There are many spots in Hong Kong that can feel far removed from the city, but are in fact just round the corner or over the hill from town. Then, there are those rare spots that are genuinely far removed from civilization. The Southern waters off Lantau Island are such a locale. Within these waters lie a somewhat forgotten and neglected archipelago; the Soko Islands.
A great option for intrepid day trippers, yet still family friendly, little about a visit to the Soko Islands is routine. As there are no scheduled boats you will need to arrange your own, however if you make the effort to venture to this remote area you will be rewarded with a trip back in time! An untarnished landscape bursting with pristine beaches and historical relics lies in wait.
If not travelling on your own private boat or charter such as a junk, then (other than kayaking), the simplest way to reach the Sokos is via Cheung Chau. From Cheung Chau you can agree a fee with a local boat operator to drop off and pick up within one day. Incidentally if one wants to kayak there, kayaks can be rented from Cheung Chau too, but it is only advised for more experienced sea farers as you will cross exposed bodies of water. If in any doubt, arrange for a guide. There are 2 main islands that one would spend time ashore on here, Siu A Chau and Tai A Chau. Both have several stunning beaches to enjoy and a small pier that a smaller vessel can safely alight at.
Up till the late 1970s, the Soko Islands were home to merely a couple dozen farming families, tending to small scale agriculture and fishing in order to survive. This all changed in the following decades as Tai A Chau became home to an ever-expanding refugee camp housing people fleeing the conflict in Vietnam. Although the Vietnam War came to an end, the ensuing issue of these refugees was never properly resolved. The Soko Island camp was gradually shut down by the government approaching the 1997 handover and inmates were transferred to camps elsewhere in Hong Kong. It’s absolutely incredible to see just over 25 years on, how little of the camp remains. For the most part, concrete foundations and not much else. But a closer look reveals smaller details of what once stood at the site of the camp.
The Sokos are an incredible part of Hong Kong to explore. Any adventure here will leave you with great memories and a sound appreciation of the living standards most of us enjoy in that big city, just across the sea.
Sai Kung native Rory Mackay kayaked 250km around Hong Kong, paddling on the outside of all the outermost islands in an epic local adventure. Rory cast off from the shore just 20 metres in front of his house near Sai Kung, and kayaked in three legs;
"Paddling from Sai Kung to the south, a night was spent camping under the stars on the rugged Ninepin archipelago. From the Ninepins lay an open stretch ahead, across a few easterly swells to Waglan and Po Toi where an afternoon was spent stretching the legs across the Islands’ many footpaths.
Was an absolute pleasure to link up bright and early with an old friend called DJ on the northern shores of Lamma and make a circumnavigation (I went about 90% of the way round) of his home Island together! Once at the power station we parted ways and I crossed in unusually serene sea conditions to Cheung Chau. After a comfortable stay overnight, I linked up with another mate called Mark for the remainder of the second leg with batteries charged and we made rapid progress reaching the Soko Islands with plenty of time to explore the area. Highlights there being the abandoned Vietnamese refugee camp and most vivid bioluminescence I have ever witnessed. Winds picked up a bit over night providing a blustery crossing to South Lantau, home to freshwater pools and a big feed at Tai O. Paddling under the bridge to Macau we’d hoped to see pink dolphins, but without luck. This marked a turning point in our surroundings, which from then on became increasingly industrial as we approached and navigated through Shenzhen Bay. The finale of this leg could not have provided starker contrast, a majestic sunset paddle through the tranquil wetlands of Mai Po.
A return to solo paddling for the final leg set in motion a 2 day epic paddle; crossing Mirs Bay twice before rounding Sai Kung Peninsula to complete my loop around HK. The first task at hand was to transport the kayak across HK’s land border with China to Starling Inlet. Tranquil mangroves at Luk Keng soon emerge onto open waters and after crossing 30km over to Tung Ping Chau in light headwinds, I was in position to follow that up with a big paddle the following day. A northerly front swung through overnight and an early start helped to propel me homewards through increasingly tumultuous waters. 50km later, I was home and the trip was done."
