Many people would be surprised to hear that, as well as being a bustling metropolis, Hong Kong also encompasses over 250 islands, which between them exhibit the city’s many different personalities. Among these islands, Cheung Chau Island is one of the most enigmatic, with a charismatic harbour and ancient temples backed by rugged landscape and an intriguing past filled with stories of pirates and treasure.
With no cars allowed on the island, a walking tour with a local specialist is the best way to get around. And as visitors step off of the ferry, where better to start exploring this former fishing village than on the island’s famous Seafood Street. Situated close to the pier, seafood restaurants line this stretch of the seafront, cooking up the fresh haul brought in by the fishermen that day, plus Cantonese specialties like Dim Sum. Locals gather on al fresco tables to tuck into steamed fish with ginger and spring onion, crispy deep fried squid and steamed garlic-infused prawns, amidst the thrum of street life. For the more adventurous, there’s the option of buying your own fresh fish from the nearby wet market too, to be cooked up at the restaurant upon request.
The coastal road from the main fishing village leads to the island’s 200-year-old Tin Hau Temple. As the Goddess of the Sea, Tin Hau has around 100 temples in her name throughout Hong Kong, with many more in Chinese coastal communities across Asia. Behind an ornate façade of lanterns and figurines hangs a bronze bell, which dates back to the 18th century. But this isn’t the only reason people come here; from a platform behind the temple, people can enjoy incredible views out to sea.
From Tin Hau Temple, the Sai Tai trail carves its way along the coast to Cheung Po Tsai cave, the famous hiding place of the legendary pirate the cave is named for. Immortalised in countless stories and movies, Cheung Po Tsai is said to have commanded a fleet of hundreds of ships in the South China Sea until surrendering in 1810, when he became an officer in the Chinese Navy. This cave garners interest as one of the places he hid his loot.
Following the coastal trail back to the harbour, walkers eventually reach Pak Tai Temple, which was named after the Chinese god who devotees believe was once a prince of the Shang Dynasty. The story goes that this prince was appointed commander of the twelve legions who fought the demon king during the fall of the Shang Dynasty, and who was ultimately victorious in this battle. Within the temple, a bronze tortoise and serpent lie under the feet of Pak Tai’s image, signifying that good always prevails over evil.
In its central location, the temple is the ideal point from which to explore the surrounding area. Both Pak She Street and San Hing Street bubble over with local life, exhibiting the traditional Chinese architecture of the island, with vendors selling souvenirs and local goods.
A typical souvenir and the focus of the island’s most famous celebration is the Cheung Chau bun. Each May, the island welcomes the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, where these buns can be seen adorning the sides of towers across town. Traditionally, participants scramble up the towers to get to the buns at the top, which win the most points. All year round, buns with both sweet and savoury fillings can be bought from island’s traditional cake shops. But if you want a souvenir that lasts a little longer, pick up a quirky Cheung Chau bun magnet or good luck charm.
With trips to Cheung Chau island led exclusively by Trafalgar, visitors can discover this lesser visited destination in the company of a local specialist by joining the Secrets of Hong Kong and Mainland China or Treasures of China itineraries.
Image credits: cover photo of Cheung Chau Island © iStock / Meiyi524. Cheung Chau harbour © iStock / bernotto. The island’s temples © Flickr / Fatima. Visiting the temples © Flickr / Colin Zhu. Cheung Chau buns © iStock / walwong.