Why you need to visit Lamma Island

Beyond the concrete towers that encapsulate Hong Kong’s skyline lies a hidden gem in the South China Sea. Originally known as Pok Liu Chau, Lamma Island is the tiny 13-square-kilometer destination that everyone should add to their bucket list. Although, sadly, there are no llamas, as the name may imply, this island is a true haven away from the dense commotion of central Hong Kong.

Lamma Island boasts some of Hong Kong’s finest natural landscapes, complete with thick greenery, swimmable beaches and a refreshing dose of ocean air. You can catch a ride to the northern village of Yung Shue Wan, or the eastern Sok Kwu Wan in just 20 minutes from Victoria Harbour, or 40 minutes from Aberdeen.

Whether you’re planning a day trip or a weeks-long getaway, here’s why this island will provide you with the perfect change of pace:

The Beaches

A spacious, tidy beach is a relic that’s hard to come by along the coasts of Hong Kong and mainland China. Lamma Island, however, has plenty of swimmable beaches with white sand and (mostly) clean water. Hung Shing Yeh is the island’s most popular beach in the main town of Yung Shue Wan, and despite being ordered to get out of the water due to a nearby oil spill during my own beach day, it’s definitely worth a trip. If you’re looking for a quieter spot, Lo So Shing beach is a must-visit, or you can explore the island’s coast, which is speckled with a ton of secret sandy shores. There is one beach, however, on the southern tip of the island that’s reserved for our marine animal friends. Although accessible by foot or private boat for some of the year, Sham Wan Bay is closed to the public from June to October, as it is the only remaining nesting site in Hong Kong for endangered sea turtles.

The Food

Hong Kong is internationally renowned for its seafood, and some of its best can be found on Lamma Island. Home to one of the territory’s oldest fishing villages, Sok Kwu Wan was once the liveliest fishing centre in Hong Kong. The village residents have been practicing this art for centuries and continue to use traditional fishing techniques to this day. Both of the island’s main towns are lined with seafood eateries, most of which come equipped with patios that overlook the ocean. And if fish isn’t really your thing, not to worry! Lamma is home to a hefty population of expats, many of whom have opened their own restaurants with an international flare. You can find delicious Spanish tapas, traditional British pubs, aromatic Indian grub, and plenty of cozy vegan and vegetarian cafes.

The Hiking Trails

With no cars or buses, Lamma Island can only really be explored by bicycle or by foot. Luckily, there are numerous trails traversing the island’s landscape.The most popular trail is known as the Lamma Island Family Walk and takes you between the major towns of Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan in about one and a half hours. The trail is mostly paved with clear markers and fresh fruit stands along the way, and it’s easily doable for beginners. It will bring you through the rolling green hills of the island to various lookout points where you can catch the sunset and see the glitzy shimmer of Hong Kong’s concrete jungle across the channel.

For the history buffs, Lamma’s trails are also decorated with remnants of the past. Along the way, you’ll find one of many small caves that were built by the Japanese during their occupation of Hong Kong in World War II. The caves were dug to hold speedboats that would be used in suicide attacks on enemy ships. Although they were never fully in use, the caves are untouched to this day, and are now known as the Kamikaze Grottos.

The People

Lamma Island is home to approximately 6,000 residents– not many, compared to the millions of people that populate the rest of Hong Kong. Some locals have lived here for generations, with roots reaching back to the island’s booming fishing days. However, Lamma’s laid-back energy and undeniable charm has attracted expats, artists and wandering nomads from all corners of the globe. It’s also been a recent draw for many workers who’ve opted for a daily ferry commute over the dreaded apartment hunt in mainland Hong Kong. The apparent multiculturalism has infused the island with a free-spirited vibe that makes it one of the best corners of Hong Kong if you’re looking to meet new people.

The Peace & Quiet

Lastly and, in my opinion, most importantly, Lamma Island is a slice of serenity in the foreground of cosmopolitan chaos. There are no cars and no skyscrapers to pollute its natural beauty, in fact, government restrictions forbid any units to be built over three storeys high. This not only curbs the number of residents, but it also opens the view to the skies above- something that’s quite a rarity on the mainland. If you really want to bask in the silence, avoid the island’s busiest time, which is summer weekends when a wave of mainland citizens come rushing in for the prime beach-lounging hours. But, just as quickly as they appear, they vanish at the call of the last scheduled ferry.

If you want to experience Lamma Island and all it has to offer, I suggest planning your trip soon. As the island gains popularity with visitors from near and far, an increasing number of developers are setting their sights on this relaxed hideaway. It may not be the same place in ten, or even five years from now, so hurry up and pack your bags!

Taiwan: the not so ugly duckling of Asia

Living in South Korea as an English teacher is a great way to travel around Asia. Last month my boyfriend and I decided to leave the snow behind and find the absent sun.

Taiwan, known for pleasant seasons year-round, averaged a temperature colder than expected this winter. Not only was the weather unpredictable, but New Year’s Eve proved to be an unconventional chain of events. With poor judgment and lack of planning, our midnight was spent on the side of a busy freeway. The night ended with a “suite” upgrade and VIP service at a local club. Let me start from the beginning.

We had decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Taiwan’s capital Taipei. Taipei was previously known as the “ugly duckling” of Asia. Many tourists seemed to overlook the small island.

My first impression of Taiwan was that of a traditional country struggling to be modern. There were old deteriorating buildings alongside new cars and expensive shops. I loved the unique ambience of the city and the night life was bustling with markets, street food vendors, and small art exhibits. We visited Shilin Night Market which features a  wide range of fashionable shops, authentic Taiwanese games, and eclectic food stalls.

The locals were exceptionally helpful when we haggled with taxi drivers in English. They went so far as to offer us rides which made my first hitchhiking experience a breeze. A friendly stranger in a minivan welcomed us on board where we sat cramped between crates of eggs and jugs of milk. Arriving unharmed at our destination, we bathed with locals in a beautiful hot spring and enjoyed a breathtaking view of the mountains.

The evening ended at a traditional Taiwanese restaurant where the menu looked more like a Latin tome. English was non-existent here and knowing little Mandarin made things quite difficult. We pointed to a picture and prayed we didn’t order any domesticated animal meat. To be sure, there was Adam on one side of the table moo-ing like a cow and I had my elbows bent, trying to mimic a chicken. The waitress smiled politely and walked away. Our melodramatic performance left us feeling defeated, but dinner ended up being pleasantly appetizing.

After spending five wonderful days in Kenting it was back to Taipei. A simple error in hotel rooms, ended with a huge upgrade to a family sized suite. We took advantage of our newfound luxury before heading to Taipei building 101, famous for its annual fireworks display at midnight. Until the tower was trumped by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in 2010, it was the world’s tallest building.

At 11:58 p.m. we were still in the cab but could see the distant tower. We paid the fee and stood with other pedestrians in the middle of the highway trying to get a glimpse of the lit-up sky. Jam-packed with locals and Westerners wishing “Happy new year,” the crowds outside were electric with excitement. We found a bar where friendly locals shared their VIP booth and drinks with us.

The eclectic cuisine, vibrant night markets, stunning nature reserves, and welcoming locals make Taiwan a unique and exciting vacation spot for tourists of all ages. Taiwan is no longer an ugly duckling. It has blossomed into a truly dynamic country.