Header image courtesy of Grace Chong
For all the things that Hong Kong is known for—bustling streets, efficient transit systems, and skyscrapers that dot the sky more than stars—it certainly seems as though has Po Toi has slipped through the cracks and hidden itself away.
Po Toi (蒲台島; formerly 蒲苔島) and its hidden gems have weathered the many changes of Hong Kong over the generations, and has become a hybrid of modernity, history, and nature. In our age of fast-paced technology, deliveries, and flashy entertainment systems, the island will quietly welcome you back to the basics—simple restaurants that serve childhood favourite meals, winding roads that take you (literally) to the edge of Hong Kong, and front-row seats to nature’s best. Follow the latest instalment of our Island-Hopping Series for a look into Po Toi.
There are two ferries that will reach Po Toi, one from Aberdeen and one from Stanley. The key thing to remember is that ferries only run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and on the weekend, and relatively infrequently. On weekdays, there is only one ferry to and from the island, so plan your trip accordingly and if all else fails. When you see everyone else headed back to the pier in Po Toi, follow along so you don’t miss the ferry back!
From Hung Hom:
From Tai Wai:
As the ferry only runs a limited number of times, double-check the time before you board to make sure it’s not the wrong ferry. Make sure you bring exact change for a round-trip ticket!
There are three hiking routes offered on Po Toi, all of which overlap at a certain point and highlight different notable landmarks and rock formations on the island. Should time (or fitness!) be a concern, Route 2 is the shortest and most popular trail, given that it covers a majority of the formations and does not involve extensive stair-climbing. Our guide will cover a section of Route 3, and combine Routes 1 and 2. Given the size of the island, the roads are very clearly marked—just following the path should take you where you want to go!
Route 1 covers the centre of the island, including the deserted mansion of Family Mo, Coffin Rock, and Ngau Wu Teng. Route 2 covers the south of the island, including Palm Cliff, Turtle Rock, Lighthouse 126, and some carvings. If you want to just take this route, head to the first building—a pink island café—when you alight from the ferry. It has a narrow alley next to it. Go down the alley and take the stairs up, and follow the path. It will take you through another restaurant, and loop you onto the route. Route 3 covers the north of the island, including the Tin Hau Temple and Conch Rock.
As you come off the ferry and walk up the path towards the island, you’ll arrive at a crossroads. Heading left will take you towards the restaurants and Route 3. Turning right will take you onto the path to Route 1, during which the initial climb is amongst overhead trees that will also make up the last shade of the entire trail.
On your way up, there will be a run-down house to your left that is the old abandoned Po Toi Island School. It’s not listed as an official island attraction, but a quick peep through the window will give you an idea of life on the island just a few generations ago, with the outline of the chalkboard still imprinted on the front of the classroom.
About five minutes from your original starting point, you will come up to a “No Trespassing” sign, with the official path continuing on to your left. This is one of the ways into the deserted mansion of Family Mo, which is a little off the path, and will require careful manoeuvring as the path is not paved. Alternatively, you can continue up the stairs and eventually arrive at a road sign pointing to a clearer path into the old family mansion.
Built in the 1930s, the mansion was home to the wealthy Mo family. Originally built by Mo Siu-tong, a native of the island and a supposed orphan who had left to work on the mainland, this was meant to be his retirement home. However, the Mo family is said to have fled the island after an attempted robbery and murder by marauding pirates.
Years later, the abandoned mansion then housed Japanese soldiers during the Japanese Occupation in the 1940s, and villagers have claimed to have seen ghost sightings on occasion. Nowadays, squatters have taken over the area, but with the house tucked away in the hillside and only a few staircases from the top of a mountain, it’s not hard to imagine why Old Man Mo would want to live out the rest of his days here.
Leave the way you came, and continue up the stairs for another 10 minutes or so, before the stairs peter off onto the massive rock face of Cheung Shek Pai. Behind you should be an aerial view of the centre of the island, with the northwestern side of the island to your left, and Coffin Rock to your right.
Unlike the other rock formations on Po Toi, Coffin Rock can only be viewed from Cheung Shek Pai, with its close proximity to the abandoned mansion only adding to the mystery of both locations. Geomorphology experts have ranked Coffin Rock on Po Toi as the most alike to an actual coffin when compared to other “coffin-shaped rocks” from other islands. A little more climbing on the rugged rock face and you will reach a paved path with steps again. At the curve before heading uphill again, the path will intersect with Route 3.
You may feel a little tired at this point, but no fear! The next and final stop on this route is Ngau Wu Teng, the highest point on Po Toi, with a pavilion a few steps from it that will give you the most amazing view of the rest of the island and the South China Sea. The rest of Route 1 is a set of downhill steps, where you will come across a flat rugged cliff at the bottom overlooking the ocean and the perfect site for a picnic (or a nap!). Continue on until you reach the sign that signifies the end of Route 1 and the beginning of Route 2.
Before you arrive at the first two “official” rock formations, you will come across one that resembles a sideways palm. Visitors have described it as a gorilla’s palm, and it’s a neat little side quest that makes for a cool photo!
