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Why some expats love islands living in Hong Kong

Big-city living is not for everyone – and if a slower pace is more your style, consider making your home on one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, which offer an alternative to the hustle and bustle of the city. Most newcomers do a stint amongst the high-rises and we won’t argue that partying in the Midlevels is all kinds of fun and being in the thick of things is convenient. But talk to seasoned expats and nine times out of 10 they will put up a spirited argument of the virtues of island life. From cheaper rent and more spacious housing, to proximity to nature and peace and quiet, there are many reasons to consider an outlying island. Here we list seven alternative spots to set up home.

Hong Kong's outlying islands, neighbourhoods, Living in Hong Kong, islandsm island life
The Ngong Ping cable car is on your doorstep on Lantau

1. Lantau

Hong Kong’s largest island has gained popularity over recent years as a great place for expats to call home. Bigger than Hong Kong Island, yet with a fraction of its population, Lantau offers a variety of lifestyle options. The three main residential areas – Tung Chung, Discovery Bay and South Lantau – are all accessible from other parts of Hong Kong by ferry, train or road. Lantau has gained a reputation as a leisure destination, due mainly to its spectacular hiking trails, world-class adventure races, beach-side dining options and popular tourist attractions.

Hong Kong's outlying islands, neighbourhoods, Living in Hong Kong, islandsm island life
Tung Chung is just a 30-minute MTR ride into Hong Kong island

2. Tung Chung

The construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge has brought about many changes for the area surrounding Tung Chung, with new housing estates dominating the landscape. Tung Chung comprises five private residential estates, with construction underway for that number to increase considerably over the next few years. The estates all offer extensive clubhouses containing indoor and outdoor pools, gyms, sports halls, playgrounds and other leisure facilities. Tung Chung has several kindergartens and schools, a public hospital, and offers a variety of housing options from high-rise apartments to village houses.

With a direct MTR network into Hong Kong Island, Tung Chung is a 30-minute train ride into the city. It’s also accessible by car, via the North Lantau Expressway and Tsing Ma Bridge, and there is an extensive bus network to all parts of Hong Kong. Being a hop, skip and a jump from the airport, Tung Chung has become a popular spot for airline staff and frequent travellers to set up home. Tung Chung is also home to Citygate Outlets, Hong Kong’s largest outlet mall, which boasts over 80 stores, so you can shop till you drop, just minutes from home!

Hong Kong's outlying islands, neighbourhoods, Living in Hong Kong, islands, island life
North Plaza is one of two main shopping areas in Discovery Bay

3. Discovery Bay

Pre-2000, Discovery Bay (DB) was only accessible by ferry from Hong Kong Island. Since the opening of Hong Kong’s international airport at Chek Lap Kok in 1998 and the infrastructure explosion that accompanied it, DB is now accessible by bus from Sunny Bay and Tung Chung, as well as taxis, which run into and out of the North Plaza. There is also a 24-hour direct ferry from Hong Kong Island, which runs every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day and evening, with reduced frequency overnight. Offering a laid-back lifestyle, open spaces and a friendly international community, DB is a popular choice for a large number of expats. There are two main shopping areas, which also feature fantastic waterfront dining, entertainment and leisure facilities. With two international facilities and entertainment options for kids, DB offers a convenient family-friendly environment.

Hong Kong's outlying islands, neighbourhoods, Living in Hong Kong, islands, island life
South Lantau offers a relaxed, outdoor lifestyle

4. South Lantau

With its beaches, hiking trails, casual beachside restaurants and friendly village life, the South Lantau coast offers the best of islands living with its relaxed outdoor lifestyle. From Mui Wo, along the coast to Pui O, Cheung Sha, Tong Fuk and beyond, South Lantau residents enjoy a close-knit community atmosphere, while enjoying the bigger housing options and open spaces that the area affords. Accessible by road (via Tung Chung) or direct ferry between Hong Kong Island and Mui Wo, the South Lantau coast offers lifestyle, with the convenience of still being relatively close to the city. Housing an international primary school, as well as a number of kindergartens and pre-schools, children are well catered for, and for the adults, there are plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes along the coast. If you enjoy getting out amongst nature, you’re in the right spot. South Lantau is the start point for many of the island’s hikes, offering everything from a leisurely stroll in the hills, to the ultimate challenge for the die-hard hikers looking to conquer the mighty Lantau Trail.

Hong Kong's outlying islands, neighbourhoods, Living in Hong Kong, islands, island life
Lamma Island is relaxed and quiet – and rent is much cheaper than other parts of Hong Kong

5. Lamma

Time to slow down the pace. Lamma Island, although only a 30-minute ferry ride from Central, is a world away from the chaos of Hong Kong Island. Well known for its seafood restaurants, Lamma offers a relaxed, quiet and friendly environment in which to set up home. Housing is relatively cheap compared to that in the city, and houses generally offer more space, both indoor and outdoor. With no cars and no high-rises, Lamma offers a real alternative to big-city living. A popular spot for day-trippers on the weekends, there is a wide range of cuisine on the island, with plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars. Eating out and general living costs are much cheaper than in the city. With nice beaches and a number of hiking trails, Lamma is a great spot for people who love the outdoor lifestyle.

Hong Kong's outlying islands, neighbourhoods, Living in Hong Kong, islands, island life
There are only a couple of hundred expats living on Cheung Chau

6. Cheung Chau

This charming little island, which sits between Lamma and Lantau, offers a quiet, relaxed lifestyle only a 30-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong Island. While there are only a couple of hundred expats living on Cheung Chau, those that do just love the close-knit, friendly community in which they live. As there are no motorised vehicles on the island, people travel around by bicycle or on foot, giving the island a slow, laid-back vibe. Housing and general living costs are much cheaper than you would find in most other parts of Hong Kong.

Best known for its annual Bun Festival, this small island comes to life during the week-long celebrations. The festival, which includes parades, lion dances, martial arts demonstrations and much more, culminates with the unique ‘Bun Snatching Contest’, in which participants climb a 60-foot bun-covered tower with the aim of grabbing the highest number of lucky buns within the time limit.

Hong Kong's outlying islands, neighbourhoods, Living in Hong Kong, islands, island life
Park Island is home to the world’s first full-scale Ark replica, Noah’s Ark

7. Park Island

Open since 2002, Park Island is a private housing estate located between Lantau Island and Tsing Yi. The island is accessible by taxi, a shuttle bus service to nearby MTR stations, shopping centres and the airport, along with a regular ferry service to Hong Kong Island. Cars are not permitted on the island, except by permit. Facilities for residents include three clubhouses, which house indoor and outdoor swimming pools, gyms, sports courts and bowling alleys. There is a lovely beach, which is a popular spot for the little ones, and gives Park Island its resort feel. The island also has a supermarket, coffee shop, convenience stores and restaurants, along with a local kindergarten and primary school.

Park Island is also home to Noah’s Ark, the world’s first full-scale Ark replica, with a range of specially designed exhibitions and attractions, along with restaurants and a hotel.

This article first appeared in the 2016/17 edition of Expat Living’s City Guide. Subscribe here.

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