Under the scotching sun in the summer morning of Dragon Boat Festival (端午節), former villagers and outside visitors gather along the the narrow waterways and mangrove channels of Tai O to take part in the annual Dragon Boat Water Parade and Race. The sleepy and somewhat touristy fishing village once again fills with laughter and rhythmic drum beats, reminding elder villagers how vibrant Tai O fishing village used to be decades ago. Now a popular sporting and recreational event that held in many cities around the world, dragon boat is actually originated right here, from the fishing communities in the Pearl River Delta where Hong Kong is located.
In the old days, young men in fishing communities in the region, like Tai O, would volunteer to join the Dragon Boat Festival. While most would enter the boat race, a small group would participate in the religious parade, in which small statues of local deities are brought out from temples and paraded around the village in decorated dragon boats. The dragon ritual is meant to cast away evil spirits in the village with heavy drum beats, synchronized paddling, and incense smoke. Unlike modern dragon boats made of lightweight materials such as fiberglass or carbon fiber, traditional dragon boats are constructed using teak wood. Each 65-ft boat takes 32 paddlers, 2 drummers, 1 gong striker, and 1 steerer. During the Dragon Boat Festival, modern dragon boat races are held in rivers, beaches and the harbour allover Hong Kong. Yet to get a taste of century-old dragon boat tradition, there is no better place than Tai O, where old rituals are still performed every year.
After an hour of ferry and 40 minutes of bus, we finally arrived at Tai O where the Dragon Boat Water Parade was about to begin at 10am. Organizers were busy putting on the last bits of decorations onto the traditional dragon boats.
Flanked both sides by old stilt houses, the main waterways of Tai O provide the best setting for the dragon boat parade.
Decorated deity boat was always led by a long traditional dragon boat.
The Tai Chung Bridge opened up only in the Dragon Boat Festival for the passing deity boats.
The busy Tai Chung Bridge often serves as the visual focus of the entire fishing village of Tai O.
Despite the annual parade, fishermen were still selling fresh seafood right by the waterfront.
Statues of deity from three different temples were brought out for the parade.
Behind the designated dragon boat, the colourful deity boat was led around the waterway network.
Many paddlers of the traditional dragon boats came from the older generation of the local Tai O villagers.
The river mouth served as the main venue for dragon boat races.
Larger fishing boats served as the base of different racing teams.
It was fun to watch the dragon boat race from the spectator jetty at the waterfront.
All paddlers gave their best effort during the dragon boat race.
One of the most important aspect of dragon boat paddling is the quality of their synchronized movements.
The exciting shouts of loyal supporters offers outside visitors a glimpse of the community spirit of Tai O.
At the end, an award ceremony was held at the spectator area.
While the dragon boat race captivated the hearts of spectators at the river mouth, the deity boats and traditional dragon boats continued to parade around Tai O’s waterways.
At around noontime, the dragon boat parade was coming to an end.
Wooden dragon boats were once again put into storage along the waterways.
Until next year’s Dragon Boat Festival, visitors coming to Tai O can visit the small community museum to learn more about the traditions of dragon boat.
In less than an hour of ferry from the commercial centre of Hong Kong lies the island of Cheung Chau, home to a former fishing community, a legendary pirate treasure trove, dozens of seafood restaurants, and the biggest annual Taoist Dajiao (打醮) festivals in Hong Kong, the Bun Festival (太平清醮). Originated from a series of religious rituals seeking for protection from local deities after a plague broke out in the 19th century, the Bun Festival held annually on Buddha’s Birthday has been simplified and evolved into one of Hong Kong’s most famous intangible cultural heritage events, along with Tai Hang’s Fire Dragon Festival, Tai O Dragon Boat Water Parade, etc.
In 2014, I came to Cheung Chau during the Bun Festival to watch the Bun Snatching Race at night. This time, we arrived at Cheung Chau during the day to watch the afternoon parade. Known as the Parade of Floats (飄色), the parade included a combination of religious statues of deities, lion and qilin (麒麟) dances, and children dressed in costumes raised in mid air.
The parade began at Pak Tai Temple, the patron god of the fishermen community of Cheung Chau.
In the back lanes we chanced upon a workshop making the festival’s fortune bun. The workshop owner suggested the plaza where the parade groups would make a turn as ideal spot to watch the parade.
We met a local lady at the plaza and she kindly found us a chair at the front row sitting right beside her. The first thing that caught our eyes was a qilin dance from one of the street communities on the island.
Basically the parade consisted of groups from different street communities of Cheung Chau.
Small statues of deities were taken out from temples and paraded around the main streets of the island.
Local children were dressed in traditional costumes and gave out souvenirs.
All parading groups were dressed in vivid colours.
Beautiful banners of the festival are taken out once a year.
Known as Parade of Floats (飄色), selected children are dressed in different costumes and raised with hidden metal supports. Along with the ones in traditional costumes, each year some children would dress in costumes related to contemporary trends or current affairs.
This year, two were dressed like the chief executive of Hong Kong, one as Theresa May, one Buddha, one Super Mario, a group of characters from Jin Yong (金庸)’s The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (倚天屠龍記), etc.
A girl dressed in costume related to a historical TV series.
Another girl dressed as the chief executive of Hong Kong.
Two children dressed like a traditional princess.
Another one dressed like Super Mario.
Though the traditional lion dances on bamboo were even more impressive.
Brave lion dancer performed different moves on tall bamboo poles that were controlled and moved by his other teammates on the ground.
Dancing traditional large flags were also fun to watch.
The parade was a mixture of traditional heritage, current affairs, and community groups.
Parade band dressed in yellow and black performed along the street of Cheung Chau.
Inevitably, buns were used as a parade feature.
After the parade, we met the qilin dance group once again in the side street.
Approaching sunset, we returned to the forecourt in front of Pak Tai Temple.
Similar to 2014, there were three big traditional paper figures in the festival ground.
Some of the paper figures were moved to the waterfront for the burning rituals.
