Hiking Hong Kong: The Sai Kung Peninsula

“We must be humble, ” he says as he’s going downhill and me the other way.I take the elderly gentleman’s advice seriously. It’s a blistering 35 degrees and the humidity levels are soaring. Hiking in this weather is no piece of cake. Choppers fly around me frequently as fellow hikers need rescuing. As he said, humility is the key and taking frequent breaks is more of a necessity than a choice.

 First few views along the hike of the High Island Reservoir. Not what I was expecting from Hong Kong at all.

 

Some more views of the High Island Reservoir on the hike from Sai Wan Pavilion to Sai Wan Beach

There are lots of ways to hike the Sai Kung Peninsula and with the day hiker, certain sections of the MacLehose Trail seems to be the most popular. For me, I was looking to camp and hike over a few days so my journey started at the Sai Wan Pavillion.

The Sai Wan Pavilion. I just showed this photo to my Taxi Driver to explain where I wanted to go. Credit: HK Discovery
GETTING TO SAI WAN PAVILLION:
The Facts and the $$s (all prices are in HKD)
  • Catch the MTR to Diamond Hill Station
  • From Diamond Hill get Bus 92 to Sai Kung Town
  • From Sai Kung Town you can either 1) Take a taxi to the Pavillion ($80) or 2) Take the Mini Bus 29R that only leaves at certain fixed times. Last one in is at 3:30 P.M ($17)

From the Pavilion it’s a pretty quick and easy hike to Sai Wan, the first beach on the Tai Long Wan Bay stretch. It took me less than 40 minutes to get there. I took a lunch break here at a shack called Hoi San which is right on the beach and where the lady who everyone calls “Boss” quickly whipped up a spicy noodle soup for me.

The double bayed Sai Wan beach, Sai Kung Peninsula

 

A lunch pit stop at The Boss’s shack on Sai Wan Beach

I then carried on hiking to Ham Tin and you know those feral cow warnings you will see along the way… here is where you wish you’d paid more attention to those signs. There was a mean ass cow I happened to come across here. I was walking the trail and she insisted on mowing me down. Although funny in retrospect, I was extremely scared and had to hide for at least a half hour until she left. I reckon, I’ve since developed a fear of cows which when you’re from India is not the best thing.

Hiding from the damn cow. I had nothing else to do but wait and take photos

Once I managed to escape I dropped my bags at the lone shack on Ham Tin called Hoi Fung and set up camp for the night. There was still over an hour’s worth of daylight left so I carried on hiking to Tai Wan. This is the next long and stunning beach that some others choose to camp on. Come sunset, I hiked back just in time for dinner. The guys at Hoi Fung, two best buds KK and Lai are really nice. K.K noticed I was missing a hat/cap in the sweltering heat and insisted on giving me one that a customer probably left behind and wouldn’t accept any money for it. It was such a genuine act of kindness that literally saved me from a heatstroke over the next couple of days.

A view of Tai Wan beach, the longest and perhaps the most beautiful of them all
The view from Hoi Fung Shack of Ham Tin Beach. The rickety bridge across the rivulet is part of the laid back charm

When the sun set that evening it was nothing like I’d ever seen before. The sky was split into two exact halves, one pink and the other blue, as though someone had drawn a line right down the middle of the sky. I’m guessing it was because of the surrounding mountains?

The strangest sunset I’ve ever seen. Looks like I’ve added a filter. I haven’t
Sleeping right by the Ocean on Ham Tin Beach, Hong Kong

 

Tent Views: Sunrise at Ham Tin Beach, Hong Kong

At night you have to go out for a midnight swim (be careful if you’re alone though). The phosphorescence in the waters here is the brightest I have ever seen. It was like my body was capable of mood lighting and it all just felt so otherworldly. Adding to the magic was the moon which was really big that night, the shadows of the headlands around the beach, the mountains in the distance and of course, the bright green waters I was swimming in.

