PUNE JOURNAL: It is October and still enveloped in the secure folds of our home I yabber unfettered of distant lands. Come to think of it…A virtual walk or a Reminisce walk is anyday sustainable than a real crowding down of places.
A throwback on Hong Kong Walks: Cheung Chau (one of 250 outlying islands) the ‘Dumbell’ shaped residential cum touristy piece of land 10 kilometers southwest of Hong Kong is popular, going by the packed ferries, for its idyllic location, for sunset watching, hiking and biking trails, isolated beaches and nooks to loose oneself, gourmet seafood choices or living in one of those cosy sea side houses listening to breakers. The island is accessible by ferry services from Hong Kong Central Pier from early morning till midnight. This was a Non-Covid walk hence the multitudes.
2011: A languid, bluish, iridescent haze wraps the hourglass dimensions of 2.45 square kilometre Cheung Chau or “long island” visible through a firewall of fishing boats, trawlers, junks, sampans, houseboats and rafts. The svelte appearance is courtesy the sentient mountains at either end tapering to connect the patch of flat land, user-friendly and approachable, at the centre. A 55 minute ride from Hong Kong’s Central Pier and we join the resters and revellers, downloaded by ferries at regular intervals, to look for the hidden treasures of this Ming era fishing village.
Stepping out if the ferry on the Island’s west coast waterfront we are on the main thoroughfare, Praya St., dotted with convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants and embarking and disembarking crowds.
On the right, along the waterfront, is the public pier topped by impressive, tent-like roofs marking the resting point of sampans (small boats) before they shuttle across the harbour to Sai Wan village to southwest of the island. Sai Wan is 10 minutes away and boats glide past docked vessels including fishing boats that supposedly venture as far south as Indonesia on month-long forays for coral reef fish.
One can either do the hike for scenic views or walk straight to central Cheung Chau to mingle with the crowds. The hike has its own plus points as there is much to see in Sai Wan. Take the Cheung Chau Family Walk towards a Temple honouring Tin Hau, goddess of the sea for an expansive view of main Cheung Chau harbour bounded by rock barriers that protect it against storm waves. Further ahead is pak Kok Tsui and on a clear day one can see Lamma Island and its verdant mountains, higher than their counterparts in Cheung Chau. Continuing down the path is secluded Tung Wan Tsai Beach, for some me-time and panoramic view.
We were told not to miss the Cheung Po Tsai Cave, on southwest tip of the island, known for the ‘treasure’ or looted wealth of the notorious pirate Cheung Po-tsai, (1786–1822). The Pirate was supposedly the inspiration behind Chow Yun-fat’s character Sao Feng in Pirates of the Caribbean. The cave was Cheung Po-tsai’s secret booty hiding place and though no treasure exists today the romanticism refuses to die down going by the long queues to enter the dark and narrow underground passage. Cheung Po-tsai was a famous pirate during Qing Dynasty. In 1809 his fleet was defeated by the Portuguese Naval Army and after his capture, Cheung Po Tsai joined the military and quickly rose in ranks too. Rest is history linked to the island.
One can take the kaito or small boat from Sai Wan pier to explore the coastal areas including the Cave. Another recommendation, and one that suited us, was to do either North or South and not combine the entire Island as it would be tiring for a single day trip. That made sense and we followed this friendly advice.
Island Center: The exploration was dumped for next trip and we were on path to check out Cheung Chau’s south east corner, the main village, where restaurants abound. This road is popular with cyclists as cars are not allowed except for police cars and motorised village vehicles. Most bicycle rental shops are located along the main Tai Hing Tai Road, south of the ferry terminal. It is a good idea to rent locks in case you want to go hiking also.
Low-rise buildings line the narrow streets with ground floors crowded with stores selling clothes, vegetables and household goods. The upper floors serve as apartment blocks. Spending some time nosying in the stores we head north towards a small square with a sacred banyan tree decorated with red banners, lanterns and imitation firecrackers.