By the sea, offerings and lanterns were placed for all wandering ghosts.
At 869m above sea level, Sunset Peak (大東山) on Lantau Island (大嶼山) is the third tallest mountain in Hong Kong. Situated east of Lantau Peak (鳳凰山, 2nd tallest), and west of Lin Fa Shan (蓮花山, 6th tallest) and Yi Tung Shan (二東山, 7th tallest), Sunset Peak is at the centre of the mountainous area on the island. Sunset Peak is very popular with hikers in the autumn, when much of the mountain would be covered with golden miscanthus, or silver grass. Other than the golden grass, the mysterious stone cabins dated to the 1920’s near the summit area between Yi Tung shan and Sunset Peak also draw the attention of visitors. Probably built by foreign missionary in Southern China who came to Lantau for the annual summer retreat, the two dozen or so stone cabins known as Lantau Mountain Camp (爛頭營) reveal the once thriving retreat community on the remote mountain on Lantau.
There are numerous ways to hike up Sunset Peak. We chose to begin our walk from Nam Shan (南山) Campsite near Mui Wo (梅窩). The trail gradually went upwards with uneven stone steps.
The miscanthus, or silver grass (芒草), started to dominate the landscape at half way up the mountain. Soon we were embraced by fog. The higher we went, the foggier it became.
It became quite wet and misty as we approached Yi Tung Shan (二東山).
On the route from Yi Tung Shan (二東山) to Sunset Peak (大東山), the stone cabins known as Lantau Mountain Camp (爛頭營) emerged from the fog. In the fog, it was difficult to tell how many stone cabins were actually there.
Silver grass (芒草) was so dense in the summit area. We followed some of the narrow paths in the sea of grass to reach a few of the stone cabins.
Some said the stone cabins were summer retreat camps of foreigners who lived in Southern China. Originally built in 1925, the cabins were damaged during the Second War World and were subsequently repaired after the war.
After the war, the stone cabins were managed by missionary organizations and the Lantau Mountain Camp Resident’s Associations. These historical cabins are now under a new threat from the overwhelming numbers of visitors and campers who would climb on the roof for photos or leave behind piles of rubbish.
On Sunset Peak, third tallest mountain in Hong Kong, there were no golden sunset as the name suggested. Instead, it was a unique imagery of autumn fog, silver grass and historical stone cabins.
Surrounded by the taller-than-human silver grass (芒草), it was easy to lose one’s bearings and walk in circles.
Time was getting late. We decided to move on the trail downhill towards Pak Kung Au (伯公坳), the mountain pass between Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak.
From then on it was all uneven steps downwards.
It was a tiring descend until our legs started to shake a bit from time to time.
The sky was dark and we could briefly see the coastline of Cheung Sha Beach.
The downhill walk was dominated by the view of Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) to the west.
A little sun break as we went for the final descend to Pak Kung Au (伯公坳).
Despite the sun break, the summit of Lantau Peak was still concealed in thick clouds.
Bidding farewell to the Sunset Peak, we passed by the last patch of silver grass (芒草) near Pak Kung Au (伯公坳). At Pak Kung Au, it wasn’t easy to get on a bus as most were already full. After a few packed one, we managed to hop on a bus heading to Tung Chung (東涌).
May 4, 2017 | Categories: Hong Kong, Outlying Islands | Tags: 爛頭營, 芒草, fog, Hong Kong, island, Lantau, Lantau Mountain Camp Residents Association, miscanthus, mist, Nam Shan, Pak Kung Au, Peak, silver grass, sunset, 南山, 大嶼山, 大東山, 伯公坳 | Leave a comment
Prior to the opening of Tsing Ma Bridge in 1997 and the MTR Lantau Line in 1998, the busy ferry pier of Mui Wo (梅窩) was one of the only two gateways to Lantau Island (大嶼山) from the city centre. Before the establishment of Disneyland, Tian Tan Buddha, and Ngong Ping tourist area on the island, the resort hotels and bike rental shops at Mui Wo’s Silvermine Beach (銀礦灣) offered one of the island’s most popular getaway experience during weekends. Those days were long gone. Today, the MTR brings most Lantau visitors to the new town of Tung Chung (東涌). In comparison, Mui Wo is much more laid back and sparsely populated. In fact, for hundreds of years Mui Wo had always been an isolated rural area until 1950 when the pier was established, receiving first boats from Cheung Chau (長洲) and then soon from Central (中環). Today, Mui Wo has returned to its peaceful old self, and its charm lies exactly in its sleepy ambience.
Sandwiched between the foot of Sunset Peak (大東山) to the west and Silvermine Beach to the east, the area of Mui Wo hosts half a dozen or so rural villages. Near the village of Pak Ngan Heung (白銀鄉), or White Silver Country, few tourists would venture this far inland from the beach and pier to visit the Silvermine Waterfalls and the nearby Silvermine Cave, where silver mining operated briefly from 1886 to 1898. South of Mui Wo, a narrow seaside trail connects to another sleep rural area at Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣). A short hike westwards from Chi Ma Wan would take visitors to the popular beach of Pui O (貝澳), where visitors of all ages come and dig into the wet sand in search of edible clams. Seeing bucket after bucket of clams have been taken in one Saturday afternoon made me wonder if there would be any left for the next weekend.
From Mui Wo town centre, a footbridge leads visitors into the farming villages at the foot of Sunset Peak. A small shrine dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, is set up right by the bridge.
Organic farming in Mui Wo have been gaining popularity in recent years.
Many farms in the area, like this one in Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘), are small in scale and offer prearranged interpretative tours or family activities.
On our way into Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘), a small cat greeted us at the village’s entrance.
Another delightful feature at the path leading to Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘) was a row of vivid flags.
Back against the lush green slope of Sunset Peak (大東山), Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘) is a quiet farming village with a dramatic setting.
Originally there were six guard towers in the area of Mui Wo. Today only two remain intact and standing. Built in the early 1940’s, the Luk Tei Tong Guard Tower (鹿地塘更樓) is one of them. In the old days, these guard towers were used to defend against pirates.
