A few weeks ago I finally made it to Aberdeen. It’s not far way, just 20 minutes on the bus from Wan Chai, but so far I never had the opportunity to go there.
Aberdeen is an area on the south shore of Hong Kong Island in Hong Kong. In fact the name ‘Hong Kong’ was the original name of the area and foreigners who landed here in the 1800’s mistook the name as for the whole island. Consequently, Aberdeen was named in 1845 after the then British Secretary of State for War and Colonies – George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen. It currently has a population of about 60,000 and is the largest town on Hong Kong Island. The town is sheltered by the small densely populated island of Ap Lei Chau to which it has been connected by bridge since 1983.
Aberdeen has for generations been a fishing port and home to the Tanka and Hoklo clans who originated from the mainland coastal areas of Guangdong and Fujian. Recognisable by their large-brimmed hats these boat-dwellers were once forbidden to live on land or marry land people and were born, married and died aboard their sampans and junks. Since the early 20th century however they have had equal rights with land-dwellers and most now choose to live on land in the high-rise apartment blocks for the benefit of their children’s education but some still remain on houseboats in the harbour.
Sampan rides, mostly operated by elderly Tanka and Hoklo women, are a popular way to explore the colourful and crowded harbour. Sightseeing sampans operate from various points along the length of promenade and there is no need to pre-book. Expect to be quoted a price of about HK$80 for a 30-minute sampan ride for one person but prices are very negotiable and HK$50 is a more realistic amount. If there are several people in a party a much lower price can usually be “bargained”.
Aberdeen feels a little touristy and only a few boats are still left, amid all the high rise buildings, but if you are on your way to/from Ocean Park, Repulse Bay or Stanley you could just quickly stop in Aberdeen and go on a sampan ride.