When I’m not traveling (which, contrary to what my Instagram says, is very, very, often), I like to be in bed. Although I am the proud owner of a white table from IKEA with one wobbly leg and the temporary inheritor of an itchy two-seater sofa, under which I’ve carefully laid the rug that looked the least like it came straight from a college grad’s first apartment, the habits that I’ve established over the years put me resolutely in the Bed-Dweller category. I can only describe my habits as staunchly slug-like.
Someone should write a book about me. “She loved her bed so much that one day, she awoke to discover that the universe in all its cosmic power decided to make her one with her bed: she found herself in the body of a slug. She oozed over the sheets, leaving green-beige slime over the pillowcase. And there they found her, in all her viscous glory.”
Oh, right. Kafka already wrote something like that, didn’t he? But without the mucus. Just call me Gregoria Samsa.
The point is that it is a monumental task to ask me to rise from my bed on the weekend. And only, only, a visit from an old friend from college (can I say that now? I am now horribly aware that freshman year of college was nearly ten years ago, people. TEN!) can push me out of the safe haven that is my bed.
Choosing a worthy day trip was the first step. Kowloon? A hike? Peng Chau Island? Cheung Chau? Visiting Victoria Peak? Paradoxically, there are so many “things to do” in Hong Kong, but I can’t ever seem to come up with anything to actually do when the time comes.
In the end, I settled on a day trip to Lamma Island for its easy accessibility, compact size, and its decidedly less-developed infrastructure. There are two villages on the island (you can walk the entire diameter of each within 10-15 minutes, hence the quotes), and walking from one to another takes about an hour, give or take. Easy.
Getting to Lamma Island
This is what Lamma Island looks like from Hong Kong Island.
The only way to start your day trip to Lamma Island is to go by ferry. The two Lamma Island ferry docking points are from Central Pier on Hong Kong Island and Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island. Both of them go to two separate villages on opposite ends of Lamma Island: Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan.
Frequency: The ferry leaves from the pier every 20-30 minutes
Duration: The ferry ride is 30 minutes to Yung Shue Wan, and 40 minutes to Sok Kwu Wan.
Cost: It costs $17.80 HKD to take the ferry for adults, and $8.90 HKD for children (and it costs the same to go back to Hong Kong Island). The fare is not collected on Lamma Island and is collected at the docking pier back at Hong Kong Island. You can pay by credit on your Octupus (just tap!) or pay for a ticket with cash.
You can also find the ferry schedule here.
Arriving at Lamma Island
The ferry docks at a non-descript sort of everyman’s pier.
Once the crowds thin and you’ve finally had a change to look around, you’ll notice that the surroundings are a world away from the needle-thin skyscrapers of Central or the packed sardine pedestrian crossings at Mongkok. This is great. This is awesome. It’s exactly the reason for enjoying this day trip to Lamma Island.
But….as much as the phrase “fishing village” conjures idyllic images of boats drifting lazily on water and blue skies filled with wisps of cloud, because no, you couldn’t call Lamma Island exactly pretty. At least, not from all of the restaurants lining the right-side of the road from the pier. The wind brings gentle briney breeze from the ocean and the sun beats down on the tops of our shoulders.
It never lets me forget that this is the middle of January and it should not feel like the middle of the goddamn summer.
The fact that it wasn’t exactly pretty at first sight made me feel insecure, as one does when you walk a visitor through your neighborhood through your home, trying to extrapolate on the beauties of this temple or that local craftsman’s wares…only to see from your peripheral vision, a man gleefully pissing on a street corner. Ah, the beauty of this city. (I have not actually seen this ever happen in Hong Kong, by the way. The pissing man on the street corner is an illustration of my own insecurities when playing tour guide).
I needn’t have worried, because being away from the taxis and the smoggy exhaust of buses (Lamma Island is car-free) was exactly enough, and Lamma Island’s compact size gives you just enough options to sort of laze around and non-committally take photos of giant mantis prawns in glass tanks and buy a few jars of homemade chili oil. And, as we later discovered, my internal judgment that the village wasn’t pretty would be decisively corrected later on (as sweeping beach views and ocean-front pagodas will make very clear, very soon).
Beyond that, here are the things that you can do on a day trip to Lamma Island.
Things to Do on Lamma Island
As mentioned above, there are two small villages on either end of the island. If you’re visiting, you’ll see at least one (if not both).
Yung Shue Wan Village
Yung Shue Wan is emphatically more developed than Sok Kwu Wan. The water is filled with a million little colorful boats and restaurants on stilts jut out into the water. At lunchtime, these banquet tables are packed with people, Lazy Susans constantly twirl. The seats closest to the water fill up first.