Chinese New Year has just past. Celebratory banners still remain on the doors and walls of village homes.
Despite prohibited by law, the loud noise of firecrackers can still be heard in some rural areas in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year.
Other than traditional firecrackers, modern ornaments and lights are also used to decorate the small courtyard in front of a ancestral hall in Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘).
Somehow these colourful incandescent bulbs in Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘) reveal a sense of nostalgia.
From Heading north from Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘), we soon reached the Mui Wo Primary School. Founded in 1939, the Mui Wo Primary School is located in the village of Tai Tei Tong (大地塘). Throughout the years, the school had gone through a few phases of expansion.
Continued north from Tai Tei Tong (大地塘) would lead to Pak Ngan Heung (白銀鄉), or White Silver Country, the village close to the former silver mine.
Just a few minutes walk from Pak Ngan Heung (白銀鄉) leads to Silvermine Waterfall (銀鑛瀑布), a natural feature popular with visitors.
The once busy Silvermine Bay Beach has became relatively quiet as visitors to Mui Wo declined significantly after the opening of Tsing Ma Bridge and MTR Lantau Line.
The Silvermine Bay Resort Hotel has became a collective memory for many.
Silver River (銀河) flows through the central area of Mui Wo and enters the sea at Silvermine Bay.
Walking along the coastal trail from Mui Wo Ferry Pier Road would bring one to Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣), a serene coastal area south of Mui Wo.
During the hike, I was the only visitor on the trail, except the flying crows.
Feral buffalo is a common sight on Lantau Island.
Walking inland westwards from Chi Ma Wan, one would arrive in the old village of Shap Long(十塱)
There is hardly any other visitos in Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣)
Before reaching Pui O (貝澳), the path wind along a series of curving slopes.
At the beach of Pui O (貝澳), some enjoy swimming in the sea, while others are busy digging the sand for clams.
Pui O Beach was shaped by the water of South China Sea and the river streams.
The persistent clam diggers dig the sand of Pui O till the last twilight fades.
April 19, 2017 | Categories: Hong Kong, Outlying Islands | Tags: beach, buffalo, Chi Ma Wan, cow, 白銀鄉, 銀鑛瀑布, 銀鑛灣, 銀河, 芝麻灣, Hong Kong, island, Lantau, Mui Wo, Pak Ngan Heung, Shap Long, Silver Mine Bay, Silvermine, Silvermine Bay Resort Hotel, Tai Tei Tong, waterfall, 十塱, 大地塘, 大嶼山, 梅窩 | Leave a comment
Not a particular fine day in Mid-December, but our souls yearned for a brief departure from the crowded streets and densely built-up neighborhoods of Central Hong Kong. We picked the Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) on Lantau Island. At 934m above sea level, Lantau Peak is the second highest peak in Hong Kong, and we expected there would be a considerable amount of steps to climb. After less than an hour of ferry and a bus ride, we arrived at the trailhead at Pak Kung Au (伯公坳). Known as Section 3 of the Lantau Trail (鳳凰徑), the 5.5km hike from Pak Kung Au up to Lantau Peak and then down to the Big Buddha of Ngong Ping would take about 4 hours.
With our back facing Hong Kong’s 3rd highest peak, the Sunset Peak (大東山, 869m), we followed the signs to begin the climb of Lantau Peak.
The climb took us less than two hours, on a mostly exposed mountain trail winding on mountain ridges until reaching the final portion of the hike which was largely uneven steps.
Camellia (茶花) is quite a common sight when hiking in during the winter months in Hong Kong.
The air of Hong Kong during the winter months could be quite hazy.
On our way up, despite the haze and smog from China, we could still faintly see the beaches, Tung Chung New Town and Hong Kong International Airport below.
The steps seemed never ended, but we pushed ourselves to go for the final assault for the summit.
The air was much cooler as we approached the last bit of the uphill climb.
The mountainous landscape down below was quite scenic.
Up on the summit it was foggy, windy and cool.
At the top platform, there was a simple shelter for wind protection, a wooden plague stating the height of the mountain, and lots of visitors taking pictures.
The wooden plague stating the summit of Lantau Peak at 934m.
It was windy up there and we didn’t stay for long on the summit.
The downhill hike towards Ngong Ping (昂坪) was uneven steps all the way down. Facing Shek Pik Reservoir (石壁水塘) in a distance, we took our time for the descend.
The stepped trail then switched north towards Ngong Ping. We could recognize the silhouette of Tian Tan Buddha (天壇大佛), Po Lin Buddhist Monastery (寶蓮禪寺), and the sea beyond where construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge was almost completed.
Although we could see our destination, there was still quite a long way of steep steps to go before reaching Ngong Ping.
The Buddha was getting bigger as we gradually walked closer to Ngong Ping.
Reaching the gateway of “Sunrise on Lantau Peak” signified that we had reached Ngong Ping.
After about 3 hours on the trail and just a stone throw away from Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, we reached a unique landscape feature known as the Wisdom Path (心經簡林).
The Wisdom Path is consisted of large wooden columns set up in the pattern of an infinity symbol (8). On each column, text from the Heart Sutra (心經) or Mahayana Sutraare inscribed onto the wood.
Finally we reached Tian Tan Buddha. Up on the upper platform where the Buddha sat, here were six angle-like statues handing offerings to the Buddha known as “The Offering of the Six Devas”.
Installed in 1993, Tian Tan Buddha (天壇大佛) is a large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni.
Below the Buddha, Ngong Ping (昂坪) has been developed by the government as a tourist corridor with retail, restaurants, and entertainment businesses. We didn’t check out any of the shops. All we wanted was to catch a bus for Tung Chung, where where we could switch to the MTR (Hong Kong’s reliable metro system) for our journey home.
