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The Island-Hopping Series: Cheung Chau

By Sophie Pettit 16 July 2018 | Last Updated 26 March 2020

Header images courtesy of @ttphotto_ and @ameliesaunois

Originally published by Sophie Pettit. Last updated by Jen Paolini.

Fancy an adventure? Then why not escape the metropolis and check out what’s going on over on the idyllic island of Cheung Chau. This fishing community may be small, but there are plenty of things to do. Not only is it home to the world-famous Bun Festival, but Hong Kong’s first Olympic gold medalist, Lee Lai-shan, got her start here as well. From walks and hikes to hiring bikes, it’s the perfect place for an active, feel-good weekend away from the city.

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Photo credit: @anitazietha

How to get there

Ferries to Cheung Chau run from Central Ferry Pier 5 at all hours of the day. Standard ferries take about one hour, whereas the fast ferries cut the travel time to 40 minutes (click here to see the full schedule). If your four-legged friend is joining you on your day trip, you’ll have to take the slower, standard ferry.

Cycling

As the main mode of transportation on this vehicle-free island, you will have no problem finding somewhere to pick up your own set of wheels for the day. With no motorised vehicles—bar a fire engine and ambulance for emergencies—pedalling your way around the island is a stress-free way to see the sights. If you’re feeling strong, you could tackle a tricycle with two of your pals in tow on the backseat bench (though we recommending switching off between yourselves to minimise grumbling). Rentals generally clock in at around $10 per hour, with discounted daily rates, a deposit, and additional charges for helmets and locks.

Walks

As a relatively flat island, touring Cheung Chau by foot is enjoyable for people of all ages and abilities. There are a number of routes which encompass various sights, and all of which boast breathtaking views of the water. Coasting the southwest of the island, the Cheung Chau Family Walk can be found to the right of the ferry exit. Along the way, you will stumble upon Italian Beach, Cheung Po Tsai Cave, Reclining Rock, and Tin Hau Temple.

As indicated by the name, this two-hour route isn’t too strenuous and perfect for a family outing. For a slightly bigger serving of unusual rockery, walk straight ahead out of the ferry exit, turn right onto Cheung Chau Beach Road, and head to the south-east of the island. The Mini Great Wall Trail encompasses a whole range of oddly-shaped (and imaginatively named) stones, including Loaf Rock, Human Head Rock, and Vase Rock. It’s like embarking on a boulder-themed tour of Where’s Waldo.

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Photo credit: @maitri_mariko

Watersports

The Cheung Chau Windsurfing Centre (CCWC) is the go-to for getting out on the high seas. Whether you fancy a scenic trip out on a double kayak, testing your balance on a stand-up paddleboard, or giving windsurfing a whirl, CCWC has got you sorted. Hong Kong’s gold medalist, windsurfer Lee Lai-shan, did train there after all. Equipment rental varies between $120 and $180 per hour, with additional costs for harnesses and wetsuits checking in at around $25 to $35, plus a $500 deposit.

Beaches

Small, secluded beaches can be found all around the small island of Cheung Chau, and are relatively easy to stumble upon by tapping into your inner adventurer. If you are looking for beaches with facilities, such as changing rooms and equipment hire, then these are the places you want to go.

A hub of aquatic sports, Kwun Yam Beach is a popular choice for sun-worshippers and watersports enthusiasts alike. It is where Hong Kong's only Olympic gold medalist, windsurfer Lee Lai-shan, used to train after all. The neighbouring Tung Wan Beach is the top choice for those with their hearts set on a mini staycation during the scorching summer months With a refreshment kiosk, changing rooms, and full bathroom facilities, there is everything you need for a full day of beach fun. So, if surfing the waves and catching some rays are your priorities, then Tung Wan and Kwun Yam are the beaches for you.

Festivals

One word to describe Cheung Chau’s annual Bun Festival? Quirky. For the duration of the festival, the whole island (and even the McDonald’s!) goes vegetarian, kids are dressed to resemble ancient Chinese effigies, and people fight for buns—the edible kind. Amidst the vibrant parades, traditional lion dances, and martial arts and operatic performances, twelve contestants will scale a 14-metre-high tower adorned with 9,000 imitation buns as the clock strikes midnight as part of the famous Bun Scrambling Competition

The aim of this rather unusual game is to collect as many buns as possible in three minutes—ideally, those higher up, which are worth more precious points—in pursuit of the title of King of Kings, Queen of Queens, or Full Pockets of Lucky Buns. While the parade and festivities will return in the 2020 edition of the Bun Festival, held on 27 April to 1 May, sadly, the Bun Scrambling Competition has been scrapped.

Definitively more sport-focused than some of Hong Kong’s other rowing events, the Dragon Boat Festival on Cheung Chau is a no-frills affair. Tuck into traditional treats—including zongzi (rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves)—at the Cheung Chau Typhoon Shelter while you watch competing paddlers battle it out on the water on 25 June.