Although I’ve visited the island before, I’ve forgotten how many dogs there are roaming around. These aren’t strays – they’re heavy golden labs and energetic shi-tzus, all on leashes and all well-behaved. The next thing is that there are a lot of non-Chinese people striding about – some of them on runs, others reading books in the shade of coffeeshops, a few with their arms languidly slumped over chairs, sipping beers in chilled glasses.
Under the guise of its genesis as a fishing village, this is why Lamma Island has, over the years, cultivated a reputation for being a hippie (and hipster) paradise: not only are there handmade snacks like sun-dried squid strips on sale, there are also craft beer breweries and tapas bars and second-hand bookshops.
Perhaps the most plainly apparently evidence that Lamma Island has developed into the day trippers’ spot that it is are the shops that line either side of the road. Their wares are neatly boxed up, with signage in both English and Chinese. Their owners stand squarely behind them, watching the influx of visitors pass by on the street, their expressions alert and expectant.
It was here that Neena and I, attracted by the neatly stacked display of clear jars filled with freshly made chili oil, stopped to interact with the shop owners.
“This is homemade,” the woman said. The labels were all handwritten in pen on simple white sticker labels. “This one’s not too spicy. And this one….” She motioned to another jar, “is very spicy.”
A moment later, Neena’s bag clinked with new jars of homemade chili oil, each of our palms filled with tiny crispy fish that they’d insisted we try – salty, crunchy, addictive.
Walk the Lamma Island Family Trail (Or the Other Way Around)
Once you pass the buzzing little shops in Yung Shue Wan, the road will suddenly quiet, and you’ll find yourself on the Lamma Island Family Trail. I love family trails, especially in Hong Kong, because they’re really code for “This is enough exercise for you to feel good about being a real adult who exercises for the day, but not enough for you to find out how laughably out-of-shape you really are.” It’s about 3 kilometers long and will take just over an hour to walk, if you go at a leisurely pace. You’ll end at the Sok Kwu Wan, the village on the other side of the island.
There are shrubs and flowers on both the right and the left, and rising beyond them are the square and squat buildings of the villages, clothes lines blowing in the wind. Follow a path off the trail and you’re likely to stumble into someone’s garden or their little personal shrine.
Eventually you’ll come to an open area of communal tables and plastic stools, where snack stand serving all manner of typical Hong Kong street snacks (curry fish balls, poofy fish maw, other things on sticks) stands in front of the real attraction: a shop owner busying herself with scooping tofu out of an enormous steel vat.
This is Tofu Garden (Ah Por Tofu Fa).
At $12 HKD a bowl, this is a steal for a walking refreshment. This is doufu fa, a classic southern Chinese tofu dish served commonly at the end of a dim sum meal as a sort of dessert. The shop owner till top the bowl with a generous squirt of ginger syrup (and bottles of these rest of every table), and then you can continue on your merry way.
Fresh tofu, in any form, but especially when it’s soft, is always beautiful to even look at: smoothly shiny surface, the color a creamy white. The tofu’s flavor is subtly nutty, while so delicate that its texture disintegrates in the mouth. It’s often described as “tofu pudding” or “tofu jelly” but it’s really just…soft tofu curd.
The version here isn’t the best version of doufu fa that you can find, but for a roadside local experience, buy a bowl and sit down and slurp al fresco.
Hung Shing Ye Beach
Eventually, the green shrubs will give way to a sweeping open view of the sea. And on your day trip to Lamma Island, you’d be stupid to miss the beach.
This is Hung Shing Ye Beach, a sandy respite from the the squat square houses dotting the road to Sok Kwu Wan.
Here, you’ll find families barbecuing meat on sticks on the periphery of the sand, laughing toddlers wading into the drift, and when the weather’s warmer, bodies browning in the mid-afternoon sun. It isn’t a large beach, by any means, but sun and sea are a sight for sore eyes when schlepping up and down the unforgiving staircase-mountains of Hong Kong Island.
Dotting the path are hidden little cafes (like this one, cute as hell).
Beyond the beach, there are the Kamikaze Caves, a site of some historical significance. The Japanese hid their boats, wired with explosives, here during WWII to disrupt Allied shipping. To be honest, from what I’ve read and hear, there isn’t much beauty or grace in this site. “Just a cave full of rubbish,” someone commented online.