April 11, 2017 | Categories: Hong Kong, Outlying Islands | Tags: Buddha, 石壁水塘, 鳳凰山, hike, Hong Kong, island, Lantau, mountain, Ngong Ping, Pak Kung Au, Peak, Po Lin, Shek Pik, Sunset Peak, Trail, 大嶼山, 大東山, 天壇大佛, 昂坪, 伯公坳 | Leave a comment
While remote Fan Lau (分流) is the westernmost village in Hong Kong, Po Toi Island (蒲台島) is its counterpart at the southernmost point of the territory. From 2000 inhabitants in the 1950’s down to about 10 today, like many rural communities in the city, Po Toi Island has gone through a rapid decline in population in the modern era. The remote island with a population of merely 10 would become lively during weekends when a few boat loads of visitors arrive at the dock. Beautiful granite formations, ancient stone carving, a lone lighthouse, a few simple houses, several fishing boats and nets, and racks of drying seafood and seaweeds, Po Toi Island is a peaceful getaway less than an hour ferry from either Aberdeen (香港仔) or Stanley (赤柱). A day before Chinese New Year in a fine Sunday morning, we decided to take the 8:15 ferry, the only scheduled departure of the day, from Aberdeen to Po Toi.
There are either one to two ferries on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from Aberdeen going to Po Toi Island. On Sunday, there are more Po Toi bound ferries departing from Stanley. For us, we opted for Aberdeen because of the unique scenery of its famous typhoon shelter, the home of Aberdeen Floating Village (香港仔水上人家). There were once over 6000 inhabitants living on the boats in Aberdeen, one of the most significant port in Hong Kong since the 19th century.
Today there are still a number of boat villagers staying, and so as their fleet of fishing boats, seafood stalls, floating restaurants, and the seafood wholesale business, etc. At 7:30am on a Chinese New Year’s Eve, local residents were busy shopping for seafood from the fishermen at Aberdeen Waterfront Promenade. On such an important day of the year, their seafood would be sold out in less than an hour.
Decorations for the Chinese New Year could be seen at piers and boats along the promenade.
Under the soft morning sun, colourful boats of all sizes crisscrossed the waterways among the boats parked between Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau Island. The Ap Lei Chau Island sheltered Aberdeen from the wind and waves of the open sea, making Aberdeen Channel one of the best typhoon shelter in Hong Kong.
Despite most fishermen have moved onto apartments in Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau, the scenery of Aberdeen is still dominated the channel and typhoon shelter.
The open waterway in the middle of Aberdeen Channel was like a water highway to us.
Our ferry also passed by one of the famous floating seafood restaurants in Aberdeen.
And we also passed by the Ocean Park, the iconic ocean-themed amusement park and aquarium.
From a distance, we also recognized the beautiful Repulse Bay.
Our ferry finally docked at Po Toi’s pier at Tai Wan (大灣). There weren’t that many visitors around. We only shared the island with a handful of tourists and the remaining Po Toi inhabitants.
Po Toi remains as a remote, sleepy and simple fishing village. From the pier, we walked for a few minutes to reach the main beach in the middle of Tai Wan (大灣). There was a seafood restaurant called Ming Kee, probably the only seafood restaurant on the island.
Dried seafood (fish, squid, and even octopus) were common sights.
There were racks on the main beach Tai Wan (大灣) where villagers dried their fishing nets and other fishing equipment.
Some houses on Po Toi were colourfully painted, presenting a great match to the bright blue sky.
On the other end of Tai Wan (大灣) stood an old Tin Hau Temple, dedicated to the sea goddess of Tin Hau for protecting the fishermen at the sea.
Inside the temple, we saw a number of decorations related to the fishing culture of Po Toi, such as the wooden model of a dragon boat.
Adjacent to the Tin Hau Temple, we followed the metal chain up the granite hill to start our day hike.
On two thirds the way up we could clearly see the magnificent scenery of Tai Wan (大灣) and the public pier below.
Looking south we saw Lighthouse no. 126 and the southern tip of the island.
We leisurely walked down the hill in the direction of the lighthouse.
On our way we passed by some graves facing the sea, quite a scenic resting place for the departed.
Atop another hill we encountered a well known attraction on Po Toi. Known as the Monk Rock, this rock formation resembled a Buddhist monk when viewed from afar.
A few tents were set up near Lighthouse No. 126. Po Toi is a popular spot for camping. Far from the city’s light pollution, those who brave for the night here get a chance to admire and photographing the starry night sky.
We finally reached the No. 126 Lighthouse, a simple white washed structure perched on top of granite rocks, overlooking the southern shore and the vast South China Sea.
Reaching the No. 126 Lighthouse at the southernmost point of Hong Kong overlooking the boundless water in a day of very fine weather was emotional and satisfying.
We then moved on to the real southern tip of the island. The South China Sea looked surprisingly busy with cargo ships.
Heading back towards the pier, we reached another attraction of Po Toi, the interesting rock formation with large vertical stone strips known as the Buddhist Palm.
More graves appeared as we walked closer to the village. Like grey boulders, the tombstones looked quite blended in with the overall natural setting.
There are a number of ancient stone carvings in Hong Kong and its outlying islands. There is a mysterious one on Po Toi, simply known as Po Toi Island Stone Carvings (蒲台島石刻).
Back to the village, we decided to sit down at Ming Kee (明記海鮮酒家), the only seafood restaurant on the island.
We just ordered their set lunch with shrimps, squid, small abalone, sweet and sour pork and stir fry vegetables.
After lunch, we wandered along the beach at Tai Wan (大灣).
Po Toi is the most famous spot in Hong Kong for seaweed and kelp. We could clearly see the seaweed above the water.
There were drying kelp and seaweed allover the tiny village. We couldn’t resist but bought a few packs.
A dog lying beside the rack as if guarding the drying kelp.
Before leaving the island, we sat down at one of the simple snack shops and ordered the kelp and green bean soup (海帶綠豆沙), a sweet delight full of aroma of seaweed and herbs that every visitor should try a bowl.
