With air tickets still exuberantly expensive (flights to Phuket, Thailand from Hong Kong are currently $7000+ for a family of four which is about $2500 more than we used to pay) there is still merit in finding great places at home for a little holiday. And what better place than Cheung Chau; Hong Kong's fishing port.
Cheung Chau has a vibe like no other place in Hong Kong. The pace of life here is slower and even the light feels defused and welcoming.
This post will be how to spend 2 nights on Cheung Chau: Camping if it's not Summer or AirBnB if it is...
Places to stay
I don't have any affiliation with any places mentioned in these posts, but I have used them before and personally recommend them. Sorry if your experience isn't as good as ours.
AirBnB - Rachel's AirBnB right near the ferry pier
This place is great. It's a 1 minute walk from the ferry pier that connects you to Central, which if you're carrying a lot of stuff is a godsend. It's split into 4 levels, so although the main living space is quite small, it doesn't feel like it. We rented the BBQ as an extra, headed to the wet-market - just a 1 minute walk away - and stocked up on tasty dinner stuff.
The kids tried their hand at gutting a squid; rather them than me! The rooftop here is amazing with 300 degree views out across the island. Fairly lights really add to the ambience. The price is creeping up and is now comparable to a decent hotel on Central, but it depends what you want out of the experience and we love it here.
Saiyuen - Private campsite
When autumn comes and you can consider camping again, consider Saiyuen. Be warned though, it's not cheap and they rinse you for every penny once you're there, but we still think it's worth it for the safety and beauty of the place, and the goats.
They offer a few different options from pitching your own 2-4 person tent, renting the tents and equipment from them or hiring one of their pre-pitched tents. The cost for each of these is on a parabolic scale! I treated my wife to a star dome tent for her birthday. It comes with 2 double beds (how romantic!), aircon, your own little toilet/ shower and a picnic bench. It also costs a whopping $2,800 per night. For that, you could stay at the 5* W Hotel including breakfast, spa vouchers and still have cash left over for dinner and some sundowners.
We usually bring our own tent and all the rest of the stuff that goes with it and it costs $600 a night which is far more doable and excusable; still a lot for camping though. Yes, we could stay at the government free sites but they don't tend to be quite so close to such great amenities, and when you have kiddos, amenities are worth it.
Best Things to do on Cheung Chau
Hire a bike/ trike
Cars aren't allowed on Cheung Chau, and for good reason. The lanes are tiny and it would be chaotic. Even the emergency services use 'PlayMobile' versions of everyday vehicles. I'm genuinely not sure I'd fit in the back of one of their ambulances.
This means most people turn to bike power to get themselves around the island, and the trikes can be particularly useful if you have a load of luggage to cart about. I recommend getting your bike from this place, especially if you're renting your bike for a few days. It's about $20 cheaper than other places per day. Trike bike rental was $140 a day. The bikes technically fit 3 adults, so long as they're little and quite light! Luckily Cheung Chau is mostly flat.
Note that you need to jump off and push when passing the ferry pier or the police will issue you a ticket. My wife didn't jump off and it was very funny.
For such a small island, Cheung Chau has loads of really good (and surprisingly bad) restaurants. Recently I've noticed more and more western style places popping up, especially along the harbour front. Some of these have that 'food described by someone to someone who has never tasted it' atmosphere. The Rainbow Cafe, a one minute walk to the right of the pier (if you're facing the sea) and is a great example of this; The All Day English Breakfast includes sweetcorn... But the owners are really lovely and if you need to wait for a few minutes for a ferry, it's a great place to grab a coffee or cold drink.
Make sure to head to the famous strip of seafood restaurants about a 5 minute walk to the right of the pier if you're facing the sea. To this day I've no idea which one I've been to as they all look identical, but I've not been disappointed by the food at any. Choose a busy one frequented by beer drinking locals and you won't go too far wrong. I once had lunch with my mother at one of these - the next table across was packed with about 8-10 shirtless builders. Oddly they were drinking bottle after bottle of Moet and Chandon. Would have loved to have known what they were celebrating.
