I thought I had hiked and/or run pretty much all the trails that Hong Kong has to offer but I had no idea that I was missing the thrill of running along the ridge of a Knife’s Edge. And by that I mean, Tai To Yan which is supposed to mean “Knife’s Edge ridge” in Cantonese. Hannes Niggli, who specializes in bringing fast runners together on “classic” hikes, organized a run from Fanling MTR station to Route Twisk via Tai To Yan and Tai Mo Shan Waterfalls.
20 runners showed up at Fanling MTR ready to walk on Knife’s Edge and equally ready to dunk in another one of Hong Kong’s abundant natural pools. We started at Fanling MTR station and climbed a trail which was initially a stair climb on concrete but soon blended into perfect trail running terrain in the woods. Soon, we started to gain elevation and found ourselves running along the first ridge for the day. Then we had our first glimpse of some spectacular views. Lam Tsuen valley appeared beautifully to our left while Vic’s very own beloved Yuen Long and its low-raise houses appeared to the right.
A fit and formidable bunch – but no so fit and formidable camera lens
A thunderstorm two days back and sunshine today could only mean one thing – it was time for a stream trek! And, speaking of stream treks in Hong Kong, there’s one particular waterfalls which is like the Cindy Crawford of all the waterfalls in HK. Now, by that I don’t mean old, I mean most beautiful! Or perhaps, I should have picked a better super model example, but you get the picture! Actually, speaking of picture, that’s probably what I need to do – show you a picture so you can see and judge for yourself and come up with the appropriate super model metaphor on your own!
The “Cindy Crawford” of waterfalls?
And so, after a very long time, I joined the Hong Kong Trampers on a stream trek lead by popular-leader Liza. We met in Tung Chung MTR station and took that horrible white Tai O-bound bus all the way upto Sham Wat road. Upon disembarking from that bus, as usual, I had no idea where I was, so I asked Liza, who was kind enough to draw a map for me in the air. I then had my “aha” moment after observing both her explanation and a large sign indicating that we were on Lantau Stage 4. Lantau Stage 4 is famous/infamous for its climbs. There’s a 450m climb to a hill called Man Cheung Po which makes for some good trail running practice. The thought of trail running practice immediately resonated with me. So, I quickly exchanged pleasantries with old friends and instinctively showed off my trail running skills. My running inspired Caroline, a Japanese girl (forgot her name) and an Italian dude (sorry, forgot his name as well) who decided to hone their running skills by following me.
The fast Italian dude and the Japanese girl
I cleared up a bull fight along the way to make way for the Trampers
We had some new faces join us, or perhaps, I was the “new” face, as I hadn’t joined the Trampers in a long time since graduating to trail running. But, what didn’t and has never changed is the fundamental spirit of the Trampers which is to make fun of inexperienced Trampers. Allow me to explain. We had Dennis who had done several hikes with the Trampers in the past but had never really been to the Shui Lo Chu pools before. His expectations were set quite high. After all, he really was expecting the Cindy Crawford of all waterfalls! On our way to the pools, we went through some puddles of water and a little bridge which had some water passing underneath it. We told him that that was Shui Lo Chu pools and offered him the first dip. His face sunk and he murmured “not very impressed”.
Smile returns on Dennis’ face after we told him that the puddle of water wasn’t Shui Lo Chu pools
We then hopped over to the other side of this bridge, gained a little elevation and walked on a relatively flat stretch of trail for about ten minutes. That’s when we had our first glimpse of the waterfalls. She was indeed worthy of any super model metaphor you’d give her! The balmy afternoon breeze, the distant view of the sea, the greenery all around, the sound of water gushing downstream – they all begged the question “are we really only 45 minutes away from Central?” Yes! Well, more like 1 hour, but anyway, this is the beauty of Hong Kong! This is where nature and city life coincide!
The Shui Lo Chu area
The first glimpse of the waterfalls
We negotiated a steep trail which descended downhill to the main pools. Some clever and technical boulder hopping on this route gave us boys (read: Dennis) the opportunity to “rescue” the girls who needed their heroes to help them get across from one gigantic boulder to another in shark infested waters. Like a real hero, Dennis helped all the girls while putting his own life at risk. Upon reaching the pools however, this heroism faded away into clumsiness as he desperately tried to change into his swimming trunks in plain view of everybody. It reminded me of an episode of Mr. Bean trying to accomplish a similar feat. Here, take a look:
Mr. Bean changing into trunks
My own machismo from all the train running also sank with the water! My inability to swim meant that I had to find grips on rocks and hold onto anything stable to keep me from drowning. Not quite the trail running macho image I was trying to build.
