Why the Central ferry piers are an escape from the city

Why the Central ferry piers are an escape from the city

Eating, drinking, fishing ... and that's before you even get on the ferry
Central ferry piers
Missed your ferry? Grab a drink along the piers and enjoy the alfresco experence.

There's no better escape from city stress than a trip to the outlying islands, but if you don't have time for a 35-minute ferry ride to Lamma or Cheung Chau, don't worry -- the Central ferry piers offer a taste of the island lifestyle right in the middle of town.

Consider it Hong Kong's most convenient seaside retreat.

Grab a bite

central ferry piers

Cheung Chau is known for its tasty street snacks, so it only makes sense that Pier 5, which serves Cheung Chau, is one of the best places in Central to get a street food fix. Four stalls dish up piping-hot cart noodles (three choices of ingredients for $18), tender siu mai ($3 for five pieces), cheung fun ($5 for four rolls) and hearty fare like salted fish with beefcake and rice ($23).

If you're not hungry, you can still plan for meals later. Each Wednesday afternoon and on Sundays until 6pm the second floor of Pier 7 takes on the air of a wet market as hawkers sell mountains of fresh choi sum, mushrooms, peppers and all sorts of healthy delights. The prices certainly beat those at your local Wellcome, the vegetables are locally-grown on farms in the New Territories and, even better, they're all organic.

Get a drink

central ferry piers

Island-style drinking is cheap, unpretentious and laid back. It's no different at the piers, which are transformed into an outdoor beer garden every evening as commuters share a few drinks before catching their ferries home.

The most boisterous crowds can be found near where the Beer Bay has two tiny branches, at Pier 2 and 4, serving pints of beers in plastic takeaway "glasses" starting at HK$20 for Doom Bar, a beer from a tiny Cornish village. They also stock bottles of speciality beers like Spitfire and Brewdog; the Beer Bay alone has a selection of more than 100 beers.

"People don't want to drink a small can of Carlsberg or Heineken on the way home -- they want a proper pint," says the Beer Bay's owner, Alister Hill.

"But it's actually moved beyond that in the sense that the shops have become destinations in themselves. People will go out of their way to get a few drinks. They'll even deliberately miss their ferry.

"Certainly with the crackdown by the police on standing outside bars, there are fewer and fewer places where people can have this kind of relaxing alfresco experience in Central. Island people are used to that kind of atmosphere and they're looking to have it here."

Catch some fish

central ferry piers

With murky water and constant boat traffic, you wouldn't expect the ferry piers to be fertile ground for sea creatures, yet they're thronged every day by people whiling away the hours with a line in the water.

61-year-old Wong Yee-man, one of the regulars, has been fishing for 20 years. He goes to the ferry piers almost every weekend.

"I make fish soup with what I catch," he says while standing next to Pier 4. A bucket of small yellowish-silver fish sits next to his feet.

"I'm retired so I want to save money on food and relax at the same time. I go to different piers just to try each one of them. What you catch depends more on your bait than on your location. I'm using wet flour to catch lai mang fish."

Relax

central ferry piers

The banyan-shaded promenade that runs between the piers is the closest you can get to the water without leaving Central. Well-placed benches look out onto a parade of grey-suited Discovery Bay commuters, disshevelled Mui Wo types and Lamma Island hippies running to catch their ferries.

For broader vistas, there's a public viewing deck on the second floor of Pier 8 and on Pier 9. If you want some privacy, head to Pier 2's secluded rooftop garden. The most comfortable spot at the piers is the rooftop bar terrace at Pier 7. Even though it's connected to a bar, it's actually public space -- so get a table, pull up a chair and take it easy.

Christopher DeWolf is a writer, photographer and self-styled flâneur.
Read more about Christopher DeWolf