ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Hong Kong

YUEN TSUEN ANCIENT TRAIL (元荃古道), Tseun Wan (荃灣), Hong Kong

Linking the village of Yuen Long (元朗) and Tseun Wan (荃灣), the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail was once a major route for farmers from Yuen Long to bring out their produces to the market in Tseun Wan.  Today, it is a pleasant hiking trail that leads visitors to enjoy the scenery of Tai Lam Country Park (大欖郊野公園), former villages such as Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘) and two of the city’s longest bridges: Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).

DSC_6198Our hike began from Tsuen Wan West Station and passed by Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital to reach the trailhead.

DSC_6220Soon the trail led us up the hill of Ha Fa Shan (下花山).  The path was well paved with stones.

DSC_6222The narrow Rambler Channel (藍巴勒海峽) between the island of Tsing Yi (青衣) and Tsuen Wan (荃灣)/ Kwai Chung (葵涌).

DSC_6216Known as one of the world’s busiest port, Hong Kong’s container port is located right at the channel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther down the road the trail led us further west where we were treated with great views of Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋), two of the city’s most important bridges connecting the metropolis with its international airport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother highlight of the trail came as we arrived at the former village of Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘).  The village used to be a 200-year old Hakka village of the Fu clan.  Today, most villagers had moved to the new village at Sham Tseng (深井), about 45 minutes form their former home.

DSC_6252In 2002, a family of former villagers returned and set up a farm called Parent Farm (喜香農莊) at Tsing Fai Tong.  Many hikers stopped at the farm to enjoy their seasonal flowers and beautiful lily pond.

DSC_6272We came at the perfect moment of the year to enjoy the waterlilies.

DSC_6280While hikers enjoyed the waterlilies, their pets got a chance to have some fun at the farm.

DSC_6289From Tsing Fai Tong, we chose to end our hike at Sham Tseng (深井) right in front of Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).

DSC_6292Under the shadow of the busy highway Tuen Mun Road, the village of Sham Tseng (深井) is a well known village in Hong Kong.

DSC_6297Other than its view of Tsing Ma Bridge, Sham Tseng (深井) has been famous for roast goose for decades.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe couldn’t resist but to end our day with the famous Sham Tseng roast goose for dinner.

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KAT HING WAI WALLED VILLAGE (吉慶圍), Kam Tin (錦田), Hong Kong

The moat, blue brick defense wall and guard towers of the 500-year-old Kat Hing Wai Walled Village (吉慶圍) remind visitors that villagers in the New Territories were once living in the danger of rival clans, bandits and the most important of all, pirates.  For self protection, many villages in the Ming and Qing Dynasties constructed defensive walls around their homes.  Walled villages mushroomed in the New Territories, creating walled compounds for specific family clans.  In the 20th century, many villages demolished their walls or had them partially removed, while most houses have been replaced with modern homes.  With a relatively well preserved moat and wall, Kat Hing Wai is actually quite a rarity.  Measured roughly 100m x 90m, Kat Hing Wai is one of the better preserved walled villages in Hong Kong.  Built during the era of Ming Cheunghua Emperor (1464 – 1487) with the 5m defensive wall constructed in the 17th century, Kat Hing Wai was a close knitted community of the Tang clan.

DSC_1890Outside Kat Hing Wai Walled Village, a small part of the original moat has been preserved.

DSC_1885For security reason, only a small opening serves as the entrance for the walled village.

DSC_1879Most houses in the walled village have been replaced by modern houses.

DSC_1789The central lane leads to the temple hall.

DSC_1792There were a wooden desk and a religious altar in the temple hall.

DSC_1803The altar table contained a built-in incense container.

DSC_1807Antique ritual tools could be found on the altar table.

DSC_1799The temple hall opens directly towards the only entrance of the walled village.

DSC_1817We didn’t see anyone during our brief visit of the walled village.

DSC_1821Almost all buildings have been replaced by modern buildings.  The original character of the walled village has been somewhat diminished in the modern era.

DSC_1837Some older houses still had traditional banners on their outer walls.  These banners usually advocate good fortune for the entire family.

DSC_1835“Kar”, the Chinese character for family, illustrates the importance of family bonding in a traditional walled village.

DSC_1842When looked closely, traditional touches could still be seen at certain houses in Kat Hing Wai.

DSC_1841In the past, the four cannon towers were the tallest structures in the village.

DSC_1895Today, the defensive structures of the walled village have been undermined by modern buildings.  Even the well known Kat Hing Wai Walled Village has no exception.  This is the harsh reality of contemporary Hong Kong.