After a night on the Moet, we have an absolute favourite place for breakfast. It really should be awarded a Michélin star for the quality of the food. It's a typical cha chang teng with little plastic stools and massive dusty fans, but the food here is above and beyond. We go for the beef satay noodles with a Chinese milk tea. I think it comes to $39 per portion or thereabouts. The soup base the needles come in is just out of this world and the noodles have that thick homemade texture, but I'm not sure they are homemade. It's tucked away near the wet market. If you walk up from the Park and Shop heading to the pier, it's in the covered food bit there on the left, and it's the second one you come to. Satay beef noodles is pronounced "saatay nau yot mein" and a hot milk tea is "yeet nai taa" and don't forget the "ng gai". Enjoy!
Just outside this place, to the left of where the above picture was taken, there's an incredibly polite young man who makes "char sui churn" which is rice rolls with bbq pork inside. It's absolutely delicious and needs to be eaten right away whilst still warm.
Cheung Chau isn't excatly known for it's pizza, but there are more and more good ones popping up. I highly recommend the place just up from the bike rental place called Fresh Basil Pizza. The portions are great, the ingredients fresh and the view is spectacular. They don't have an alcohol license but they do have a fully stocked beer fridge which you can help yourself to. Just remember how many you've had to pay the bill at the end!
Whilst you have a full belly and are mooching around town, check out some of the shops in the lanes. There is an eclectic variety of objects for sale.
This next activity takes a cooler day and some sensible shoes.
Cheung Po Tsai Caves & a cool walk to Pak Tso Wan beach
Cheung Chau is called Pirate Island for a reason! Take a trip back 230 years ago and Cheung Chau and its surrounding waters would be commanded by the fearsome Cheung Po Tsai. He was leader of over 600 ships at his peak and is was feared and respected by his tens of thousands of followers and authorities alike. He rules over the coast of Guangdong with his smuggling and illicit trade and it's believed he hid much of his treasure in the Cheung Po Tsai cave. The treasure has never been found, which means it must still be out there, waiting for you to discover it. The best way to reach the caves is to follow the signage to Saiyuen campsite, then take a right at The Pirate Bay restaurant and follow the path around. There is some excellent exploring to be done through the rocks on the way to the cave.
After this swashbuckling adventure, it's time to head to the beach - Pak Tso Wan beach, to be exact. It's a non-gazetted beach meaning anything goes, and is a great spot for a beach fire if you're staying at Saiyuen campsite. There are often people camping there too, although I'm not sure I'd want to do that - as I was collecting firewood to the rocky edge of the beach one night, I shone my torch into the grass and hundreds of tiny shiny eyes shone back... Anyway, the beach is lovely!
Another not quite so picturesque but perhaps more interesting and definitely better served beach is the tongue twister named Kwun Yam beach. It's to the east of the island, to the right of the main beach. Take a walk past The Warrick (I really want to stay here as it looks so mad) and past the bronze age stone carving, past the helipad (see, I told you it was interesting) and you arrive at Kwum Yam. It's famous for windsurfing lessons, and where Lee Lai-Shan practised. Lai-Shan is famous for taking the gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games and therefore becoming the first Hong Konger to ever win a gold medal at anything Olympics related.
There is a 'surf cafe' on top of the rocks before you hit the beach and is a lovely spot to take in a cold one. The breeze up there is usually brisk and often very welcome.
Once you've finished relaxing, it's time to head down to the beach for a nap, people watch, swim, kite surf, wing surf, foil board... you name it, this beach has it. It's also a great place to watch people being flown off the island by the Government Flying Service.
One last important point to note is the supermarkets on Cheung Chau are terrible. Not only cramped and badly stocked, but some don't accept cards, so be prepared. This Park and Shop below is a great example of the madness. The one on the right takes cards, the one on the left doesn't. Technically two different shops.
I really hope you enjoy your Cheung Chau adventure. Let us know how it goes and if you find more fun places to enjoy.