It’s kind of sad, though, in a way. Without a fancy plaque and concerted clean-up efforts, or thousands of money poured into restorative construction, how can anyone’s historically significant sites be restored the way they deserve? Hong Kong isn’t the only place guilty of this, but I wish sometimes they’d do a better job of preserving sites instead of erecting new shopping malls.
Visit Sok Kwu Wan Village
You’ll know you’ve made it to Sok Kwu Wan when you see the peep of a little pagoda rest stop, and a beach just beyond.
Snap a few photos of the water from the pagoda and continue onwards to the little beach (Lo So Shing Beach). You’ll probably see more dogs here, too, chasing after balls in the sand, their feet dipping in and out of the waves. Right beyond the beach is a Tin Hau Temple, a common sight in Hong Kong’s fishing communities because of Tin Hau status of goddess of the sea.
Stop and snap photos, and continue on the road, where there will be a panoply of seafood restaurants, just like in Yung Shue Wan, waiting.
The first sign will be the enormous glass fish tanks, where very-much-alive crabs and crawfish and lobsters climb over one another, and massive monster fish propel themselves lazily to-and-fro. These displays are common in southern China and Hong Kong especially, since coastal regions of China, most particularly Guangdong, pride themselves on the freshest of seafood.
Appreciate that your meal was still proverbially kicking just minutes before it hit your table, and move on. Somehow, there are people that do not appreciate this and would rather their fish come in beige shapeless mounds housed in cardboard boxes, but hey. To each their own.
There are enough seafood restaurants to overtake you with decision paralysis on your day trip to Lamma Island, BUT NOT IF YOU’VE DONE YOUR RESEARCH. There’s the well-known Rainbow Seafood Restaurant (probably the most popular), but if you know what’s good for you, you should go to Fuk Kee Seafood Restaurant.
There are two entries of this exact same restaurant on Google (one in Chinese and one in English), but they’re the same restaurant, and they’re SO FREAKING NICE HERE.
The staff, despite English words being a little sparse, will do their best to help you out. And the back of their employee shirts all say, “I will be with you in just a minute,” which is hilarious and adorable and also kind of sassy, which I love.
Neena and I knocked back a few local beers (Young Master is a Hong Kong craft brew heavyweight) while waiting for the food to arrive. We crunched through the deep-fried salt and pepper squid (a specialty of the restaurant!) with its light breading and crispy exterior, punctuated with a pronounced pepper and chili flavor. Beyond that, there were the pan-fried shrimp, which had been fried with their shells on.
The shells, which were fried so well that I crunched through several of them after removing the heads, shells and all. But If you have the patience to remove the exterior, these shrimp give way to a succulent sweet white flesh, and I gave a passing thought to the critters and creatures we’d just seen at the tanks mere minutes ago.
The restaurant is just a few meters away from the dock back to Central. Once Neena realized we didn’t have to walk all the way back to Yung Shue Wan after the meal, we ordered a couple more beers and sat lazily on our chairs, watching fishermen cast their lines and slowly glide across the water.
Hike, if you’re so inclined (Ling Kok Shan)
You’ll hike Ling Kok Shan if you’re ready for a hike.
This is not some namby-pamby, I’ll-decide-later type of hike. If you plan to do it on your day trip to Lamma Island, allow yourself the appropriate time to finish. You could always call it quits in the middle, but where’s the fun in traversing the same staircase on your way down?
If you hike the entire path (I recommend that you do), it will take about 2.5 hours. The trail is a circuitous winding upward spiral of cement staircase (an ubiquitous phenomenon when hiking in East Asia), but it’s unencumbered by vegetation on either side, so you’ll be able to see your progress and elevation as you go along.
A quick Google search will give you people spouting falsehoods about this being a “quick and easy hike.” IT IS NOT EASY. Now, my perspective of this may be skewed (and memories are notoriously unreliable, as Black Mirror has shown uas), so It may have been because the day I chose to do this hike years ago was on a sweltering May afternoon, and I remember the sweat seeping through my shirt and into my backpack, and being in literal hell.
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What was the point of letting Shaun T yell at me through a laptop screen while I gasped for breath doing HIIT, if not to climb mountain-side staircases in Hong Kong??
I swear these internet people on Google Reviews are only saying that it’s so eEaSyy to show off to other Internet people. I saw one person give a 1-star review with a “It’s so hard.” Thank you, dear internet person, for telling the truth.
It may be hard, that’s true. But if you’re up for a bit of a challenge, at the top you’ll be rewarded with beautiful panoramic views of both the islands and the sea, where little round peaks swell out of the water, and blue water and blue sky seamlessly. On a clear day, it’s absolutely stunning.
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