Summer. This one word conjures up images of sunny beaches and blue seas in my mind. But five days into the holiday, and I was yet to get that feeling of summer. The weather in Hong Kong was quite hot and humid in the last week of May, but that did not mean that I wanted to spend the holiday indoors, going from one air-conditioned place to the other and only visiting the typical tourist spots.
My grandmother had decided to take the whole family on a holiday abroad this summer. She was keen to go to Hong Kong, as this fit perfectly within the planned budget along with Macau, which is a city an hour away from Hong Kong.
We started reading up on the places and planning the itinerary immediately, buying a travel guidebook as well. My sister and I prefer travelling to non-commercialised places, but since it was a family trip, it would be hard to accommodate everyone’s individual preferences, so we decided on the popular tourist spots first. But we had yet to plan something for the morning of our last day. Our flight back to Mumbai was in the evening, so we were on the lookout for a half-day trip somewhere different, preferably a quiet beach.
We visited Macau first, staying in the largest casino hotel in the city, the ‘Venetian Macau’, and actually experienced ‘living life king sized’, with amazing food, an infinite number of shops, heated pools and manmade replicas of the grand canals of Venice. But the best part was the rooms, which were the most luxurious suites I have stepped into. The two days felt more like two minutes, and before I knew it, I was stepping onto the ferry that would take us on to Hong Kong.
What awaited us at Hong Kong was a concrete jungle of skyscrapers, each designed in a unique style with their lights reflecting in the night sky. It was mesmerising. We spent the first two days there visiting the typical tourist spots. We went to Lantau Island by the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to visit the Po Ling Monastery and the largest sitting Buddha, we spent half a day at Ocean Park, took the tram to Victoria Peak, travelled by the MTR to the beautiful Hong Kong Park and the Museum of Tea Ware, shopped at the Temple Street Night Market, and had a great time.
The last day of our trip was here in no time, which was exciting even though the holiday was almost over, as we were finally going to have a lazy, relaxed time on the beach. There are a large number of small, outlying islands around Hong Kong, the most famous ones being Lantau, Cheung Chau and Lamma. The travel books I read on Hong Kong described Lamma as a small island perfect for hiking, picnicking or just lazing on the beach, so of course that was the place we had chosen for the last day. But the travel agency which arranged our transport for our holiday hadn’t heard about it before, so we were a little apprehensive about what we would find there.
Only my parents, grandfather, sister and I finally ended up going. The rest of my family decided to stay back at the hotel, as they wanted to shop at Tsim Sha Tsui in the afternoon, which is a popular shopping area in Kowloon. Stepping into the mini bus which would take us from the hotel to the ferry terminal, we were greeted by our tour guide for the day, a tiny old man by the name of Mr. Hardy.
“Ah, I see we are going to Lamma Island today. I haven’t taken many tourists there,” he said. My sister and I shared a look of concern.
“But the locals like to go there for the weekend, with its laid-back atmosphere and excellent sea food. And luckily today’s a Tuesday, so it won’t be crowded. What are you all interested in? There are some great beaches and hiking trails,” he continued, and my sister and I both had wide smiles on our faces by then.
We took the ferry from Central (Hong Kong Island) to Yung Shue Wan, only half an hour away. Getting off, we were greeted by the sun shining on the bright pier, leading to the tiny Yung Shue Wan Main Street, as the signpost indicated. There was a huge parking lot for bicycles on the left. I breathed in the fresh, ocean air. The atmosphere was very relaxed, and it felt like time had slowed down, especially compared to the fast-paced life in the city.
We walked along the Yung Shue Wan Main Street, which was pretty narrow, but had plenty of interesting shops. Mr. Hardy kept up a steady stream of information and fun facts about the culture and lifestyle at Hong Kong, as well as at Lamma Island. We decided to go to the beach first, and then return to Yung Shue Wan for lunch, before catching the ferry back. My grandfather was tired by then, and he decided to sit at a restaurant instead of walking on to the beach, which Mr. Hardy said was a fifteen minute walk ahead.
The four of us went on to Hung Shing Ye Beach along with Mr. Hardy, passing through tiny fishing villages with row houses, bungalows, and even a small school along the way. We found a little stall of books on the way, where we could buy any book for HK$ 10, which would go to a charity. There were signposts with clearly marked signs for the different attractions on the island, even including the approximate time it would take to reach there. Aside from Hung Shing Ye Beach, the other things to do on the island included a walking trail to Sok Kwu Wan, which is another fishing village at the southern end of the island, the Kamikaze Cave, and ‘Lamma Winds’, which is an enormous power station, supplying electricity to the whole of Hong Kong Island.
The fifteen minute walk felt longer due to the heat and humidity, and I felt relieved that I had carried a cap. But it was quiet and peaceful, thanks to the island being car-free. At last we reached the beach, and I could hear the sound of the waves gently lapping the shore in the distance. I could see a couple of shops selling swimwear nearby.
There were hardly any people around, just one couple lying on the sand, tanning, and two figures swimming in the sea in the distance. We chose a picnic bench, situated in the shade of some trees.
“We should have brought our swimming costumes,” I realised out loud.
“Let’s go and check out the shops. Maybe we can buy new ones here,” my sister replied. So we went to the shops we had seen earlier. But the ancient-looking woman in the shop couldn’t find anything in our size, and I was getting too impatient now, with the blue sea beckoning to me.
“Let’s just go into the water like this. I’m sure we’ll dry off soon, it’s so hot,” I said. My sister agreed, so we dumped our bags and shoes at the bench near our parents. I folded my pants up as best as I could in my hurry. The sand was warm against my bare feet, and when the first wave of cool water touched my toes, it felt perfect. We swam for a while, splashing around and jumping over the waves. There was a lifeguard on duty, and a buoyed rope outlined the area safe for swimming.
Walking back to the picnic bench, I saw that my mom was sitting meditating on the sand with her eyes closed, while my dad was reading a book on his phone. I sat against the bark of a tree, reading the book I had bought from the stall on the way. It was so quiet, with only the sound of the waves and the smell of the salt in the air. The beach had a few changing rooms and showers, where we washed the sand off our legs.
We had a delicious Cantonese meal at the waterfront restaurant at Yung Shue Wan, with Mr. Hardy explaining more Chinese customs and showing us the proper way to eat with chopsticks. My mother and I had egg rice and fresh vegetables, while the rest enjoyed prawns and some local fish, and of course, we had to drink the customary Chinese tea with the meal. Luckily for me, the smell of fish was absent because the seafood was freshly caught and served.
After lunch, we still had some time to catch the ferry going back to Central, so my sister and I walked further along the Main Street. There were some pretty interesting looking cafes along the way, but we were too full after the delicious meal we’d just had. We browsed around in the shops, which were selling really pretty handicrafts, clothes and accessories. I wanted to buy a dream catcher, and my sister found some cute vintage-looking chopsticks, but they turned out to be quite expensive.
It felt perfect, eating an ice cream on a hot afternoon, wandering along narrow lanes on a laid-back and serene island without a care in the world. We caught the 3 pm ferry back to Hong Kong, ready to head back home with pockets full of sand, shells and memories.