The next morning I woke up at 5 a.m and trekked up to Sharp’s Peak. It’s hard to miss it really, it sort of looms over you the whole time, daring you to scale it. On my way uphill I came across a sign warning hikers as to how arduous the trail is. In fact, it pretty much said,: “Don’t Climb”. With the temperatures soaring that day I am so glad I woke up early because on my way back I could see hikers going uphill really struggling. The views from Sharp’s Peak across the entire bay and beyond were phenomenal but given the extreme heat, I don’t know if all the exhaustion was worth it. I did it more for the sense of accomplishment and it felt great to be up on the peak with zero crowds and have the view all to myself. I then hiked back to Ham Tin Beach went straight for a swim, packed up my equipment and hiked back to Sai Wan from the previous day and set up camp there. It’s great to be able to camp right in front of the ocean, not too many places in the world “allow” that so it feels like quite a luxury.

A view of my home on Sai Wan Beach, Hong Kong
Tent Views: The evening seascapes at Sai Wan Beach, Hong Kong

 

Lost my tent pegs somewhere and had to get a bit MacGyver-ish with some fallen branches

I chose Sai Wan as my base for the next few days and hiked a few different routes around and came back to my tent on the beach at the end of the day. I just didn’t want to hike with all my gear all the time. After my success with Sharp’s Peak I made it a point to start early to beat the heat and be back on the beach in time for dinner and sunset at about 6:00 P.M. I went to the Sai Wan Waterfall – just 20 minutes north of the beach- which is a set of vertically dropping falls (great for a back massage) with lagoons that provide much needed respite after a hard days hike.

The Waterfall near Sai Wan Beach, Hong Kong. You can cliff jump from the vertical rocks on the right.

 

The waterfall lagoons are perfect for relaxing in and on most days there are hardly any people

I also hiked to the East Dam/ High Island Reservoir and back another day. Again given the severe heat it turned out to be very challenging and my pace was slowed down considerably. You need to carry plenty of water when doing this route because there is nowhere you can buy water along the way. The Reservoir area even though man-made is at par with the natural wonders of the area and the blue of the waters can only be described as ethereal. On the way to the reservoir, you’ll cross Long Ke beach (there is a water point here) which many have called the best beach in HK. The numbers of chartered boats there however ruined it for me and I’d pick Ham Tin or Tai Wan over it any day.

Views of the High Island Reservoir from Sam Tin Wan: the peak en route from Sai Wan Beach to the East Dam
Long Ke Beach, Hong Kong offers a rewarding break after the uphill climb and downhill scramble
Looking back at Long Ke on the way to High Island Reservoir
Views from the East Dam, High Island Reservoir, Hong Kong
The exposed rock facade and the ethereal blue of the reservoir waters


Camping in Sai Wan was such a beautiful experience both literally and figuratively.

Waking up to a sunny day on Sai Wan Beach, Hong Kong
Taking a post-hike stroll along the Sai Wan Beach poking my head into caves and crannies
Fiery sunset on my first night in Sai Wan
Another night, another sunset: this one is a lot milder but beautiful none the less

Not only was waking up every morning to the sunrise and running straight into the ocean my definition of a perfect life but so was meeting all the people who enhanced my Sai Wan experience. I would see all the locals eat this one particular dish that looked like coconut or seafood… I couldn’t really tell. All I could tell was that it was really popular. The Boss would be serving them up all day. One day, I happened to share a table with a local family that spoke English.

“You have not tried this before?”, they asked looking at me incredulously.

As I guiltily shook my head they explained that it was a traditional Chinese dish made with bean curd. It is believed that the water used is from the holy mountain springs. I was told it’s sweet and could be made sweeter by adding crushed candy and/or honey. They then insisted on me trying some and watched my face expectantly as I took my first bite. I am so glad I loved it because I couldn’t and wouldn’t have said otherwise.

