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Postcards from Lamma

Fish farms and restaurants, Sok Kwu Wan

The last time I set foot on Lamma Island, before taking Bama there this Chinese New Year, was at least four or five years ago on a boat trip with a pack of old friends. The name Lamma, literally ‘Southern Y’ in Cantonese, is a reference to the heavily indented coastline which resembles two forks, one pointing northwards and the second facing east.

Lamma packs in plenty of rural charm in an area of less than 14 square kilometres. Weekend day-trippers come for the seafood restaurants and floating fish farms at Sok Kwu Wan, a sheltered, picturesque bay within sight of the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island. Casual walkers – and increasing numbers of Mainland Chinese tourists – tread the concrete path running towards Yung Shue Wan, itself a haven for expats in search of an alternative lifestyle. More serious hikers head south to the quieter trails winding up Lamma’s highest peak, Mount Stenhouse.

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Guardian of the dragon boats

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Taking the high road

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Sok Kwu Wan and Lamma Power Station

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Descending to Mo Tat village

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Blowing in the wind

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Bananas at Mo Tat village

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Orange trumpet – known as ‘firecracker flowers’ in Cantonese

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These blooms are native to Brazil

Unknown to many, two local household names have their roots on these outlying islands. Neighbouring Cheung Chau gave Hong Kong its champion windsurfer Lee Lai Shan, the territory’s first Olympic gold medallist, while international film star Chow Yun-fat grew up in Tung O village, perched on Lamma’s southeastern shores.

Although the island is just a 25-minute ferry ride from the mad pace of Central, it feels vastly different. Even now its byways are ruled by those on foot and bicycle; the only motor vehicles are tiny fire trucks and ambulances, custom-made to fit the narrow streets.

But here the rugged landscape also bears the imprints of man. The north side of Sok Kwu Wan is marked by an an abandoned, overgrown quarry – there are now plans to redevelop the site and double the island’s existing population of 5,900. Over the hillside a far more intrusive presence protrudes into the sea. Since 1982, Lamma’s distinguishing landmark has been a coal and gas-fired power station, whose three smokestacks loom over the sands of Hung Shing Ye Beach. It’s a paradoxical sight that is strangely typical of Hong Kong.

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Restaurants of Sok Kwu Wan and Mount Stenhouse in the background

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A ‘Kai-to’ ferry moored at the old pier

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Garlic prawns at the Mandarin Seafood Restaurant

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Fried squid served with sweet and sour dipping sauce

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Scallop steamed with rice vermicelli, garlic and spring onion

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In the distance, Hong Kong Island

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Lo So Shing Beach

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Papaya trees

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Mimosa pudica – ‘shy grass’ in Cantonese – growing by the roadside

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Sok Kwu Wan in the afternoon light

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A row of seafood restaurants

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Lamma Power Station – source of Hong Kong Island’s electricity

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Hung Shing Yeh Beach

29 Comments Post a comment
  1. I had no idea that Chow Yun-fat grew up on Lamma. I guess he himself never imagined that he would achieve such fame. Despite the thin fog, the hike on the island was nice. It took us only half an hour to go from sea level to that weather station, so it was a good exercise indeed, especially after all the dishes we had the previous days. 🙂 Great food photos, James! Now I’m craving for seafood.

    March 30, 2014
    • Thanks Bama! I didn’t realise that myself until after our day trip there. I’m glad the fog lifted in the end, although I was definitely surprised at how busy the main walking route was. Your arrival gave me a great excuse to return to Lamma. 🙂

      March 30, 2014
  2. Kamila #

    I visited four times Lamma and can´t deny it has special atmosphere – alternative, hippie, free spirit, artie with bit of witchcraft, much different from HKI and Kowloon. Lo So Shing Beach, Bookworm Cafe, So Kwu Wan Temple, powerstation, python hidden on ferry board, ferry accident and I also bought o good quality broostick for flying at work with my students…it is how I remember this place..

    March 30, 2014
    • Ah, I haven’t been to Bookworm Cafe yet – that’s one place I should look out for the next time I go. We rushed through Yung Shue Wan to catch the ferry so there must have been other interesting spots we missed as well.

