Annigje Jacobs tracks down a surprising seafood experience in Hong Kong, Lei Yue Mun. Photos by Brice Godard.
A tranquil fishing village is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hong Kong. But Lei Yue Mun is exactly that. The small seafood paradise is located just a few steps out of the bustling city, which makes it the perfect place to escape for a day.
Lei Yue Mun, Chinese for ‘Carp Gate’, is one of Hong Kong’s most famous eating areas. It hosts a vibrant seafood market and plenty of restaurants with distant views of the spectacular skyline. It’s the ideal location to enjoy a great meal while being immersed in peaceful nature.
A Brief History
Life in Lei Yue Mun didn’t always revolve around seafood. Until the late 1960s, many of the villagers worked in one of the nearby mines. The former quarry building near the village, one of the many along the coastline, is a reminder of what once was an important local industry.
At the time, the local granite was in high demand and widely used for the construction of buildings; in Hong Kong, but also in other cities like Guangzhou. The mining industry collapsed when the government regulated the use of explosives, following a large number of accidents. In 1968, most of the quarries were closed and many locals were left jobless.
Relief came from the fishermen of Shu Kei Wan, a neighborhood in the Eastern District of Hong Kong Island, just across the canal. The fishers had been selling their catch in Lei Yue Mun’s harbor for years, then the former miners joined them and opened up seafood restaurants on the shore.
Things started to run well in the 1970s, when China’s growing economy boosted the industrial zone right next to the village. The fresh local food and the peaceful surroundings made Lei Yue Mun the go-to place for local businessmen who wanted to impress their foreign partners. The village was definitely put on the map in 2002, with the opening of a nearby MTR station. The once remote mining village is now a proper, but not packed, tourist destination.
How Much Is The Fish?
When you’ve made it to Lei Yue Mun, there are a few things you should know before you can dig in. Ordering your seafood dish is a rather exceptional process. First, you stroll along the narrow market streets to see what has been caught today. There is always plenty of choice: fish, crabs, fresh oysters, tiger prawns, mantis shrimps, geoducks and so much more.
You then buy the seafood, while it’s still alive, from one of the stalls (don’t forget to bargain!) and take it to a nearby restaurant. If you wish, the vendor will recommend a restaurant and help you to carry your catch there. If you’d rather not see your meal while it’s still wriggling, you can directly go to one of the restaurants and choose from their set menu.
At the restaurant, the waiter wants to know how to prepare your food. Any manner is possible: BBQ with salt and pepper; garlic and chili; or baked with cheese. The restaurant will often suggest a cooking style that brings out the best taste.
They charge you for cooking the food, any additional dishes (meat/vegetables/rice) and drinks. Altogether, a meal for four people costs around HK$300 depending on what you order. It might not be the cheapest meal you’ll have in Hong Kong, but definitely a memorable one.
The Best View
An hour before sunset, there’s another crowd populating the narrow markets streets of Lei Yue Mun: photography enthusiasts. For them, it’s less about the market stalls and fresh fish. Instead they rush to find the best spots on the lighthouse beach located just past the covered market seafood area. The Lei Yue Mun Lighthouse offers a wonderful view on the sun setting behind Hong Kong’s skyline. A must-see, even if you just want to capture the scene with your eyes.
Avoiding The Crowd
The convenient location, amazing seafood and fresher air make Lei Yue Mun a popular hangout for busy locals who want to escape the city. Not surprisingly, the fishing village tends to get a little crowded in the evenings and at weekends.
If you plan to visit Lei Yue Mun for the calm atmosphere, it’s best to go late afternoon. Not only will you avoid the masses but you will be rewarded with stunning views of the sunset.
Reaching the fisherman’s village is fairly easy. Just a 30-minute metro ride from downtown Kowloon, then 10 to 15-minute walk from MTR Yau Tong Station. For a more scenic journey, you can take the Sai Wan Ho ferry from the village pier.
And There’s More
When locals talk about the seafood village, they refer to it as ‘Lei Yue Mun’. Officially, however, that name refers to a much bigger area, including a short channel at the east end of Victoria Harbor and the adjacent pieces of land. The seafood village, a little inlet that is part of the Kowloon mainland, is actually called ‘Sam Ka’.
The Hong Kong Island side of Lei Yue Mun was once used as a strategic point for the British military. The fascinating Museum of Coastal Defence is only a short ferry ride away from the seafood bazaar. Both sights can easily be combined in a one-day trip.
Vietnam Airlines, Cathay Pacific and VietJet all operate daily services between Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong. The flight takes a little less than three hours and prices start at $180.
The fastest way to go from the airport to the city center is the Airport Express. This train leaves every ten minutes and takes you to Kowloon Station in only 20 minutes (around $12). Taxis often take longer and are more expensive if you’re travelling with less than three people (around $34). The bus is your cheapest option, but – needless to say – also the slowest. To Kowloon, it’ll take you around 50 minutes and set you back $4.