Two reporters came from Germany to Hong Kong to explore our mountains and trails, and I was pleased to meet them. They wasted no time, hiking out to Sai Kung, Lai Chi Wo, Kowloon Peak, Tai Tam and Lantau Island in their few days in the city.
We set off at a brisk pace, climbing up steep steps and through undergrowth until we pierce the first cloud. Colorful jacket collars bob up ahead as, gasping with unwonted exertion, we learn their owners’ biographies. There’s a French businessman who’s brought along some chocolate bars to keep his energy up, an Irish missionary and a Filipina housekeeper, who has taken a day off. Many come for the company, to escape the loneliness of city life. Others are here for the scenery, for the view that is blurred by some last swathes of mist. Or is it smog? Above the clouds is also above the smog.
Photographer Fabian Weiss took the above photo of the famous “Suicide Cliff” on Kowloon Peak. Read their story here.
This easy hike visits Bride’s Pool, a longstanding local beauty spot in the northeast New Territories. The walk is short and quite easy, but the stone steps may be slippery after wet weather. Walking time: 1 hour.
From Tai Po Market railway station, board bus 275R (Sundays and public holidays only) and ride it all the way to its terminus on Bride’s Pool Road. This is a quiet road that runs beside the vast Plover Cove reservoir. (You can also get to this point by green New Territories taxi, or green minibus 20R which passes the bus terminus on its way to Wu Kau Tang village, a bit deeper in the country park).
From the bus stop, walk ahead a short distance, passing the Lions Club pavilion, and then pass through the archway to start on the trail. Very quickly, your path crosses a wide, rocky, fast-flowing stream. Away out of sight to your right, the stream cascades over a ledge and falls steeply into a plunge pool. This is the setting for a tragic local legend. Many years in the past, a bride was being carried in a sedan chair to her wedding in a neighbouring village. The stones were slippery, and the sedan chair bearers lost their footing, pitching the chair and the woman to a watery end far below. The locale has been known as Bride’s Pool ever since. Continue reading Hong Kong hiking: Bride’s Pool
I have written a piece about exploring Hong Kong’s abandoned villages for the SCMP’s Post Magazine, and you can read it at this link.
The text is below, minus the villager interviews which were conducted by Elaine Yau but plus some description of the villages, and with a few pictures different from those published in the magazine.
The rain was incessant, the skies a greenish grey, and my Sunday hike across the northeast New Territories was taking far longer than I thought it would. It was now late afternoon and getting dark, and yet I was still walking an exposed hillside miles away from the nearest road. I wouldn’t be able to make it back to town before night fell.
It was time to make other plans. My sodden paper map showed a village called So Lo Pun in the valley below. I would get down there, knock on a door and ask if I could sleep on someone’s floor.
The descent was quick, but only because the steep path was a rivulet of slippery clay. And when I reached the forest at the bottom, I was knee-deep in water. It was dark already. Where was the village? I couldn’t even see any lights.
I suddenly realised that I had arrived. The tall trees of the forest were growing up through the dark windows and broken rafters of what had been a terrace of single-storey houses. Nobody had lived here for decades.
It was my introduction to the abandoned villages of Hong Kong.
Continue reading Windows into the past: Hong Kong’s abandoned villages
An easy walk north of Yuen Long, there’s an area of wetlands which has become well known in recent years due to a campaign against a proposed housing development. For now, the watery beauty of Nam Sang Wai is safe from the developers, and it’s popular with bird watchers, cyclists and photographers.
This walk is completely flat so it is suitable for all. Time required: two hours.
Take the West Rail to Yuen Long station, and make for Exit A. North of the station, all the land you can see is occupied by half a dozen sprawling villages with many old-style houses. It’s a bit of a maze. Bear left to find Yuen Long Kau Hui Road, and follow it more or less straight ahead to Shan Pui village. A few signs, some painted and some hand-made, point you to Nam Sang Wai. If you don’t see them, just follow anyone who looks like a hiker or biker.
Here at Shan Pui village there’s a ramshackle wooden jetty. Pay HK$5 and a boatman will ferry you across to the wetland.
Continue reading Hong Kong hiking: Nam Sang Wai
Far away in Hong Kong’s northeastern waters, at the entrance to Tolo Harbour, Tap Mun island has mostly avoided the sprouting of three-storey village houses which affects so much of the New Territories. In fact it retains its old-world charm so well, a walk down its main street can feel like stepping onto a film set. You can make an easy circuit of the island.
This walk is gentle and suitable for all. Time required: 2 hours.
Take the MTR East Rail to University Station and follow the signs over the bridge to Ma Liu Shui pier, ten minutes’ walk away. The morning ferry leaves at 8:30am, and there is an additional 12:30pm departure on weekends. (Don’t take the 3:00pm sailing, as it will give you no time to explore). You can call Tsui Wah Ferry on 2272 2022 to confirm the timetable.
The journey through Tolo Harbour takes 90 minutes, plenty of time for you to eat a packed breakfast and watch the scenery go by. The ferry calls in at two deserted villages before arriving in the small harbour at Tap Mun.
Continue reading Hong Kong hiking: Tap Mun (Grass Island)
The summit of Hong Kong’s highest mountain is a wonderful place to visit on days of clear weather. On your way up and down, you enjoy bird’s-eye views of the valleys of the New Territories, and the ridges of mountains which separate the area from Kowloon.