However, after climbing the stairs after the Gorilla’s Palm, you’ll arrive at Monk Rock and Turtle Rock, conveniently next to each other and marked with a road sign. Po Toi used to rely heavily on dried seaweed as their main industrial pursuit, which, when harvested, were tied into the shape of a zafu (座蒲; circular mats that monks meditate on). As such, the middle character of the island’s Chinese name used to be the character for moss or seaweed (苔), before changing to its current homonym character (台), which means “platform.” In a way, for a while, Monk Rock used to sit on the world’s biggest meditation mat! Right next to Monk Rock is Turtle Rock, which is described as a turtle climbing the mountain. From up close, it appears more like a turtle’s head and tip of the shell breaking through the water for breath, but the ideal spot to look at Turtle Rock is actually after you take the stairs up the next hill, where the distance will allow for the full effect of a turtle and its shell climbing.
Further along, the Nam Kok Tsui Lighthouse 126 sits on one of the two most southern capes in Hong Kong, thus granting it the title of southernmost lighthouse in Hong Kong. For the lighthouse fanatic, it’s also considered the Hong Kong version of the Taiwanese Cape Eluanbi Lighthouse. Lighthouse 126 was constructed and lit in 1970, and marks the final decent into Gold Panning Cliff, which is the edge of the island. Given the distance of Po Toi from the mainland, the field in this area is also a popular camping spot, offering an amazing front-row seat of the sunrise and starlit skies. However, please make arrangements for water, as the centre of the island is at least 45 minutes away, and remember to take away your rubbish when you go!
As you continue, you will arrive at a junction that allows you to clamber onto the cliff side for some photos or to just enjoy the edge of Hong Kong—just be especially careful when doing so to avoid injury. Or you can continue down to the right, where you’ll climb some steps past a portable toilet to continue along the path on the side of the island. The steps and railings are painted a dark green and coral colour so as to blend in with the rocks!
The rock composition on Po Toi is primarily granite, which is most prone to weathering under rain and seawater. The results are beautiful, with none other than the Palm of Buddha easily claiming a top spot amongst Hong Kong’s most beautiful rock formations. The sign will lead you slightly off the main path to a flat unpaved platform from across the Palm to grab a quick snap. However, if you continue down the path, there is also an unmarked but very clear and open path to the rock face above the Palm, but please be very careful.
The final island site are the rock carvings that are situated underneath the path you’re on. A sign will direct you down a flight of stairs off the road. These carvings are believed to date back to the Bronze Age, and used to exist only as part of local legends amongst fishermen. In 1960, they were properly discovered and have now been declared a national monument. Signs have been added with plexiglass protecting the carvings from weathering. The carvings on the left resemble various land and sea animals, and the ones on the right a complex pattern.
The rest of the journey back to the pier is relatively straight-forward, with the only confusing part being that the path cuts right into a family-run restaurant. The owner is friendly and will direct you onwards, after which the path will bring you down some stairs into an area with some old, dilapidated buildings. Follow the path to the left through the archway and you will end up back where you started at the ferry pier.
This guide will only cover the main attractions, which Tin Hau Temple and the Conch Rock (also known as the Snail Rock), although visitors can continue by hopping onto a trail that will loop you around the north side of the island.
After disembarking from the boat, make your way to the left side of the island. As the inner shoreline is curved, you will get an awesome view of the entire path to get to the Tin Hau Temple that will take you past Ming Kee Seafood Restaurant and a handful of small Hong Kong-style eateries. There are some beautiful repainted buildings along the way that are perfect for a little Instagram shot as well.
Tin Hau Temple sits on the west side of the island, facing the bay of Tai Wan. Given that the island of Po Toi is more than an hour from the mainland, it’s no surprise the villagers have relied on Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea, for protection. There are no official records for the constriction of the temple, but it was renovated in 1893 and regularly maintained. Each year for the Tin Hau Festival, an opera stage is temporarily built for the occasion. Outside, there is a small seating area for the weary traveler to take pictures against the backdrop of the ocean.
A few steps to the left of the temple (when facing the temple) is The Conch. As you head back towards the centre of the island, you should see the option to take the hiking trail to continue your loop around the northern side of the island, marked with a yellow sign. If not, keep going forward to hit up Routes 1 and 2, or stop for a quick bite!
There are just a few options for refuelling on Po Toi. Because the island used to rely heavily on seaweed production, a well-known dish that visitors should order is the Hong Kong diner classic of instant noodles with fried Spam and fried egg, but with the Po Toi twist of a healthy serving of briny seaweed in the broth.
Island-famous restaurant Ming Kee Seafood will give you that fresh seafood experience that islands are known for. Given that a majority of restaurants are located at the centre of the island bay, diners will also get a great view of the ocean, and be able to keep an eye on the docks in case the ferry leaves without them!
Fairly clean and quiet, the main beach on Po Toi does not offer much in the way of entertainment, but it does make for a splendid dip in the sea if you need to cool down after a long day of hiking around the island. Overlooking Tai Wan (which means “Big Bay” in Cantonese), the quaint stretch of sand can also double as a picnic spot.