Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

Peng Chau, Hong Kong’s most charming island

Hop on a ferry to Peng Chau to escape the city’s hustle and bustle, and learn about Hong Kong’s maritime history in the process

We meet Daisann McLane on a breezy morning at the Central Ferry Piers, about five minutes’ walk away from The Landmark Mandarin Oriental. For many locals, this is the start point for a workaday commute to one of the city’s outlying islands. But for McLane, it is the beginning of a Hong Kong adventure.

“Most people who come to Hong Kong miss experiencing the deeper sense of the place,” she says, as we slip through the turnstiles to board a ferry headed to her favourite island, Peng Chau. “Yet it’s so easy to find the real Hong Kong, all you need do is to walk down here and hop on a boat.” McLane, an American living in Hong Kong for 14 years, is passionate about her adopted city, a passion she has turned into a business: Little Adventures in Hong Kong, the city’s only luxury private experience company.

We head straight to the open back deck of the boat, and squeeze in alongside fishermen, construction workers and housewives with their distinctive red-white-and-blue plastic shopping bags. The ferry pulls away quickly to the west, leaving us with a glorious 360-degree perspective of Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong skyline. “Simply the best view of the city, period,” McLane declares.

And it is more than just a view: it’s a panorama of living history. “When you get out on the harbour and start exploring Hong Kong by public ferry, you begin to understand why the British were so keen on planting their flag here. It is the best commercial harbour in the world. It was in 1841, and it still is now.” Surrounded by container ships and oil tankers headed for the Lamma Channel, hydrofoils headed to Macau and dozens of tugboats, it’s hard to argue.

In just 25 minutes we land in Peng Chau, an island that is less than a third of a square kilometre in size but which, McLane explains, has an even older history than the city itself. “Before Hong Kong even existed, these outlying islands were where all the action was in the region. The Chinese navy was defending their territory, pirates were raiding for valuable goods, such as salt and the precious agarwood tree. And the fishermen were making a livelihood on these islands, while trying to avoid trouble.”

The first person we encounter in Peng Chau’s main village is a fisherwoman, a scrappy elder wearing the traditional rough denim wrap jacket. She is selling her catch at the market, and plunges a rubber-gloved hand into her tank to grab a spotted grouper for our inspection. After some discussion with McLane in Cantonese, the fisherwoman concludes the deal. About 30 seconds later, the grouper, headless and cleaned, is in a red plastic bag and we are walking it over to a village restaurant to have it cooked.

Along the way we pass a small Chinese temple, fragrant with incense that mingles with the smell of the sea. Occasionally bells tinkle from carts and bicycles, warning us of their approach on an island that allows no cars. Pensioners sit on plastic chairs outside shops and trade the latest news. “When I bring people to Peng Chau, I have to keep reminding them that we have not left Hong Kong. Peng Chau is one of those local places that allows you to breathe in the atmosphere of the city that was, and that I hope will always be.”

Little Adventures in Hong Kong provides private walks and food experiences that take you to a hidden, delicious Hong Kong. Guests can book tours directly via www.littleadventuresinhongkong.com

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