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Sail Away: Sampans and Junks
Named after an English lord, not the Scottish city, the Southside town of Aberdeen (30 minutes from Central via Bus 70 or 91) was once a pirate refuge. After World War II it became commercial, as the tanka (boat people) attracted visitors to their floating restaurants. Today the harbor is home to some 3,000 junks and sampans, still interspersed with floating restaurants, among them the famous Jumbo Kingdom, with its faux-Chinese decorations covered in lights. The tanka still live on houseboats, and though the vessels look picturesque, conditions are depressing.
Elderly women with sea- and sun-weathered skin and croaking voices may invite you aboard a sampan for a harbor ride. It's better to go with one of the licensed operators that depart from the seawall opposite Aberdeen Centre. A tour lets you see how the fishing community lives and works and how sampans are also homes, sometimes with three generations on one small vessel. Ironically, about 110 yards away are the yachts of the Marina Club and the slightly less exclusive Aberdeen Boat Club.
You can also hire a junk to take you to outer islands: Cheung Chau, Lamma, Lantau, Po Toi, or the islands in Port Shelter, Sai Kung. Sailing on a large (up to 80-feet-long), well-varnished, plushly appointed, air-conditioned junk—which can serve as a platform for swimmers and water-skiers—is a unique Hong Kong experience. Many local "weekend admirals" command these floating rumpus rooms, which are also known as "gin junks" because so much alcohol is often consumed aboard them.
Ap Lei Chau (Duck's Tongue Island), accessible via sampan or Buses 90B or 91 along the bridge that connects it with Aberdeen, has a yard where junks, yachts, and sampans are built, almost all without formal plans. With 86,800 people living on 1.3 square km (½ square mi), Ap Lei Chau is the world's most densely populated island.
Look to your right when crossing the bridge to Ap Lei Chau for a superb view of the harbor and its countless junks.
Duk Ling. The Duk Ling is a fully restored authentic fishing junk, originally built in Macau in the 1950s, whose large red sails are a sight to behold. The Hong Kong Tourist Board offers visitors aged 3 to 75 one-hour sails from Kowloon Pier (Thursday at 2 pm and 4 pm, Saturday at 10 am and noon) and from Central's Pier 9 (Thursday at 3 pm and 5 pm, Saturday at 11 am and 1 pm). Register first at the HKTB Visitor Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, and bring your passport to prove you're from out of town. Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. 2573-5282. www.dukling.com.hk or www.discoverhongkong.com.
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