Next on our list is Pak Tai Shi Temple, the most interesting and beautiful temple on Cheung Chau. Located on Pak She Street the temple was constructed in 1783 to honour Pak Tai (a Chinese deity revered by fishermen) was brought to the tiny island as he is believed to have helped save the Islanders from a plague that swept through much of the Pearl River Delta.
Pak Tai Temple is most popular during Cheung Chau Bun Festival of Taoist ceremonies, lion dances, and games throughout the day. The highlight is the Bun Scrambling Competition that takes place on the third day of the Festival after cremating the Demon King, who supposedly brings the wandering ghosts with him and ferries them across the sea to the underworld, leaving the islanders in peace. At midnight the competitors climb up a 60-foot bun-covered bamboo tower to collect as many buns as possible. The higher they climb, the more points the buns are worth.
The event is organized in the sportsfield opposite the Temple with parades, lion dances, drum performances and traditional vegetarian peace buns with sweet filingsof red beans, lotus seed or sesame paste. The competition was cancelled for a long time when two bamboo towers fell and injured a hundred in 1978, and was resumed in 2005 with more safety measure. Imitation buns are hung and real ones distributed on ground.
Along the waterfront nearby there is a row of seafood restaurants that are popular with islanders and visitors alike as prices are a fraction of their counterparts’ on Hong Kong Island. Even if one does not want to dine, having a drink at a waterfront bar or store is a great way to relax and watch the sun set over the harbour.
Tung Wan Beach, a narrow, long beach is relatively commercial with plenty of restaurants and cafes next to it. The beach offers the usual amenities (showers, toilets, lifeguards). Beach umbrellas can be rented at the shops nearby. There are a few swimmers, with people sitting around or playing with their dogs.
Beyond schools and a cafeteria and past Windsurfers Centre is the quieter and smaller Kwun Yam Wan beach. From here one can head up to the Mini Great Wall along a scenic stretch of coast with artistic boulders amidst shrubs and woodland dotting the hillsides. Or better still explore the inner lanes of the village with freshly painted, garish blue or yellow B & B pads, three star hotel, boutiques, hair styling salons, education shops, stationers and cafes spaced out with local Chinese eateries, crowded housing and wet markets selling shrimp paste, local delicacies, fresh and dried fish, vegetables, fruits and household paraphernalia.
Canopied Tri-cycles, cycles, motorized carts and walkers of all ages weave through each other in these crowded narrow lanes.
The pervasive fish aroma, largesse of fresh squids, prawns, crabs, sea urchins, shellfish etc., lures us to the seafood restaurants along the Praya, the main sea front thoroughfare that comes alive with the setting sun.
Food stalls and restaurants keep pace with the clicking chopsticks and spoilt for choice we settle for French toast, fried chicken wings and wedge potatoes at the Cheung Po Tsai Restaurant & Bar on the San Hing Praya Street. On the first floor of the restaurant is a museum of Cheung Chau related artifacts. Cheung Chau is a longtime street-food paradise with hip cafes and incredibly Instagrammable edible creations and photo-ops.
Not to be missed is the spiral potato twist, local to Cheung Chau, and frozen fruit drops. The island is famous for its mochi (especially mango mochi), frozen watermelon slices, and fishballs. Again… just stop by any of the numerous vendors and try whatever tickles your fancy.
All to soon it was time to leave. The sun was sliding behind Lantau Island, replacing the blueness with colored lights and the day slowly stretching to 24 hours.
The ferries continued to spawn nightlifers, residents and tourists and the Praya was reverberating with foot falls.
It was time to return to Hong Kong… or did we ever leave it.
Family Walking Trail: A must for hikers and nature lovers wanting to get away from the bustling Central Causeway of Cheng Chau. This is a three and a half hour walk around the Island, past craggy hillsides, quiet bays and beaches, temples and old missionary residences. The Southern half walk is decidedly more scenic, a two-hour walk, with spectacular views of Lantau and surrounding Islands and the Mini Great Wall or a walking trail. While on the same path one can also view a number of oddly shaped rocks like the Human Head Rock.
Beitiao Pavilion: For a panoramic view of the Island and beyond