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Restaurants

If some hearty European food is what you're after, then Eggenberg is the perfect place to tuck in. With a friendly team of staff to welcome you through the door, this Austrian-German café, bar, and restaurant have a varied menu to cater for all taste buds. Expect classics including burgers and seafood, alongside speciality German Spiral Sausage and Pork Knuckle. Fancy an in-house tipple? Sip on the exclusive Sexy Cheung Chau cocktail.

With a picturesque view of the ocean from the private terrace and the visual entertainment of those trying their luck at watersports, the Outdoor Café at the Cheung Chau Windsurfing Centre is a tasty place to spend your afternoon. If Western food is what you’re hungering for, then look no further. Fish and seafood are the natural choices when on the island, so check out the range of tapas (starting from $46), and tuck into their international mains (starting from $78). There are, of course, meat and vegetarian options for those who aren’t so keen on treats from the ocean. Oh, and did someone say cocktails?

When you’re ready for a more substantial meal, you need to get yourself straight down to Pak She Praya Road—also known as Seafood Street. Turning left out of the ferry pier, you will come across a bustling selection of harbourside seafood restaurants. Fresh produce is the order of the day, every day, thanks to the local fishermen. For around $100 to $150 per head, your table will be overflowing with scallops, shrimps, clams, rice, and crab. Expect big, round tables, delicious sharing plates, and ice-cold beer as the sun sinks below the horizon.

While you can’t go wrong with any of the alfresco seafood options, head to So Bor Kee, a beloved spot by locals and tourists alike. Another authentic experience can be found two doors down at New Baccarat, which also serves up fresh seafood from their bubbling tanks. The best part? Both So Bor Kee and New Baccarat have bilingual menus, as well as the friendliest staff.

Kwok Kam Kee. Photo credit: @fhoto_fred

If you like your meals served with a side portion of music, then The Pink Pig Music Bar and Restaurant is your perfect match. Blues and acoustic performances by local bands will often be filling the air with music outside, as guests kick back with drinks and delicious dishes such as big bowls of pasta, pulled pork sandwiches, and homemade desserts. Maybe you’ll be encouraged to grab the mic and give your own performance after a glass or two of wine!

Home to the famous ping on bao (peace bun) at the heart of the Bun Festival, Kwok Kam Kee is a must for anyone visiting Cheung Chau. Massive bamboo steamers line the shop, and revellers line the street outside to get their hands on a warm lucky bun. The fluffy white buns are traditionally filled with red bean or lotus seed paste and stamped in red with the Chinese characters for peace (平安). You can’t miss it!

Kam Wing Tai has been serving up fishballs to Cheung Chau natives and tourists alike for over 40 years. Conveniently located just across the ferry pier, you can choose to have your fishballs deep-fried, covered in sauce, or plain cooked in stock. Get a skewer of the legendary deep-fried fishballs along with a cube-shaped option made from tofu.

Heima Heima is a true hidden gem, tucked away on Sai Wan at the far end of the island. You can choose to walk or bike along the scenic harbourfront or catch a sampan to reach this minimalistic Japanese-inspired café. Heima Heima is a one-woman-show in the shape of a young mum serving up delicious Japanese tea, pour-over coffees, and homemade cakes. Take a sip of your tea, and kick back on the tatami amongst the handpicked artisan wall art and shelves of books.

Hipster outpost Valor specialises in hand drip coffee and Instagram-worthy coffee creations. Founded by a young Cheung Chau native, the coffee here is made with a lot of patience: It takes up to eight hours to extract one litre of their signature coffee essence, and another one to two days for the flavour to develop. Every sip should be savoured, so don’t take too long trying to snap the perfect pic of your seashell latte (a precarious but beautiful drink served in a seashell) or coconut ice drip coffee (served in a—you guessed it—whole coconut)! So aesthetic.

Mango mochi. Photo credit: @_c.andre

Still hungry? Cheung Chau is also famous for its iconic street snacks. We can’t think of anything better than a frozen watermelon slice (that’s bigger than your head!) on a hot summer day, or the ever-popular mango mochi filled with an entire quarter slice of mango. You’ll be able to find the huge watermelon slices at stalls right by the ferry pier, then you can explore the many different shops (frontrunners include Ping Kee and Wan Sing) that sell mango mochi as the jury is still out on which shop reigns supreme. It’s the perfect excuse to try them all.

We also love Island Brewery’s trademark Potato Tornados—a two-foot-long stick of deep-fried, spiralled potato goodness doused in your choice of seasoning. You’re out of luck if you want a beer to go with your potato stick though, as Island Brewery doesn’t serve brews, despite its name.

