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Uniquely HK

Feature Story

Ferries across the Victoria

Take an old-fashioned ferry ride crossing the City’s iconic harbour and visit some of Hong Kong’s cool neighbourhoods!

The iconic Victoria harbour is probably Hong Kong’s most famous feature. As one of the best-known harbours in the world, it may surprise visitors that, today, Victoria Harbour is quieter than it once was. Gone were the days when the harbour teemed with ships, boats and activity – Chinese junks jostling with fishing vessels and cargo barges for right of way as little sampans zigzagged between them. Indeed, it wasn’t so many years ago that American aircraft carriers on R&R leave docked right in the heart of the harbour, along with their escort ships. Throw in an occasional ocean liner or two, and one can easily visualise the frenetic if not chaotic harbour scene that
came to define Hong Kong.

Ferries criss-crossing Hong Kong harbour were ubiquitous as late as the late 1970s. Until the Cross-Harbour tunnel was built in 1972, connecting Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, ferries were daily travel between Hong Kong and Kowloon for countless passengers and motor vehicles. Numerous ferry routes, operated by companies large and small, linked up Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, outlying islands, and parts of New Territories, forming an indelible and colourful imprint of Hong Kong’s transport heritage.


Then the MTR, Hong Kong’s mass transit subway system, was built, starting operations in 1979, followed a year later by the first road tunnel under the harbour. The days of the ferries were numbered, as were the junks and cargo boats used to carry goods cross-harbour. When the Hong Kong government built the large container port in Kwai Chung west of Kowloon and diverted most of the large ship movements out of the harbour, the famous waters were no longer the territory’s vital beating heart. The harbour of today is as attractive as ever, but tranquil and even serene, especially at night – a far cry from the bustling harbour scene of the past.

While residents of outlying islands still use ferries to commute in to the city, and many visitors go the other way to enjoy these respites from the frenetic city, the vessels used are slick, modern and fast, and no longer hold the sense of intimacy and closeness to the water that their forebears did. Thankfully, the Star Ferry – ever-popular among visitors and locals alike – still operates classic, airy vessels that offer a spectacular view of the harbour, even if the seven-minute ride doesn’t allow a leisurely traveller time to nod off and dream of how the harbour used to be.

Still, all is not lost! For the nostalgic visitor, there are still various ferry routes between Hong Kong and Kowloon for foot passengers. Their vessels harken back to the past and allow visitors to discover some cool and lesser-known neighbourhoods as well as see the harbour as the active environment it always was.

We’ve lined up a few interesting options for you to enjoy, via some of these ferry rides.

Sai Wan Ho to Lei Yue Mun (Sam Ka Tsuen)

The Sai Wan Ho Ferry, located on the Sai Wan Ho promenade right by the trendy Soho East dining area, touts itself as a nostalgic experience. Sure enough, the ferries are from the 1970s or earlier, but they are sturdy and eminently safe. Before embarking, there are several interesting places in Sai Wan Ho worth visiting. The nearby Hong Kong Film Archive houses many of Hong Kong’s classic films; Tai On Building, near the Sai Wan Ho MTR Station, is an old-style commercial complex from the 1970s, where the ground floor has famously been turned into a street food centre, now very popular among locals street foodies. The waterfront extends into Quarry Bay Park, a lengthy promenade with room for families, joggers, strolling, amateur dance groups, fisherman and more, and with a spectacular view of Eastern Kowloon and the hills beyond. A retired fireboat – the Alexander Grantham – is on permanent display, to board and explore. A ten-minute walk east towards Aldrich Bay is the Typhoon Shelter and further along is the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence, which tells the fascinating history of Hong Kong’s past military defence.


Lei Yue Mun on the other side of the harbour is a quaint seaside village known for its maze of seafood restaurants. After a walk around the waterfront and its small park, be sure to enjoy a seafood meal, where you choose your live seafood from vendors and have it cooked by any of the restaurants. Then enjoy in traditional local style, sharing all the dishes. It’s best in a larger group, for the chance to sample as many as possible.

Sai Wan Ho to Kwun Tong

The other ferry route is to Kwun Tong where the ferry disembarks at a small terminal inside the new typhoon shelter between Kwun Tong and the old Kai Tak airport. Kwun Tong is an former industrial district that has recently undergone tremendous redevelopment. Features include the nicely landscaped Kwun Tong waterfront promenade, hip co-working spaces, a vibrant up-and-coming art community with alternative art and music outlets converted from old factory buildings, and chic coffee houses. The Kai Tak Cruise Terminal is just across, its rooftop garden offering panoramic views of the city and the perfect place from which to gawk at mammoth cruise ships. APM, a major shopping centre, offers pretty much something for everybody. Another ferry can take you back to North Point on Hong Kong side.

North Point to Whampoa

New World First Ferry, which mainly operates on routes to outlying islands, runs a ferry service between North Point and Whampoa, in Hung Hom. A thriving residential community, Whampoa has also seen transformation, starting with its waterfront. The newly opened Kerry Hotel offers a magnificent view of the harbour from its many terraces – perfect for an afternoon or evening drink. The Dockyard connected to the hotel is a trendy food court serving Southeast Asian cuisines and even has a band performing in the evenings. For a novel shopping experience, visit The Whampoa, a mall in the guise of a cruise ship – solidly land-based, with Japanese department giant Aeon as the major tenant; there are also loads of local restaurants and eateries to explore. Further along is the newly opened Nine Seafood Place, a Japanese seafood market offering restaurants and fresh seafood stalls.

The Whampoa promenade connects to Tsim Sha Tsui East, so it’s an easy stroll back – just a couple of kilometres and the view is gorgeous. Or a 15 minute-walk inland is the Hong Kong Polytechnic University where you may take photos of its Innovation Tower, a stunning architectural flourish by famed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.




(Edited on 5 Jan 2018)


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