March 24, 2017 | Categories: Hong Kong, Outlying Islands | Tags: Aberdeen, beach, 蒲台島, ferry, fishing, hiking, Hong Kong, island, kelp, lighthouse, Po Toi, sea, seafood, seaweed, Trail, village | Leave a comment
The trail from Fan Lau to Yi O was less well maintained than the path we walked in the morning. It took us about 40 minutes to walk from Fan Lau Sai Wan (分流西灣) to the farming village of Yi O (二澳). This was our second visit of Yi O. A little over two years ago, we came to Yi O and found a beautiful valley where a few farmers trying hard to reintroduce rice farming back to Lantau Island. Yi O, a farming village with over two hundred years of history and over a thousand villagers in its heyday, became an abandoned village in the 1970s when the last of its inhabitants moved out to the city. In 2013, a farming cooperative secured a 30-year lease after negotiations with the original four clans of villagers to re-cultivate the land of Yi-O for organic rice paddies. Since then more lands were cultivated and more helpers were hired each year. Over 10% of Yi-O’s land had been worked on to develop the farm-to-table business. In the past, growing rice in a constantly lightly flooded plot in front of village homes was a self-sustainable way of living for Yi-O inhabitants. Nowadays, the cooperative tried to revive this method, but were still experimenting with more efficient ways to yield more crops. Under the late afternoon sun, the golden rice paddies revealed a lovely rural dream. In the era of enormous concerns regarding food safety, the farming experiment of Yi-O might prove crucial for Hong Kong to reduce some degree of reliance on food imports.
Yi O lies in the embrace of lush-green mountains from both sides.
The golden rice paddies looked promising. Perhaps it was almost harvest time for these fields. Because of its small output, it isn’t easy to buy a bag of rice from Yi O. The farming cooperative has a small shop in Tai O to promote their products.
We found our way to the main path in the middle of Yi O, and continued to walk north towards Yi O Bay.
Winding through the village of Yi O, we could still encounter a number of abandoned homes and construction equipment.
The sun was low and so as the tide when we reached Yi O Bay. The tidal flat is the ideal place for mangrove trees to thrive.
As we left Yi O Bay and headed towards Tai O, a few dogs came the opposite direction towards Yi O. One by one the dogs walked across the mudflat and disappear into the village of Yi O.
The mudflat of Yi O Bay faces north towards Pearl River Estuary.
Reflection of the western sun and distant mountains and the incoming tidal water on the mudflat of Yi O Bay was quite picturesque.
The sun was fading fast behind the silhouette of mountains adjacent to Yi O.
The flag of Yi O flew high at a nearby concrete pier.
Despite the hazy weather, the sunset over Pearl River Estuary was quite spectacular.
About an hour after we left Yi O, we arrived at the small village of Fan Kwai Tong (番鬼塘), across the bay from Tai O.
We walked across the Tai O Promenade from Fan Kwai Tong (番鬼塘) to Tai O (大澳). The tide was coming in as the last twilight faded.
In early evening, the popular Tai O wasn’t as busy as we thought. Without the tourist groups, it was our first time to experience the charm of Tai O as a tranquil fishing village but not a busy tourist trap with vendors trying to sell you all kinds of souvenirs and snacks.
Without the tourists, we could leisurely admire the beauty of the fishing community. After a long day of hike, we decided to have dinner in Tai O before returning to the city centre.
As we entered Tai O, vendors selling dried seafood to tourists were about to close their stalls.
We soon reached the iconic suspended bridge of Tai O. The festive lights from the Chinese New Year were still up.
We crossed the suspended bridge to enter the main part of the fishing village.
Without the noise from tourists, Tai O was quite peaceful. Many inhabitants were preparing dinner in their stilt houses.
We passed by an interesting shrine dedicated to the deity of the local land.
Tai O Community Centre is the main venue for cultural activities at the fishing village.
We passed by a number of shrimp paste shops and manufacturers, an industry that Tai O has been famous for many generations. Many of the shops were already closed for the day.
After wandering through Tai O, we ended up at Tai O Heritage Hotel. The hotel was established in 2009, after extensive renovations were carried out for the historical police station built in 1902. We dined at the glass roofed restaurant Tai O Lookout in the hotel. The food was nothing spectacular but the historical setting of the complex and the airy atmosphere of the glassy building offered us a pleasant experience to finish the day.
After dinner, we strolled through the village once again heading for the bus station at the village entrance.
The tide was much higher than an hour or two ago, and so as the moon.
All the stores near the bus station were closed. We waited for about ten minutes before boarding a Lantau bus for Tung Chung at North Lantau, where we would switch to the MTR, Hong Kong’s super efficient metro system, to return home.
At the southwest tip of Lantau Island, the Fan Lau Peninsula (分流) extends out into the Pearl River Estuary, with its northwest facing the slightly brown water of Pearl River and its southeast to South China Sea’s pristine blue. Only accessible on foot, at this westernmost corner of Hong Kong, deserted beaches and abandoned village homes of Fan Lau reminisce some of the city’s long lost memories. The pleasant and relatively flat 6-hour hike to Fan Lau has been on our wish list for quite some time. Known as the Lantau Trail Section 8, the first part of the trail brought us onto a coastal trail, where open views of the South China Sea dominated the horizon, with the hazy silhouette of Lantau Peak or Fung Wong Shan (鳳凰山) behind us in a distance. In the trail’s second part we made a detour onto the Fan Lau Peninsula to visit its various attractions. Then we followed the Lantau Trail Section 7 north to Yi O and then Tai O, our final destination of the day.
In a sunny but hazy winter Saturday morning, we took the ferry from Central to Pui Wo of Lantau Island. On our way to the Central Pier, we passed by Lung Wo Road where the annual Hong Kong Marathon was taking place. After arriving at Mui Wo of Lantau Island, we boarded a local bus for Shek Pik (石壁) Reservoir to reach the trailhead.
The first half hour or so we walked along a storm-water channel right by the mountain foot.
