People often ask me what I love most about Hong Kong. The answer, of course, is multifold. But one particular reason revolves around the diversity of landscapes and activities to be found even on just the main island.
Nestled in Wan Chai, Mark and I embed ourselves daily in a bustling party of the city, amidst the skyscrapers, neon signs, and commercial spaces that are most commonly associated with HK.We enjoy a spectacular view of the bright lights of this vibrant city, and are surrounded by other characteristic elements of HK, such as Victoria Harbour, the equestrian-and-beer-friendly Happy Valley Racecourse, the nearby mountains, and the hills that house Frank Gehry’s uber-luxury residential Opus building. Steps from our building is the Wan Chai Street Market, spilling fruits, vegetables, various (and often daunting) cuts of meat, fish, local snacks, inexpensive clothing, and pretty much every type of household item or tsotchke you can imagine, onto the narrow nearby streets. A few steps further, and we’re hopping between HK’s trademark double-decker, open-air trams running along Johnston Road. And within 15 minutes’ taxi ride (or a slightly longer bus ride) of the metropolitan hustle-and-bustle, you can be chilling on a beach on the south side of the island, facing the South China Sea – which is still astonishing to me. Granted, these are not quite the idyllic blue-green waters of other islands in the region, but they are still a surprising and refreshing respite from the concrete-and-steel center of the city (well, sort of – this is HK after all, so there is still some development even near several of the beaches). Point being, there is natural beauty to be found here, and so close by – which is a treat, a luxury I have never experienced before.
Repulse Bay Beach is on the incrementally more refined side, in close proximity to various luxury buildings, private homes, slightly fancier restaurants and shops – but it can veer towards being a bit touristy (steer clear of the bus coaches).
I’ve long thought this might be the most regrettably named beach out there. What gives? Apparently, it finds its roots with pirates who plundered trade ships in the bay during the 19th century – and who were subsequently ‘repulsed’ by British fleets.
For the mid-autumn lunar festival, Repulse Bay Beach lights up at night – and becomes a bit less refined, but still fun. Folks take full advantage of the fact that you can drink right out in the open anywhere here in HK, and beer upon beer tends to lead to some seriously inebriated partying during this celebration.East of Repulse Bay, Stanley Beach (named after the British Lord Stanley) is busy, crowded, colorful – full of tanning singles, romantic couples, families – and of course, playful pups.
Water sports are popular here, and you won’t go long before seeing jet skis, windsurfing (which is probably a bit better in Big Wave Bay near Shek O), and a variety of boats – including dragon boats that recently competed during the Tuen Ng Festival. And for the less adventurous (and usually much younger, and human) beach bums – the all-important inner tube reigns supreme.
If you’re sick of your day job, you may be particularly envious of Liu, whoever he (or she) may be. Liu’s is the name of a private barbecue site right on Shek O (‘Rocky Bay’) Beach, on the southeastern end of HK Island. Fork over a little $, and you’ll be offered charcoal, a minimalist seating area consisting of plastic outdoor chairs, access to basic grills – and that’s it! The rest is BYO. There are other private sites, and also plentiful public sites – but Liu’s is the best-known, with a ‘prime’ location just a short jaunt from the parking/drop-off area. A great, simple little cash cow, if ever I saw one.
This is one of the reasons that HKers love Shek O. This beach is, for better or worse, a true crowd favorite and often considered HK Island’s finest. Weekends here are expectedly chaotic – with a somewhat infuriating local traffic pattern (or lack thereof – so try to get dropped off and picked up ahead of the roundabout and parking lot). But it makes for a fun day out in the sun (when you’re lucky enough to catch some rays in fickle-summer-weather HK), with a lovely mountainous backdrop and a landscape that is ripe for rock-climbing.
Of course, at the end of the day, it’s all about relaxing and having a good time with friends and family. Whether it’s at Shek O or somewhere else, HK’s numerous beaches serve as a fun escape that will still get you home by dinnertime (or at least in time for a good night’s sleep, if you choose to stay through the evening). But remember, this is HK – and it’s hot as hell out here! Bring plenty of sunscreen – and hydration. And if you forget the latter point, there are plenty of little shops hawking refreshments nearby (may I suggest the pineapple smoothies at nearby Ming’s Café).
And for those less beach-inclined, there is also a different side to southern HK (stay tuned for Part 2).
For more information on Repulse Bay Beach, click here
For more information on Stanley Beach and watersports, click here