Sunday, September 02, 2007

Cheung Chau: biking and lucky buns!

With our summer’s good weather continuing (meaning limited humidity!), we ventured out to a new outlying island this weekend. Prior to departure, we knew nothing about Cheung Chau Island except the usual no car policy on the smaller islands and something about a bun festival in the summer. Usually, limited prep work is fine as the islands are very small and can be covered quickly. Cheung Chau was bigger than we expected and definitely warrants a return trip to see the sights. We saw no sights but we played all day and loved it.

Cheung Chau, which means long island in Cantonese, is about 10 kilometers south of Hong Kong Island. While definitely a fishing island, the island now has a population of 30,000 with tourism quick becoming a second industry. We took a hour ferry boat ride in from Central, riding in “deluxe class” which got us air-conditioning and big tables for our packed lunch. As the ferry passed through the busy harbors to get to Cheung Chau, the boat traffic (huge tankers and little sampans all together) never really died down but what changed was the view. All of a sudden we were close to the mountains ( mountains in the New Territories, the part of Hong Kong that connects to mainland China). While nothing was pristine or even natural, there was definitely the sense that we were just a bit closer to the wilderness that Hong Kong might have been.

Cheung Chau has a number of impressive temples, sandy beaches, old time pirate hide-outs and ancient rock carvings and a fair number of local and expat tourists going to see them all. We were waylaid by bike rental stands and never got further than that which was reachable by flat road. We started out with 2 adult bikes that pulled benches for the kids to sit on. We cruised the main promenade in style, but slightly apprehensive as the signs were unclear as to whether bike riding was allowed on Sunday. Finally on a more open stretch and with the policemen giving us not a second glance, Tori decided she wanted her own bike. She rode for awhile and then Adam and Royce rented bikes as well. Now with five bikes, we rode along the water front, down little narrow city streets, past all sorts of vendors selling very Chinese things. It all did seem rather yesteryear mainland China-like, when they all rode bikes instead of driving cars.

As we rode, we often saw little gifts (purses, book marks, pillows, and tons more) in a puffy white shape with red Chinese characters on the front. We finally realized these trinkets were meant to be buns, reminding all of Cheung Chau’s annual bun festival. Apparently, every May towers of buns are built as gifts to ancestors. Men race through the streets and up the huge towers of buns. I can’t quite visualize it yet but we are determined to go back next May. We all wanted to eat a bun, though we are not even sure that is acceptable. We could not find a bun anywhere and settled for an ice cream cone. Even without the lucky bun, we were lucky with the weather (it stopped raining), lucky with timing (we just got a returning ferry boat) and lucky enough to spend a day outside in Hong Kong with three good little travelers.


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