Cheung Chau – an island retreat from bustling central Hong Kong

In this latest trip to Hong Kong, one of the things I was determined to do was check out the outlying areas of Hong Kong, away from the busy city centre. One of the places I heard a lot about was the island of Cheung Chau and that I had to go eat seafood there. Armed with no other knowledge, I hopped on one of the Central Pier Ferries and spent an afternoon on the island of Cheung Chau.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Sunset
Beautiful Cheung Chau in the late afternoon

 

HOW TO GET THERE

Take the MTR to Central station, and from there walk to the ferry terminals which are near IFC building. The Ferry to Cheung Chau leaves from Pier #5. There are fast ferries and slow ones – see the full fare schedule and pricing here, but overall the fast one costs about 2x as much and takes just over half the time compared to the slow boat which I took at 11.15am for HK$13.20 that took about an hour (the fast ferry costs HK$25.80 on a weekday). You can use your Octopus card for ferry fare, or buy a ticket in the window with cash.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Ferry Pier 5
Head to Pier #5 to catch the ferry to Cheung Chau – if you’re coming from the MTR, there’s a huge circular pedestrian overpass that you can take, Pier 5 is closer to the non-IFC building side
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Ferry Boat
The ferry service is run by First Ferry – the boat is mostly covered though if you are lucky, there are seats right at the back that are facing the water and open air, so it’s a nice way to get a good view!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Ferry Interior
This is how the ferry looks like inside in the slow boat, ordinary class. You can shell out more for deluxe class which apparently gets you a higher deck and air-conditioning

 

WELCOME TO CHEUNG CHAU! NOW WHAT?

About an hour later, we finally arrived in Cheung Chau, and it has a completely different vibe from Central Hong Kong! No tall buildings or overwhelming greyness in sight.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Boats Bay Panorama
Panorama shot of life along Saiwan, the Western bay of Cheung Chau.

It was crowded though – you emerge from the ferry terminal right onto the main street and it feels like a mini market place because the guesthouse booths, shops and tourists are all clustered there. Vehicles aren’t allowed on the island, but they have these small trucks that carry building materials and other large bulky items that trundle along the walkways so loudly and cause quite a racket every time they zoom by.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Main Street
Slight marketplace insanity along the main thoroughfare

Here are a couple of things you can do once you emerge from the ferry terminal. Scroll to the bottom for the handy dandy Google Map with all my suggestions pinned on it!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Signpost
Where to first?

 

1) TURN LEFT AND GO NORTH

If you go this way up Pak She Praya Road, I highly suggest you stick to walking (and not rent a bike) because at certain points this way, it gets so hilly I don’t think you will want to deal with a bicycle then!

Eat seafood – New Baccarat Restaurant

There is a row of seafood restaurants facing the bay that you can check out and grab some good seafood in. A cursory look at menus looks like most of the food offered along the stretch is similar, though some of the restaurants are more aggressive with inviting you in. We decided to walk on till we reached New Baccarat Restaurant at the end of the row, which was one of the names I came across when doing some research the night before, and one of the few who didn’t have someone stationed outside to entice you in.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Exterior
New Baccarat is the furthest restaurant from the Ferry Pier
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Tables
I highly recommend sitting outdoors so you can get a view of the sea as you eat.

There is a Chinese menu and one with English translations, though if you can read Chinese you should give the all-Chinese menu a look even if it’s harder to read (like it is for me) – the Mantis Shrimp that we ordered seemed to be cheaper on the Chinese menu (HK$70 vs HK$98 on the English menu) We ended up ordering between the two of us: Mantis Shrimp in Salt and Pepper, Squid in Garlic Sauce and Steamed Egg, topping it off with a Blue Girl Beer.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Food
All our lunch! The mantis shrimp came first, so we were about halfway through the dish when the rest of the food came.

