There is really no big reason to go to Peng Chau, a small island off the coast of Hong Kong. It doesn’t have a record-setting Buddha statue or an exciting bun festival like the other islands around the region.
If you decide to go there, you might think what I thought when I boarded the ferry from Central one afternoon: “I won’t be gone long.”
But when I got to Peng Chau and hung out with some of the local islanders for a while, I felt a wave of envy wash over me. I was entirely jealous of the easy island lifestyle that these people chose to live.
Peng Chau’s streets are crowded by colorful wooden boats instead of cars, and the evenings are given over to impromptu parties accompanied by whoever happens to have their guitar that night.
I’m certainly jealous of the islanders who have the audacity to say, “Better call before you come to my shop because I might not feel like doing business that day.”
The island measures just under a kilometre squared and believe it or not it used to be a booming industrial centre with more than 100 factories. Lime kilns, matchstick factories, and porcelain factories filled the island during the 1960s-1970s. Some of the historical manufacturing sites, now abandoned, still stand on the island.
Today, Peng Chau is home to an eclectic community of old folks and hideaway artists and musicians. With plenty of laid-back charm, the island on the southwestern side of Hong Kong is the perfect place for an unpretentious getaway. Here are the some of the highlights from Peng Chau, but don’t forget to call the shops in advance — as the islanders say themselves, they may not be open for business if they don’t feel like it.
Faai Che Cha Chaan Teng
Faai Che (or “Fast Car” in Cantonese) doesn’t offer the usual cha chaan teng (Cantonese-style café) food as its name suggests. It is actually a seafood expert.
Experienced Faai Che diners would reserve a table and order dishes in advance, especially for the seafood dishes that are the restaurant’s specialties.
Or simply bring your own fresh seafood and the restaurant will charge only the cooking fee.
Without a booking, your choices will be limited, but you can still sample some hearty, rustic dishes.
The steamed sticky rice with preserved baby shrimps for example comes wrapped in lotus leaf and steamed in a bamboo basket. Opening the lid and you will be surrounded by the comforting smell of the savory rice.
Not everyone can handle fish soup — I particularly have a sensitive tongue when it comes to fishy soup. But the milky fish soup that Faai Che serves with deep fried tofu balls stuffed with shrimp paste brings out the sweetness of the sea.
Where: Faai Che Cha Chaan Teng, G/F, 53 Wing On Street, Peng Chau; (+852) 2983 8756; Monday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5:30-9 p.m.
Sun Sat Store
You can easily lose a few hours in Sun Sat Store, a small, yellow-gated shop at the end of Wing Hing Street. It’s a treasure trove of vintage collectibles from around the world as well as consigned local handicrafts. They may not be the most functional items ever but are certainly curiosity-arousing.
The shop’s name is inspired by its opening days — only Saturdays and Sundays. But the owners, who also live in the property, wouldn’t mind letting you in during the week if you ask politely.
“We just don’t want to disappoint visitors when we aren’t here during the week,” says Hun Hui. “If you see us around with the gate open, you can ask to come in.”
Owners Hun Hui and Kit Chan have recently opened up their living room and turned it into a café upon request. The café serves foods the owners brought in from the neighbors, including cha guo, a mildly sweetened Cantonese tea cake.
The store and café also has an alfresco area with one table that was once part of a vintage sewing machine, a gift from their neighbor.
Where: Sun Sat Store, 27 Wing Hing Street; (+852) 2661 2761; open Saturday-Sunday 12:30-6:30p.m. Check their Facebook page for details (only in Chinese) SunsatStore
You may walk past the unassuming store without noticing, the ceramic workshop is one of the few remaining stores that does hand-painted pottery in Hong Kong.
The late founder Lam Hon-chiu worked in a few porcelain factories including the famous Yuet Tung China Works before opening Chiu Kee in the 1970s.
Nowadays, you can still admire Lam’s works – some not for sale — in the store.
Lam Kew, Lam’s wife and also a ceramic painter, now mans the store and hosts ceramic painting workshops regularly.
Weekend classes are popular so it’s recommended to book in advance.
Where: Chiu Kee Porcelain Factory & Winus Lee ceramic workshop , 7 Wing Hing Street; (+852) 9193 8044/+852 9822 6506; open daily 11a.m.-6p.m. Check their Facebook page for details (only in Chinese) Chiu Kee Porcelain
Named after French musician Georges Brassens’ famous song about friendship – “buddies come first,” the French café sits on one corner of the main square. It offers the signature views of the island — the pier, the sea and the island’s chatting elderlies sitting under the trees.
The place stocks a selection of French wines and beers as well as cheese and cold cuts. Sometimes, the café will be closed for community activities, either as a movie club, a small private wedding or for one of its popular petanque game.
It’s a perfect pit stop when you’re waiting for the next ferry.
Where: Les Copains d’Abord , Lo Peng Street, (+852) 9432 5070; open Tuesday-Sunday, 11a.m.-8p.m. Check their website for details lescopainspengchau
Peng Yu Path/Peng Chau Family Trail
Hiking is relatively easy and kid-friendly on Peng Chau. The Peng Chau Family Trail takes you to the island’s vantage point, Finger Hill, where you can see the Tsing Ma Bridge and Disneyland from afar. If you stay long enough, you will be able to catch the fireworks show from Disneyland at night.
Where: Peng Yu Path, on the other hand, is a relatively new trail. The path begins near the small but colorful Seven Sisters Temple, one of the two remaining temples dedicated to the Seven Sisters goddesses in Hong Kong. It’s said that the deities are in charge of helping women with their needlework as well as to find a valentine.
There is also an often-empty beach along the way. Mosquito repellent and sunscreen suggested.
Translated as Dragon Mother’s Temple, Lung Mo Temple is the biggest temple on Peng Chau.
Locals believe that it’ll bring you luck by rubbing the dragon’s bed inside the seaside temple.
There is also a sheltered theater built beside the temple in front of the beach. The area will come to life with festive celebrations during the birthday of Dragon Mother (on the eighth day of the fifth lunar month every year).
Where: Lung Mo Temple, 15 Chi Yan Street, Tung Wan
Come up with five swankiest and kitschiest places you can think of, smash them together and you’ll probably get Zoccole. The shop located just opposite to Sun Sat Store, is bursting with colors and goods.
Very feminine floral dresses. Sporty backpacks. Fake sun flowers. Crystal tiaras. Tear-drop-shaped ceiling lights that hang from ceiling to floor. Porcelain vases.
Think that’s confusing already? Wait till you walk to the end of the store and see coffee machines and brewers as well as a couple of bar stools and a table in the backyard.
Some items in the stores are designed by the heartwarming owner Lydia and her husband, who is an interior designer, contributes to the décor of the store. She is also an avid coffee-lover.
Zoccole, 34 Wing Hing Street; (+852) 6011 8713
PPC Yi Gaai Bike Rental
Peng Chau is a car-free island, so the bicycle is your best (and only) mode of transportation other than your legs. PPC Yi Gaai Bike Rental on Wing Hing Street charges HK$30 for the first hour of hire and an extra $10 for every hour after the first.
Where: PPC Yi Gaai Bike Rental, 15 Wing Hing Street
How to go there: different ferry services take you to the island of Peng Chau every week day and week end. Please check the schedules for a departure from Central pier No. 6, Man Kwong str; from Mui Wo ferry pier, and from Cheung Chau ferry pier at www.td.gov.hk; for a departure from Discovery Bay Kai-To dock at http://db.tdw.hk