Hong Kong offers any number of wonders, from pork buns to that skyline to beaches, shopping, people-watching and more. But it just takes one Sunday afternoon in Mongkok or a single umbrella-related eye injury in typhoon season to seriously consider getting away.
Hong Kong is actually made up of more than 230 islands (great pub quiz question!), most of them uninhabited. The main outlying islands of Lamma, Cheung Chau and Lantau have great hikes and sightseeing, but they’re still not far enough away.
There are two far-flung (but not too far) islands that show off the diversity of Hong Kong’s history and people – Ap Chau and Kut O. They’re both great places to relax and get away from the city vibe. It’s a great reminder that the glitz and glamour is just a sliver of Hong Kong’s whole.
How to Get to Both Islands
Ferries to Ap Chau (literally translated as Duck Island; the English name is Robinson Island) and Kut O (pronounced Gat O; in English, Crooked Island) leave from either Tai Mei Tuk or Ma Liu Shui, which are in the New Territories and rarely visited by tourists. No worries about that though; both these places are accessible by bike, bus and minibus.
You can choose to be a part of an all-day tour which run from HK$180-580 or to hire a village ferry (bring food!). The fee of is negotiable depending on how long and how many stops. The tours usually include a few other stops as well as lunch. Some focus on the geological aspect of these islands; others just let you wander around. From these piers, it’s usually around 1.5 hours to get to Ap Chau.
Visiting Ap Chau
Tiny Ap Chau was initially settled by missionaries from the True Jesus Church and the fishermen who converted in the mid-20th century. It was also a resting spot for those risking the shark-infested waters to swim over from Shenzen, China. The current year-round population is two fishermen and several dogs, as most of the one-time 4,000-strong population moved on to a few British cities decades ago. Many of the families still come back to their childhood homes throughout the year to enjoy the silence and fishing. There’s not much to do besides walk around the perimeter, which takes about 30 minutes. The walk up to the highest point takes about five minutes and offers great views of the forested islands and, totally incongruously, Shenzen’s gigantic shipping port.
Visiting Kut O
From Ap Chau, it’s a 10-minute boat trip to Kut O, which is the biggest island in this district and still retains a population of several hundred spread across six villages. Kut O houses some of the oldest sights I’ve seen in Hong Kong, including a bell in the Tin Hau Temple from 1736 and several cannons from the same time period. The whole island is much more rundown than Ap Chau, whose village was entirely rebuilt. In Kut O, crumbling houses slump next to shiny village houses, and nature is currently reclaiming a schoolhouse shut in 2006. The island still retains its charm, though, but not its gambling parlors, which filled the ground floors of almost every house and business 50 years ago. If time allows, take the 3-hour hike all around the island, or for a quicker jaunt, scale the 400 stairs, which are just to the left of the pier, to the peak for even more breathtaking views.
And last but certainly not least, both islands have clean public toilets with both squat and standard stalls. Enjoy your trip!
Have you visited either island before? Where else have you ventured off to from Hong Kong?