As exciting as I find the bustle of downtown Hong Kong, another highlight is the ease with which one can remove oneself to a more idyllic setting. On the recommendation of friends, one morning I caught a bus in Central and an hour later ended up in Stanley, a charming village along the sparkling waters of Hong Kong island’s southern coast. The ride to Stanley is breathtaking, with the double-decker bus hugging the side of the winding hills and cruising past the glitzy skyscrapers and beach clubs of Repulse Bay and Aberdeen. We also caught a glimpse of the cable cars leading to Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s most popular amusement park. (Sit on the right side of the bus for the best views.)
The bus lets passengers off at Stanley Plaza, a new-looking complex with fabulous shopping and dining options near the water. In the mood for an early lunch, I headed to Classified restaurant for a roasted vegetable and cheddar panini and a refreshing Pimm’s cocktail (total cost HK$166) before starting my day of sightseeing.
The most prominent sight in Stanley is Murray House. Built in 1848 as officers’ quarters – in Central! – the building was disassembled in 1982 and moved to its current location. To the bafflement of the engineers, several columns were left over at the end of the reconstruction and now adorn the promenade out front. Today, Murray House is an upscale dining venue with four restaurants spread across the top two floors. A beautiful iron terrace juts into the water nearby and provides great views of the area.
A wooded path to the west of Murray House leads to Pak Tai Temple, a colorful Taoist shrine built directly into the rocks above the water in 1805. I’d venture that the tiny temple could at most hold 10 people so holidays here must be intense.
A promenade leads east from Murray House and makes a half-moon around Stanley Bay, with Stanley Main Street behind. Brightly painted restaurants line the street, giving it a beach-town vibe. Following this street further east, you’ll quickly come to the unmarked entrance of Stanley Market, a semi-covered shopping area great for souvenir hunting and escaping the heat. The alleys are covered loosely with tarps which do a surprisingly good job of keeping in the cool air blasting from the stores. What most impressed me was the wide range of goods for sale, from standard tourist trinkets and handmade children’s toys to lovely oil paintings and high-quality silk and linen garments. You can also stock up on items for the nearby beach.
Just above the market on Stanley Village Road, the Old Stanley Police Station wins the award for best reincarnation – the 19th century former jail is now a grocery store. I got a big kick out of wandering the aisles and looking for evidence of the building’s former life.
There is a secluded beach on Stanley Bay in a small residential area just off the market, but a much nicer one can be found further south down Wong Ma Kok Road. The walk to St. Stephan’s Beach took me 10-15 minutes, though it felt much longer in the scorching heat. Some tourists told me they’d taken a taxi from Stanley which sounds like a fantastic idea in hindsight.
St. Stephan’s beach is a wide sandy expanse shaded by trees and equipped with showers and changing rooms. A squad of workers keeps the water clear of debris and seaweed. In the summer, you can rent surfboards and kayaks, though I was content to nurse a beer at the cafe and relax to the sound of the crashing waves.
The Stanley Military Cemetery is located on a hill a few minutes south of St. Stephan’s Beach. It’s a peaceful enough spot, though I’m not sure it warrants a visit on its own. There isn’t much shade and the summer sun can be brutal.
The walk back to town was easier than the way out thanks to a few hours’ recuperation by the beach. I rewarded myself anyway with some gelato at Stanley Plaza before catching the bus back downtown. What’s a day at the beach without ice cream?
Buses 6X and 260 (fares HK$8.40/HK$10.60) run from Exchange Square in Central to Stanley and take 45 minutes to one hour. Bus 973 (fare HK$13.60) runs from Tsim Sha Tsui to Stanley and takes around 90 minutes. You’ll need exact change or an Octopus transit card.