09 Jan Beyond the Star Ferry: Hong Kong’s Five Best “Hidden” Ferry Rides
Most visitors to Hong Kong know about the Star Ferry. The regular boat service across Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, operated since 1888, has been lauded by National Geographic Traveler as one of the 50 top travel experiences of a lifetime. For only about 30 cents US (2.70 HKD), you can hop on one of these magnificent wooden vessels, most built in the 1950s, and experience stunning views while enjoying a true bit of history–at least for ten minutes, which is how long it takes to get from Hong Kong island to Kowloon.
Of course we love the Star Ferry. But as we settled into Hong Kong we discovered it is far from Hong Kong’s only ferry service! With 240 islands, the city of Hong Kong is almost a mini-archipelago, and boats are as important here as cars, busses and trains–probably more so. Even before the British came, vessels of all sizes provided the main form of transport in this region.
In order to keep all the inhabited islands connected with the main urban areas of Hong Kong (and often, to keep islands connected with each other), the Hong Kong government subsidizes dozens of ferry routes throughout the city. Some are long and infrequent, others are short and sweet (did you know there was an “alternative” Star Ferry crossing between Wanchai and Kowloon?). Whether you live in Hong Kong or are just passing through, a ride on one of these “hidden” ferry routes is a terrific way to experience a slice the real Hong Kong. Bonus: the most expensive ride on any of these ferries will set you back less than USD $2.
Here are some of our favorite routes:
1. The Inter Islands Ferry.
The “Ming River” a hulking old orange and white boat that has an upper and lower outside deck, and shuttles an endless loop between a few of Hong Kong’s outlying islands. It begins at tiny Peng Chau, where fishermen often board with buckets of catch, and makes stops at Mui Wo town on Lantau Island, at the Chi Ma Wan abandoned prison, and finally on Cheung Chau island, where it turns around and begins again. The regulars on the two hour roundtrip route include everyone from salt-of-the-earth working people commuting between their island jobs, to expat hikers hitting the trail in Lantau. The route of this vessel takes you through some of the most untouched open ocean and island scenery you’ll see in Hong Kong, a dreamy landscape of hills, water and shadows of tall mountains.
Inter Islands Ferry Schedule http://www.nwff.com.hk/route/get_route.php?id=2e2c0154-902a-4c11-9405-f7743f6e6d2e&route_id=0&submenu_num=3
2. Sai Wan Ho to Sam Ka Tseun (Lei Yue Mun)
The Star Ferry isn’t the only way to cross Victoria Harbor! For charm, we love this little open deck service that runs from the Hong Kong neighborhood of Sai Wan Ho to the fish restaurant village of Lei Yue Mun. (It’s a key feature of our “Shau Kei Wan to Lei Yue Mun: Edge of Victoria Harbor” tour). Start your evening with a beer at one of the open air establishments along the waterfront at “Soho East” near the Sai Wan Ho pier, then hop the ferry over to Lei Yue Mun to explore the old Hakka villages and enjoy sunset views. You’ll easily recognize this ferry, just look for the cute pagoda-shaped roof.
Sai Wan Ho ferry schedule https://www.td.gov.hk/en/transport_in_hong_kong/public_transport/ferries/service_details/index.html#i10
3. Discovery Bay/Trappist Monastery/Peng Chau
If you live in Hong Kong, you’ll often hear the smaller ferries being referred to by the word “kaito”. “Kaito” (in Cantonese, Gaai Do) means “local boat”, and these smaller ferry transport services originally were organized by neighborhood associations on various islands. (Nowadays they are still mostly private operators, but government-subsidized). For a real kaito experience, you can’t beat this little plucky boat that connects tiny Peng Chau island with the modern planned suburb of Discovery Bay, a 10 minute ride. Your fare (75 cents USD, or 6.5 HKD) is collected by hand while you’re onboard, and the boats usually stop at the fascinating old Catholic Trappist Monastery, which once was Hong Kong’s major dairy. If you don’t mind a bit of hill, we highly recommend jumping off this kaito and visiting the old chapel at the top of the path.
4. Wong Shek Pier to Tap Mun
This is another kaito service but longer (about 30 minutes) and the route takes you through the waters off Sai Kung to one of Hong Kong’s most remote corners: Tap Mun (Grass Island). Tap Mun is known for its grazing cattle, an impressive temple to Tin Hau, goddess of the sea, and a delicious treat: fresh sea urchin and scrambled egg sandwiches served with milk tea in a local coffee shop (read about that in a New York Times article by our host Janice Leung Hayes.)
Tap Mun Ferry Schedule: http://tsuiwahferry.com/en/ferry-service-new-territories-routes/wong-shek-ko-lau-wan-tap-mun/
5. Aberdeen Pier to Mo Tat Wan
This is our favorite short kaito jaunt to take in late spring. Mo Tat Wan is on the “other” side of Lamma Island, away from the crowds and day trippers at Yung Shue Wan, about 20 minutes ride from Aberdeen village on Hong Kong island. It boasts one restaurant, which has a small deck where you can sit and have a seaside beer before heading out on a short mostly paved walking trail through old villages, some abandoned. About 30 minutes along, you’ll find a fisherman’s makeshift canteen, where (in spring) you can buy sea urchins so fresh that they’ve just been pulled out of the nearby sea. A bit further on are tiny village temples, and views of rocky, relentless shore. For cinema fans: this end of the world location is the birthplace of Chow Yun Fat!
Aberdeen Pier to Mo Tat Wan schedule: