We didn’t know what to expect. Faced with the novelty of an open Saturday night, my girlfriend Laine and I decided to go somewhere random. Why not Cheung Chau? We’d always enjoyed visiting the island during the day, when its bicycles, beaches and palates of drying fish are a rebuke to the city’s uptight rush. It might be just as fun at night, we reasoned.
So we headed to the Central Ferry Piers where we stocked up on good beer — a Paulaner Dunkelweizen, a Brooklyn Lager and a Yebisu, for the record — and caught the 9:30pm “Ordinary Ferry” at Pier 5. In this case, “ordinary” means you’ll get exactly what you’d expect from a ferry: a real boat that sloshes back and forth in the water, with a spot at the rear where you can sit outdoors and feel the wind in your hair. It takes 15 minutes longer than the hermetically-sealed icebox “Fast Ferry,” but it also costs half as much and is twice as much fun.
We arrived at the island a bit after 10pm. The lights on the harbourfront promenade twinkled like somebody’s forgotten Christmas decorations. As we disembarked the ferry and left the pier, I noticed that most of seafood restaurants along the Praya were already winding down for the night, but Laine pointed out something far more exciting: street food.
Just down the street from the ferry pier, clouds of steam billowed out from a hawker stall where two women were preparing fresh cheung fun and congee. As we approached to investigate, about a dozen other hawkers wheeled up their carts, well-stocked with chicken thighs, stuffed vegetables and even sushi.
Dazed by maki, deep-fried chicken and dried shrimp cheung fun, we wandered aimlessly down the Praya, past the wet market, where restaurants spilled into the streets, until we were hemmed in by narrow lanes that grew ever quieter. Eventually, the lanes led us uphill to the Peak Road, once reserved for the vacation homes of Hong Kong’s European elite. Cicadas buzzed in the gardens of nearby villas. Every so often, a cyclist would glide past, silently. We saw a frog hop its way across the pavement.
The Peak Road makes its curvy way along the bluff that sits to the south of Cheung Chau’s main town. It’s easy to lose direction when you’re walking along it, especially at night, but Cheung Chau is not a big island; somehow, no matter how lost you may feel, you will be deposited back in the centre of town, just a few steps from the ferry pier. In our case, at about midnight, we ended up at the beach.
I’d never considered swimming at night, but Tung Wan Beach changed my mind. By day, it’s a bit tawdry, a narrow stretch of sand that seems too small for the number of people that use it. In the middle of the night, though, its murky waters were oddly alluring. We sat in the sand, staring at the twinkling lights of Hong Kong Island in the distance. Laine pulled a bottle of red wine out of her bag and we took swigs from it. Nearby, a group of teenagers played frisbee. Some of them broke away and ran into the water.
We thought about spending the night. The Hotel Warwick beckoned from one end of the beach; at a bit past 1am, we wandered over to enquire about the rates. The desk clerk seemed a bit startled; I think we woke up him. $1,200 for the cheapest room, he said, and check out time was noon. That was a bit out of budget for impulse spending. We thanked him and made our way to the ferry pier to catch the 2:20am sailing.
The street vendors were still out, so we got a parting snack: a bowl of sweet red bean soup.
Tags: Cheung Chau, Exploring the City, Hong Kong, Islands, Markets, Night Markets, Street Food, Streetlife