North Lookout Pavilion. Photo credit: @ameliesaunois

Sights

Ahoy me hearties, it’s time to pay a visit to the secret hideout of notorious nineteenth-century pirate Cheung Po Tsai. Apparently inspiring the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End character of Sao Feng (played by none other than Hong Kong favourite Chow Yun-fat), Cheung was a powerful man and commander of many men and ships at the height of his influence—or so the story goes. Down on the southwest part of the island, the rocky hole where Cheung used to store his treasures really comes alive when you share the tale with your friends. One can always hold out for discovering some of his forgotten jewels, right?

Love is in the air in the Love Lock Garden in Cheung Chau. Part of the quaint B&B Cheung Chau Hotel, the garden is a place to express your love and affection for family, friends, and partners. Coloured locks and wooden hearts are sold in the hotel workshop, with locks checking in at $40 and Austrian wooden hearts setting you back a little extra at $120. Decorate as you please, attach your creations to the wall, and Instagram away!

Where better to admire the glistening waters surrounding Cheung Chau than from the highest point of the island? The tiny, picturesque North Lookout Pavilion is the perfect place to kick back, relax, and admire the view. Try your best to time your trip so you can catch the sunset—take our word on this one, you won’t regret it. And if stone formations rock your world, then swing by Reclining Rock after you’ve checked out Cheung Po Tsai Cave. The reclining rock in question looks as though it’s perpetually on the verge of tipping over into the turquoise ocean. A thrilling sight.

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Photo credit: @hoyin.leung.photobucket

Temples

The colourful Kwan Kung Pavilion is less than a 15-minute walk away from the pier. You’ll know you've found it when you spot a decadent incense burner adorned with gold dragons. Discover an eight-foot-tall statue of an ancient Chinese General hidden inside, which was crafted entirely from a single tree. Impressive!

With traditional Chinese lion dogs guarding the entrance, this Grade I historical building was built back in 1783 in honour of Pak Tai, the Taoist God of the Sea. The Pak Tai Temple has contrasting stone walls and colourful roof tiles, and a whole host of treasures and antiques hidden within. A perfect photo spot!

This tiny Tin Hau Temple is thought to be around 200 years old and was built in honour of the Goddess of the Sea. Housed within is a bronze bell which belongs to the Qianlong era of the 18th century. Those embarking upon the Cheung Chau Family Trail can swing by and take a look en route.


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Photo courtesy of Sai Yuen via Facebook


cheung chau warwick hotel
Photo courtesy of Warwick Hotel

Accommodation

Want to have a staycation on Cheung Chau in relative luxury with private sea views? Warwick Hotel remains the first and only hotel on the chilled-out island, with most rooms boasting an amazing vista of the ocean. The six-storey hotel was built in the 1980s and also offers three restaurants and a swimming pool. We love the quirky nautical-themed Caribbean Cabin suite and the all-day dim sum at Bayview Restaurant.

Looking to DIY your stay? The Sai Yuen Farm will help you get back in touch with nature. An outdoor adventure concept on over 11 acres of secluded land, visitors can choose from six different types of camps to suit their needs, as well as join in on activities like a treetop canopy walk, jungle combat archery game, or a drumming workshop. The camping areas are themed, ranging from wild Native American teepees and African safari tents for the ultimate glamper. There’s something for everyone at Sai Yuen, and you can still go for fun (day passes are available at $88 per person) even if you’re not on a camping weekend.

Another staycation option is to rent one of the many holiday homes that line Tung Wan Beach, infamous for its rumoured hauntings. Miami Resort is Cheung Chau’s largest licensed boutique accommodation, offering over 70 rooms catering to couples, families, and groups. Summer rates go from $600 and up for a standard room, so remember to book in advance, or opt for a low-season visit when rates start at only $380.

Fancy staying in a cosy bed and breakfast at a great value? Book a room at B&B Cheung Chau. There are two locations on Cheung Chau, both offering clean rooms, a continental breakfast, and even creative workshops where you can make your own souvenirs!

Photo credit: Nitti Gritti

Shopping

Cheung Chau is a small but vibrant artists hub, featuring many craft boutiques and artist workshops. Nitti Gritti is a small shop that’s only open on weekends and sells a distinctively delightful collection of globally sourced items, including homewares and jewellery. The shop owners handpick every item offered, with the hopes that it’ll make a customer smile. MyArts is a consignment shop for artists selling their crafts with a local flavour. Here, you’ll find adorable earrings shaped like egg tarts and ping on bao, artisanal candles with comforting Hong Kong scents, and old-school, hand-drawn postcards featuring the sights of Cheung Chau. Just remember not all shops on the island are open daily, so be sure to call ahead or check their Facebook pages before making a visit!

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Sophie is always on the lookout for a great story and her next big adventure and loves nothing more than discovering the city’s hidden gems—and most delicious cocktails. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s off travelling and ticking countries off her bucket list.

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