Visiting Tap Mun (Grass Island)
Eric Ho visits the grassy island with two names.
Tap Mun is located off the northeastern corner of the Sai Kung Peninsula, sat within the opening of Long Harbour. Tap Mun was renamed Grass Island in 1898, after the New Territories was incorporated into the British Crown colony. Its English name provides a hint to its terrain. Today, the two names are used interchangeably, but most locals still refer to the island by its original Chinese name.
How to get to Tap Mun
With no roads or bridges connecting the island, your only choice of transport is by boat. Head to Wong Shek Pier and board a ferry over to Tap Mun, the journey should take no longer than 35 minutes.
The ferry draws into a small village, past rows of docked fishing boats and floating fish farms. Many of the buildings clustered near the pier are vacant and shuttered. Tap Mun once had a thriving fishing industry and homed 5,000 Hakka or Tanka fishermen – now it has a population of about 100. The drastic decrease in the village’s population also led to the abandonment of King Lam School in 2003, Tap Mun’s one and only school. It has become a Grade III historic building and still stands just behind the village.
A history of Tap Mun
Diminishing hauls and the trawling ban means tourism is now the main source of income but remnants of Tap Mun’s former fishing industry is still very visible today. At weekends, numerous stalls pop up along the waterfront selling dried seafood, including squid, fish and prawns. Navigate down the narrow village alley to find some unassuming seafood restaurants. No visit to Tap Mun would be complete without tasting the famous uni (sea urchin) fried rice, rumoured to be the best in Hong Kong.
Did you know?
Despite having less than 100 residents, in 1991, Tap Mun had over 100,000 registered television sets, destined to be smuggled into China
Ahead, the rows of buildings open up to a small set of steps leading towards the beautifully ornate temple to Tin Hau, the Goddess of the Sea, said to protect seafarers and fishermen. The temple was constructed about 400 years ago and has been well-maintained. Legend has it that a tunnel connects the altar to a hidden pirate cave on the other side of the island, and if you keep quiet, they say you can hear the sound of waves crashing on the shore.
Why make the trip?
Most visitors make the trip out to Tap Mun to enjoy the island’s large grassy slope. The hilltop provides a grand view of the South China Sea, the unmistakable profile of Sharp Peak and, in the far distance, mainland China. The unobstructed horizon yields some of the most beautiful sunrises in Hong Kong, leading locals to call this “Sunrise Pavilion”. And at night, the lack of light pollution also makes this one of the territory’s best stargazing spots. With no sheltering islands or mountains in the way, this grassy hill is almost always swept by wind – usually a gentle sea breeze – making it a hotspot for kite flyers.