Day Trip: Lamma Island

by - November 16, 2013

View over Sok Kwu Wan Village
Hung Shing Ye Beach
The third largest of Hong Kong’s islands, Lamma Island, is a 20 minute ferry journey from the central ferry terminal on Hong Kong Island.  There are ferries to two different towns on the island - Yung She Wan (the largest) in the north west and Sok Kwu Wan on the east coast.  Just like Cheung Chau, which I visited a few months ago, it is popular at weekends as a quiet retreat from the city - so the ferry was very crowded.  I decided to head for Yung She Wan, where I arrived in the late morning and wandered around the variety of restaurants and small shops.  The range of food on offer was excellent and I was able to find myself a much appreciated full English breakfast to start my day of hiking.  Once again I was following the David Pickerell “Historical Hong Kong Hikes” book - there were two hikes based on Lamma, which it was possible to join together.  The first of these started at the ferry terminal and made its way south from the town towards Hung Shing Ye Beach.

Bohemian shopping at Lamma
The town itself has a real bohemian vibe and a lot of the residents had set up stalls outside their houses selling various wares for charities supporting the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.  The place also appeared to be thriving and was pretty lively considering that there are no cars and it is only accessible by boat.  On top of the selection of shops and restaurants there were lots of community activities being advertised - such as dance classes and football clubs.  Apparently it is very popular with expats.  Much of the prosperity of the island is owed to the Hong Kong Electric Company, who have installed an enormous power station on the island - the four chimneys of which are visible pretty much wherever you stand in the northern region.  The company have obviously spent a lot of money on ‘community relations’ and have paid for all of the major hiking trails to be renovated.  As a result, the walk from Yung She Wan to Sok Kwu Wan couldn’t have been much easier - a gentle climb, well signposted and well maintained (and as a result there is very little point in me elaborating upon the hike instructions - just follow the signs!)
Sok Kwu Wan Village fishing platforms
Enormous oar fish
Having arrived at Sok Kwu Wan village in good time I spent a little while looking around.  The village appears to be based entirely around the fishing industry - all of the buildings seem to be fish restaurants and the bay that it is sitting in is full of fishing platforms.  Even the local 'Tin Hau’ temple contains an enormous pickled oar fish that was caught by a local fisherman fairly recently and is supposedly one of the best preserved large samples in the world.  I had now finished the first of my hikes which had essentially taken me between the two main settlements on the island via some dramatic cliff paths and beautiful beaches.  From Sok Kwu Wan I continued south towards the village of Tung O, passing the highest point on the island - Mount Stenhouse.  Apparently it was a mystery for some time who the peak had been named after and, amusingly, it was worked out that it had come about as a result of a mistaken spelling.  It was in fact named after 'Sir Humphrey Le Fleming Senhouse’ who had served and died in the Royal Navy during the Opium War.  Unfortunately for him, his superiors obviously hadn’t known him too well as they added an extra ’t’ to his name when they named a mountain after him.  I have to admit, that I would be pretty annoyed to have a 'Mount Cole’ named after me…

Not a trail in sight
Anyway, my hike book went on to say that it was possible to climb the peak but advised that it was an extremely tricky hike and that it shouldn’t be attempted alone.  Reading that as “you should see how far you can get by yourself” I headed on up with totally inadequate footwear and two gulps-worth of water in my flask.  The writer wasn’t wrong - climbing the peak was very hard as the 'trail’ essentially followed the path of a dried up stream through some very dense undergrowth.  With recurring flashbacks of my 'Singapore cobra incident’ (look through the South East Asia blog if you haven’t heard this over-told story) and with foliage up to my armpits, I decided that the best way to scare of snakes was to clap and sing.  It took me an hour to get to the top, but the views were definitely worth it - even if anyone who observed me stumbling my way up while singing 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ with my hands clapping above my head must have thought me to be thoroughly drunk, or insane.  Having been totally unprepared for climbing Mount Stenhouse, I was absolutely parched when I had slid my way back down again.  Unfortunately there were no obvious drinks vendors in sight so, faced with the alternative of heading back to where I started, I continued with the hike.  After the terrible conditions of my 'off-piste’ adventure, I was able to make great time on the paved paths through the villages on the south side of Lamma.  These settlements are amongst the most isolated on the island (and therefore in Hong Kong) and are in a state of slow decay as the young move away to the big city.  One famous resident who did just this and moved from Lamma at the age of 10 is the famous Chinese actor Yun-Fat Chow, who was the lead character in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  His old village, Tung O, is now only inhabited by a few elderly residents who sit outside their houses chatting and telling lost looking tourists which way the hiking route goes - whether the actor has ever come back to visit, I don’t know.  I was pretty thirsty by this stage, but having got to the coast I soon arrived at another village, Yung Shue Ha (which means 'under the banyon tree’ as oppose to the main town, Yung Shue Wan which means 'banyon tree bay’), where I was met with the following, glorious, sign:

After a thoroughly refreshing drink I made my way along the final hour of the route, back towards Sok Kwu Wan where I was able to get a ferry back to the central ferry station on Hong Kong Island.  All in all, and with Mount Stenhouse included, I must have walked as much as 10 miles over six hours from 11am to 5pm - if you take out the detour it is very achievable to do both of the hikes together (the hiking book says they have a combined distance of 6.5 miles).  Coupled with the fact that there are regular ferries to Hong Kong (as well as less regular departures to Kowloon and Aberdeen from other locations), Lamma makes an excellent place to get away from the crowds and offers a little bit more depth than tiny Chueng Chau. 

 Photos below:
View towards Sok Kwu Wan (right), Yung Shue Wan  (middle distance) and the power station (top left) - as well as back over to Hong Kong Island in the top right where the high rise apartments of Aberdeen are visible

View from Mount Stenhouse looking south

Tung O Main Street

The sparsely populated southern coast
The laid-back Lamma lifestyle

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