Sometimes the world seems as if it is made up of different planes of being that may overlap, or crash into each other, or may simply stay parallel, not touching. It sometimes jars me to think that my life in Seattle exists in tandem on the same earth as that of a child growing up in the remote Andes or of a yacht-owner in Monaco. These planes of existence sometimes intersect, but geography mostly holds them apart. There are places, though, where the edges bleed and blend, and one of these places is Po Toi.

Po Toi is the southernmost island in Hong Kong. And though the Hong Kong you’re likely thinking of is full of towering skyscrapers and crowded with people, this part of Hong Kong is home to 200 people at the absolute most (this is according to the internet, but I suspect far fewer people live there). At some point in history, it capped out at 1,000 residents, fishing, farming, and gathering seaweed. Today, the island’s school is abandoned and far more visitors than residents traverse the trails.

Kai-to ferries plow the waters between Hong Kong Island and Po Toi, coming and going just a few times a week from Stanley and Aberdeen harbors. The ride, which takes just under an hour, gives you a clear view of enormous ships, nearly uncountable on the horizon, moving goods and crap around the globe.

Aberdeen harbor.

Container ships along the horizon.

The kai-to pulls up alongside Po Toi’s jetty and empties itself of people who mostly, like us, appear to be there for day hikes, though some are geared up for camping, too. We disembark onto a path that will take us around the island, first winding through areas that contain graves, and then along the shore where the boulders bear carvings from the Bronze Age. At first the walk is a bit crowded before people space out at their own paces. A cool wind is blowing but we’re moving uphill so I’m fine in my t-shirt. A woman touches my bare arm, comments, “so strong!” and rubs her own jacket-clad body to indicate I must be cold. Different acclimatizations. I grin at her. Some people set up their tents out in the exposed, windy hills and the fabric flaps loudly. Despite the well-made path, complete with concrete stairs and handrails (which were being painted as we walked), the camping area contains no toilet or trash bins and some litter flutters in the wind.

We continue past the lighthouse on the point, odd-shaped rocks, and a pagoda which seems quite new to the top of the island, before descending back to the harbor. We walk past abandoned buildings, some strewn with seaweed drying on their roofs. As we approach the village, dogs begin to check us out. The beach is dominated by a seafood restaurant, where we decide to eat. Another, smaller restaurant sits next door. A generator is powering everything.

Our food is good, and plentiful, but relatively expensive. A few yachts have anchored in the harbor now and groups of obviously wealthy people sit around large tables, eating and drinking, and leaving quite a bit of food on their plates. They’ve just come for the lunch, it seems. The village dogs keep pestering their groomed dog, who isn’t too pleased with the attention.

We head out again to walk the trail looping the other side of the island. A few houses line the path that leads us to a temple that looks recently renovated, a stark contrast to the homes. We notice the outhouses empty straight into the ocean. This trail is unlike the paved path we walked to the lighthouse; it is dirt and we ascend through scrub and rocks to the top of the island from the other direction. We can see the harbor below, and the skyscrapers of Hong Kong looming in the distance, fading in a haze. Then we descend again, back to the pier, back to the ferry, back to the city.

Generators, outhouses, and abandoned buildings. Paved paths and new pagodas. Container ships. Skyscrapers of a technology-saturated city. All within eyesight, intersecting.

Getting to Po Toi

Kai-to ferries run just a few days a week from Aberdeen and Stanley. You can see the timetables here. Make sure you plan ahead so you don’t miss your ferry, especially on the return! Since the island is quite exposed, bring layers and sunscreen.

Note: Since my visit at the end of 2018, a lot has changed in Hong Kong. I want to acknowledge the courage of those who risk their safety for a better present and future.