A traveller's guide to channel hopping

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The Independent Travel

An Island-Hopping pass (and guidebook) to the three islands of Lantau, Cheung Chau and Peng Chau costs HK$32 (£2) per person. The pass allows unlimited ferry travel in a 24-hour period, with a supplement of HK$11(70p) if you travel on Sundays, public holidays or use the fast ferry.

The Northeast New Territories Island Hopping Tour, which lasts six and a half hours, leaves every Saturday morning from Ma Liu Public Pier, stopping at Lai Chi Wo, Crooked Island and Grass Island. Including lunch the cost is HK$380 (£24.30) per person. Tours can be booked on 00 852 2527 2513; www.discoverhongkong.com

FESTIVALS

Feasts, family reunions, carnivals, culture: there’s a packed calendar of events across the year. Traditional Chinese celebrations are linked to the lunar year so dates slip and slide a little on the Western calendar. The biggest is Chinese New Year, which takes place from 7-9 February 2008. During the last few days of the old lunar year, flower fairs are held, the largest at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, and families crowd into markets to buy blossoms, narcissus and small kumquat trees for good luck and prosperity. On New Year’s Day, lavish parades are held, with colourful floats and dragon dancers.

Fifteen days later the Chinese answer to Valentine’s Day takes place: during Spring Lantern Festival matchmaking games are played and temples, restaurants and homes are arrayed with bright paper lanterns in traditional designs.

The most spectacular Chinese celebration is the Dragon Boat Festival, held in June (on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month). Stanley and Aberdeen are two good places to view the races. To the sound of beating drums and roaring crowds, teams of 20 or more paddlers race in elaborately decked boats. The event commemorates the death of the third-century Chinese hero Qu Yuan who drowned himself in protest at dissolute rulers.

The 14th day of the seventh lunar month sees the Hungry Ghost Festival when spirits are said to have been released from hell and come looking for a home. To keep them away, people leave food offerings and burn money. Head out to traditional neighbourhoods to get the best insight.

Some weeks later, on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, the Mid Autumn Festival takes place, celebrating the full moon and the end of harvest. Appropriately feasting centres on moon cakes, made with lotus seed paste and duck eggs. Parades are held, and crowds gather to watch the moon rise, particularly at Victoria Peak and Repulse Bay.

Having fed your stomach, you might want to feed your mind and you’ll find a lively remit of cultural activity. In 2008, the Hong Kong Arts Festival ( www.hk.artsfestival.org) runs between 14 February and 16 March. Next year’s programme includes a production of Rigoletto by the Teatro Regio di Parma, while China’s most prominent director, Lin Zhaohua, will be staging Ibsen’s The Master Builder. The Arts Festival embraces Hong Kong’s lively Literary Festival. The 2008 event ( www.festival.org.hk) will be held 2-12 March. Other celebrations include the Hong Kong Film Festival ( www.hkiff.org.hk), from 17 March to 6 April 2008.

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