Enjoying the natural pools
After soaking in the beauty of nature at her best, we reluctantly left the main pools at about 3pm and started making our way towards Tai O. The trail on the way down was steep and parts of it required us to use all 4 limbs effectively, pretty much like monkeys. As they say, sometimes even experienced monkeys fall from trees and this trail running monkey was no exception. During one such boulder hopping maneuver by the coast, I grabbed a branch of a tree to swing from one boulder to another. This swinging maneuver required plenty of simian-like finesse which I thought an advanced monkey like me could handle. But, unfortunately, this branch snapped halfway through my swing and my legs sank into a puddle of water. I had to continue the rest of the hike on drenched socks and wet feet.
After about 20 more minutes of boulder hopping and monkey-like action, we were firmly on terra firma and my machismo returned. And, once again, I ran to the finish in true trail running fashion, yet again inspiring Caroline and the Italian dude to run with me.
Upon reaching Tai O, it was time to take that horrible white bus back to Tung Chung. It was time to return to civilization, leaving the beauty of nature and returning to the beauty of man’s creation – the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.
As far as waterfalls in Hong Kong go, my top three favorites are (a) Wong Lung Hang (b) Shui Lo Chu (c) Nam Chung pools/Double Deer stream in Sai Kung.
We had some good rain yesterday, so it was time to do a leisurely waterfalls hike today. The route we chose was awesome:
(A) Tung Chung to Ngong Ping via the King of the Hills route: From the MTR, we had to go in the direction of the Donkey Trail. We went past the Donkey Trail to a village and eventually took a hard left. From there, there was a 500m climb to Ngong Ping
(B) From Ngong Ping, we took Lantau Stage 5 to Man Cheung Po. After crossing the first two hills, there was a fork in the road or should I say ‘fork in the trail’. We took the trail on the right, kept following the track all the way until we reached a small bridge. We jumped over this bridge, then took a narrow trail up a hill which led to the waterfalls
(C) After the first two pools, a trail on the right eventually led to Tai O where we finished
If the directions above make no sense, don’t worry! They are meant exclusively for me so I can sort of remember where I went for next time! But the Garmin record is below!
We saw a snake slithering away near Man Chung Po. Actually, Jinwah saw it first and screamed like a little girl. For a second, I thought she got bitten! The snake was brown in color and slithering away quite fast. Also, learnt from Jinwa that snakes that have forked tongues are poisonous, those that don’t aren’t.
So, here’s a Hong Kong Nature 101 lesson and a Hong Kong Capitalism 101 lesson.
I’ll start of with HK Nature 101.
Saw the HKTrampers website this morning and remembered that they were going to my favorite part of Hong Kong (well, favorite after Sharp Peak and Plover Cove). So, make that 3rd favorite part of Hong Kong – Wong Lung Hang waterfalls. So, carried my camera for a change and decided to take it easy (at least for the first half).
Getting to Wong Lung Hang is easy. It’s walkable from Tung Chung station and takes about 15 minutes from there to get to the starting point (you can see the Garmin page for the map – link below). From there, there’s a lot of hopping over boulders and you eventually get to a beautiful waterfall.
Ready for action
There was too much demand for real estate by the main waterfalls so decided to go up a bit and found a private pool to occupy. After chilling for a while in the pools, it was time to undo all the “take it easy” stuff and so decided to go full throttle to Mui Wo. Enthusiasm was great but as usual sense of direction was not. Could not find the trail up to Lin Fa Shaan but after going in some random direction and heading back, the trail suddenly appeared in front of my eyes! Wasn’t too easy going up to 715m from 250m but wasn’t that incredibly tough either.
View from Lin Fa Shaan – Lamma, Cheung Chau and anything else you want to imagine is visible!
From there a straight run down to Mui Wo in about 30 minutes or so concluded the hike. (Dejavu from yesterday). Took a total of 1 hour 30 minutes from the waterfalls to get to Mui Wo ferry pier.
Now, for HK Capitalism 101.
ICC, The Arch, The Cullinan and co.
They say success leaves clues and the clues these beautiful buildings have left is that one owner has built all the 3 of them. Sun Hung Kai Properties. ICC is already attracted all the big financial giants (Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and co.) This area will probably become like Central in the next couple of years.
Masterpiece and First Ferry
New World Development has built the Masterpiece (nice name) and they also own the First Ferry brand. They keep advertising First Ferry services on the ferry’s TVs YET have a monopoly on that route!
And finally, here’s Ocean Terminal in TST.
This place is special because if you bring the word’s top 100 dirtiest, fattest pigs and have them all fart in Ocean Terminal, the interior of the building WILL STILL smell nice! That’s because this place hosts all the high end perfume/make up brands that HK has to offer.
