Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Exploring Lamma Island.

Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island.

I can't believe it but it's already our last day in Hong Kong. Time has really flown by and even more so considering my original itinerary only had us here for 3 days.  Due to a mix up on my part that had us arriving a day into Hong Kong a day earlier than I had originally thought, I had to come up with something for us to do today.  So, my suggestion was to go to Lamma Island.

Lamma Island is a small island that takes about a half hour ferry ride to get to from the Central pier on Hong Kong island.  It's basically like a suburb of the city.  If you read about what there is to do on Lamma Island, chances are you'll find suggestions on doing the hike along the path that connects the small island's two main villages - Yung Shue Wan (Banyan Tree Bay) and Sok Kwu Wan (Rainbow Bay).  Yung Shue Wan is the bigger of the two villages.  The ferry ride from Central to Yung Shue Wan takes about 20 minutes and the ferries run every hour while ferries to Sok Kwu Wan make the same journey in 35 minutes and the ferries run every 90 minutes. 

We opted to arrive into Yung Shue Wan and return to Hong Kong from Sok Kwu Wan.  

First, we had to start our day with breakfast.  I had not picked out any places to eat so we had no choice but to wander the 'hood in search of any restaurant serving up breakfast, preferably congee 😁

It was just around 7:45a when we stepped foot outside our apartment building.  We were greeted by empty streets but all around us, there were signs that the 'hood was just coming to life.










We wandered along and around several streets looking for any place serving up breakfast but as there might be a variation of Murphy's Law to describe our situation, when you're looking for a place to eat, you can't find one! 😁

We stepped inside, literally, the only place we found open that was serving food and they were barely open for service!  Thankfully, they had congee and so we ordered up two bowls.  Rice and water won't get us far but for now, we left the place with nicely full bellies.



Next, it was off to the Jordan MTR to catch the train to the Central MTR.


And from Central, we took the elevated walkway to the Pier.  We are old pros at this by now!


Unlike the pier to Tsim Sha Tsui which you can access right from the elevated walkway, the piers to the outer islands, including Lamma are housed in separate buildings lining the water of the harbor.  They are well marked though there are separate entrances for the ferries to Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan so you need to make sure you enter the one. 

Our Octopus cards needed to be topped off so Bro did the needful.  As he done so two nights ago when we took the ferry from Central back to Tsim Sha Tsui, he knew exactly what the process is when he walked inside the 7 Eleven.  You can top off your card at any of these convenience stores.



The Octopus card does make taking public transportation in Hong Kong an absolute breeze.  The downside is I have absolutely no idea how much any of our rides cost as we just swiped away to enter through the various turnstiles and gates that we had to go through.


The ferry to Lamma Island is more typical of ones I've taken in other countries around the world.  There's an indoor cabin and then an outside section.  The really nice thing about this outside seating area was that it was covered overhead so you could be shielded from the sun and rain but still enjoy the sea breeze as the ferry moved along.


Although the ferry was nowhere near capacity, we were a tad too slow making our way to the seats along the side so we had to sit a bit inside but even with that, we could at least take in the view of Hong Kong Island as we made our way towards Lamma Island.  It was a very comfortable ride.


I didn't know what to expect upon arrival to Lamma Island but it somehow I was expecting small structures built up on stilts and not modern concrete structures.  Yeah, that's my imagination going at it because the reality would be those concrete buildings giving the island's proximity to the "main land".  The ride on the ferry was so fast that Yung Shue Wan really could be a suburb of the city.  In fact, after having spent the day on the island, if I worked in Hong Kong, living here could very well be a viable option.  I am sure that real estate is still relatively expensive compared to the US but relatively affordable compared to either Kowloon or Hong Kong island.


Except for emergency vehicles i.e., firetrucks and ambulances, vehicles are not allowed on the island so it was no surprise to see a parking lot filled with bicycles.


Lamma has a significant expat population and has had a reputation for alternative lifestyles, hippies, and a relaxed attitude.  I was expecting to see more cafes, art galleries, and funky boutiques but they only thing that was even remotely something I would describe as western influenced was this little display advertising the Cat Newseum.


There's pretty much only one *big* pathway that winds its way through the small commercial area of the village so you really can't get lost.  Here you will find many seafood restaurants offering up the catch (or import) of the day, so fresh, it's all sold from tanks.


Chinese and mainly the Cantonese, are notorious for eating anything....and I mean anything that swims and from the looks of what was in the tanks here, anything that could be caught from the ocean and kept alive in a tank was here!


Apparently, several decades ago, Yung Shue Wan was at the center of the plastics industry in Hong Kong.  Today, all of the factories have been closed up and replaced by commercial establishments.  When we arrived, many of the shops were still not yet open for business.  I guess it was just a bit too early in the day for this laid back village.


We did stop at one vendor's shop.  He was selling all sorts of dried sea products.  I first had my eye on some salted, dried fish but then decided not to buy. The fish is really smelly and I didn't really want to have it sitting inside my suitcase for the next three weeks!  Every day, I would be smelling of fish!


But, we did buy a container of his salted silver fish after nibbling on a sample.  I can buy this stuff in my local Asian supermarket but not fried up and seasoned so it's basically a snack.  This is the sort of snack that you can't just have a few of.  Bro could not resist either so we handed over our money and got one container.  In hindsight, we should've bought two.  The stuff is so addictive!


