Whatever you think of Discovery Bay (which you’ll often hear called Disco Bay or simply DB), it’s certain that you won’t encounter anywhere else in Hong Kong remotely like it. The brainchild of a single developer, it’s a self-contained community of around 16,000 people on Lantau Island. Phase 1 broke ground in 1982, and the place keeps growing: Phase 14 is now underway. Housing is low-rise and distinctly American suburban in appearance, and cars are banned. Other than walking or cycling, the only way to get around inside the grounds of the development is by using the shuttle bus service or on noisy, petrol-powered golf carts, and since these have been limited to 500, rental is expensive and buying one may cost you as much as a decent car.
This all may sound odd, but residents tend to report being very happy about living here, with certain caveats – one being the absence of sports facilities. It’s safe, clean and quiet and the wild beauty of the rest of Lantau Island is right out the gate, not to mention Hong Kong Disneyland and the airport. It’s not even remote, thanks to a 24-hour ferry from Central (with free Wi-Fi, no less) that takes less than 30 minutes, as well as the Discovery Bay Tunnel which links with the North Lantau Expressway.
Downsides? The immaculate environment is not to everybody’s taste (the word ‘Stepford’ often crops up in conversation among sceptics) and while renting or buying isn’t as expensive as most of Hong Kong Island, it’s not cheap. Property tends to be high end and offer plenty of space, as well as gardens and back yards. (It’s also possible to live on a yacht in the marina though.) Shops and restaurants tend to be on the expensive side, as one would expect with a semi-captive audience. Despite the easy connections to more bustling parts of the city, some people feel a little isolated.
It’s a very international environment with at least as many non-Chinese as there are locals, and it’s almost completely self-sufficient with its own schools, shops, restaurants, clubhouses and medical centres. Everything is manicured to perfection, including the custom-made beach. It’s not fair to accuse of it being less than thrilling, since Hong Kong offers plenty of exciting places to live – people come here for the quiet, orderly life, and in general embrace it. There are far worse places to bring up kids, or to escape to at the end of a stressful day at work.
Discovery Bay Medical Centre and Quality Health Care Medical Centre, both private providers, cover the main health care needs, and organise transferring patients to Hong Kong Island in more serious situations. There are plenty of pets here, and a vet in Discovery Bay handles any problems they may have.
Discovery Bay is well equipped with educational facilities, mostly though not all private, and older students generally have to travel to schools on Hong Kong Island or in Tung Chung. For pre-schoolers, there’s Discovery Bay International School Kindergarten (English), Discovery Bay Kindergarten (English and Chinese) and Sunshine House (English).
For older students, the most obvious option for foreigners is Discovery Bay International School, which uses the National Curriculum of England which goes from Year 1 to Year 11 and will eventually go all the way to Year 13 and the ICGSE qualification. There’s also Discovery College, an independent school operated by the ESF (the government body that runs the network of state-supported English-language schools in Hong Kong), which covers Year 1 to Year 10. It provides the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme and is a candidate school for the IB Middle Years Programme.
For parents who want their young kids to learn in a Cantonese-speaking environment and pick up the language quickly, SKH Wei Lun Primary School is a Chinese-language Anglican primary school covering Years 1 to 6.
Inside Discovery Bay, you’ve got your legs and possibly a bike. You don’t have a car or motorbike, since they’re completely banned; you can rent or buy a golf cart but these are surprisingly noisy (they’re petrol-powered rather than electric) and expensive. Otherwise, there’s the free 24-hour shuttle bus service which runs various routes to the different villages, using the bus terminus by the ferry pier as a central hub. It can be slightly inconvenient, but you’ll get where you’re going even if you have to change bus at the Terminus, and the distances aren’t huge in any case. This is a feature, not a bug, and the lack of traffic is a huge reason so many residents praise the quality of life here.
You get to and from Discovery Bay in one of two ways: by road or by sea. There’s a road tunnel that connects to the North Lantau Expressway and from there to anywhere else on or off Lantau. There’s also a 24-hour ferry service from Central which costs less than HKD40 – though note that there’s a surcharge between midnight and 6am. The trip takes less than half an hour. There’s free Wi-Fi on the ferry to stop the busy Hong Kong resident from losing a single moment of work time during his or her commute.
The main bus services are the DB01R, which goes to Tung Chung MTR station (15-20 minutes, every 20 minutes); the DB02R, to Hong Kong International Airport in Chek Lap Kok (20-30 minutes, 24 hours); and the DB03R to Sunny Bay MTR station (15-20 minutes, every 20 minutes – more often in peak hours). The proximity to the airport is the reason you may notice a fair few airline staff living in Discovery Bay.
Shops and Services
Discovery Plaza is where it’s at – you’ll find the bus terminus and ferry here as well. There’s a Fusion supermarket and a Wellcome, as well as a range of restaurants and cafes. Many of the twenty-plus restaurants overlook the beach, and there’s no shortage of bars to slake your thirst in. Although there are smaller shops around clusters of housing (which locals call villages) in Discovery Bay, this is very much the main hub of consumer activity. There’s a pleasant enough piazza for strolling around or having something to eat while watching your neighbours enjoy their shopping. Given the size of the community, the range on offer is reasonable enough, and Tung Chung with its multiplex and shopping centres is less than 30 minutes away for anybody looking for more options.
In terms of sports, there’s an astro-turf football pitch and some basketball courts, but other than that community facilities are distinctly lacking. Bear in mind, however, that many people live in compounds that have their own pools and gyms or other sporting options. On the upside, hiking paths that eventually take you out of Discovery Bay to climb the hills of Lantau are a great way to keep fit while enjoying spectacular views. Siena Central Park isn’t exactly sporty, but you can stroll around and do a little tai chi if you’re so inclined, in a pleasant environment.
There are four private clubs. Discovery Bay Residents Club is open to any resident willing to pay their monthly fee, which also means automatic membership of Club Siena. Discovery Bay Marina Club runs yachting activities and deals with people who choose to live on their boats. Discovery Bay Golf Club offers an unremarkable but impeccably maintained 27-hole course.
The community is sufficiently established by now for people to have set up their own clubs and social organizations, such as a boat club and a rugby team. With an expat population that’s less transient than most in Hong Kong, you may be surprised by the strong sense of community in Discovery Bay.
And there’s a big trump card if you have kids… Hong Kong Disneyland is only two kilometres away.