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Postcards from Shek O

Shek O_1

It seems like a glaring paradox. What could a laidback seaside village – fronted by an inviting stretch of soft powder sand – have in common with an endless procession of towering skyscrapers, buzzing markets and neon-soaked streets?  But Hong Kong proves that both these worlds can comfortably coexist on a small, hilly island, just eight miles across at its widest point.

On a slow Sunday afternoon I arrive at Shek O, fresh off the double-decker bus and barely a half-hour’s journey from the nearest MTR station. Literally ‘Rocky Bay’, the village has always been a favourite spot for weekend outings. It was my father who taught me the underlying logic of the approach road, its house numbers seemingly random at first glance. “No. 1 was built first,” he would remark, as the windows rolled down to capture the cool ocean breeze.

From the bus terminus, its lettering a relic in post-war Art Deco style, I wander down the narrow village streets, echoing to the sound of chatter and mahjong tiles being shuffled through open windows. Up ahead I spot a patch of bougainvillea cascading over a fence, and once past the original village a clutch of Norfolk Pine beckons onto the headland. I feel my footsteps slowing to admire the well-tended houses built lovingly on the water’s edge. They come in a mix of clean lines, generous windows, and glazed porcelain roof tiles.

At the end of the road I stand in silence, mesmerised by the foaming surf and the golden light lingering on the well-worn cliffs. Shek O on a winter weekend is the realm of kite-flyers, wedding photographers and budding surfers – the ultimate antithesis to Hong Kong’s image as a city of endless concrete.

Shek O Beach

Shek O Beach

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Surf’s up

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Going under

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Rocky bay

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Bougainvillea

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House on the headland

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Wedding photos

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Foaming surf

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Land’s end

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Coastal retreat

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Shek O village

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Afternoon light

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yet again, Hong Kong surprises me with its laidback villages. The next time I go, I know Shek O must be on the list! I just hope there won’t be any typhoon though. 🙂

    January 13, 2013
    • Absolutely Bama! Shek O is one of my favourite places in Hong Kong – next time you come I’ll have to take you there. I find it strange that the area doesn’t make it into the guidebooks like the more famous beach at Repulse Bay, the sand here is far nicer and the village a joy to walk around. 😀

      January 13, 2013
  2. I’m trying to remember if I went there or not on my trip to Hong Kong last year. Luckily, our friend Pui is a native to Hong Kong, and she showed us around different places that we may not have found in a guidebook. It’s so nice that you guys have that kind of weather in January! What an oasis! 🙂

    January 13, 2013
    • We’ve been lucky recently – we had some clear, warm days just before Christmas and now the cloudless blue skies have returned. I’m glad you had Pui to take you around; having a local friend really does make a big difference!

      January 14, 2013
  3. This post is lovely, I reaaaally feel like I can imagine Shek O’s atmosphere and I want to go there so much now!!! The photos are lovely ❤

    January 14, 2013
    • You would love it, Sophie! Shek O is even better on a quiet weekday when everyone else is at work. 😀

      January 14, 2013
  4. Seems like a delightful little village. And your pictures of the beach are gorgeous James!
    How is the weather there in June/July when most of your Southerly neighbours are lashed by the South West monsoons?

    January 14, 2013
    • Thank you, Madhu!

      Hot and humid is the norm between June and August – we’ve had days when the mercury hits 36 degrees but thankfully these are often few and far between. The weather is also unstable this time of year, so in spite of all the sunny periods expect thunderstorms and bursts of torrential rain, along with the occasional typhoon.

      That said, summertime is when Hong Kong is at its most photogenic; prevailing winds from the ocean mean that smog is usually not as serious as it is in autumn/winter.

      January 14, 2013
  5. Never would’ve related such pictures with Hong Kong. Thanks for enlighting me:-)

    January 16, 2013
    • You’re welcome Sofie. 🙂 Hong Kong packs in a lot into a very small area – there are surprises around every corner!

      January 18, 2013
  6. Your photos are beautiful thanks !

    January 19, 2013
    • Glad you enjoyed them!

      January 19, 2013
  7. kirstylskilton #

    I just had a better look at Shek O on Google Maps – it looks beautiful. That beach, wow.. I have never really been interested in visiting Hong Kong but now I think I may!

    January 29, 2013
    • There are even nicer beaches further out if you’re willing to do a bit of hiking. Hong Kong is a great jumping off point for a trip to Asia, so one place that’s definitely worth thinking about!

      February 4, 2013
  8. R Scott #

    I lived in Shek O for over 15 years and I can assure you it’s every bit as wonderful as your photos make it out to be, and then some. Maybe I bit difficult for visitors to penetrate but certainly worth a try. Alas a “guide ” not actually from Shek O will not get you very far though. Ask around for Lulu (she runs a coffee shop opposite the Shek O Thai Restaurant. If she’s in a good mood she can have a villager sort you. Enjoy my home village! Thanks for stirring up a million memories with your beautiful photography.

    February 17, 2013
    • Thanks R, for leaving such an insightful comment. I could definitely imagine myself living there someday – Shek O is one of my favourite places in Hong Kong and I’m glad this brought back so many fond memories for you. 🙂

      February 17, 2013
  9. Thank you for sharing. I have been meaning to check out Shek O each time I visit HK. I love Stanley, which is maybe a bit more touristy. Could you tell us how Shek O compares to Stanley?
    Thanks for your blogs

    July 21, 2013
    • You’re welcome – Shek O is generally less touristy than Stanley, although it’s a popular escape for locals so be prepared for lots of activity on weekends! In my opinion it has the best beach on Hong Kong Island, unlike Repulse Bay the sand here is all natural, and Shek O doesn’t have a market the same way that Stanley does. Most people come here for a swim or beachside barbecue (and maybe Thai food afterwards).

      July 26, 2013
      • Excellent, thank you for your answer. I guess I’ll just have to revisit Stanley and try Shek O and the Dragon back trail 😉

        July 27, 2013

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