Hong Kong's Outlying Islands (離島 lèih dóu) are a generic label for the other 234 islands, islets and rocks in the territory.
For tourists, the most popular islands include:
- Cheung Chau (長洲 Chèuhng Jāu), a small island off Lantau that used to be a pirates' den but now houses mostly windsurfers and sunbathing day trippers
- Lamma Island (南丫島 Nàahmā dóu) is a relaxed destination with lots of great seafood, hiking and beaches.
- Peng Chau (平洲 Pìhng Jāu) to go off the beaten track.
- Po Toi Islands
Lantau Island is Hong Kong's largest island, and is actually part of the New Territories. It is also well connected to Kowloon via the MTR metro system. It is not part of this article, therefore please refer to the Lantau article for more details.
Hong Kong's islands have been and to some extent continue to be Hong Kong's hinterland, home to rustic fishing villages battered by the occasional typhoon, monasteries run by hardscrabble monks and little else. However, the last decade or so have seen some changes. The islands are car-free, so expect plenty of bicycles and a chance to escape the noise, aggression and air pollution associated with the modern motor car.
- 1 Cheung Chau (長洲). A traditional community based on an active fishing fleet and many thriving seafood restaurants. It has a number of reasonable hiking trails and some usable beaches.
- 2 Peng Chau (平洲). Although it has a reputation for being dull and lacking in tourist attractions, you may be nevertheless be pleasantly surprised. Restaurants here are cheaper than the other islands and you get the feeling you are off the 'beaten-track' of mass tourism. Perhaps it is the place to go at the end of your holiday when you are weary of the fast-pace of the big city and just want to slow down, have a drink and chat with friends. From Peng Chau you can easily take the dilapidated ferry over to the Trappist monastery on Lantau island and walk, for a couple of hours, along the hilly footpath to Mui Wo. From Mui Wo you can take another ferry back to Hong Kong island. It is located 8 km to the west of Hong Kong Island. The size of the island is 1km square. Peng Chau, as the name suggests, is mostly flat land.
- 3 Lamma Island (南丫島). Has become increasingly popular with Western hippies who have created their own small residential community in Yung Shue Wan (榕樹灣). On both sides of the island you will find attractive bars, restaurants and cafes, making it a popular destination for local Chinese people out on a day trip.
- 4 Po Toi islands (蒲苔群島). Around 3km south of Hong Kong island. The Po Toi Islands are about six small island where only Po Toi Island is inhabited. However, during the fishing season there may be around six thousand people living around the islands. The most famous seafood on Po Toi are octopus and "Ma You" Fish (馬鮪魚). Go to Po Toi Island to see the famous rock formations and eat good seafood. You are advised to reserve tables at the restaurant first. Ming Kee Seafood Restaurant 2849 7038.
- 5 Soko islands (索罟群島). Found in the southwest of the Hong Kong SAR. They comprise seven small islands and nine sets of reefs. Today, these islands are uninhabited but in the distant past they were home to many people.
- 6 Tap Mun Chau (塔門洲). Also known as Grass Island, is in the North East of the territory. It has about 100 residents, mostly fishermen. Its main attraction is its isolation and quality seafood restaurant that was made famous by the patronage of Hong Kong's last governor, Chris Patten.
- 7 Tung Lung Chau (東龍洲). Meaning 'east dragon island' in Cantonese, it is found off Clearwater Bay. It has another name: 'Nam Tong island' (南堂島).
- 8 Tung Ping Chau (東平洲). Found in the North East of Hong Kong, in Mirs Bay (大鵬灣). Today, Tung Ping Chau does not have many residents, however, it used to be a very important island during the war between Japan and China. Then it was an important underground transport route between China and Hong Kong. It was also used by the British military and others who were fighting against Japan. In its heyday, there were 10 villages, providing accommodation for about two thousand people living on the island.
- 9 Waglan island (橫瀾島). Near Po Toi, is famous for its lighthouse.
- 10 Kwo Chau islands (果洲群島). Located to the east of Hong Kong island. There are three main islands and 29 small islands. The Kwo Chau Islands look like a bowl of fruit from the air and so this is how they got their name. Likewise, the three main islands look like nine pins from the sky, hence the name. Individually, they are known as East Ninepin Island (Tung Kwo Chau), South Ninepin Island (Nam Kwo Chau) and North Ninepin Island (Pak Kwo Chau). On the islands the dual processes of weathering and erosion have combined to sculpt some fascinating coastal scenery.
