Last month I was pleased to be invited onto TravelZoom, a new podcast. This episode is all about Hong Kong and it’s out now. Here’s the blurb:
The host, Aga Skoczypiec, interviews Pete Spurrier, the author of an exceptional series of guidebooks to Hong Kong. Pete takes us on a tour through Hong Kong’s colonial past, and tells us how the city has changed since he moved to Hong Kong in the early 90s.
She also talks to Jowett Yu, the Executive Chef of Ho Lee Fook – a popular contemporary Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. Jowett shares his thoughts on Cantonese cuisine and the gastronomic scene in the city.
Finally, a trip to Hong Kong would not be complete without experiencing its many islands – over 250 to be exact. We visit the vibrant island of Cheung Chau to hear how an unexpected discovery led to Hong Kong’s first and last Olympic gold medal.
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→
High ridges, sparkling waterfalls, lush fung shui woods and ancient fishing communities nestled in rocky harbours. Your mind refreshed, your limbs exercised, and your senses intoxicated, you wonder at the fact that only a few miles separate all this from one of the world’s most crowded cities.
The Serious Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong — the bestselling guidebook to the SAR’s four long-distance hiking trails — is back in the shops in its sixth edition, with a new cover. Describing the Lantau Trail, Wilson Trail, MacLehose Trail and Hong Kong Trail, it’s been updated for 2010 and is profusely illustrated with maps and photographs. Available in all local bookshops.
Further to last month’s post about the Danxiashan national park in Guangdong, it’s worth mentioning that many of the rock formations bear uncanny resemblances to human sexual organs. (I have no photos of those, but Wikipedia does). Ancient Confucians probably avoided the area for these reasons, and it’s still very much off the beaten track, but modern China has few sex taboos and the local authorities have now erected — ahem — noticeboards explaining these interpretations of the sandstone monoliths.
“From a distance, it looks very much like a male genital!” exclaims a sign near the 28-metre Yangyuan Stone, abandoning the euphemistic language we have come to expect from Chinese literature. But it does, and there’s a complementary Yinyuan Cave nearby which does a good impression of the female anatomy.
Outside the park’s main entrance, then, there’s some logic to the existence of the China Sex Museum, which displays a collection of Chinese kama sutra texts, herbal aphrodisiacs, erotic jade carvings, Qing-dynasty sex toys and so on. The tittering girls at reception wouldn’t let me take photos of their explicit exhibits, but here are some pictures of the sculpture outside the museum. You get the idea.
Chongqing’s “Love Land” sex theme park was demolished earlier this year, so if you want to learn more about Chinese attitudes to sex throughout the ages, just take the train up to Shaoguan.
Hiking recently in Shaoguan, in northern Guangdong, I was grateful for the handy suggestions offered by the local authorities, and I fell down the hillside paying the proper attention to health and safety.
The Danxiashan region of the province is a weird landscape of forest punctuated by dramatic red sandstone formations and divided by meandering rivers. Some of the hilltops are dotted with shrines, fountains and old Zen Buddhist temples. It’s been declared a national nature reserve but has not received the fame accorded to Guilin — a good thing probably, since you can enjoy the peace and natural beauty without the nuisance of tour groups.
There is a cable car up to the peak with the best view, but it’s relatively expensive and all the locals choose to take the steps. And why not? As long as they all slip with care, of course.