To see more, you can also see the below article about this trip covered by the South China Morning Post;
Rugged, windswept and diverse, Tung Ping Chau possesses a little bit of something for everyone. From family friendly walks and pristine white sandy beaches to rock formation adventures and historical rekeys. No matter how you wish to play things, this will be a full day outing at the very least.
There are only two ways to reach Tung Ping Chau, either by private/chartered boat or by taking the public ferry (Weekends and Public Holidays only) from Ma Liu Shui in Sha Tin. Departing from Ma Liu Shui: 09:00am (or 15:30pm Saturdays only) and departing from Tung Ping Chau: 17:15pm. Fare: $90 return ticket).
The ferry journey from Ma Liu Shui takes 1.5hours to complete, so sit back and relax enjoying the views of Tolo Harbour. A landscape of tranquil channels lined with red rocks (unique to this part of HK), before emerging upon the open waters of Mirs Bay.
Located in the heart of the Tung Ping Chau close to the pier, lies the only major settlement of note on the isle and definitely deserves a pit spot upon arrival. After a refreshing drink and bite to eat, one could easily spend the best part of a couple of hours strolling the adjacent Northeastern beaches, interspersed by crumbling Hakka houses and shade yielding Banyans.
The unique geology of Tung Ping Chau on the other hand is a much more enduring attraction to spend your time exploring. The best way to discover the island is by circumnavigating the Ping Chau Country Trail, which at 5km typically takes around 2hrs to walk in one go without any long breaks. However, stopping along the way to explore all the incredible sedimentary rock formations on show, or delving into the interior of Tung Ping Chau is what this Island is all about. Possessing the youngest rocks in Hong Kong, there are numerous laminated coastal shelfs and sea cliffs to witness.
Be sure to catch the final boat leaving the island for return to Sha Tin at five o’clock, unless taking your own boat back or camping overnight is more your thing. Camping in HK can be an awesome experience and Tung Ping Chau is a superb illustration of this. Beware that there is a lot of ambient light coming from China at night, so try to orientate your camp towards Mirs Bay and get more breeze in the process.
Among the list of Hong Kong’s many outlying places, the castaway isle of Tung Ping Chau is worth the trip at least once. The adventure to and from it, is as much an attraction as the being there is.
Getting to the islands is not straight forward, but that is what makes it all the more alluring. The most common way to reach Double Heaven is by a ride on the ferry from Shau Tau Kok to Kat O, however as this falls within the Closed Border Area, an access permit is required. Alternatively, you can join a private island tour to charter a boat or get a water taxi from Wong Shek Pier. The number 94 and 96R KMB buses go to Wong Shek Pier (96R operates on weekends only). For the more intrepid, one can sail or kayak to the region and utilize many of the secluded anchorages the archipelago has to offer.
The primary port of call for all that reach the 4 main islands of Double Heaven is the sleepy village of Kat O. Located on Crooked Island, it is the only major settlement of note in the area and one could easily spend the best part of an hour wondering the laneways; crumbling Hakka houses interspersed with shade yielding Banyans. Enjoy a waterfront stroll and keep an eye out for the three 19th century era cannons, aptly pointed northwards towards the large container port of Yantian. Often visible, this behemoth on the Chinese Mainland provides a compelling juxtaposition between the traditional ways of the Hakka people and the rise of Modern China across the waters.
From Kat O, there are a few short hikes you can pursue across opposite ends of Crooked Island; the most worthwhile being a shorter trail leading Northeast across to a large sandy beach which has views across Mirs Bay. Make sure to indulge yourself with a decent meal and grab fluids in Kat O, as there are next to no such amenities anywhere else. If you have your own boat or kayak, then Kat O serves as a worthy port of call before venturing to more remote areas of the archipelago.
For those who are not so fussed about the logistics of venturing offshore and are happy to get a taster for the area, another option is to visit the coastal portion of Double Heaven near Lai Chi Wo Village. One can reach Lai Chi Wo overland by hiking from Wu Kau Tang in Plover Cove Country Park (take green minibus no. 20R departing at Tai Po Market MTR station to Wu Kau Tang), or by taking a ferry (Sunday and Public Holidays only) from Sha Tin (Depart from Ma Liu Shui: 09:00am. Depart from Lai Chi Wo: 15:30pm. Fare: $50 single ticket, $80 return ticket).
