First published: 22nd October 2010
Sampan comes from a Cantonese term meaning, simply, "boat" and, in the West, is usually applied to a small, low, flat-bottomed Chinese boat, something like a punt, driven by a single long oar. There are a few of these around, but, around Aberdeen Harbour in Hong Kong, you will likely be offered a sampan tour in quite a different boat.
These are nothing like punt-shaped, they are chubby, with a high, flat stern and a diesel engine chugging under the deck. Invariably, they have a canvas shelter, supported on hoops. They can take a party of up to a dozen tourists around the harbour. Also known as water-taxis, they take locals around and about, from the landing stage to other boats (for example, when starting a junk trip). They will also venture out of the harbour, cutting across the East Lamma Channel (dodging the enormous container ships) taking Lamma Island residents home after they've missed the last ferry.
Slightly larger boats of the same design, with the addition of an Octopus card-reader in the middle of the deck, run the ferry from Aberdeen to Ap Lei Chau.