Sunday, March 3, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Outlying Islands: A Nearby Respite From The Hurly Burly Of Hong Kong

Seattle Times Assistant Business Editor

CHEUNG CHAU ISLAND - It was 2 p.m. on a sunny November afternoon as we snacked on fried rice and Chinese beer at a waterside cafe before heading off on a hike.

We were just an hour's ferry ride away from Hong Kong, but it felt like another world.

"Kong" is a crowded, noisy city jammed with people and cars. On Cheung Chau, cars are banned, and the only traffic noise is the occasional sound of a bicycle bell.

As we studied a map, Murnie Weeks pulled up on his bike, plopped down at the table next to us and ordered black coffee and egg rolls.

Dressed in worn khakis and a rumpled fisherman's sweater, Weeks bore none of the trappings of a Hong Kong businessman - no suit, no cellphone, no subway ticket, no furrowed brow or signs of stress.

We were on vacation, but what was his excuse for having time off in the middle of a work day to sip coffee on a peaceful island?, I wondered.

Weeks, who quit work at a Seattle advertising agency and moved from Redmond to Asia a few years ago, designs software and toys from his island home overlooking the South China sea. The arrangement allows him plenty of time for exploring Cheung Chau's beaches and wooded walking paths.

Take a hike

Hiking may not be what comes to mind when you think of Hong Kong, but 40 percent of the territory is county park land. Paths are marked and maintained and sometimes even lighted, providing a tranquil morning or afternoon escape from the city.

The major outlying islands - Lantau, Lamma and Cheung Chau - can all be easily reached by ferry. Travel time is an hour or less and the cost is just around $2.50 each way.

Fortified with our bowls of rice laced with raisins and pineapple, we took Weeks' advice on a route, and set out on a circular trail around the island which took us past the Kwan Kung Pavilion, an elaborate temple with a large "dragon" bone on display, Spanish-style bungalows, and numerous cemeteries.

Many Hong Kong people want to be buried on Cheung Chau because the island is said to have "good feng shui," a position in the natural surroundings believed to bring good fortune.

Our 45-minute walk brought us to a village called Sai Wan, built in 1968 with help from the Cooperative for American Relief (CARE) for fishermen and their families.

We could have walked back to the waterfront (Cheung Chau is only 1.5 square miles), but instead we returned by kaido, small boats for hire just about anywhere in Hong Kong where there are short streches of water to cross.

On Lamma and Lantau

In search of a quiet dinner early one evening, five of us reached Lamma, the third-largest of Hong Kong's islands, by taking a ferry from Aberdeen harbor on the south side of Hong Kong Island to the tiny village of Mo Tat Wan.

From there, we walked a half-hour along a lighted path that winds high into a wooded area overlooking the water.

Near the end of our walk, we discovered the Peach Garden restaurant, the first in a string of outdoor seafood restaurants that line the harbor at Sok Kwu Wan, one of Lamma's two main villages, both with regular ferry service back to Hong Kong.

The waiter showed us to a table on the terrace. He poured green tea, and we feasted on bok choy, steamed broccoli, clams in chili sauce, corn soup, cashew chicken, sweet and sour pork and bottles of Chinese beer. The bill came to around $8 each.

The best island bargain, however, is on Lantau, the biggest of the outlying islands.

The women of Tai O, a fishing village on the west side of the island, charge just 7 cents for a two-minute ride on their rope-drawn foot barge which carries passengers across a narrow creek to the other side of town. ----------------------------------------------------------------- If you go

The Hong Kong Tourist Association publishes pocket-size self-guided tour booklets for some of Hong Kong's major outlying islands.

The guides, with maps and ferry schedules, are available for $3.60 each from HKTA information centers in Hong Kong at the Kowloon Star Ferry and in the basement of the Jardine House in Hong Kong Island's Central district.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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