With the day’s heavy hazy, we could only barely see the silhouette of Lantau Peak or Fung Wong Shan (鳳凰山) behind us.
In less than an hour from trailhead, we made a short detour out to a peninsula near Kau Ling Chung (狗嶺涌) to check out the South Obelisk (嶼南界碑). The small obelisk was erected by the British in 1902 to mark the southern boundary of Lantau Island.
The hilltop of the South Obelisk offered us a good view of the beaches of Kau Ling Chung (狗嶺涌) and Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣) further afield. We followed a path down to the campsite and beach of Kau Ling Chung, and walked further southwest towards the tip of Fan Lau Peninsula.
The coastal path up and down the peninsula took us closer to Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣).
We finally reached the main beach of Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣), and were delighted to find the colourful rocks on the sand.
Unfortunately, other than rocks we could also find a never-ending blanket of rubbish on the beach.
From the main beach, there was a small path that led to Chan’s Store, one of few houses in Fan Lau Village that were still occupied. In fact, according to South China Morning Post, the owner of the store could well be the only resident left in the village.
Many houses in the area were already overtaken by vegetation.
The village was mostly desert, except for Chan’s Store. We picked up a can of soft drink and rested for a few minutes.
From Chan’s Store, we returned to the beach of Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣). At the end of the beach we exited the beach into a narrow uphill path. A peculiar rock (石筍) stood atop the hill overlooking the beach, just a few minutes before we reached the remnant of the old Fan Lau Fort (分流炮台).
Built in 1729 by the Qing government, the fort was abandoned in 1898 when the British were granted the lease of the New Territories. It was originally built to defend the coastal area from pirates.
Also on the Fan Lau Peninsula was a mysterious stone circle. Archaeologists believe that the circle was arranged for ceremonial purposes during the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
Leaving Peninsula behind, we stumbled upon a small beach called Fan Lau Miu Wan (分流廟灣), where a Tin Hau Temple was built. The temple was probably erected in 1820.
There wasn’t anyone in the temple when we entered. The neat altar and fresh offerings on the counter suggested the temple, though remote, was under well maintenance.
In the temple’s anteroom there was a traditional bed with slippers and shoes on display. Maybe that chamber was some sort of representation of the home of the deity?
In another small chamber there were old stone plagues dated from late Qing Dynasty, Nationalist era, to just a few years ago. Each plague recorded a major renovation of the temple and the names of donors (mainly from individuals and business around West Lantau. There were also two wooden boat models on display.
After checking out the temple, we stepped back onto the Fan Lau Country Trail. Some parts of the trail was dominated by taller-than-human silver grass.
As we left the tip of Fan Lau Peninsula behind, Fan Lau Country Trail led us back to the main path of Lantau Trail Section 7, where we once again encountered the former settlement of Fan Lau Village (分流村).
At this westernmost area of Hong Kong, Fan Lau Village once housed 200 people, but now there could be only one inhabitant left (owner of Chan’s Store). We passed by plenty of abandoned houses in various state of crumbling.
One of the highlight in the village was the former Fan Lau School.
There was only one room in the building. The blackboard was still on the wall. There was a photography show by artist Lily Leung on display in the building. Her works depicted a strong sense of nostalgia of the nearly abandoned Fan Lau.
Many old utensils were left behind in the village, including a stone grinder below a banyan tree.
In most of the abandoned houses, there was a mezzanine floor. Large ceramic containers were also common.
The wooden roofs of many village homes crumbled, while walls were taken over by vegetation.
One of the most impressive building in Fan Lau Village was undoubtedly the ancestral hall. Some travelers set up a tent right in front of the former ancestral hall.
Some village houses revealed unique preferences of the former residences.
Glass details of the old windows revealed the age. These glass windows were popular decades ago, but is now a rarity.
Before leaving Fan Lau Village, we passed by another iconic structure from the village’s heyday, a chimney structure right by the Fan Lau Sai Wan (分流西灣). After the village, we continued on our hike on Lantau Trail Section 7 northwards to Yi O.
March 18, 2017 | Categories: Hong Kong, Outlying Islands | Tags: abandoned, 狗嶺涌, Fan Lau, Fan Lau Miu Wan, Fan Lau Sai Wan, Fan Lau Tung Wan, fort, ghost village, Hong Kong, island, Kau Ling Chung, Lantau, Lantau South Country Park, marathon, ruins, Shek Pik, South Obelisk, stone circle, Tin Hau, 分流, 分流西灣, 分流廟灣, 分流村, 分流東灣 | Leave a comment
Tung Ping Chau (東平洲) lies at the northeastern-most corner of Hong Kong’s territory. The island is much closer to Mainland China than to Mainland Hong Kong. Long before the island was included in the Hong Kong Global Geopark in 2009, foe decades Tung Ping Chau had been a popular destination for visitors who came to see the island’s unique rock formations and wave cut platforms. Tung Ping Chau was once home to over three thousand inhabitants, and also infamously a . Its population went through a continuous decline in recent decades. Today less than ten islanders called Tung Ping Chau their home. Most people come to the island as tourists on Saturday and Sunday, when the island is served with a daily ferry departing from Ma Liu Shui pier at around 9:00 am. The ridge of Pat Sin Leng (八仙嶺) and the dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖) lie right in front as we left Ma Liu Shui Pier (馬料水) behind venturing out into Tolo Channel from Tolo Harbour. After an hour and fifteen minute of boat ride, we finally arrived at the pier of Tung Ping Chau. Immediately we were captivated by the pristine clear water. Unlike other volcanic islands of Hong Kong, Tung Ping Chau is made of sedimentary rocks. Apart than geology, Tung Ping Chau is also renounced for its coastal ecology. In 2001, the sea surrounding the island has been designated as the fourth Marine Park (conservation area) in the city, a marine conservation area. Some surviving village homes are used for guesthouses and eateries serving visitors who land on the island every weekend. Local delicacies of Tung Ping Chau include squid with salt and pepper, and sea urchin fried rice. Drying cuttlefish. Rock formation in Tung Ping Chau is unique down to the smallest details, much owe to erosion caused by the sea waves. Crabs of various sizes are common on the island, especially in the tidal pools. These tidal pools are completely cut off from the sea during low tide. Wandering in the rocky coastal areas on Tung Ping Chau was a surreal experience. In many cases, the force of sea waves can be clearly visible from the rocks. Wave-cut platforms. Amazing triangular wave-cut platforms. Some of the rock cuts look so perfect as if they were carved with a knife and ruler. The layering of sedimentary rocks can be clearly seen. Clear water, splendid seashells, fine sand, and charming afternoon sun. Close-up of a coral head on the beach. As we waited for the returning ferry, we saw a man sat on the rock contemplating the industrial facilities of Mainland China.