The path eventually made its way out of the commercial part of the village and into more of what I would describe as the local neighborhoods.  Here, there are more detached, single family homes....and more gardens.  I also noticed the buildings are not very tall here.  Apparently, you can't build more than 3 storeys up.

Most definitely, in contrast to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, Lamma is peaceful and tranquil with an abundance of natural scenery.


Wherever there is a fork in the road, there is a sign. We just walked in the direction of Sok Kwu Wan.


Then, a pot of white stuff stopped me in my tracks.  Like. dead. stop.  It was dau fu fa and it looked freshly made!  I cannot ever walk away from this stuff!  Ever.  So I made Bro stop and we shared a bowl.  Trying hard to not over eat because the truth is I could've, with time, eaten the entire container full and it was a big container!


It was a generous sized serving of the dou fu fa (aka tofu jelly, tofu pudding) and I had the woman add a bit extra syrup which she didn't mind doing at all.  I grabbed two spoons and we sat down and devoured every molecule of this stuff.  The sugar syrup had been flavored with a bit of ginger which was an unexpected surprise.  It was a nice change from the usual, plain simple syrup that I've long eaten this delicious sweet with.


Just a short walk later and we reached a beach.  I know we're on an island but somehow I didn't expect to see a beach.  I guess because we didn't see beaches on either Lantau or Macau islands so it never dawned on me that we would see one here. 

Hung Shing Yeh Beach is not a large beach but the sand is soft enough and the water calm enough that I can see why this is a popular spot for local families to come and hang out.

The only not so nice part about this beach is that it looks out to the Lamma Power Station complex.  Takes away from the beauty of the spot.  I tried to hide it from view when I was taking photos but further along the path, it was impossible to hide it from view.



It was once we got past the beach that we finally left all buildings behind too.  Now, it was like a hike through a park.  Just us surrounded by greenery.


....and a view of the Lamma Power station.  Nothing like an ugly power station to destroy the view.  But sadly, Lamma Island is so small, there's really no place you can situate the power plant without obstructing a nice view.



There were trail markers all along the way.  There was one set that had been decorated with what look like the remains of leaves that might have been embedded in the crushed stone that was used to build the marker pillar.


Some stretches, it was so lush and green I momentarily forgot I was in a place that is technically a jurisdiction of the concrete jungle known as Hong Kong.


It seems like except for the two villages, the rest of the island is pretty uninhabited.  I hope it stays that way forever though with real estate prices continuing to skyrocket to unimaginable heights in Kowloon and Hong Kong, I see more and more people escaping to Lamma Island for affordable housing.  Who knows, next time I come, maybe there will be a housing development in this spot.


Supposedly, it only takes an hour to walk the path between Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan but I think that even with just a few short stops, it takes at least an hour and half if not longer.  No need to run though as the stroll through the wild nature of Lamma Island is very relaxing.  Especially, since there were barely any people on the path today.  Most likely would not be the same experience if you were to come here on a weekend day.


We chatted as we walked along.  I have to say, we were enjoying a nice respite from the chaotic city though I do love Kowloon and Hong Kong.

In due time, Sok Kwu Wan came into view.   Nestled on the shores of a bay, it is a much smaller village with what seems like most if not all of the Sok Kwu Wan's buildings were hugging the shore line.



In front of the village, were literally dozens of structures floating in the waters very near to the shore.  At first, I just assumed they were fish farms but with my zoom lens, I could see that it was more like an entire village of fishing huts floating in the water.  My guess is that this is where the fisherman, who ply these waters, live and work.  You can see that the wooden huts and platforms are all floating atop large plastic barrels. 



Once Sok Kwu Wan came into view, I knew we were close to the end of the path.


The path gently wound its way down the hillside and then along the shoreline.  From Sok Kwu Wan, you can actually see the high rise buildings of Hong Kong in the far distance.  That's how close the two islands are to each other!


On our way into the village, we walked past a small temple - Tin Hau temple.  There are many Tin Hau temples throughout Hong Kong and the outer islands.  That's because Tin Hau is the Goddess of the Sea so no surprise that she is worshipped here.



The path takes you through what looks to be THE main street in Sok Kwu Wan and it is lined with food shops and restaurants serving up seafood.


The restaurant dining rooms are on the left side of the path as that's the side that fronts the sea.  The restaurants along with their inside dining rooms and kitchens are on the opposite side of the path. It's simple to order food here.  You can select dishes from the menu or else, you pick out what you want from the tank and the discuss with the wait staff how you want it cooked up.  We checked out a couple of the menus and had sticker shock - it's not cheap eating here!  We were so stunned by the prices that we opted to skip out on having a meal here.  In all honesty, a lot of the stuff we can get back in the US and what we can't get was so prohibitively expensive, I don't think either one of us would have enjoyed the meal.  Maybe on our next trip, we can come here for a celebratory dinner of some sort and splurge!



The ferry pier is situate at the far end of the main street and we saw a ferry docked.  We had only been on the island for about 2.5 hours but with pretty much nothing else to see or do, we decided to head back to Hong Kong on the awaiting ferry.  We would spend our last hours in Hong Kong back in Kowloon.