Beyond the Star Ferry: Underdog ferry rides around Hong Kong

Beyond the Star Ferry: Underdog ferry rides around Hong Kong

We pay respects to the convenient, efficient, and often incredibly scenic ferry rides around the island of Hong Kong
hong kong ferry service
The unsung hero of alternative cross-harbour transport: the kaido.

Hong Kong's lesser known ferry routes pottering round the city's fringes are terrific entertainment, little-touristed and should float everyone's boat. Here are our favorite ferry rides around Hong Kong, beyond the Star Ferry:

All timetables and fares are at www.td.gov.hk.

Island shuttle

Steaming its way from dawn till midnight every day, back and forth between Peng Chau, Lantau and Cheung Chau, the double-decker Inter-Island ferry is the ultimate maritime mix-and-match. Hop on and off at will: each port of call has something to offer, but the main attraction is cruising with local passengers rather than a posse of gee-whizz, lens-faced tourists. 

Peng Chau, apart from being home to soccer star Lee Kin Wo, contains a pack of surprises, including a strip of curio shops and galleries, and a successful organic farm. There are two ports of call on Lantau: Mui Wo (aka Silvermine Bay) and Chi Ma Wan. The former has a restaurant scene that includes Turkish, Italian, Indian and a Brit pub, as well as numerous Chinese. Don't be put off by the prison at Chi Ma Wan as the trail behind it leads to one of Hong Kong's best beaches, Tai Long Wan. Finally (or firstly, depending on which end of the route you start) Cheung Chau is a glorious higgledy-piggledy community as celebrated for its seafood as its annual bun festival

There are also additional kaido services that link Peng Chau, Discovery Bay, the Trappist Monastery and Mui Wo.

Out to grass

Tap Mun is the Rip Van Winkle of Hong Kong islands. For nine years and 50 weeks out of every decade, it drifts on the eastern fringes of Sai Kung, more or less ignoring the modern world. But once every 10 years the island erupts into a mega celebration as emigrants, long-lost relatives and various hangers-on converge on the island to honor the goddess Tin Hau. 

Getting to Tap Mun, aka Grass Island, involves a bus or taxi to the end of Hong Kong's most eastern public road, then hopping aboard the kaido from Wong Shek pier that putters up Long Harbour. To the north the Shenzhen dynamo pulsates, to the south Central performs its financial kung fu. Here, apart from the rumble of the ferry engine, it could scarcely be more bucolic. 

"Folk come here to camp and fly kites and hike a bit," says Ms Lam, proprietor of the New Hon Kee, Tap Mun’s excellent and only restaurant. "I like it most during the week though, when there’s hardly a soul here. Just like the old days."

Harbor master

The MTR might be quicker, a limousine ride might be comfier, but nothing is quite as delightful as the North Point ferry service.

The triumvirate of ports include North Point and Kowloon City or Hung Hom as a Kowloon destination. "This is my regular commuting route," says computer analyst Haimanti Gupta, who was born in Mumbai. "I always get a seat, and the trip across the harbor gives me time to think about work in the morning or wind down in the evening." It's certainly an inspirational journey, not simply for the iconic Brobdingnagian skyscrapers on either shore but also because it passes Sir Ho Kai and Mr Au Tak's former international airport as well as a posse of firmly anchored cruise ships whose principal passenger is Dame Fortune. And there's not a tourist in sight. 

A voyage through history

Someday, somebody's gonna realise that folks would pay big bucks for an hour-long ferry ride this scenic. In the meantime it's just HK$25. The Fortune Ferry Co. plies the waters from Tuen Mun along the northern coast of Lantau to Tung Chung and Sha Lo Wan to Tai O, sometimes described by the more ambitious tourist literature as "The Venice of Hong Kong."

"A Chinese friend told me about this ferry, it's so cool, especially as there are no other foreigners aboard," says Jurgen Vantroyen, who is visiting from Antwerp, Belgium. It's probably not worth disembarking, the exception being Sha Lo Wan which is a good jumping-off point for hiking. They've yet to build St Mark's Square at Tai O, but the village's maze of stilt houses is fun to explore. None of the stop-offs on this route quite matches the almost surreal experience of sailing between one of the most advanced airports on the surface of the earth and a village that has altered little since the Brits pitched up in the 19th century. Keep your eyes peeled for pink dolphins along the way. 

Ed Peters is based in Hong Kong.

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