The hike from Wu Kau Tang takes you in an Easterly direction over a pass to reveal fantastic views over the entire Double Heaven area, before descending to the coast. Venturing further afield, there are many trails in Plover Cove Country park to choose from. If taking the ferry from Ma Liu Shui, enjoy the views of Tolo Harbour en route before rounding the headland to enter a new landscape of tranquil channels lined with red rocks (unique to this part of HK). Be sure to catch the final boat leaving the island for return to the mainland at 15:30pm, unless hiking back or camping overnight stay is more your cup of tea. Camping in HK can be an awesome experience; there are a few great options around Plover Cove Country Park, the ‘Sam A Chung’ campsite being the best situated of them.
Among the list of Hong Kong’s many regions, the castaway islands of Double Heaven are worth the trip at least once. The adventure to and from Double Heaven is as much an attraction as the being there is.
If you fancy a memorable speed boat adventure in HK, we suggest you look no further than Zoom HK! Nigel (Top left of image) is now up and running taking folk out on trips around the waters of Hong Kong. We had a fab time yesterday seeing what all the fuss was about :)
Find out more at http://www.zoomribs.hk/
IN THE FEBRUARY ARTICLE OF OUR MONTHLY COLUMN IN SAI KUNG/SOUTHSIDE/EXPAT PARENTS MAGAZINES; WE VENTURE OUT TO THE RUGGED ISLE OF TUNG LUNG CHAU FOR A MEMORABLE ADVENTURE
Rugged, windswept and diverse, Tung Lung Chau possesses a little bit of something for everyone. From family friendly outings and historical rekeys, to rock climbing and zip lining sessions, this craggy outcrop has all the tricks to keep you more than entertained for the day! Easily reached, it makes for a convenient full or half day trip away from the city.
To reach the island, take a ride on the ferry from Sam Ka Tsuen Public Pier in Yau Tong (5 mins walking distance from Yau Tong MTR Station). Several sailings make their way to Tung Lung Chau each day until 4:30pm; visit bit.ly/TungLungChauFerry for the complete ferry schedule. Make sure to check out climatic conditions on the day before venturing onto the water. If the weather is wild, it may not make for the most pleasurable of experiences, but on a fair day the island and its surrounds are simply stunning. Departing adjacent to the picturesque Lei Yue Mun Village, the ferry then embarks across the open waters of eastern Victoria Harbour. There are brilliant views across the Clear Water Bay Peninsula to the north and to Shek O Peninsula to the south.
No matter which of the two routes is taken, one will arrive at Tung Lung Chau’s northeastern promontory where Tung Lung Fort is located. From here folk can get hands on with the main attractions on offer. Close to the campsite lie the remains of Tung Lung Chau Fort, built between 1662 and 1722 by order of Yang Lin, Viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi. It used to defend the island from pirates attempting to enter Victoria Harbour from the South China Sea.
Climbers don’t forget your chalk bag! Regarded as one of the best places in Hong Kong for rock climbing, the eastern escarpments of Lung Tung Chau offer bountiful climbing lines in a scintillating setting. There are several operators that provide climbing and zip lining sessions here, visit bit.ly/TungLungChauGuide for more information.
Be sure to catch the final boat leaving the island for return to the mainland at 5pm, unless an overnight stay is more your cup of tea. Camping in HK can be an awesome experience and Tung Lung Chau is a superb illustration of this. The campsite beside Tung Lung Fort has adequate facilities and a rugged waterfront setting to die for. Weekends and public holidays can be busy here so be wise with your timing, try not to visit on a public holiday. If you have a bit of time to kill before the next ferry departure, perhaps make a detour to see Hong Kong’s oldest and largest rock carvings, dating back over 5000 years the dragon depiction is a relic worth seeing. Alternatively, relax at one of the islands several dai pai dongs (local cafes).
All in all, this is a cracking little spot that all can to enjoy in different ways. Among the list of Hong Kong’s many islands, Tung Lung Chau flies under the radar and punches well above it’s weight.
We are one of Hong Kong's premier adventure & eco tour operators. This is our blog, documenting many of the wild places we explore and show guests.