Exploring Hong Kong: Peng Chau and Tai O

Day 3 was supposed to be all about Lantau Island. I’d researched the ferry and bus schedules and plotted our itinerary to perfection: the Star Ferry to Central, the ordinary ferry to Mui Wo, take the bus to Tai O (where we meet up with Joon at 11 am for lunch and sightseeing), another bus to Ngong Ping for the Po Lin monastery and cable car, the cable car to Tung Chung, meet Joon again, then the MTR to Central where we meet up with Aids’ friend Chi for dinner at 8 pm. (Note: this level of attention to detail is what happens when you combine my usual perfectionist attitude with the constant presence of coworkers whose main responsibility is plotting our guests’ daily schedules. :P) But as it turned out, my carefully crafted itinerary was thrown out the window the minute Aids decided to take his time with his morning preparations. I couldn’t get angry at him though, as his lateness compounded with my intense desire to stick to the schedule serendipitously gave us one of the most enlightening and relaxing moments of our trip.

We left the apartment late, resulting in us missing the ordinary ferry to Mui Wo by a scant few minutes. We could see the ferry pulling away from Pier 6 as our own Star Ferry was pulling into the pier next to it >_<. Me being the genius that I am, figured that since the one that just left was the ordinary ferry, we could still pay extra to catch the fast ferry. I dragged Aids to Pier 6, glanced at the notice board that yes, the ferry to Mui Wo left from this pier, swiped my Octopus card, pushed through the turnstile, and boarded the ferry still berthed in Pier 6. Our ferry left after around 8 minutes and I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that we could still meet Joon at 11 as planned.

When we disembarked, the first thing I did was look for the bus station. According to the map on the website, the buses going around Lantau should just be in front of the ferry pier. We didn’t see them right away so we walked further into town looking for it. I wasn’t worried since according to the bus schedule, we had around 15 minutes until the bus to Tai O left. Aids and I even bought freshly baked bread to snack on. After paying, I asked the nice saleslady the magic question: “Where are the buses to Tai O?”. Her reply stopped me cold: “No buses. Only ferry.” We practically ran back to the pier and Aids helpfully pointed out what he’d noticed earlier when we got off the ferry. We’d landed in Peng Chau island, not Lantau. And the next ferry to Mui Wo wasn’t for another two hours.

My guidebook had zilch on Peng Chau so after calling Joon and letting him know that we’d be horrendously late, we decided to just explore. What we found were several very helpful signs from the  Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department  indicating points of interest and how to get there, as well as the best temple interpreter we could ask for.

The Tin Hau Temple needs ~HK$20,000 a month for upkeep, which is donated by a shipping magnate. Hey, a shipping magnate definitely needs the goddess of the sea on his side.

Meet Mr. Stanley Lau. Stanley looks after the Tin Hau temple in Peng Chau. As goddess of the sea, Tin Hau was one of the most important deities to the first residents of Peng Chau, who were mostly fishermen. The temple itself is small compared to the other temples that we’d see later in our trip, but what made this temple extraordinary was Stanley’s presence. He was the best interpreter we could ask for – answering my million-and-one questions and the questions I didn’t think to ask, volunteering information about the items around the temple and anecdotes about the temple’s donors. I found out that the front panel of one of the chests was handcarved from solid wood and is around 150 years old. The wooden posts by Tin Hau are also around 150 years old. Everything on the table – the tea, the fruits, and the bottled water – are all for the goddess. His enthusiasm and knowledge brought an old temple to life and increased our appreciation for Hong Kong’s past. We left a donation for the temple as thanks.

Tin Hau's necklace is solid jade and is worth ~HK$300,000! The other god has a solid gold abacus.

Stanley completely made our morning. Couldn't ask for a better interpreter.

We left the temple and walked towards the end of the island, hoping that the other temples on the map would also have caretakers like Stanley. Unfortunately, they didn’t but we did see some squid drying in the sun. Something I noticed: the trash cans where you’re supposed to dispose of your dog’s poop had labels written in three languages: Cantonese, English, and Tagalog. We also saw a Filipina, something I didn’t expect on such a tiny island. There were only two motorized vehicles in Peng Chau: the firetruck and the ambulance. The enforced stay in Peng Chau forced us to stop and relax as there really wasn’t much to do. Aids appreciated the rest, considering the distances we’d walked for the past two days.

We finally made it off Peng Chau, got to Mui Wo, then caught the bus to Tai O. By this time, we’d made Joon wait for a little over two hours 🙁 He wasn’t mad though, as he appreciated the quiet at the end of the pier’s boardwalk. Truthfully, Tai O only had three things going for it: Joon, the OMFGawesome (but expensive) baked oysters and prawns, and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin-watching (HK$20 per person). The “cultural center” was small, the items haphazardly displayed, and the labels were almost all in Cantonese. The Hau Wong Temple didn’t have an interpreter (only someone selling incense). And while the Hong Kong Shaolin Wushu Center is a great place for people who want to stay for a week or longer and learn martial arts, there’s nothing there for the day visitor except for the gift shop.

Welcome to Tai O
NOMNOMNOMNOM (HK$35 each. Urk.)
NOMNOMNOMNOM (HK$25 each. Urk.)
Entrance to the Shaolin training center
Finding inner peace

Have I mentioned how much I HATED the souvenir stands in Tai O? Take a look at what they were selling:

I damn near cried when I saw this.

Starfish. Sea urchins. Shells. And who the hell would want a mobile made up of dead pufferfish with googly eyes and stupid little hats stuck on them? Notice the endangered triton shell (Charonia tritonis) they’re selling for only HK$540. Take note: Tai O’s waters are already overfished so I highly doubt they’d still have tritons in the area. Guess where they’re getting them? Yep, the Philippines! *gnashes teeth* I almost forgot to mention the dried sharkskin for sale in another stall. This skin was special because it had been taken from the shark almost in one piece *sobs*

Who the hell would want stupid shit like this? WHO?!

Part 2: Exploring Ngong Ping and Central

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