In my five months in Hong Kong, I often find myself gravitating towards quieter places in my leisure time. The city is so loud and busy that in order to relax and enjoy myself, I need to find a peaceful environment. I think much of this has to do with my upbringing on serene Bainbridge Island. Fortunately, despite it's compact nature, Hong Kong is diverse and contains dozens of such places. Here are a few of my favorites, and I'll try not to sound too much like Rick Steves.
Cheung Chau Island
Possibly my favorite getaway in Hong Kong, Cheung Chau is a short ferry ride away from the urban jungle of Central. There are no significant landmarks there, but the friendly, chilled out environment is simply sublime. There are also no cars, only fisherman, delicious restaurants and ancient pirate caves. Just going there is literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air.
In many ways, Lamma is similar to Cheung Chau. It's an island with a small community and an easy-going vibe. But Lamma is more westernized and is more of a hippie haven than Cheung Chau. I have no problem with bars (such as the wonderfully named 'Dalai Lamma') but Lamma somehow feels a bit less...authentic. Nonetheless, the views while hiking the island are heavenly.
Kat Hing Wai
Kat Hing Wai is a walled village up in the northwestern corner of the New Territories. It's pretty much exactly like it sounds; a bunch of slender houses within a great brick wall. But what makes this so special is that it was founded by the Tang family 500 years ago and many of their descendants still live there. In a city infamous for destroying its ancient history, this village is quite a unique specimen. And not surprisingly, it's well off the beaten tourist path.
Kowloon Walled City Park
This park was built after one of Kowloon's most crowded and sketchy public housing projects was destroyed in 1994. It's now a vibrant green paradise that is both historically interesting and visually stunning. Before the park was a
residential area, it was a military fort serving the Chinese and British at different times. I think the current state of this plot of land is the best yet.
Nan Lian Garden & Chi Lin Nunnery
These two parks stand across the street from each other in Diamond Hill, Kowloon. Both are filled with plant life and temples that almost make one forget that there's a westernized shopping center a stone's throw away. The pictures should say it all. So zen.
The 10,000 Buddhas in Sha Tin is one of the most amazing examples of Buddhist artistry I've seen yet. And that's saying something, having been in Asia for five months now. Once you think you've seen every statue or shrine here, another one is peaking around the corner. Of course, the main draw is the 10,000 tiny gold Buddhas in the main sanctuary. Believe it or not, each in unique from the next.
Tung Lung Island
Of all the islands I've been to, Tung Lung probably has the least 'stuff'. Unlike Lamma or Cheung Chau there's no 7-11, no grocery store and maybe one restaurant. When I was at that restaurant, a Chinese boy stared at me like he'd never seen a white man before. Truly strange in Hong Kong as us foreigners are everywhere. But what I most remember about this place are the powerful waves crashing up against the rocks on the coast. Talk about the uninhibited power of nature.