Many thanks to Michele Koh Morollo at Culture Trip for choosing The Serious Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong as one of the 10 best books about the city.
“The uninitiated often think of Hong Kong as just an urban metropolis, packed with concrete high-rises and shopping malls,” she says. “The territory is, in fact, also home to mountain peaks, verdant forests, waterfalls, beaches and rocky bays, and those who live here often spend their weekends out enjoying the abundant nature on their doorstep.”
It was never really true that life was all about the journey, not the destination – because the destination had sun (maybe), sand, sea and ice-cream – but Ordnance Survey maps certainly put some fun, and some heated discussions, into working out where one was going. Those were the days.
And what, you might wonder, does any of this have to do with literature? The answer is that in these fraught years of what I’m calling Digidom, the OS map, possibly the most cumbersome, old-fashioned bit of kit imaginable, has become not just a pointer to Prestatyn or Polperro, Canterbury or Carlisle, but a wider health indicator helping to signify the condition of the two basic types of travel book: the “literary” volume artfully mastered by the likes of Alexander Frater and Jonathan Raban; and the travel guide, made wildly popular not too many years ago in, for example, its Lonely Planet and Rough Guides guises.
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.
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.