Tap Mun is one of Hong Kong’s best escapes. It’s quiet, pretty and gives an insight into a way of life that has largely disappeared. And it’s not hard to get to.
Take the no.94 bus to Wong Shek Pier, then catch a ferry (timetables at www.traway.com.hk) or kaido (about $20 one way).
Tap Mun Chau has two names, both of which have merit. Grass Island is indeed grassy, and it’s wonderful to sit on — as long as you can find a gap between the plentiful cowpats — as you gaze at some of Hong Kong’s prettiest coastline with the breeze in your hair.
But Tap Mun Chau wins hands down in terms of poetry. “Tap” means pagoda and “mun” means door, referring to the balanced rocks and rocky outcrops on the island and the coastline across the narrow channel, which form a stone gate to Hong Kong’s waters from the northeast.
At the pier, turn left and maybe have a bite to eat at one of the little stores and restaurants. This area, so quiet on weekdays, is a hive of activity at weekends, as former residents return to cater for the influx of visitors.
A little further on the right is Tap Mun’s gloriously ornate Tin Hau temple, which dates back to the 18th century. Apparently, owing to channels dug to the pirates’ cave beneath it, fishermen could not only pray for safe conditions but gauge the wind strength on the other side of the island from the whistling sounds. And it seems piracy was not confined to the old days. Word is that in 1991 there were 100,000 television sets on Tap Mun Chau — but only 100 residents.
Pop inside the temple and find out your fortune. It’s loads of fun. Just pop $20 in the donation box and grab the fortune stick shaker. Ask a question, shake the pot and – when the first stick pops out – check it’s number and find the corresponding “fortune report” in the adjoining room. Ask someone who reads Chinese to translate it for you.
From the temple, follow the paved walk round the southern tip of the island, which will take about an hour. It’s an easy stroll, ideal for the family, and Tap Mun’s famed wind should provide relief even on the hottest days.
The Sun Rise Pavilion is a popular campsite with unobstructed views to the east for those who want to watch the dawn over a vast stretch of ocean, and the Balance Rock is another landmark.
Keep going and you’ll reach the New Fishermen’s Village, the result of a New Zealand missionary’s efforts to settle Tanka fisherfolk on terra firma in the 1960s. However well intentioned this may have been, the last thing I can claim – even as a compatriot – is architectural charm. It’s a shocker. But even today locals are out there drying their catch on any available surface, no doubt with the weekend market in mind.
You’ll also pass through a large grave site, clearly indicating the island’s population was once much greater, about 2,000 at its peak.
For lunch, stop by one of Tap Mun’s several wonderful seafood restaurants. The food is simple and wonderful and the cheapest in Hong Kong. Be sure to order the prawns, a steamed fish and deep fried squid. Yummy!
Tap Mun Chau may have lost its young people to the city, but your little ones will enjoy a visit. Don’t forget to take a kite!
For other day trips in Sai Kung see our Top 10 day trips in Sai Kung