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Outlying Islands - Cheung Chau

Cheung Chau Island is a living picture postcard of a quiet fishing and rural community. Cheung Chau ("long island" in Cantonese) is the smallest of the inhabited outlying islands, but it's the most populated and busiest. The island is shaped like a dumbbell, with hills at the northern and southern ends and a village nested in a connecting rod of land in between. The thin, middle part of the island is narrow enough that one can walk from Cheung Chau Harbour on its west side to Tung Wan Harbour on the east in just a few minutes.

It is urbanized in a charming old China way, with the distinctly Chinese junks and sampans crowding the island's small, curving harbour. Cheung Chau is a fishing island, its harbour filled with fishing boats of all sizes, shapes, and colours. They compete for space with the ubiquitous, round kaido , the small boats used as water taxis to whisk passengers back and forth between Cheung Chau's "dumbbell" knobs, or ends.

The village of Cheung Chau , near the ferry dock, is a tangle of alleyways. There are no cars on the island, a Hong Kong phenomenon that gives the place an automatic serenity. A stroll in any direction from the ferry terminal passes both modern and traditional shops and restaurants. (There is, alas, even a McDonald's right across from the ferry terminal.)

A short distance to the left of the ferry dock, up the main road, is Pak Tai Temple , built in 1783 and dedicated to the god Pak Tai, protector of fishermen and who is credited with saving the island from plague during the late 1700s. Inside, in front of the altar, are statues of two generals, Thousand-Li Eye and Favourable Wind Ear, who were said to be able to see or hear anything at any distance.

Scattered about the island are several temples dedicated to Tin Hau, Queen of Heaven and goddess of the sea. The island was once the haunt of pirates. The most notorious of them all, Cheung Po Tsai, used to hide out here. There are excellent beaches to be found on Cheung Chau. The main beach, but not the prettiest, is Tung Wan Beach .

Cheung Chau's "Bun Festival"
Each year in late April or early May (on April 8 th of the lunar calendar), the island hosts a giant celebration for a four-day Bun Festival. The festival, known as Ching Chiu in Cantonese, originated many years ago after the discovery here of a nest of skeletons, believed to be the remains of people killed by pirates.

After the discovery, the island was plagued by a series of misfortunes, and the islanders eventually called in a priest, who recommended they placate the restless spirits of the victims by making offerings to them once a year. How pastry buns came into this story is anybody's guess.

During the festival, giant bamboo towers covered with edible buns are erected in the courtyard of Pak Tai temple. In the past, revellers climbed up the towers to pluck their lucky buns - the higher the bun was, the more luck it would bring. This amusing little ritual ended in 1978 when one of the towers came crashing down, bringing broken bones and bruises and smashed buns, rather than luck, to the eager climbers. Now the buns are handed out in a less interesting but more orderly - and safer - manner to participants.

Another attraction during the festival is the "floating children", colourfully-clad children hoisted up on stilts and paraded through the crowds. The four-day celebration also includes performances of Chinese opera, lion dances, religious services, and other festive events to entertain the hoards that descend upon this little island from all over Hong Kong .

The Bun Hills at Cheung Chau
Pak Tai Temple of Cheung Chau
The Statue of Pak Tai
The Thousand-mile Eye
The Wind-Accompanying Ear
The Pier of Cheung Chau
An Overlook of Cheung Chau
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