Mantis shrimp is the most combative food I’ve eaten! I’ve put in effort for foods like prawn and crab, but man, mantis shrimp is POKY and its shell really discourages you from taking a chomp out of it. My friend A managed to swallow down most of the shell, poky bits and all, when it was crispy; I took the wussy way out and slowly peeled off the shell on all my shrimps. It was quite delicious though – the seasoning was very tasty. The squid and garlic sauce was also quite a stellar dish, the steamed egg was also a decent dish. Man, the two of us were stuffed after that meal!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Mantis Shrimp
Check out the poky bits!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Mantis Shrimp Live
If you’re wondering how Mantis Shrimp looks like alive, this is how it’s stored in the restaurant. I’ve seen the colourful peacock version when diving, but these are just boring grey

New Baccarat Restaurant
9A Pak She Praya Road (Ground Floor)

 

Grab some local desserts at Wan Sing Desserts

Also found through my online research, this little place Wan Sing is apparently quite famous for its desserts, in particular the mango ones. We had a bit of trouble looking for this place until we realized that the road it was on – San Hing Road – actually ran parallel to Pak She Praya Road which was the one we had been searching on, doh~ San Hing is in the lane behind the one where all the seafood restaurants are on.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Wan Shing Dessert Store
This tiny little shop gets quite packed, just hang around and wait for a seat if it’s full!

We ordered a mango mochi each and a mango sago to share. The mochi was quite large and notable for the solid juicy piece of actual mango fruit in its center, not some paste or filling. The mango sago was pretty good as well – the portion of mango in this dessert was very generous indeed! They did have other mango desserts, as well as other fruits/fillings, but we were way too full to eat anymore at this point!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Wan Shing Dessert Food
Giant powdery mango mochi and our mango sago
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Wan Shing Dessert Mango Mochi
Seriously the burst of mango juice when you bite into that? Incredible.

Wan Sing Desserts
3 San Hing Road

 

Touring the Temples – Pak Tai and Tin Hau Temples

Further down from the seafood restaurants, you’ll come across an area with a basketball court and football court – behind these community spaces lies Pak Tai Temple. It’s pretty small and unassuming, but around May every year (5th to 9th days of the 4th month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar) it is the center of Cheung Chau’s famous Bun festival, where several steel towers are covered with buns and people go scrambling up these towers to get the top-most one for good luck. It’s quite a sight to see and I would love to check it out if I were ever in the area just because it sounds so bizarre~

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Pak Tai Temple Exterior
Pak Tai temple is for those to pay tribute to the Northern Emperor who is also the god of the sea
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Pak Tai Temple Lion
Usually the temple guardian lion has a pearl in its mouth, but this one naturally has a cheung chau bun instead!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Pak Tai Temple Interior
Inside the temple it’s pretty small – as per usual lots of burning incense as temples go

Pak She Tin Hau temple is up the slope to the left of the Pak Tai Temple – it’s situated within an elderly centre, and there were a bunch of residents milling around it that day so we decided not to intrude, which is why I don’t have any pictures on hand for you.

 

Hike up to the North Lookout Pavilion for a birds-eye view

To the left of Tin Hau temple there is a sloping path and stairway that leads you through residential areas to a more wooded pathway that turns to the right. This is the Cheung Chau Family Walk and will lead you to a great lookout point if you follow the path.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Stairs
Houses to the left and right of the staircase – man I do not want to climb up and down every day!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Fire Beater
Along the path you’ll see occasional stands containing fire beaters – wonder if that means they’re prone to bush fires in summer?

This is where it gets super slopey, so take your time climbing up the stairs and steep slopes. This is also why I don’t recommend a bicycle! You’ll pass by a playground, a cemetery, even a path to a reservoir before you finally reach the North Lookout Pavilion. From there, it’s one last climb up a short (but slopey) path to get this pavilion with the beautiful view

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Northern Lookout Pavilion
the end in sight!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Northern Lookout Selfie
this is the highest point of Cheung Chau! Enjoy the view of the sea and the city below! obligatory selfie shot
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Northern Lookout Panorama
Panoramic shot of the view – there’s a path that takes you closer to the sea, but we decide do just enjoy the view from up top

 

 

2) TURN RIGHT AND GO SOUTH (WEST)

If you turn right from the ferry terminal and head south, you’ll find yourself in the centre of the town of Cheung Chau. It’s more bustling here, with many little shops and eateries here, including bigger brands like McDonald’s and Mannings just to name a few. Continue down Cheung Chau Sai Tai road and follow the coastline of Sai Wan and you’ll leave the town behind to a nice peaceful walk.

