Hiking in Hong Kong

I didn't do much research about the lifestyle in Hong Kong before moving here for a semester. In my mind, I was going to a city with busy metro stations and skyscrapers with big windows, where people were always going to be in a rush. To my surprise I've had a different experience from the very start of my semester abroad.

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is located on the southern coast of China. It consists of three main districts (Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories) and more than 250 surrounding islands. I live in Hung Hom, a residential part of Kowloon, which is filled with local shops and food vendors. Because apartments in Hong Kong are expensive and most don't have spacious communal areas, Hongkongers spend their free time outside, getting together with friends, or playing basketball. However, my favorite recreational outdoor activity is hiking.

The first hike I completed was on Kowloon Peak. From the bottom it didn't seem like there was going to be bad weather, so we started the hike through some trees and up a hill. Within the first few minutes of our trek, I saw emergency aid workers help a couple of hikers, who seemed to be having trouble, down the hill—this was a little discouraging. As I slowly continued onward, I entered a cloud of mist and could no longer see the city. The view was not going to be as beautiful as promised online. Although it was a short hike, it was a good way to “dip my toes in the water.” The following day I bought hiking shoes and planned my next hike.

The Hong Kong government plays an important part in the hiking culture here. It not only invests in infrastructure, but also manages a website with information about how to prepare for the hikes, how to read the trail signs, and even the level of difficulty for the 63 different trails. Regarding Hong Kong’s infrastructure, the government paves walkways and staircases, puts up signs for directions and announcing dangers, and even installs rails to help people up or down narrow parts.

This investment in hiking culture promotes health and community closeness. One of the longest walking routes is the Hong Kong Trail in Hong Kong Island, which is 50 kilometers long (about 31 miles). The trail is a common spot for groups to plan outdoor events like walkathons and races. More governments should learn from Hong Kong.

My favorite hike was to Sharp Peak in Sai Kung, the easternmost part of Hong Kong. Three friends and I met in the Sai Kung center and took a bus to get closer to the trail. As we walked for an hour along a flat path, I reminded myself not to get overconfident, knowing I was going to be out of breath soon. We spent the second hour of the hike going up inclined planes and steps, which unfortunately are part of every hike. Finally, we were out of the trees and the sun shined above our heads. This part of the hike involved putting our phones away for us to use our hands to help us up the rocks with a little climbing. A couple of stops along the way and empty water bottles later, we reached Sharp Peak, but didn't stay long because it was Sunday and it was crowded. Then came my favorite part of every hike: going downhill. The leader of the hike said it would take us an hour and a half to reach the beach; I laughed at the thought that it would take that long. He was right, though. Turns out going down steep, rocky trails wasn't as easy as I thought. When we reached the beach the first thing I was reminded of was movies of conquistadors arriving to the New World, as I looked at the wonderful shores and big mountains. We bought tickets for a boat ride back to Sai Kung’s bus station, where we took public transportation back to Hung Hom. I returned home exhausted, with lots of pictures and a sunburn that lasted weeks.

I’m still debating whether or not I would recommend someone to pay Hong Kong a short visit—for me, it's a city that should be experienced by living it. I think my newfound role in the local hiker community has influenced my point of view. I want people who travel here to see the beautiful views along the trails, enjoy time in nature, and adopt the local activity. I guess then I would say you can still enjoy hiking if you are here for a couple of days and make the time for it. It's inexpensive and the trails are all over the city.

With all that said, I've yet to repeat a hike!

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