Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008

Cheung Chau

Physically, the tiny island of Cheung Chau is just a 12-km (7.5-mile) sail southeast of Hong Kong by scheduled ferry. But temporally — especially when seen in the right sort of light — it's an age away. Expect a living, not touristic, fishing community and a harbor crammed with working craft. Just off the Praya (an old colonial word meaning "waterfront promenade") is a traditional Chinese market, its stalls, ancestral halls and narrow lanes a good facsimile of how a traditional Chinese community might have looked decades ago. Take a peek at the 18th-century Pak Tai temple, stroll along the beach, then sit down to a seafood meal at one of the Praya restaurants. Ferries depart from Pier 5 in Central (nearest MTR: Central).


Not so long ago, the onetime Portuguese possession of Macau — an hour from Hong Kong by jetfoil — was a quiet enclave of pastel colored villas, sleeping dogs and long lunches on tiled terraces. These days, it has been utterly transformed into a gaudy Babylon of new construction, Russian sex workers and casinos. More dollars are now wagered here a year than in Las Vegas and if you're the sporting type, you'll be in hog heaven in venues like the Venetian, Sands, Lisboa or Wynn.

Cultural tourists will have to work harder at getting something out the trip, but the city's historic center and a number of good Portuguese restaurants have the makings of a worthwhile excursion. If you're staying overnight and want to avoid the casino scene, the suburban and beachfront Westin Resort is the best place to get away.

You can fly by helicopter or sail to Macau; ferries take off from Shun Tak Centre, on the waterfront west of Central (nearest MTR: Sheung Wan) on Hong Kong Island. For more on Macau, see its tourism website.