A popular 2.5 hour hike on Lantau Island brought us back to Tai O again. This time, we started our hike from Tung Chung (東涌), across Tung Chung Bay from the busy International Airport of Hong Kong. The Tung-O Trail winds through the northwest coastline of Lantau Island, overlooking the water of Pearl River Mouth where the construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is still ongoing. We reached Tai O in late afternoon when sunlight cast an orange glow on everything from drying shrimp paste to mangrove bushes. Descending airplane above the Pearl River Mouth was a common sight happened every few minutes along the Tung-O Trail. Construction work of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is visible throughout the first part of the hike. Part of the 50km network of tunnels and bridges that will ultimately connect the three cities, work on the Hong Kong section has been falling behind schedule. Roof detail of a small shrine near Tai O. Flowers and wooden terraces overlooking the water welcomed us as we arrived at Hong Kong’s most famous fishing village Tai O once again. Dried fish is a local favorite and a popular souvenir for visitors. Dried lime and tangerine skins are handy for a number of uses in Chinese cuisine. Western herbs such as rosemary also made their way into some villagers’ garden terraces in Tai O. But the most iconic product from Tai O is undoubtedly shrimp paste. For generations, the shrimp paste industry had been providing a rich source of income for the fishermen in Tai O. Drying shrimp paste bricks However, the industry of Tai O shrimp paste manufacturing has been shrinking rapidly in recent years, from 10 factories in the 1960s down to 2 remaining today. Since banning trawling fishing in Hong Kong, much of the shrimp fishing industry has shifted to other coastal cities in Guangdong. As a result, the majority of the shrimp paste industry has been moved to China as well. In most occasions, buckets of shrimp paste from China are shipped back to Tai O for the final process of the production. Incoming tide and the mangrove trees A fire broke out in 2000 burnt down a large number of the original timber stilt houses. New stilt houses have been rebuilt using metal sheets. Despite the recent decade’s of transformations, the sleepy ambiance of Tai O remains unchanged, especially in comparison to the intense urbanity of many other places in Hong Kong.
> Link to TAI O, Hong Kong Part 1
Remotely situated at the west side of Lautau Island, Tai O is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hong Kong. Despite touristy, Tai O’s iconic stilt houses, shrimp paste factories, pristine wetlands, and its sense of rural community remind us of what Hong Kong used to look like a few centuries ago where the territory’s coastline was dotted with numerous fishing villages. Located at a coastal wetland where shrimps, mudskippers and mangrove forests once ruled, Tai O reveals a delicate balance among humans, coastal wildlife and the mangrove forests. Unfortunately, due to urban development, much of Hong Kong’s precious wetlands are either in danger or completely gone.
> Link to Tai O, Hong Kong Part 2
The Buddha’s Birthday on the 6th of May was a public holiday in Hong Kong. It also marked the final day of the 2014 Cheung Chau Bun Festival. On this day, the festival highlights included the Parade of “Floating Colours” in the afternoon, followed by the ghost rituals in the evening, and the bun-snatching race at midnight. I arrived at Cheung Chau at around 6:30pm. The first thing I saw was the enormous crowd lining up at the pier, who were waiting for the city-bound ferry after watching the afternoon parade. That evening I stayed on the island for about 6 hours, in which 4.5 hours were spent in queue for the bun-snatching race that lasted for only 3 minutes. Luckily, before I was trapped in the queue, I did stumble upon the interesting ghost rituals at the waterfront.
The bun-snatching race has always been considered the climax of the Bun Festival. Originally the race was restricted to the communities of Cheung Chau. Over a hundred participants would race up one of the three bun mounts to snatch as many buns as they could from as high up as possible. Each bun they gathered represented good fortune; the higher they reached to the top, the better the fortune gained for the community. In 1978, a bun mount collapsed during the race and injured many. The event was consequently banned until a much-modified version reemerged in 2005.
Before the bun-snatching race was reintroduced in 2005, a popular HK-produced animated film in 2001, My Life as McDull, uses the bun-snatching race as one of the central themes to reflect on HK’s collective memories and spirit. My Life as McDull depicts the pure and simple life of a piglet character named McDull in Hong Kong. In the film, McDull constantly fails to achieve his goals but he never gives up trying and dreaming. Inspired by Olympic gold medalist Lee Lai Shan, one of McDull’s dream is to participate in the Olympics, and his chosen sport is the bun-snatching race. The story portrays how McDull trains hard to master bun-snatching techniques, and also illustrates how his mother writes to the IOC with her limited English asking them to consider bun-snatching as an official sport. Many considered the popularity of McDull as the main driving force behind the government’s decision to revive the bun-snatching race after a 26-year ban.
Unlike the community-based event prior to 1978, the reintroduced bun-snatching race since 2005 has been a government-run event aimed for tourism. From the first glance, the new event resembles a rock-climbing competition contested by well-trained climbers, many of which are actually police or firefighter from other parts of the city. The original three bun mounts have been reduced to one, and the number of participants has been cut down to a dozen. Steel replaces bamboo for the mount structure, and plastic buns substitute the traditional fresh home-made buns. To many, the biggest drawback of the reinvented event is the fact that the race is no longer a community event of Cheung Chau, but a commercialized tourist spectacle emphasized on showmanship, sponsorship and order. No wonder the biggest criticism has come from nowhere else but Cheung Chau, where many saw the new race a poor appropriation and a pillage of their own heritage.