So, after a nice long hike, I don’t have to worry about how much I stink as I am walking home through Ocean Terminal…
20-something Trampers showed up today for a day of waterfall exploration. There were several new faces too, including combat-ready Kevin from the UK, who had evidently paid utmost attention to the Tramper rucksack details listed on the website. He was wearing camouflage pants, had sturdy waterproof hiking boots on and several pouches containing life-saving equipments like a torch were attached to his belt.
We left at 10.45 AM to embark on a 20-minute walk that led to the base of the stream. As we approached the stream, the fragrant smell of fresh stream water hit our noses and the sound of the water hitting against the boulders intensified.
Shoes and socks came off and many of us immersed our bare feet in the purifying stream water. We were all like children in nature’s playground as we hopped from one boulder onto another in order to reach the Wong Lung Hang waterfalls. The water current was very strong because of the previous day rains and there were several challenging boulder hops on the course to the waterfalls. While the gentlemen offered their helping hands to those who needed, Francis seized on this opportunity to help a beautiful lady Tramper by giving her a Stream Hiking 101 lesson. In fact, we could hear the conversation. It went something like this:
Francis: Put your leg here, hand there and gently move forward. Be careful of this rock (blah, blah)
After 2 minutes, I could hear her say “But we should have gone THAT way!”
About one grueling hour later, we reached the mesmerizing waterfalls. Many of us simply couldn’t resist a dip in the enticing water. At this point Francis approached me with an unusual request. He wanted me to buy some very unique cloth made of jute from my upcoming trip to India. He came to me bringing a cigarette lighter and a piece of cloth. That conversation went something like this.
Francis: You see, this is a genuine cloth made of jute. Can you observe the natural color? Feel the cloth. (He then brings another cloth for comparison). Now, this is artificial. If I burn it, you’ll notice that the strands turn black and the feeling will be of burnt plastic. That’s why it is artificial.
Arianna, who was sitting 2 rocks away, came closer to me and confessed her curiosity. She felt the specimen cloth too.
“Is this guy in the fashion industry?” she asked in amazement.
As I burst into laughter, I asked her to look at his green shorts, his unusual hat and rethink her question. She then retorted “You know you can get a lot of strange guys in the fashion industry”.
A refreshing swim and a couple of group photos later, Dominic and I were off to high speed yet exhausting finish.
The brave ones:
Despite Francis’ deadly threat of stripping down to his underpants for a swim, an unbelievably large number of psychologically strong Trampers (close to 40!) joined today, putting utmost faith in the powers of the Shui Lo Chu waters to cleanse their minds of any lasting impression of that sight.
In fact, I was so overwhelmed by the large turnout that I even forgot the customary check of Lutz’s backpack for explosives (he is known to carry Yau Ma Tei batteries that explode randomly). Winnie who rarely shows up was present, Peter was there carrying a handmade Chinese fan to cope with the heat, Chris who joins about 2 hikes in a year showed up, Wendy joined us sporting a stylish new backpack, heeding Francis’ advice of showing up for hiking with a backpack and not with shopping bags.
How we got there:
Given our large number, we had to take two buses to Tai O; 23 including me in one bus with Ringo, our Senior Vice President for navigation leading us in this bus and about 17 in the other bus with navigation-in-chief Alex in charge of them. Destination was Sham Wat road.
After a nice long 1-hour bus ride to Sham Wat road, we started to climb our first and highest hill for the day – Keung Shaan in Man Cheung Po (550m). Given the scorching heat, the pace of the walk was expectedly slow – in fact, so slow that its pace could be compared to the progress of the ongoing Nina Wang court case.
Fast-forward to 2PM and we were ready for our descent to Shui Lo Chu waterfalls. Excitement was building up and cameras started clicking. The path down was so steep that it mandated intermittent rock climbing and boulder hopping.
I could hear Amanda shouting to me from somewhere behind – “[this time] I am behind you Vince!” Of course, she was playing safe after remembering an occasion back in history where I “allegedly” set off a boulder that gathered momentum, sped downhill and hit her legs causing her to collapse to the ground instantly (she hasn’t been able to produce proof of this incident since).
The weather surprisingly turned cloudy in the afternoon providing much needed relief from the stinging rays of the sun. We were all captivated by the sheer beauty of the waterfalls. The climb was well worth the effort and the scenery was an absolute treat to our senses. Several of us couldn’t resist taking a dip in the water and enjoy the natural massaging feeling of mineralized water hitting against our backs from an altitude.