Sweet delicious Bean Curd with honey and ginger syrup: a traditional favourite of Hong Kong locals

Then there was the Boss herself and the way she ran her entire establishment. She didn’t speak any English and my Cantonese is … well….non-existent so we didn’t exchange much beyond what I wanted from the menu. I was loyal, though, and ate all my meals at her shack. I liked something about her and I liked her cooking. My respect for her only continued to grow over the next couple of days.

A bunch of local youngsters I got chatting to told me how hard things are for her. Apparently, certain people are constantly trying to bully her into selling her land so they can make a resort in the area and she continues to fight back without giving in. Life in that neck of the woods while beautiful certainly is no cake walk.

The Boss and I must have made some sort of a connection. On the day I was leaving, as I was about to hike back to the Pavilion, I packed my tent and went to say goodbye. She held my hand, took me to the fridge and handed me a cold can of coke for my hike back. It was a tiny gesture that affected me in more ways than I can ever explain and I know I’ll always remember it. It’s experiences like these that make me love travelling even more. It’s when you can truly see the capacity of how beautiful humanity can be.

That’s the Boss of Hoi San restaurant on Sai Wan Beach and I’m her number one fan
 GETTING BACK TO SAI KUNG TOWN:
You have 3 Options:
1) Hike back to the Pavillion and get a taxi to the Town
2) Hike back to the Pavillion and get the minibus 29R. Again it only leaves at fixed times. The schedule changes every now and then, so ask the shacks for confirmation.
3) Get a boat back to Sai Kung Town- I’ve heard it’s a picturesque ride back. This costs $120 per person. Again, ask at the shack at Ham Tin or ask the Boss at Sai Wan. They normally get a bunch of people wanting to go back together and then call the boat guy over.

HIKING GEM-  Here’s a golden Hiking in Hong Kong tip: Get yourself some Pocari Sweat. I know the name is not very enticing but rest assured you’re not drinking Pocari’s sweat. It’s just an ion-filled drink that is great for hikes and hangovers.

Hurray for Pocari Sweat. A life saver during sunny day hikes.

INSIDER TIP- You don’t have to carry your own tent because both the shacks: Hoi Fung on Ham Tin and Hoi San on Sai Wan rent out tents, sleeping mats and barbecues. Also, even in these far-flung bits of Hong Kong, you’ll find paved trails and flushing toilets. How’s that for service and efficiency in the middle of nowhere?

Oh so green: The Sai Kung Peninsula is one of Hong Kong’s best-kept secrets

Hiking all over the Sai Kung Peninsula was the best decision I made during my travels in Hong Kong. My experience was safe (the only thing I felt scared of was that damn cow), friendly and so beautiful that I am scared to go back again and destroy the idyllic version that’s ingrained in my mind forever.

6 comments

  1. Loved this post, Ankita…not just for the gorgeous photos (is Tai Wan beach for real? WOW!!!) but also for the Pocari Sweat drink! Love that drink (and the name!!!!). Also, there's some great advice on your website for people traveling off the beaten path (the way we love it!)! Great blog and website, and we look forward to following you! Happy travels! Jill at Road Warrior

    Like

  2. Loved this post, Ankita…not just for the gorgeous photos (is Tai Wan beach for real? WOW!!!) but also for the Pocari Sweat drink! Love that drink (and the name!!!!). Also, there's some great advice on your website for people traveling off the beaten path (the way we love it!)! Great blog and website, and we look forward to following you! Happy travels! Jill at Road Warrior

    Like

  3. Gotta love the cow story!

    The pictures in this post are stunning! Wish I'd known about this when I went to Hong Kong… holy smokes! Next times 🙂

    Gotta love Pocari Sweat 😉 Always fun to ask newbies to Korea if they want some. hehe

    Like

  4. Hello Ankita, this blog would be really helpful. I am also planning to visit this place but want to know if it is safe for solo traveler and can we complete this trekking in a single day.

    –Ankur Goel

    Like

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