A Day of Retreat at Stanley

49 comments
Asia, Hong Kong
The Historic Murray House, Now Houses A Handful of Restaurants

The Historic Murray House, Now Home for A Handful of Restaurants

From Hong Kong Island’s heavily-indented southern coastline a sleepy town called us in on a chilly winter night. The double-decker bus that we took meandered through winding, narrow roads, dimly lit by street lamps, while houses and apartments were occasionally sighted from the bus’ window. We arrived at the market, supposedly busy as James told me earlier. But that night it was anything but.

Two years later, also in winter, I returned to the very same place but at a different time of the day. One sunny Sunday morning the ocean breeze welcomed us as we arrived in Stanley. People with their families, friends and dogs seemed to have a relaxing time on their own in this quiet corner of the island, a rather stark contrast to the archetypal round-the-clock hectic life dictating the island’s north.

But an ice cream parlor was where we headed first before launching our mini-exploration to very sites that drew people to come to Stanley for a weekend retreat. A woman who appeared to be in her 30s was busy preparing gelati in different flavors while making sure each metal canister was properly labelled with the right flavor tag. Then she saw us coming and noticed a familiar face – months earlier James went to the same place and had a little bit of conversation with her as soon as he found out that she was from Indonesia.

“My boss comes only once in two years, but today he is coming,” she said to us while still preparing the ice creams. We chatted with her, then pointed our fingers to some of the canisters in front of us. Moments later she handed us two scoops of tropical fruits gelato, and as we were about to give her the cash she quickly refused and said it was free. “You should go now before he comes!”

For a slight moment we were trying to digest what just happened as we walked out the door, but soon enough our minds – and taste buds – were fixated to the fast-melting freshness we were holding on our hands. As we walked down the waterfront promenade, to our far right was a well-preserved colonial building standing conspicuously just around the corner of a modern mall. Not only for people, Stanley ostensibly provides a refuge for one of the oldest colonial buildings in Hong Kong which used to stand at the city’s Central district.

The Boathouse, Spared from A Planned Demolition

The Boathouse, Spared from A Planned Demolition

A Traditional Boat at Stanley

A Traditional Boat at Stanley

Some of Stanley's Earliest Houses

Stanley’s Early, Modest Houses

Looking Out to the Waters

Looking Out to the Waters

In 1982 during the period of rapid growth when Hong Kong saw its skyline dramatically changed forever, Murray House was dismantled stone by stone only to be reassembled two decades later at Stanley. Other British colonial buildings on the island were less fortunate, sadly, contrary to what the Singaporean government did to its colonial heritage. When the authority finally came to a point when it truly comprehended the importance of conserving such historic structures, it was already a little too late as the city had lost many of its invaluable heritage. Most of them were razed down to make way for new high-rise constructions. The location where Murray House once sat is now where one of Hong Kong’s most iconic landmarks stands: I.M. Pei’s sleek and modern Bank of China Tower.

Not everyone comes to Stanley for a peaceful retreat. At Stanley’s main beach, hidden behind rows of houses and shops lining the main street of the town, every year different groups of dragon boat clubs gather on the verge of summer for one of the biggest of such race in Hong Kong. Weekly training sessions are usually done at the same beach where rigorous, physical drills – including paddling back and forth across the bay – take place.

But on top of a hill, a short walk down the main street from the beach, perched a somber reminder of a dark chapter in Stanley’s history. Like a towering lighthouse surrounded by white rocks and boulders, a giant cross stood amid rows of bright tombstones, bearing the names of allied fighters who fought against the invading Japanese troops who successfully took control of Stanley on Christmas Day 1941.

Today the Stanley Military Cemetery is where the bodies of the allied fighters – a band of fighters comprising individuals from different countries and religions united to fight against a common enemy – are buried and rest eternally in peace. For peace is what Stanley gives to Hong Kong’s past, present, and hopefully its future as well.

Dragon Boats at the Main Beach

Dragon Boats at the Main Beach

Stacks of Dragon Boat Paddles

Stacks of Dragon Boat Paddles

Old Stanley Police Station

Old Stanley Police Station

Stanley Military Cemetery

Stanley Military Cemetery

Rows of Headstones

Rows of Headstones

Those Who Fought with the Allies

Those Who Fought with the Allies

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

49 thoughts on “A Day of Retreat at Stanley”

    • Murray House is quite an elegant building indeed, Mihran. So glad the government decided to move it instead of demolishing it.

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  1. Reblogged this on El carrer i la ciutat and commented:
    UN DIA DE RECÉS A STANLEY.
    «El 1982, durant el període de ràpid creixement quan Hong Kong va veure el seu horitzó canviat dràsticament per sempre, Murray House va ser desmuntat pedra a pedra només per ser tornat a muntar dues dècades més tard, en Stanley. Altres edificis colonials britànics a l’illa van ser menys afortunats, per desgràcia, en contra del que el govern de Singapur va fer a la seva herència colonial . Quan l’autoritat finalment va arribar a un punt en el que realment va comprendre la importància de la conservació d’aquest tipus d’estructures històriques, el que ja era una mica tard ja que la ciutat havia perdut molts del seu patrimoni inavaluable. La majoria d’ells van ser arrasats per donar pas a noves construccions de gran alçada. El lloc on Murray House un cop es va asseure és ara on un dels monuments més emblemàtics de Hong Kong destaca: elegant i modern Banc d’IM Pei de la Xina Tower.»…..

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  2. Lovely shots, Bama! I’m glad we went there a bit earlier in the morning – Stanley can get very crowded on weekend afternoons. Whenever friends come to Hong Kong (especially for the first time) my father will always recommend this area… as you said it is a stark contrast to the neon-lit streets Hong Kong is known for!

