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Hong Kong's quiet neighbor.

Hong Kong's quiet neighbor

Twice the size of the island of Hong Kong, Lantau Island is only an hour away by ferry, but it's truly a world apart.

Lantau, with a population of fewer than 16,000, is largely undeveloped. It's the antithesis of Hong Kong, the international finance center and shopper's paradise, which teems with skyscrapers and more than a million residents.

Few Hong Kong visitors make the day excursion to Lantau. But it is well known locally for its sandy beaches, rugged hiking, colorful Po Lin Monastery, and, not least, its salted fish.

You can easily visit the island on your own. We took the 8:15 ferry from Central, on Hong Kong Island, and were able to explore the fishing village of Tai O, eat lunch at the monastery, take a short hike, and return by 5.

With the exception of several old villages and a number of monasteries, the southern half of Lantau has been designated a country park. Here, a network of hiking trails--several are old stone paths between villages--links campgrounds and beaches.

Ferries leave the Outlying Districts Services Pier near the Star Ferry terminal at 7, 8:15, and 9:30, look for the gate market Mui Wo, the village at Lantau's Silvermine Bay ferry stop. Cost (deluxe class) is about $1 weekdays, $1.50 weekends. If time permits, walk along the peaceful beach edging the bay (but stifle any urge to take a dip: pollution closed this bay to swimmers several years ago).

Buses (carry small change) leave for Tai O about 5 minutes after the ferry docks, but you'll have more flexibility and will save waiting time if you hire a taxi. Look for a driver who speaks enough English to agree on a plan and a fare before you head out. Fare for the tour outlined here should run $15 to $20.



The 45-minute drive across the island to Tai O edges the coast (Cheung Sha beach is a good place for a swim), then cuts past Shek Pik Reservoir and crosses over a ridge of forested hills to the ancient fishing village. Ask the taxi driver to wait while you explore its narrow, winding streets.

Walking into Tai O, turn left down the first street. A rope-drawn sampan will ferry you (drop HK$0.20 in the box) across a creek lined with rickety fishermen's houses built on stilts. Along the banks, women sell shellfish, or clean and split fresh fish. Once salted and dried, the fish are hung in odoriferous splendor in small shops.

Continue up the street and take the first right onto Market Street. Follow it 1/4 mile past shops and doorways to Hau Wong Temple, built in 1699 on a point of land overlooking Pearl Bay. You're likely to see seaweed drying on a landing near the temple; it's used to cure stomach aches (you may need this if you eat in the village instead of at the monastery).

Return to your taxi and follow Tai O Road inland to Sham Wat Road and Po Lin Monastery. Private cars aren't permitted on the narrow, winding road up to the monastery; dismiss your taxi at the bus stop at the bottom. After 10 A.M., buses at the monastery (under $1) stop here about 20 minutes past the hour.

At Po Lin, follow signs directly to the office to buy a ticket (about $4) for a simple, tasty, vegetarian lunch served family style from noon until 6.

The monastery isn't particularly old (the complex was built in 1927), but the main temple, wide courtyard, and grounds are worth a leisurely tour. And hiking trails radiate into the mountains.

Buses leave for the Mui Wo ferry terminal (a 45-minute ride) at 45 minutes after the hour. Between 10:45 and 6:45, ferries, too, depart at 45 minutes after the hour, less often other times.
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Title Annotation:Pacific Travel Discoveries
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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