      March 30, 2014
      • Kamila #

        I don´t know more than you about it, exception can be only local turtle beach. I stuck in different places and forget to eat very often. I search for coastline like PoToi Island has…

        March 30, 2014
  3. The landscapes looks amazing, it looks like the place has a really special culture to it as well.

    March 30, 2014
    • Lamma is certainly an idyllic little island – and so different from the skyscraper jungle that Hong Kong is famous for.

      March 30, 2014
  4. Hello James, the place looks really stunning… what a great view from the hills!

    To me the real attraction is right there in the plates 🙂 Just joking….

    Have a nice day 🙂

    March 30, 2014
    • Absolutely Sreejith, I must confess that the seafood was one of the main reasons I went!

      Hope you’ve been having a wonderful weekend. 🙂

      March 30, 2014
  5. What an interesting post and great photos, James. I have been to Hongkong three times already and even though I considered going on a day trip to Lamma Island, I haven’t made it there yet. Your article put it onto my schedule as a place which I will definitely visit next time I am in Hongkong.

    March 30, 2014
    • Danke Vanessa. If you’re a hiker Lamma Island is a nice break from the crowded streets of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. I love taking the slow ferry there as the back of the upper deck is partially open.

      March 30, 2014
  6. I missed going to the Lamma islands when I visited HK a few years back. Guess I should make some travel plans! lovely post.

    March 30, 2014
    • Thanks Mia. Lamma is just one of many places worth seeing around HK – my advice would be to visit on a weekday if you can!

      March 30, 2014
      • Thanks! Will definitely check with you about the other places whenever I do decide to visit. Hopefully this year.

        March 30, 2014
  7. It looks great. I will definitely try to visit next time I am in Hong Kong.

    March 31, 2014
    • You won’t want to miss the seafood Debra – that alone is reason enough to visit Lamma.

      April 1, 2014
  8. I always recommend Lamma to anyone who asks me about visiting Hong Kong. Definitely worth a couple of days just to get away from all the hustle and bustle. And that food! I think I need to move back to Asia…

    March 31, 2014
    • You’re right Brett! Although I could spend a few days in Sai Kung myself, hiking and camping on the beach. Living in Vancouver has its advantages – there’s no way you could find sushi as fresh and reasonably priced here in Hong Kong!

      April 1, 2014
  9. A friend of mine used to live on Lamma, I really liked how it felt so relaxed and easy going even though it was less than half an hour by ferry from central. And having dim sum on the sea side is just fantastic!

    March 31, 2014
    • Even for me it’s hard to believe that Lamma is still Hong Kong – it really does feel like another world. Sadly I missed out on the dim sum… I’ll keep an eye out for it the next time I go!

      April 1, 2014
  10. Wow I would love to go there!

    Ruby
    http://roamingruby.wordpress.com

    April 6, 2014
    • Lamma Island is quite the gem – and even more so on a weekday.

      April 13, 2014
  11. Once again James you’ve come up with another intriguing place I have yet to visit! Tiny and beautiful, your words and photos really capture the allure of the place. Thanks for adding to my must-visit list – again! All the best, Terri

    April 7, 2014
    • You’re welcome, Terri! There are so many beautiful spots worth visiting around Hong Kong… Lamma is just one of them.

      April 9, 2014
  12. One more gem from Hong Kong! Descending to Mo Tai is almost reminiscent of Rio!! R was in Xiamen for a few days last month and I almost hopped across with him for a visit, but I had other commitments sadly. Someday soon, I hope 🙂 In the meantime thanks for this wonderful virtual tour.

    April 13, 2014
    • That’s a big compliment, Madhu! We don’t have any of those wonderful, monolithic humps of rock rising from the water… but then again Hong Kong is surprisingly beautiful. I’ve lived here for years and have never gotten bored of the outlying districts. 🙂

      April 13, 2014
  13. so great…great..great photos…
    http://jasminephotowork.wordpress.com

    April 24, 2014
    • Makasih ya – I can’t wait to go back to Indonesia.

      April 25, 2014

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