I first discovered Lamma Island a few years ago when an old shipmate from my cruise liner days invited me to his home there.
I had been intrigued by his description of moving to the island. For the first few months, he told me, the locals all refused to speak to him, and would consciously avoid him in the street. He was baffled by this strange behaviour until he realised they all assumed he was an undercover cop.
The story goes that shortly before my friend had moved to the island, Lamma was the drugs and rave capital of Hong Kong. As part of a crackdown on this behaviour, two Australian police officers had been sent into deep cover, to spend a year partying with the hard-living set. (Nice work, if you can get it).
By the end of their shift, a few drug kingpins had been busted, and the party scene had retreated into the shadows. It was into this atmosphere of distrust and secrecy that my friend had arrived, but by the time I visited the party scene had come back with a vengeance, and my friend’s neighbours had accepted that he wasn’t a cop.
Despite being the third largest island of Hong Kong, Lamma has a population of just six and a half thousand. This space and tranquility is made even more special by the fact that there is no motorised transport allowed on the island, all transport is either by bicycle or foot.
Getting to the island couldn’t be easier — the Lamma Ferry departs twice every hour from Central Pier 3, with a journey time of about 25 minutes. During the week the last ferry leaves at 00.30am, and special weekend services run until 2.30am. While this is popular with the party set, it’s the first service of the following morning that holds legendary status — doing the ‘walk of shame’ when all those around you are commuting to work is considered a rite of passage.
The outward ferry drops you right into the centre of the “capital” of the island, Yung Shue Wan. This is the largest village with the most thriving nightlife. The pedestrianised high street is full of artisan shops, British-style pubs and a huge range of international cuisine.
The place really comes to life at night, with an old-style Hong Kong social scene of hard-drinking expats.
By day there is Shing Ye Beach to enjoy, which is a leisurely 30-minute walk from town through beautiful countryside. Here there are street-style barbecues and great Chinese fare, as well as a fabulous hotel called the Concerto Inn. This place has super fast wifi, friendly staff and Bloody Marys to die for.
The beach itself is nothing special (and unfortunately is overlooked by an ugly power station) but it’s clean and does the job.
From the beach there are some great options for a good walk. Within an hour you can reach the beautiful fishing village of Sok Kwu Wan, or the highest point of the island at Mot Tat Wan.
For me, the charm of Lamma is in just how different it is from the rest of Hong Kong — notorious for being one of the most crowded, bustling places in the world.
And also, amid this peace and tranquility, I’m happy to report that despite the efforts of the Australian cops, it’s still a real party place.