I first learned of the existence of Tung Ping Chau back in January, and immediately decided that we needed to make a trip out to this remote island before we moved away. Something about the island caught my interest. Maybe it was the fact that it's not attached to Hong Kong's electricity and water providers (the restaurants use generators and the bathrooms are outhouses). Maybe it was the fact that once you're there, you're stuck there for at least the day--the ferry arrives Saturday morning, and doesn't return until late Saturday afternoon. To me, this island sounded just about as close to Gilligan's Island as it's possible for me to get.
I was determined that I was going to finally get the Gilligan's Island-esque stranded on a tropical island experience. Since my mom and dad were visiting, and cousin Shannon was meeting up with us, I decided to drag my nearest and dearest along for the adventure.
That's right. My parents and Shannon were in Hong Kong for a few days only and instead of doing The Peak Tram or Lantau Island or anything a normal tourist might do, I told them that we were headed out on a 1.5 hour ferry ride to a remote island and didn't give them much choice in the matter. If I would have given them a choice, they probably would have rebelled. This is how good tour guides behave.
View from the ferry pier
The ferry trip was largely uneventful, we napped and chatted about how best to escape in case disaster struck the ferry and we had to abandon ship (what can I say? We were in a Gilligan's Island frame of mind). When we hit an open bay, two rather large swells rocked the boat a bit and gave us a little roller coaster-like experience--making me glad that none of us are prone to seasickness.
When we arrived on the pier and everyone got off the ferry, I was initially somewhat dismayed--my Gilligan's Island had so many people on it! There was something majorly wrong with this picture. But my worry was needless. While the pier was crowded, it turned out that, yes, the 1.6 sq. kilometer island was indeed big enough for all of us, and during most of the day we had a very serene experience of wandering on our own, only occasionally bumping into our fellow island explorers, none of whom were loud or disruptive in any way. Serene and largely people-free isn't necessarily the first thing you think of when you think of Hong Kong, but Tung Ping Chau is a bit of an anomaly.
We immediately set off to circumnavigate the island on foot (fun fact: no cars on Tung Ping Chau). The island's trail is in remarkably good condition in comparison to most hiking trails I've encountered in this part of the globe.
At one time, there was a thriving village with approximately 1,500 inhabitants on Tung Ping Chau, but at this point it is thought that there are no permanent residents on the island, although there are rustic campsites for tourists who want to spend the whole weekend on the island, and I believe that the families who own the restaurants that serve tourists also stay on the island on the weekends.
We discovered an abandoned, falling down church near the crumbling village, and we just had to take a peek inside.
This particular building had bars on all the windows--I imagine to discourage robbers, but since there is no longer any door or roof, it's not exactly like I was breaking and entering.
When we got to the rocky beach, we were in awe of the broken bits of coral and rocks that were everywhere. Angel stopped to examine an interesting one, declaring, "This rock is so special!" About 5 seconds later, when he'd realized that the rock he held was merely the average sort of rock that the beach held, he exclaimed, "Every rock is special!"
"Every rock is special!" became the slogan of our trip.
There was this little nook in the cliffs along the shore that just happened to have a tunnel going all the way through, and we couldn't help but climb inside. It was a very narrow tunnel--we were all laying on our stomachs to get this picture, and getting out by shimmying backward and trying not to bump our heads on the roof took a great deal of care. The tunnel was actually about 10 feet above the level of the beach--Angel had jumped up to a little ledge right outside the opening, so this photo is a mite deceiving.
The following series of photos might be titled: "Rachel happily dances around Tung Ping Chau because it is, indeed, the next best thing to Gilligan's Island." I was so thrilled to be there.
See my arms all akimbo in every. single. photo? That's my non-official sign language for, "Look at this! This is awesome! I can't believe I'm really here! Ahh! So much coolness!"
With rests and picnic stops, it took us a little over 3 hours to circumnavigate the island, at which point we parked ourselves on the beach and just took in the view.
But then! We'd enjoyed steamy sunny weather all day. So hot that while on the trail, Dad was making up songs about how hot it was, which the rest of us did not find funny. As we sat and simply enjoyed the passing of time, we began to see menacing clouds rolling in.
It didn't start raining quite as soon as the crowds arrived, so we took our time as we headed towards the restaurants and the shelter they provided, stopping to explore a cemetery along the way.
We made it to the restaurant shortly before a torrential downpour broke out, and feasted on rice, noodles, and tea as the tarp above our heads drooped scarily lower and lower as it filled up with water. Then the restaurant owner came out and temporarily untied one of the corners of the tarp, let all the water come gushing down, and tied it back up, so we were safe from being drenched once more.
It's important to note that we were never actually stranded on Hong Kong's Gilligan's Island, though I think all day we entertained the idea that we might be. The ferry arrived promptly at 5, and we were headed back to civilization by 5:15.
The downpour had affected civilization too. When we took the pedestrian walkway back to the metro stop, we found that one of the tunnels was flooded! Shannon and I were wearing Chacos and walked through unfazed, while Mom, Dad, and Angel opted to take their shoes and socks off and walk through barefoot so as not to have to deal with soggy feet for the rest of the trip. Others who were similarly trapped in the tunnel used the plastic shopping bag approach. This was actually a heartwarming display of community togetherness--one person had the shopping bags, and the bags kept being passed from one person to the next person who needed them in order to cross with dry feet.
Tung Ping Chau was an amazing adventure, and is now right up there with Disneyland as my favorite part of Hong Kong. Seeing as the trip is about 1/5th the cost of Disneyland, that probably edges it up a little higher. I'm so glad I got to visit my very own Gilligan's Island!