The Eco-Forward Traveller’s Guide to Hong Kong's Car-Free Islands

The Eco-Forward Traveller’s Guide to Hong Kong’s Car-Free Islands

Let your feet bring you to a different side of Hong Kong the next time you visit.

“I wish there was a taxi we could hail right now,” my friend mused as we inched closer to a massive windmill atop Lamma Island in Hong Kong. The uphill path we were on was wide yet peculiarly empty. Lined with verdant shrubbery, open spaces like this flourish in Hong Kong’s car-free islands. So while we meant the taxi statement as a joke, this fact would’ve made such a request impossible — because in these parts of Hong Kong, there is not a single car in sight.

At the end of that hike, we were rewarded with one of the most scenic views of the Fragrant Harbour. Except, this one didn’t come with skyscrapers, city lights, nor roads filled with public vehicles in vivid colours. Neither was there any form of noise we could associate with Hong Kong traffic; not even the famous ticking sound you would hear while crossing the jam-packed pedestrian streets in Kowloon, where avenues optimised for maximum mobility are the norm.

Hong Kong Car-Free Islands

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

Instead, there were endless hills, coastal villages, and vast waters. Nature trails came in abundance, too. Some had temple-like pavilions which we shared with other visitors when we’d pause from all the walking. By then, it was clear to us that we were looking at a different side of Hong Kong. We weren’t prepared for it, but it ended up being something we wholeheartedly and surprisingly took pleasure in.

Get to know some of Hong Kong’s car-free islands

That trip took place way back in 2015. It’s funny how I managed to recall those fine details years later. But after at least three more trips to the city that allowed me to see it from various perspectives, it eventually struck me that this was the Hong Kong I would much rather be in: quiet, simple, and above all, geared towards sustainability.


The tourist-friendly Lamma Island

Hong Kong Car-Free Islands

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

Lamma is the third-largest island in Hong Kong, just after Lantau and Hong Kong Island. What seems like a world apart from the rest of the city is a thriving paradise of enchanting seaside villages, teeming natural wonders, and all things hippie. For this reason, Lamma offers excursions that really feel like stepping back in time, rather than a typical weekend getaway. Although, it could also very much be both.

Residents refer to the biggest village on Lamma Island as Yung Shue Wan, which brims with bustling restaurants serving Cantonese and foreign cuisines. It also serves as the main jumping-off point for most tours around Lamma. Here, my friend and I got to try some of the best (and largest) plates of egg fried rice and cups of local tea we’ve ever had. We learned later on that both are staples on the island, but not as much as the rich amounts of seafood it is mainly known for. For this, you’ll have to go to Sau Kee Seafood Restaurant, an al fresco eatery where something as simple as a salt and pepper squid recipe will leave you wanting more.

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

Artsy cafes and green shops also share this scene. I would eventually find out that they were an ode to Lamma Island’s free-spirited atmosphere that’s known to attract creatives and laid-back travellers. If you’re more interested in what you could take home instead of enjoy at the moment, however, then visit Lamma Corner. It’s more than a store selling environmentally friendly souvenirs; it’s also responsible for campaigns that aim to educate visitors, as well as locals, on how to better protect Lamma Island.

Yung Shue Wan Main Street will take you through most of these establishments, from which a number of locals primarily get their income. The street is so narrow, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any vehicles (except emergency-use ones), traffic lights, or pedestrian crossings. So if you wonder how people here manage to get around, you’ll find the answer by taking a left at the main pier upon docking on this side of the island. Here, you’ll find rows of bicycles for you to use. If not, explore on foot — a break from taking high carbon-emitting subways, trains, and buses not unknown to the rest of Hong Kong.

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

Following the main pathway from Yung Shue Wan, you’ll find yourself in Hung Shing Yeh Beach. Boasting golden sand, it can get crowded on summery days. But it’s mesmerisingly picturesque, with Lamma’s power station providing visual contrast in the backdrop. Other than its obvious beauty, especially come sunset, I appreciated the fact that it was once home to one of a few tree-planting sites on Lamma. Another one is in a place called Pak Kok in the northern part of the island.

Hiking from here through the Lamma Island Family Trail will bring you to Lamma Winds. It’s Hong Kong’s first commercial-scale wind turbine that produces renewable energy and provides electricity to Lamma Island. Like the hilltop pavilions common along the 7 to 9km trail, it provides stunning sights of what remains of Hong Kong’s tropical greenery. Just as impressive as when you look at the turbine from above or below are the environmental initiatives employed to create its design. These include using solar-powered lighting and coal by-products for planting the surrounding foliage.

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

As you make your way down the other side of Lamma Island, you’ll come upon one of the three Tin Hau temples on the island. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s among many places of worship in Hong Kong that honour the same Chinese sea goddess, Tin Hau. It’s also around this area where the village of Sok Kwu Wan silently thrives. If you want to know more about Hong Kong’s fishing culture, including eating in restaurants that only prepare authentic Cantonese seafood meals, this is the place to do it. From here, you can take a ferry back to Central.

Also read: A Day Trip to Hong Kong’s Lamma Island

How to get to and where to stay in Lamma Island

Lamma Island is less than 10km away from Hong Kong Island. Boats are the only way to get here, and the ride takes between 30 to 40 minutes. First, take the MTR to Hong Kong Station, then walk to Central Pier No. 4. Afterwards, hop on a ferry going to either Yung Shue Wan or Sok Kwu Wan. Both are likewise reachable by a different route from Aberdeen.

Although a popular day trip destination, Lamma Island has been able to complement its growing tourism with a selection of overnight accommodations. Offering the same relaxed vibe as the locality itself, they range from private rooms in local houses to holiday resorts. In an effort to preserve as much of the island’s authenticity as possible, many of these places are still run by the residents.