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    • Thank you, James! I’m glad every time you took me to Stanley it was not that crowded – back in January 2012 it looked even more deserted! Stanley is a good place to show HK first timers that HK has more than just malls and skyscrapers to offer.

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  3. It looks like a peaceful town. As a person who have never had to opportunity to travel outside the US (except Canada), I love to see and read about interesting places around the world. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Hi Carol. Many people make Hong Kong their first place to visit in Asia before venturing even deeper in the region as it offers both Chinese/Asian traditions alongside with things they’re familiar with back home. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to travel to this part of the world soon! And thanks for reading!

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  4. Great series of shots of the Stanley area Bama ~ Hong Kong has such a rich history, and you do justice with the Stanley story and it is this little oasis of HK Island. Cheers!

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    • Thanks, Randall. The more I explored Hong Kong, the more I realized it is such a fascinating place with so much history to dig in. Stanley is one my favorite places on the island for its overall ambiance and the fact that it offers so many things – Shek O tops the list, though, for its natural beaches and rock formations. Cheers!

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      • Agree, HK is so rich in history and with so much going on in the present. And also agree about Shek-O, it is one of my favorite get-away places as well…

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  5. The first thing that got my attention is your writing skills. You’re definitely a really good writer. I enjoyed this post a lot, also considering the fact that I’m soon going on exchange to the other side of the world. Definitely a place to consider visiting. Thanks for sharing. Happy new year from The Netherlands!

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    • Well thank you so much, Hasti. I really appreciate your kind words. Which part of Asia are you going to for that exchange?
      Thanks for reading and Happy New Year too!

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  6. That looks like a nice escape from the busyness of the city. Had we stayed in HK another day, I’d have had to get out! Do you plan to return someday to see the dragon boat races?

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    • It seems like even with the speedwalking James had so little time to take you to Stanley. 🙂 The next time you come to Hong Kong you should visit Stanley, Shek O, even Sai Kung where great hiking trails and white sand beaches await. I’m not sure whether or not I will be in Hong Kong for the dragon boat races the next time I come, but it would be really great to watch the races myself.

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    • Thank you! Learning about a place’s history and capturing images around that place seem to be two things I always do every time I travel. Glad you enjoyed this post! 🙂

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  7. Looks like a lovely spot for quiet and retreat. I especially like the photo with all of the dragon boat paddles. Very creative.

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    • I haven’t seen the dragon boat races myself, but I can imagine you on the boat, instead of watching from the beach, paddling through rough waters with so much energy you have. 🙂 Then you can enjoy Stanley’s quiet corners afterwards. Thank you, Sue.

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    • Thank you for reading and leaving such a nice comment! If you wish to visit Stanley, make sure to come early. That’s when you’ll get the real tranquility this part of Hong Kong is known for.

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  8. Yes. Such a quiet Sunday Morning there. I will enjoy walking down the street and inhale deeply 🙂

    Anyway, mas Bama ini bolak-balik Hong Kong ya? Atau tinggal di sana untuk beberapa lama terus satu per satu share cerita di sana? 😀

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    • You surely will, Nug.
      Cerita saya tentang Hong Kong akhir-akhir ini sebenernya dari trip saya ke sana selama dua minggu bulan Januari tahun kemarin. Tapi saking banyaknya yang mau saya tulis dan saking banyaknya tempat yang saya kunjungi jadi tulisannya harus saya pecah-pecah. Kalo nggak nanti bisa gak habis-habis scroll cerita saya di satu blog post. 🙂

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    • Thank you very much, Charu. I just took a quick look at your blog and I really like your photos. Will be back for more! 🙂

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      • Thnx Bama, I’m glad you liked the write-ups & photos, just trying to get hang of it yet. 🙂
        I ran through your travel stories, pretty catchy.

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  9. I love that you are capturing the history of Hong Kong as it changes before your eyes. Great pics and words.

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    • Thank you, Anne. Hong Kong and many other Asian cities are changing fast, often costing their historical buildings as they were razed down to make way for new developments. However now governments are starting to realize the potentials of such heritage for economy, tourism, and culture. We all sure hope to see more of this in the future.

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    • Kayak di mana Kak Tesya? Yang pasti bukan Jakarta. 🙂 Ke Stanley cukup gampang kok, tinggal naik bis tingkat sekali dari Admiralty. View sepanjang perjalanan pun cukup bagus.

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  10. A very evocative gallery Bama. We never made it to Stanley on both trips to HK. I should try and time a visit for the dragon boat races.

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    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Madhu. Visiting Stanley during the dragon boat race season must be very thrilling — that special atmosphere created by a cacophony of rhythmic drum beats and people’s cheers in the otherwise calm neighborhood.

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  11. Stanley was one of my favourite places to spend a sunny day in Hong Kong when I lived there. It has such a different character from the rest of the island, and felt a bit European at times. My other favourite places to spend the weekend, were some of the smaller islands like Cheng Chau so perhaps it was the stark change of pace from the bustling city which I was drawn to. I do love the city and it’s atmosphere, but there are times when you need a change of scene and the fact HK has that variety is why I miss it so much.

    I didn’t know the history of Stanley before, so I really enjoyed your post

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    • Actually I also felt that kind of European ambiance when I went there. Maybe it was because of the Murray House and the English pub. When I was in Hong Kong I didn’t go to Cheng Chau, but I opted for Lamma and some remote hiking trails instead. That’s one of the best things of Hong Kong — it has the busy business district and markets, but on the other side it also has really nice weekend getaways. Thanks for reading!

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    • Glad you liked it. I’ll be going back to HK next week after traveling for six months across Southeast and South Asia. I guess it would be nice to be back to a place I’m quite familiar with.

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  12. Pingback: A Tale of Three Cities: Hong Kong | What an Amazing World!

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