Ma Wan, Hong Kong
At first sight this tiny island, one of the many which make up the Hong Kong archipelago, seems little more than a base to anchor the massive bridges connecting Kowloon to Lantau Island. Yet, Ma Wan, sandwiched between built-up residential-industrial Tsing Yi and the mountain semi-wilderness of Lantau, below a major flight path and beside a shipping lane, is something more.
At the beginning of the 21st century, when Ma Wan was a quiet rural backwater with a couple of fishing villages and a lot of banana trees, the company Park Island bought the whole island – the Hong Kong police do not even have a presence here now- and redeveloped it as a luxury resort-style residential area. No cars are allowed here: buses leave the bridge to make a stop at the entrance, but the most convenient way onto or off the island is by the 23-minute fast ferry which bounces over the harbour waters bringing commuters and weekend day-trippers to and from Central.
The island feels almost like a miniature model of a planned Asian city – like Singapore in microcosm- with escalators and pedestrian walkways winding between high rise apartment blocks, residents’ cafeterias and clubhouses, manicured tropical gardens and private swimming pools, and of course the obligatory temple. The ferry terminal is a focus for many of the island’s shops and restaurants, which include a variety of Asian and Western options.
The place feels oddly, calmly removed from the overhead aeroplanes, the massive container ships which slide silently past and the constant stream of airport traffic on the bridge high overhead, all of which can be observed from a relaxed waterfront row of restaurants overlooking a pleasant and clean beach. At one end of this beach is the Noah’s Ark theme park, and a little further on Ma Wan Park- both popular local weekend excursions. The beach itself is a great spot for taking in the expanse of city lights which illuminate Hong Kong harbor at night.
Moving away from the slick development of the Park Island residences, the new village built to house those former islanders displaced by the condominiums has its own attractions: a community feel, with restaurants, shops and its own resident artist (and guitar maker) who designed the animals for Noah’s Ark. Further still, you can still find banana trees and a little piece of backwater Hong Kong, on the way past the Solar Tower to sunset photo opportunities at the old pier by the derelict fishing village on the other side of the island.
by Chris Taylor
Gloobbi Contributor based in Hong Kong