There are plenty of things to keep travellers busy in Hong Kong, but a cheap way to get up close and personal with the locals afloat is to take a spin around Aberdeen’s picturesque harbour in a traditional Chinese boat, called a sampan. The harbour is located on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, and it’s home to a large fishing community as well as being a safe haven for boats during typhoons thanks to natural protection. Although sampan rides feature on a number of pricey day tours, a cheaper option is to get to Aberdeen under your own steam and do a private deal with a boat owner. The best way to do this is take the free shuttle across to the Jumbo Kingdom Floating Restaurant, and wait on the jetty for a sampan to come to you. If it’s a slow day it won’t take long, and you can haggle with the owner on the tour price, paying around HK$60 each for a 20-minute tour.
It’s an eye-opening experience. Although the fishing boat population is shrinking, and the original fishing village has long since been replaced by glittering cheek-by-jowl high-rises, it offers a rare opportunity to take a peek into the day-to-day lives of the fishermen and their extended families who remain. The sampan will take you past huge wooden boats which are tied up together in rows, and which are floating homes as well as places of work – they still go out to sea to fish during the season. With the dizzying skyline as a backdrop, you’ll see women washing clothes, men repairing fishing nets, children playing, dogs running around, and families cooking and eating on deck. At the end of the tour, ask the sampan owner to drop you off at the small jetty opposite Aberdeen’s main bus terminus. From here you can hop on a bus to a variety of other sightseeing spots on Hong Kong Island, including Stanley Market and Repulse Bay.