It turns out Hong Kong isn’t just about the shopping and the eating… and more shopping… and more eating.
If you’re hankering to see the softer side of the city then slip on your sneakers and add a little adventure to your next HK jaunt.
Distance: Approximately 15km
Time: Approximately 3 hours
One of the greatest things about travelling Hong Kong is the public transport. Seriously, there is nothing to fear and everything to gain from journeying local-style and thanks to the abundance of Cantonese/English signage it’s practically impossible to get lost. Even if you accidentally jump on the wrong MTR it’s only about a 4 minute wait on each platform until the next one arrives to take you back where you started. Legendary.
So, about that Octopus Card…
Start by purchasing an Octopus card from any MTR station. The starting price is about $HK150 (approximately $AUD20) and will take you quite a way before topping up (the average cost of a journey is about $HK8.80 (that’s about $AUD1.25). Octopus cards are also accepted as currency at most convenience stores as well, so it’s probably once of the smartest buys you’ll make while in town.
For the purpose of this guide we’re going to start at the Central station. Here’s a metro guide to help paint the picture.
Each line is colour coded and clearly marked. You’ll see that the orange line takes you directly to Tung Chung (there are also plenty of junctions to join the orange line from others if you’re coming from another direction).
From Central it’s only 7 stops to Tung Chung. Once a rural town and defense stronghold against pirates during the Ming dynasty, the seaside district has been developed into a micro-city of its own with a population of about 80,000 people (with a view to fill to 250,000).
There are plenty of restaurants and stores just outside the station so be sure to stock up on snacks and water.
First Steps: San Tau past Sha Lo Wan Bay
San Tau is a section of Lantau Island coast that overlooks Tung Chung Bay. In this section of the walk you’ll be introduced up close and personal with Hong Kong’s famous land reclamation expertise, spying Phase 4 of the Tung Chung Bay development, as well as planes from Chek Lap Kok airport flying over the Ngong Ping cable cars (which are a must-do experience in themselves). Nobody does industry like HK and this scene provides a cool reference for how far the city has come.
Sha Lo Wan Bay to San Shek Wan
Your next stop is San Shek Wan, a small heritage village at the crux where Tung Chung Road meets South Lantau. There are only about 50 residents but the community is supposedly extremely tight-knit, with many family settlements dating as far back as 1889.
San Shek Wan is a great introduction to small-town village life in Hong Kong and you’ll see many small farms, townhouses and shrines (some abandoned, some respectfully maintained).
Sham Wat Wan
Things start to get quite wild around this side of the island and you’ll probably want to keep a look out for the webs of the giant Golden Orb weaver spiders. They’re nightmarish and oh so easy to walk into.
Eventually the path clears into this stunning coastal walk, revealing an almost pristine section of HK sea, with a rolling mist hugging the carpet of thick green across the island. Magical.
So you’ve side-stepped spiders, sweated up a storm and spotted about a hundred Cathay Pacific planes. Here is your pay off, the picturesque village of Tai O.
Consisting mostly of pank uks (or stilt houses), about 2,000 people call this ramshackle fishing village home. The walking path will take you right through the neighbourhoods and across a very charming bridge. Continue through until you reach the Tai O Markets, where you’ll spy residents making salted fish and shrimp paste the traditional way. Also be sure to keep $HK5 spare for a sugar-encrusted Tai O donut. We dare you to have just one.
86 Kat Hing Street, Tai O, Lantau Island
SOLO Cafe is your absolute must-stop spot while in the village. There’s not much signage but this place is famous and most locals will be able to point you in the right direction, or simply look out for the confident walk of in-the-know visitors heading towards what looks like a coffee bar and postcard store. Ask for a table on the balcony and step past the kitchen on to what must one of HK’s most romantic views across the river, where you’ll catch river life passing you by as you replenish after the long hike.
Ask for the salt and pepper squid and follow up with the renowned SOLO cheesecake or tiramisu and you can thank us later.
Love it so much you want to stay? (Or can’t bear the hike home?)
Tai O Heritage Hotel
Shek Tsa Po Street, Hong Kong
+852 2985 8383
Don’t be deceived by the somewhat rickety architecture in the village, there’s some seriously plush luxury to be found in the foothills of this tucked away town.
Historic with a capital H and extra emphasis. This former Lantau police headquarters was initially established to combat pirates and settle village disputes. In 2009 it was completely refurbished to restore the 19th century colonial-style charm and lovingly furnished with elegant french windows, granite steps, fireplaces and completely modern bathrooms.
Once you’ve eaten your fill of market food in the village, book a table of the hotel’s Tai O Lookout restaurant for a side of panoramic vistas with your chef-prepared seafood.
Getting home again
Once in Tai O, if you want to leave, there is only one place on the outskirts of the village to catch a bus back to the Tung Chung MTR or to the village of Mui Wo on the rural, opposite end to Tung Chung and the airport.
The drive from Tai O to Mui Wo is super scenic and will take you over a reservoir and past many beaches and villages. We recommend sitting at the front of the bus to properly enjoy all the fun corners as you wind your way through the mountains, dodging water buffalo as they lazily amble across the streets.
From Mui Wo you can take the ferry back to Central on Hong Kong island. Slower, but way more scenic than the MTR.
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