Just 25 minutes by ferry from the teeming streets of Central, Lamma Island (or Pok Liu Chau) swaps the cars, roads and high-rises of the city for mountains, beaches and village life. At 13.5 square kilometres, Hong Kong’s third-largest island provides a change of pace and tends to challenge visitors’ stereotypes of Hong Kong.
A charming place with a mildly countercultural vibe, at least by Hong Kong standards, Lamma Island is one of the more popular day trips for locals and visitors lured by its beaches, seafood restaurants, shops and gentle hiking. It also features the city’s most diverse population; about a third of the roughly 7,000 residents were born overseas, with an estimated 90-plus nationalities between them. However, you can still find traditional fishing communities, including one right next to the main ferry pier.
Most of the residents live in and around the village of Yung Shue Wan – which, surprisingly, was a centre for the plastics industry decades ago – with smaller villages dotted around the rest of the island, concentrated in the north; the south is mostly mountainous. The one thing that jars with the bucolic vibe are the towers of the Lamma Power Station to the far west of the island; fortunately, it’s mostly hidden behind a hill, except for its trio of chimneys. Despite the presence of the power station, Lamma isn’t exactly a high-energy kind of place – in the best way possible. It’s easy to while away pleasant days here, doing not doing much at all.
What to Do on Lamma Island
Hit the Beach
Lamma Island’s easily accessible beaches are the biggest draw for a lot of day trippers. Fans of incongruous juxtapositions should try Tai Wan To, 15-20 minutes’ walk from Yung Shue Wan ferry pier, perched right next to the jutting mass of Lamma Power Station, which explains its relative emptiness (and nickname of ‘Power Station beach’). A short walk away, the picturesque Hung Shing Ye has many more facilities and more visitors.
Lo So Shing, close to Sok Kwu Wan, is possibly even more beautiful, and on weekdays you may even have it to yourself. Anyone prepared to walk for an hour or so from Sok Kwu Wan should check out stunning Sham Wan, secluded in its own mountain-fringed inlet: access is prohibited in summer and early autumn because of nesting green sea turtles.
Take a Hike
With no means of transport other than the self-powered, Lamma features a network of paths that allow for everything from a pleasant stroll to a challenging hike. (Keep your eye out for the exception to the rule: one of the island’s trademark minituarised emergency services vehicles.) The highest peak, Mount Stenhouse, is only 353 metres high but features some very tricky terrain.
The most popular option is the sealed path from Yung Shue Wan to Sok Kwu Wan, or vice versa, which leads along a hillside with sea and power station views, through a forested section and, near Sok Kwu Wan, past the Kamikaze Cave used by the Japanese military to store speedboats in the second world war; this path gives you a wide range of dining options at either end. The alternative is to hire a bike from Hoi Nam Bicycle Shop on Yung Shue Wan Back Street, but the aware that the island is pretty hilly.
Pay Your Respects
Unsurprisingly for a community formerly based around fishing, Lamma Island features several picturesque temples dedicated to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea, the most impressive of them at Sok Kwu Wan, with another at the far end of Yung Shue Wan Main Street from the ferry pier.
Visit a Landmark
Hong Kong’s energy priorities are laid bare by the gigantic fossil fuel-powered power station contrasting with the single wind turbine known as Lamma Winds, which is open to the public and accessible via a pleasant walk up the hill between the two main beaches. You’ll be rewarded by magnificent sea views, particularly from the neighbouring pagoda.
Where to Eat
Lamma’s number-one dining attraction is the seafood restaurants that line the seafront at both Yung Shue Wan, where they have fine sunset views, and Sok Kwu Wan (where there’s not much else). Locals tend to favour Andy’s Sau Kee (43 Main Street, Yung Shue Wan; +852 2982 0210), particularly the sizeable terrace at the back.
Yung Shue Wan dining options include a variety of cuisines including Bombay, where the quality of the Indian food makes up for the lack of a view; and the new hole-in-the-wall Thai opposite the Lamma Grill (36 Yung Shue Wan Main Street; +852 2982 1447). Increasingly popular both for its food and as a gathering spot is Spanish restaurant Dale Cadela (23 Yung Shue Wan Main Street; +852 6344 5288), near the Hongkong bank, generally referred to as ‘Carlos’ after its owner.
For dessert, at least during the daytime, long-term fixture Ah Por Tofu Fa, a shack by the main path near Tai Wan To beach, draws crowds for its rendering of the traditional local tofu fa (silken tofu) pudding.
Where to Shop
There are no big retail chains on Lamma, with small shops rather than supermarkets and convenience stores, although everything you need should be available, particularly for the beach. Trinket shops are legion, while there are also a few curiosities like Lamma Vinyl, one of Hong Kong’s very few vinyl record shops, and several shops selling homemade local sauces. There’s also a bar owned by the excellent Yardley Brothers, although it no longer brews its beer on the island.
Practical Tips for Visiting Lamma Island
If the weather’s pleasant (sunny but not too hot), be forewarned that Lamma gets very crowded at weekends
Bring walking gear, swimming gear and, given that there’s minimal cover from the elements available once you leave Yung Shue Wan, an umbrella
Lamma is a good place to get to know Hong Kong residents – simply head to pretty much any of Yung Shue Wan’s bars: the Blue Goose, Diesel’s and the Lamma Grill are good places to start. Tourists have been known to end up as long-term residents this way. If you’re lucky, there might even be a party on a beach or up a secluded hill
If you want to stay longer than a day trip, there are several modest hotels in Yung Shue Wan and numerous options on Airbnb