The “aha” moment:
Regular readers should know by now that Francis is pretty popular for his hiking wear. In fact, I have suggested to him several times that he should start his own brand called ‘Nature Wear’ and I am sure his products would sell so fast that shopkeepers in Mong Kok and Wanchai would beg him to manufacture more. Take for example, his ‘khaki’ shirt, the 100% natural cloth for which was bought in India and carefully designed and stitched in the middle of a jungle in Burma by a gifted lady known to live up to 200 years. His hat is nothing short of a true masterpiece. Something I like to call ‘Flap Cap’ (trademark) because of its eerie resemblance to a kangaroo’s long ear tied to a made-in-Bhutan strap and worn along his forehead.
Today, when everyone was wearing the usual boring cotton shorts and conventional swimmers, Francis put on his Indian/Chinese collaboration Green shorts AND a red headscarf (made in India). In fact, Lisa who is already familiar with his idiosyncrasies was more surprised than usual which prompted her to ask a question..
“Why do you have to wear that???!!!” she asked puzzled and chuckling, referring to the headscarf.
All eyes were on Francis as he jumped into the water, enjoyed a swim and climbed out of the water. There was a slight problem though – his trademark Green colored made-by-some-old-lady-in-some-remote-location shorts evidently didn’t do the best job of retaining its opaqueness once it started to absorb water. In fact, it became translucent and even bordered on being transparent. And thus came the headscarf to his rescue. It doubled as a made-in-Malaysia sarong that he spontaneously wore around his shorts to guard his privacy.
After soaking up the beauty of the waterfalls, we were off to a nice downhill trek to Tai O where we boarded a speed boat to Tung Chung. Catherine, who lives life to the fullest, grabbed a front row seat on this thrilling high-speed ride back to civilization.
We departed our own ways upon reaching the MTR station, marking the end to another great Tramping weekend adventure to sink into the beginning of yet another long workweek.
Thanks go to Alex, Ringo, Nerissa, Francis, Lisa for all help with navigation.
Also, I can finally tell where we have been, thanks to my state-of-the-art GPS receiver. You can see a map of the route taken today on http://techotek.com.
Hong Kong is probably best known for its high end (and freezing) shopping malls but few would know that it is also home to some spectacular waterfalls.
We will meet at 10.30 am at Tung Chung MTR outside the turnstile near the exit with the big map.
We’re going to relish the refreshing feeling of taking a “natural” dip in one such captivating waterfall on Sunday (7th June 2009). Rich in minerals and carefully carved out by nature over several decades, it beats spa treatments at swanky hotels by far – and it’s free!
If you are a reasonably fit individual who has prior hiking and/or stream trekking experience, come join us at 10.30AM HKT in Tung Chung MTR station. Although getting to Shui Lo Chu isn’t easy, we’ll spend quite some time relaxing in the pools. The hike won’t be too hard.
Bring lunch, swimmers, a sense of adventure and a torch (just in case).
All usual disclaimers apply to all human beings joining – even if you are President Barack Obama or Feng Shui master Tony Chan. In fact, the disclaimers apply to cats and dogs too.
Q: Vince, you are leading??? No way! You sure you know the !@#$% way??
A: Yes, I am leading. No, I don’t know the way. But, don’t worry – The Trampers’ navigation-in-chief will be there to guide us!
Q: So Mr. Leader, how do we get to Shu Lo Chu from Tung Chung?
A: You (like me) will find out on Sunday
Q: I don’t believe all this junk about waterfalls in Hong Kong. Show me proof.
A: Sure Sherlock. Here: http://www.techotek.com/Travel/Hiking/Hiking,%202008-05-25,%20Shui%20Lo%20Chu/index3.php
Q: I am a busy guy. I have a series of appointments lined up in the evening and want to take an early exit. Can I skip the pool and take an early exit?
A: That’s like touring Paris and skipping the Eifel tower. But sure, Mr. Busybody, there’s an early exit to somewhere (you’ll find out on Sunday
Q: If I join the hike but decide not to swim (I am shy), would people think less of me?
A: Grow up. You can do as you please. This is a democracy (I mean the Trampers, not China)
Q: I can’t swim! Is it safe for me to still join?
A: That makes two of us. Sure, there’ll be some heroes to rescue you even if you drown. Just be nice to everyone on the hike (especially good swimmers)
Q: I am not really interested in the hike. I just want to join to meet some girls. Good idea to join?
A: Why not. You may try your luck on Sunday
Q: I really, really, really want to ask you a question but it’s not listed here. What do I do?!
A: Calm down. You can call the hotline 8209 0517.
Disclaimer:- People join this walk and any other walks organised by me at their own risks. I shall not be held responsible in any way for any injury or death incurred or any loss or damage to personal property caused due to whatever causes including, but not limited to, negligence, neglect, errors of judgement and inadequate orientation skills on my part. The fact that you show up at the time and place on the day to join the walk is an implication that you have agreed to and accepted unconditionally this disclaimer.