Cycling the coast of Lamma Island - Hong Kong's rural neighbour
There is little that will put you in touch more closely with your 39 years and lax attitude to fitness than deciding, off hand, to embark upon a cross country cycle ride across a mountainous island. But Lamma Island is such a beautiful little spot of forests and sandy coves, pin drop quiet fishing villages and a community of artistic outsiders that despite my blood pressure, I was eager to explore.
Lamma is just a 20 minute ferry ride from Hong Kong but couldn't feel more at odds with its brash neighbour. The island is probably best known for its artistic, hippie-esque vibe thanks to a large arty community of (mostly) expats who visited decades ago and never left. Outdoor all night raves aren't uncommon, though they're more likely to be attended by a few bearded locals than hoards of party seekers.
It was originally cheaper rents and the promise of a relatively"off-grid" existence so close to Hong Kong that was one of its biggest draws. And it still has that slightly alternative feel today. There are no buildings more than three stories tall and cars are banned. Stalls sell handmade jewellery, carved wooden trinkets, rusty old antiques and homemade tie dye clothing in the streets of Yung Shue Wan, the island's biggest port and largest village. There are art galleries and second hand bookshops to browse and not a banker in sight (except at weekends).
Further away from the port I cycled through fishing villages and people living a quiet, somewhat traditional way of life long since vanished from Hong Kong. Wooden stilt houses look out to sea and the fish farms that line the coast. Fishing is big business here and there is a near constant salty, fishy smell in the air. There are countless open air seafood eateries and bars to kick back with a craft beer or two. In short, it's a grand day out.
There are a few unofficial dirt tracks for bikes around Lamma but I decided on the paved option given the bike I hired was of the old school rickety variety (including a basket). The Family Trail crosses the island between Yung Shue Wan in the north and Sok Kwu Wan village in south east is a hilly 5km long and beautifully scenic as it climbs with the terrain up to 100 metres above sea level.
The first 10 minutes of (very easy) cycling quickly caused me to start sweating uncontrollably so I looked for an excuse to stop. The enormous power station built on the western side gave me just that excuse and is an arresting sight. Industry is everywhere and Lamma is no exception. The beach just in front is called Power Station beach, which I quite liked.
Back on the trail I came to Hung Shing Yeh beach next, the most popular on the island, and passed groups of picnicking families and some beautiful views across to bays just beyond and the odd yacht carrying wealthy Hong Kongers no doubt anchored just offshore.
The trail began to climb and my heart rate soared with the terrain, but the views just got better and better. The hilly, forested coastline is almost completely untouched here and I spotted eagles circling the sea, rocky outcrops dotted with colourful wild flowers and coves of white sand. The lack of roads on the island has resulted in less people, more wildlife and a serenity far removed from Hong Kong.
I approached the end of the trail after countless uphill struggles with my basketed beast of a bike, plus an unfortunate incident which resulted in me diving headfirst into a hedge - the bike faired better than my knees. But despite the mishaps and uphill climbs, the trail is a delight. Coastal views and pretty villages aside, journeying across Lamma gives a glimpse into what Hong Kong might have been before it made a name for itself as a commercial port and later a financial powerhouse for China.
It was the perfect escape.