Lion dance went from one shop to another to chase off evil spirit and welcome good fortune.Long lineups at the ferry pier waiting for the city-bound ferry services.Worshipers at the waterfront performed rituals dedicated to the ghosts.Lanterns, incenses and snacks dedicated to the lost spirits were neatly placed at the waterfront.The three traditional bamboo-supported bun mounts were erected for display only.The steel-supported bun mount at the centre stage was equipped with climbing ropes and safety mats.The bun snatching race was at the mercy of the unpredictable weather.Despite the long wait and great anticipation, the actual race lasted for only three minutes. It was like a performance on stage which lacked the spirit of the actual community.
Held every year in the fourth month of the lunar calendar, Cheung Chau’s Bun Festival, or “Tai Ping Ching Chiu” in Cantonese, is comprised of a series of Chinese religious rituals, a massive street parade, and a bun-snatching race. I never got a chance to experience the Bun Festival in person; but the old photographs of the bun-snatching race, in which dozens of strong men climbing madly up to the top of a multi-storey high bun mount collecting the white buns, have captured my attention since I was a child. Unfortunately, due to an accident in 1978 the race was banned before I was even born. In 2005, the government reintroduced a new bun-snatching event known as the Bun-Snatching Carnival, and has since then promoting it as the regional cultural event in Hong Kong.
Dated back to the 18th century, the Bun Festival is a religious event dedicated to the Taoist deity of Pak Tai, whose power was credited for stopping a devastating plague and chasing off evil spirits. Every year the forecourt of Cheung Chau’s Pak Tai Temple is transformed into the main festival ground, where gigantic bun mounts are displayed, a temporary stage for Chinese opera is set up, and a bamboo shelter is erected to house three huge papier mâché deities. On the weekend before this year’s bun-snatching festival, Cheung Chau was already packed with visitors who came to check out the preparation of the festival, the bun mounts, lion dances, Chinese opera performances and other religious rituals that officially kick-start the festival.
Traditional lucky wheels, the popular merchandises at the festival ground.Community groups were busy setting up the bun mount displays.There were many actions around and a group of men unexpectedly running towards my direction from nowhere with the huge papier mache deities which were being relocated into a bamboo shelter at the festival ground.
The temporary stage for Chinese Opera would become a focal point after sunset.Donor recognition wall at the back of the temporary stage for Chinese opera, with each name and donation amount handwritten on bright orange papersAfter sunset, the lights at the festival ground unveiled a romantic ambiance. The three huge bun mounts looked even more impressive with the floodlights.
The three papier mache deities were displayed at a temporary shrine.A woman came to check out the donor list. There were a few spots for deities worship within the festival ground.The forecourt of Pak Tai Temple and the adjacent basketball courts were transformed into the main festival ground for the Bun FestivalBoth the huge and small bun-mounts were made with real Chinese buns.There is always lion dance performance for large Chinese celebration.
Just 45 minutes of ferry from the Central Ferry Piers, the Island of Cheung Chau is one of the last fishing communities in Hong Kong. As a grown up who has come to terms with the ever-changing cityscape of Hong Kong, visiting the island’s narrow laneways, fishermen marinas, historical temples, crumbling buildings, shabby souvenir shops, and cluttered seafood eateries is like wandering in an atmospheric film set of Hong Kong decades back in time. Cheung Chau has always been a highly popular weekend getaway destination among families with kids, teenage groups, young couples, and amateur photographers.
Cheung Chau was one of the earliest inhabited spots in the territory of Hong Kong. Spending most of their lives on boats, the early settlers originated from various fishing communities in Southern China. Living off the sea is no longer the case, but the people of Cheung Chau nowadays still maintain a unique seafolk culture. Perhaps it is no surprise that the island was the birthplace and training ground of Lee Lai Shan, the first Olympic gold medalist of Hong Kong who made history by competing in the sea for windsurfing. A little further back in history, Cheung Chau was also the legendary “treasure island” of pirate Cheung Po Tsai, who roamed the waters of South China Sea with his 50,000 strong followers in the early 19th century. Each year around early May, the people in Cheung Chau is busy preparing for its annual cultural celebration – the Bun Festival.
Life remains casual with a sense of community on the island. It’s common to see public space being taken over by private use. In this case, seafood eateries have their table clothes hanging on the concrete balustrade for drying under the sun.People visit Cheung Chau for various reasons with noon would argue the sense of tranquility in a low dense streetscape on the island is a rarity in Hong Kong.The shabby looking guesthouses along the beaches don’t seem very inviting. Buildings such as this abandoned cinema are in crumbling conditions but preserve a sense of history.There are a number of century old temples on the island where tourists rub shoulders with local worshipers.Traditional street stall selling assorted groceries is still a common sight on the island.
The fishballs from Kam Wing Tai are popular local specialties made on the island.Dry seafood of various kinds can be found everywhere on the island. No visitors would leave the island without feasting at one of the local seafood eateries along the waterfront.The islanders are getting ready for the upcoming multi-day celebrations of the Bun Festival.
Angela and I started “Blue Lapis Road” in 2013 to publish a photo journal of our backpacking trip to South America as we wandered through the vast continent in 90 days. It has been over 3 months since we left Valparaiso of Chile, the last destination of our S.A. trip. Since early March, I have relocated to another continent and started a new life chapter in Hong Kong, a city that I was once very familiar with as I spent my childhood here two decades ago.
With vibrate city life, complex social structure, recent colonial memories, multifaceted regionalism, intertwining global cultures, hyper dense neighborhoods, vast countryside, and subtropical beaches, Hong Kong has much more to offer than just fine dining, crazy shopping, and extravagant night life.
In the next chapter of “Blue Lapis Road”, we are going to share with you our explorations in this magnificent metropolis, Hong Kong.