This walk involves some sustained climbing and passes through uninhabited areas, so is suitable only for fit adults. Time required: 5-6 hours.
Take the MTR to Tai Po Market station and find green minibus 23K. The bus drives up through the Wun Yiu valley, and terminates before it reaches the highest point of the road. Get off here, just past San Uk Ka village, and carry on walking uphill.
Continue reading Hong Kong hiking: Tai Mo Shan
It’s official – the best hike on Hong Kong’s Southside is the Dragon’s Back! That’s according to Southside Magazine readers’ votes. And Theadora Whittington has illustrated it in her children’s book, The Dragon’s Back, newly reprinted.
Read more, and see more of Theadora’s sketches and illustrations, on her blog.
I’m very pleased to note that The Heritage Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong has been revised and reprinted in a new edition; and even more pleased that it has been named Susan Blumberg-Kason’s book of the week!
Following is an excerpt. The book is not just walking directions; it’s very visual, with lots of photographs — some modern and some historical — and colour maps for each walk. I’ve included a few random spreads among the text below; click them to view at full size. Happy hiking!
Route 12: Pok Fu Lam
The green western slopes of Hong Kong Island have long been used as a retreat from the city – first by missionaries and dairy farmers, and today by students and wealthier residents. Starting at the Peak and ending atop Mount Davis, this walk will exercise your knees and give you advance views of the heritage sites along the way.
Victoria Gap, where the Peak Tower stands, is a crossroads from which trails lead in half a dozen directions. The entrance to Pok Fu Lam Country Park is easily found directly opposite the bus station, and a car-free road leads straight down into peaceful forest. Old banyans clinging to the stone walls shade your descent into the valley.
These steep hillsides were saved from development by the need to protect Hong Kong’s water sources. This valley was dammed as early as 1863 and a reservoir – the colony’s first – was built down below to supply water to the city. An aqueduct ran around from Pok Fu Lam to Central, giving Conduit Road its name. Major tree planting took place at the same time to prevent soil erosion. Before then, most of Hong Kong Island’s uplands were bare, partly thanks to the grass cutters who scoured the hills to collect kindling. The forest suffered during the war years, when much of it was chopped down for firewood; but it has recovered well and you’re now able to walk through mature woodland.
Camellia and eagle’s claw flowers provide colour beside the path, and birdsong fills the air. In fact, it was the ‘pok fu’ bird which gave Pok Fu Lam its name – lam meaning ‘forest’ – although the original Chinese characters have changed. It’s often pronounced ‘Pock Fulham’ by expats more familiar with the London football club. Continue reading Book excerpt: The Heritage Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong
If you have 15 minutes spare, you could listen in to a walk I took around So Kon Po with Radio 3’s Annemarie Evans. Most people only visit the area during the annual Rugby Sevens tournament but there are half a dozen things to see beside the stadium. As well as the headquarters of the Po Leung Kuk, an organization set up in the 1870s to combat the then-commonplace trade in slave girls, the quiet district hosts a monument to the Happy Valley racecourse disaster of 1918, the remains of squatter villages, a Confucius Hall and a surprisingly large and imposing chapel within the walls of St. Paul’s Convent, which is still run by the order of French nuns who founded it.
I also spoke to man-about-China Paul French (no relation to the convent) about local heritage preservation in general for his Ethical Corporation podcast, again listenable at the link.
The full So Kon Po walk is described and illustrated in The Heritage Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong. I don’t have any images handy from this route, but below you can see some other spreads from the book. There’s a nice mix of modern and archive photography. Click to see at larger size.
As the weather cools, I’m pleased to announce the publication of The Heritage Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong – available from all local bookshops from later this week.
When I began to write the book which became the first in this series – a walking guide to Hong Kong’s high peaks and long-distance trails – I had no idea it would lead to an illustrated book about local history.
Before recent times, there was less call for a book like this. The accepted view was that Hong Kong people cared little for their heritage. Besides the clans of the New Territories, few residents had deep roots in Hong Kong; many had used the city only as a stepping stone between China and a more prosperous life overseas. And before the issue of 1997 had been settled, the future of Hong Kong itself was uncertain. Everything was seen as transient. Who would spend too much time worrying about a ‘borrowed place living on borrowed time’?
But since the protests against the demolition of the Star Ferry pier a few years ago, that has all changed. Hong Kong people – and especially young people – have woken up to the value of a connection to their past. Historic places, those which evoke collective memories, now have legions of defenders sworn to protect them at all costs.
This new interest in shared heritage is part of a wider trend towards protest of all kinds in Hong Kong: against delays in more representative elections, against reclamation of the harbour and other harm to the environment, against the profiteering of developers, and most vociferously against the perceived collusion between government and big business. Angry citizens are now ready to confront the government on every issue – a problem the colonial authorities rarely faced. Already it seems that their voices have been heard, and the tide has turned for the better on heritage conservation.
Hong Kong has been many things: a string of fishing villages; a centre of the opium trade; a refuge for revolutionaries; a freewheeling market where fortunes could be made; a prize of war; a window on China; a colony with an expiry date; a beautiful city. It can be hard to find reminders of ages gone by, but they still exist. I hope this guidebook will help you discover some of them.