The less commercialised Peng Chau Island

Where untouched nature and ancient landmarks dominate the landscape, Peng Chau rests just northeast of Lantau Island. Far from inexistent, life here, however, could not be more different from that of the latter. As Lantau houses both the city’s main international airport and a famous theme park, Peng Chau Island boasts time-honoured gems that remain captivating as ever — even in pleasantly old-fashioned ways.

Showing a dense inland and a coastline rich in marine biodiversity, Peng Chau Island measures a mere 1sq km. But you won’t be the first to be fooled by its size, with its fair share of attractions that one can safely explore from one to the other due to its car-free streets. In this case, walking and cycling using Peng Chau bike rentals from HK$30 are both offered as options.

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

Upon arriving at Peng Chau Ferry Pier, begin your tour with a visit to Tin Hau Temple. Exploring Peng Chau clockwise (as most visitors suggest) will bring you first to this unassuming place of heritage that was built 400 years ago. Here, you can pray for safety at sea, like many of the more than 5,000 locals who call the island their home.

As you leave from here and pass by two other temples, you’ll notice a long footbridge connecting Peng Chau to an even smaller island. The latter is called Tai Lei, which is where you’ll want to go to see Peng Chau from a distance. It’s a popular spot for fishing and watching the sunset. If you’re not planning to see the rest of the island for your first visit, that is. Alternatively, you can go to a neighbourhood called Nam Wan at a totally different location on the island.

Hong Kong Car-Free Islands

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

Back on Peng Chau, explore the 800- to 900-m long Peng Yu Path, which will introduce you to beautifully preserved rock formations, like the Old Fisherman’s Rock, and beaches. Tung Wan Beach is the biggest one of them all. It’s where a few local families make a living by selling refreshments and renting out gear for water activities. The same area also houses Lung Mo Temple. Opened in 1971, it pays tribute to a Chinese goddess of water. For married couples, it’s said that touching Lung Mo’s bed will bring good fortune to your family.

At the heart of Peng Chau Island is Leather Factory, a 1930s factory site behind Wing On Street. Creatives come here for the graffiti and buildings designed in traditional Chinese vernacular architecture; but you’ll also enjoy the vintage shops, artsy cafes, pottery workshops, and recycled art installations spread all over the area. If this place teaches you anything, it’s that Peng Chau locals aren’t just big on fishing; they also take pride in their knack for turning something old into eye-catching works of art, while leaving as little a carbon footprint as possible.

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

In the vicinity, you’ll come across traditional Hong Kong cafes called cha chaan tengs and several restaurants. Drop by Hoi King Seafood Restaurant for their dumplings, Kee Sum Cafe for shrimp toast, and HoHo Kitchen for ice cream pineapple buns. Other must-try food spots come in the form of street stalls selling fruits and other delicacies prepared by residents themselves. More than just places to eat in Peng Chau, they’re a great way to see how locals have managed to preserve their culinary culture all these years.

Thanks to these places, you’ll be filled enough to hike to a pagoda at the highest point of the island, Finger Hill, or to Ngan Chau Tsai Pavilion. From the pavilion, you can easily enjoy views of Hong Kong attractions such as Hong Kong Disneyland, Tsing Ma Bridge, and even Lamma Island. Indeed, you won’t find a better place to end your Peng Chau tour. By this time, you won’t realise you’ve practically circled all of this tiny island in Hong Kong.

Also read: A Guide to Discovering Hong Kong’s Beautiful Peng Chau Island

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

How to get to and where to stay in Peng Chau Island

Getting to Peng Chau Island also requires travelling by water from Hong Kong Island. At Central Pier No. 6, ride a ferry going to Peng Chau Ferry Pier. The trip will only be between 25 and 40 minutes. It’s recommended to take the same ferry back to Central. But an option to travel to Mui Wo or Chi Ma Wan on Lantau Island by ferry is also available.

Best experienced on a day trip, Peng Chau Island does not have hotels that cater to overnight visitors. With that in mind, you may choose to simply stay in a hotel on Hong Kong Island. This will give you easy access to Central Ferry Pier. That way, you can still start early on your Peng Chau retreat. Booking hotels on Lantau Island, particularly those in Mui Wo or Chi Ma Wan, is not a bad idea either.


Hong Kong car-free islands for your sustainable travels

When people speak of Hong Kong as one of the best places to travel in Asia, it’s almost entirely literal. Evidently, it has so much to do with its reliable and convenient transportation. Steps to mitigate its environmental impact, however, include reducing vehicular traffic and improving city walkability; another is by helping its car-free islands prosper as they have.

Hong Kong Car-Free Islands

Image credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

As more commercial attractions take shape all around the city, one should easily make out the reasons why more of its people hold these Hong Kong car-free islands in high regard. Chief of which is that they offer an escape from its hustle and bustle, one where getting around doesn’t rely on the means of transport travellers usually take. All you need to do is spend some time on these islands — weekend trips are recommended — to appreciate what they really have to offer.

It might’ve taken Hong Kong only a few decades to become the urban sprawl the world knows it to be today. But what I found utterly impressive about it (and continue to do so) is its commitment to minimising the impact of these development efforts on the environment. Just because you don’t see it in the photos of travellers who came here before you, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Let your feet bring you to a different side of Hong Kong the next time you visit.

For more information, visit Hong Kong Tourism Board’s official website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Brought to you by Hong Kong Tourism Board.

About Author

Joser Ferreras
Joser Ferreras

Joser is a senior writer for TripZilla based in Manila, Philippines. He mostly covers travel, people, and business.