Travelling to the Outlying Islands is much simpler and easier than many visitors might suppose. Most tourists and local residents use the frequent and inexpensive ferry services to travel to their preferred island. The exceptions to this rule are the smaller and more remote islands where you will need to either hire a boat to take you there or investigate the less frequent and more informal boat services that can, sometimes, be hard to find. However, most Hong Kong people never concern themselves with the smaller islands, so simply head for the Central ferry terminals (alongside the Star Ferry) and make your choice. Having an Octopus card will speed you through the gates because some ferry services only accept payment using coins or Octopus.
See the main Hong Kong article on how to get and use the Octopus Card.
Some services impose a 50% surcharge for travel on Sundays and public holidays. Therefore, it's usually cheaper and less crowded to visit during the week or on Saturdays. Paying more for a premium seat on a ferry is usually a disappointing experience.
Ferries for all major islands of interest depart from the Outlying Islands pier in Central, to the west of the Star Ferry terminal. The largest operators are New World First Ferry and the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Company. Some ferries come in slow (or "ordinary") and fast versions. The slow ferry is generally available every other departure, so if the fast ferry comes every thirty minutes, the slow ferry will come every hour. When time tables show an asterisk beside a departure time, it usually means that a slow ferry is available in addition to the fast ferry.
There is also a local ferry service from Aberdeen to Lamma Island (Mo Tat and Sok Kwu Wan).
- Tap Man Chau: Ferry from Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung or from Ma Liu Shui Pier near Chinese University.
- Po Toi: The Chuen Kee Ferry departs once a day leaving from Aberdeen, via Stanley. There is also a kaito from Aberdeen every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
- Tung Lung Chau: Ferries from Lei Yue Mun pier in Kowloon, and from Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong island. Tel 2560 9929 for more information.
- Soko islands: there is no public transport to the Soko islands; you will need to hire a sampan from the harbour at Cheung Chau.
- Tung Ping Chau: Limited service from Ma Liu Shui pier taking 90 minutes.
- Waglan Island: Permission is needed first from the Marine Department.
- Kwo Chau islands: They are uninhabited islands. You have to join a tour or try and rent a small boat (kaito) from Sai Kung.
On the islands you're pretty much restricted to walking, renting a bike ($10 an hour or $30 a day is typical) or catching a kaito (街渡 gāaidouh), a small ferry, from one pier to the next.
Besides participating in the festivals, tourist can visit different sites, for example the temples and caves.
- Po Toi (蒲台) is famous for its rock formations, such as Tortoise Rock, Buddha's Palm Cliff and Monk Rock. There are also some prehistoric carvings.
- Soko Islands (索罟群島) are known for the 'rock forest' that surrounds the islands. Tai A Chau also used to have a Vietnamese refugee camp.
- Tap Mun (塔門) has a Tin Hau temple built between 1662 and 1721, housing a bronze bell made in 1737, and a very large swordfish bone.
- Tung Lung Chau (東龍洲) has historic stone carvings (700 years old) and the remains of a fort (demolished in 1810). There are also sea caves around the coast.
- Tung Ping Chau (東平洲) has a 250 year old temple and deserted villages. The island is famous for its beautiful schist rock formations, that have different colours because of the calcium and magnesium in the schist.
- Waglan Island (橫瀾島) is famous for its lighthouse built in 1893.
- Ninepin islands (果洲群島) are known for the cliffs and caves around the islands.
There are not many shopping bargains on the islands. However, beach items tend to be more reasonably priced.
- Fish Sauce is sold in many locations, including Cheung Chau.
Lamma and Cheung Chau are well known for a large number of seafood restaurants. The decor of the restaurants are generally basic but clean and should never be seen as an indication of the quality of the food which is usually high.
Aside from a few pubs on Lamma, the nightlife in the islands is pretty quiet. Island drinking usually amounts to no more than either a few bottles of cheap Chinese beer, or endless cups of jasmine tea.
Accommodation on these islands is fairly limited compared to Kowloon and Hong Kong island and consists mainly of guest houses (a few of which call themselves hotels).