The Other Sides of Hong Kong
We wrote about the glimmering skyscrapers and chaotic streets of Hong Kong, but there is a surprisingly different side to this area. And fortunately for travelers like us, amazing excursions are only a short train, bus, boat, or rickshaw ride away. The following are a few of our side trips, in no particular order.
Outside the Concrete Jungle
Five hundred yards and 1000 feet above the bustling city of Kowloon, Cortney and I find ourselves in the middle of the jungle. Trees arch over us, birds whistle and we are completely alone. Its a very strange feeling to be so isolated and yet so close to the city, but it was a welcome respite. Thanks to some outdoor enthusiasts and residents of the region, a wonderful system of hiking trails was established in the parks and hills above and around Kowloon and Hong Kong. You can literally hike for weeks on the well marked paths. The most amazing part is that very few people use the trails. We weren’t complaining as we trekked six hours on the McLehose path (sections 5 and 6.) We began the day by stocking up on water, grabbing a taxi up a nearby hill and wandering around until we found the starting post. Once you have your bearings and see the trail posts, following along is relatively easy. The trail in this stage meanders along hill tops overlooking Victoria Bay, the New Territories (north of Kowloon) and plunging into jungle valleys.
One thing that stuck out is the compact nature of the city. Every inch of flat space and much of the hills are dominated with buildings. Enormous, rather mundane high rises that house people, factories, and other unimaginable things. As soon as we peered out over an expanse of concrete buildings the trail would dive down into the wilderness again, concealing the urban landscape.
Throughout the hike, we saw signs recommending not to feed the monkeys that lived there. Evil, scary monkeys. Apparently humans have been egging them on and they are hell bent on destruction. I could not wait to see them! Four hours into the hike, still no evil monkeys. Then, just at the end of the trail, we spotted a few near a bridge. We approached cautiously, but they were cute and rather small, and certainly meant no harm. Just as I got near one for a close-up – it underwent a demonic transformation. The monkey reared back and hissed at me displaying huge fangs. As we jumped for safety we noticed that over 60 monkeys had surrounded us. A gang of hairy thugs eyeing us like we were overripe bananas. The hills of Hong Kong weren’t as serene as we thought.
The Island of Lamma
Just a short boat ride from the coast are a series of islands. The most popular of the bunch is Lamma Island, where lived a newly minted giant Buddha. Not ones to turn down enormous religious effigies, Cort and I made the early morning trip.
The island is sublimely tropical and fairly wild. We decided to hike to the giant Buddha, which takes you though mountains and country paths. Once at the statue, the wild country changed to hordes of tourists. Never-the-less, the Buddha was impressive and we were all enlightened. Perfect time for a beer, which we found, at a nearby beach bar full of expats. There we met some great people including a transplant from the states named Mark. He would end up giving us a great tour of Hong Kong over the next week.
On the other side of the Hong Kong island over the green hills is an idyllic, quiet seaside town named Stanley. It was Sunday, so a perfect warm day to stroll through the market, grab a hamburger and chips, and watch the sunset from a nearby beach. It’s a great place to escape Asia and spend a quick moment in seaside Europe.
The Happy Valley Races
Turns out that horse racing is a big deal in Hong Kong. They even drained a swamp and decided it was a fantastic place for a track. Over one hundred years later, the track is still there, but buildings and city surround it on all sides. Welcome to the Happy Valley race track, where the locals are serious about horse racing and the expats are serious about drinking. Our new friend Mark invited us out to the races with several of his mates. We enjoyed the local favorite, McDonalds, and learned to lose our money in several complex ways. It was a great evening capped with a trip to a stellar pub, The Globe. Thanks for the great tour Mark, we guarantee to be back soon.