illustrated postcards, prints, and ceramics - all handmade.
Cheung Chau is the place to go if you want a break from the busy, dense city, or simply if you want to experience the fresh, unique and delicious food. The island is particularly unmissable if you’re a lover of seafood and natural beauty. With an abundance of history, you find yourself experiencing Hong Kong in ways you can’t from inside the city. When your day comes to a close, hop on the ferry back to Central at sunset to watch the sky turn into a classic, burnt orange and pink haze, glittering over the water.