The land is much flatter here, and it is some distance to walk to the main attractions in the south-west corner of the island, so consider renting a bike or a tricycle/trishaw here to speed up the time it takes for you to cover the distance. We walked all the way, and were kinda tired in the end!

Pretend to be a pirate – Squeeze through Cheung Po Tsai Cave

Cheung Po Tsai was a notorious pirate back in the day, and this little cave on the south-west end of Cheung Chau was apparently one of his hideouts, and you’ll see why exactly it was such a good hideout. Sai Tai road leads you to Tsan Tuen road, and from there you’ll follow another uphill (yes, here’s where you put bike aside) slope along Cheung Po Tsai road. there’s a picnic area here where you can have a BBQ or just sit around.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Sign
These days it’s much easier to locate – just follow the signs

The path starts to slope down a bit, and we hit the end of the path, which leads into a wall of rock. Where is the cave?

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Entrance
Can you see where the cave entrance is?

So apparently, the cave is literally a hole in the rocks – like I would not have known if I hadn’t seen people gingerly lowering themselves into the hole in the first place! Imagine it without the markers pointing towards it or the pathway and you can probably see why it would have been quite the effective hiding spot for hiding from the authorities.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Hole
No ladders or handholds at this part – you kinda lower yourself down

You literally lower yourself into a dark hole and climb down a short steel ladder – bring a torch or use your phone light because there is no lighting at all in this cave! I thought it was going to be a seaside cove of sorts with one entrance, but this cave is more rightly a tunnel where you walk/stoop to get through it. Claustrophobic people, the walls are very narrow and the ceiling quite low in certain spots, so don’t go in if small tight spaces make you nervous!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Tunnel
Here’s A standing close to the exit. This is actually quite spacious considering the rest of the cave/tunnel where you can’t quite stand up straight at points!

And finally… finally you climb up another ladder and emerge to quite a lovely view!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Exit View
Rewarded with a great view when we climb out!

Along the path to the Cheung Po Tsai cave, there is a fork that brings you to the Reclining Rock, which are several large rock formations, but we were getting lazy at this point so we skipped that.

 

3) WHAT I DIDN’T DO – HEAD EAST

One thing I might have done in future would be to head there earlier, and perhaps spend the morning checking out Tung Wan Beach and Kung Yam Beach on the Eastern coast. It was too cold for us to consider swimming, and starting to get dark by the time we were done with the south western end, so we skipped the beach this time around. Also in that direction is the rather oddly named Mini Great Wall which is also quite scenic.

Here’s the Google Map for your easy reference! According to this map we walked around 7km that day, and with the crazy slopes in spots, no wonder I was so freaking tired!

BRINGING HOME THE DOUGH

We didn’t get to witness the Bun Ceremony, but we (or actually A) ended up buying a whole bunch of little Cheung Chau bun magnets back as souvenirs. Naturally we attempted making our own bun tower, to… well… minimal success.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Magnet Buns
Only one of these buns belongs to me!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Magnet Bun Tower
tadah! bun tower!

 

Till next time, Cheung Chau! I definitely recommend anyone heading up to Hong Kong and looking for somewhere a little different to check out this island! Check out my Lamma Island guide, another of Hong Kong’s outlying islands.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Leaving
bidding goodbye to the island
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4 comments to Cheung Chau – an island retreat from bustling central Hong Kong

  1. I had read about the New Baccarat restaurant too, so it was the first I checked out when I was there last week. Since it was empty I checked a couple of other places. The place right next to New Baccarat was the Delicious Seafood Restaurant. Since the Delicious Seafood Restaurant was almost full of locals having a great time, we ate there. It was fantastic and we really enjoyed the delicious food and the atmosphere. While we were there fishermen kept coming in with freshly caught fish, selling it to the restaurant. New Baccarat only seemed to have one or two diners the entire time were at Delicious. I’m not sure why New Baccarat was singled out in web discussion it did not seem much different from the other places. New Baccarat did send out a tout while we checked the menu.

    • Thanks for the feedback Mel! These things change over time so maybe New Baccarat may have deteriorated or others could have caught up… I think your approach is a good one though – follow the locals and the crowd!

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