DRAGON BOAT WATER PARADE (龍舟遊涌), Tai O (大澳), Hong Kong

Under the scotching sun in the summer morning of Dragon Boat Festival (端午節), former villagers and outside visitors gather along the the narrow waterways and mangrove channels of Tai O to take part in the annual Dragon Boat Water Parade and Race.  The sleepy and somewhat touristy fishing village once again fills with laughter and rhythmic drum beats, reminding elder villagers how vibrant Tai O fishing village used to be decades ago.  Now a popular sporting and recreational event that held in many cities around the world, dragon boat is actually originated right here, from the fishing communities in the Pearl River Delta where Hong Kong is located.

In the old days, young men in fishing communities in the region, like Tai O, would volunteer to join the Dragon Boat Festival.  While most would enter the boat race, a small group would participate in the religious parade, in which small statues of local deities are brought out from temples and paraded around the village in decorated dragon boats.  The dragon ritual is meant to cast away evil spirits in the village with heavy drum beats, synchronized paddling, and incense smoke.  Unlike modern dragon boats made of lightweight materials such as fiberglass or carbon fiber, traditional dragon boats are constructed using teak wood.  Each 65-ft boat takes 32 paddlers, 2 drummers, 1 gong striker, and 1 steerer.   During the Dragon Boat Festival, modern dragon boat races are held in rivers, beaches and the harbour allover Hong Kong.  Yet to get a taste of century-old dragon boat tradition, there is no better place than Tai O, where old rituals are still performed every year.

DSC_3802After an hour of ferry and 40 minutes of bus, we finally arrived at Tai O where the Dragon Boat Water Parade was about to begin at 10am.  Organizers were busy putting on the last bits of decorations onto the traditional dragon boats.

DSC_3837Flanked both sides by old stilt houses, the main waterways of Tai O provide the best setting for the dragon boat parade.

DSC_3865Decorated deity boat was always led by a long traditional dragon boat.

DSC_3872The Tai Chung Bridge opened up only in the Dragon Boat Festival for the passing deity boats.

DSC_3892The busy Tai Chung Bridge often serves as the visual focus of the entire fishing village of Tai O.

DSC_3987Despite the annual parade, fishermen were still selling fresh seafood right by the waterfront.

DSC_4030Statues of deity from three different temples were brought out for the parade.

DSC_4055Behind the designated dragon boat, the colourful deity boat was led around the waterway network.

DSC_4065Many paddlers of the traditional dragon boats came from the older generation of the local Tai O villagers.

DSC_4112The river mouth served as the main venue for dragon boat races.

DSC_4124Larger fishing boats served as the base of different racing teams.

DSC_4134It was fun to watch the dragon boat race from the spectator jetty at the waterfront.

DSC_4159All paddlers gave their best effort during the dragon boat race.

DSC_4176One of the most important aspect of dragon boat paddling is the quality of their synchronized movements.

DSC_4186The exciting shouts of loyal supporters offers outside visitors a glimpse of the community spirit of Tai O.

DSC_4207At the end, an award ceremony was held at the spectator area.

DSC_4250While the dragon boat race captivated the hearts of spectators at the river mouth, the deity boats and traditional dragon boats continued to parade around Tai O’s waterways.

DSC_4221At around noontime, the dragon boat parade was coming to an end.

DSC_4225Wooden dragon boats were once again put into storage along the waterways.

DSC_4212Until next year’s Dragon Boat Festival, visitors coming to Tai O can visit the small community museum to learn more about the traditions of dragon boat.


PARADE OF FLOATS (飄色), Cheung Chau Bun Festival (長洲太平清醮), Hong Kong

In less than an hour of ferry from the commercial centre of Hong Kong lies the island of Cheung Chau, home to a former fishing community, a legendary pirate treasure trove, dozens of seafood restaurants, and the biggest annual Taoist Dajiao (打醮) festivals in Hong Kong, the Bun Festival (太平清醮).  Originated from a series of religious rituals seeking for protection from local deities after a plague broke out in the 19th century, the Bun Festival held annually on Buddha’s Birthday has been simplified and evolved into one of Hong Kong’s most famous intangible cultural heritage events, along with Tai Hang’s Fire Dragon Festival, Tai O Dragon Boat Water Parade, etc.

In 2014, I came to Cheung Chau during the Bun Festival to watch the Bun Snatching Race at night.  This time, we arrived at Cheung Chau during the day to watch the afternoon parade.  Known as the Parade of Floats (飄色), the parade included a combination of religious statues of deities, lion and qilin (麒麟) dances, and children dressed in costumes raised in mid air.

DSC_3144The parade began at Pak Tai Temple, the patron god of the fishermen community of Cheung Chau.

DSC_3154In the back lanes we chanced upon a workshop making the festival’s fortune bun.  The workshop owner suggested the plaza where the parade groups would make a turn as ideal spot to watch the parade.

DSC_3208We met a local lady at the plaza and she kindly found us a chair at the front row sitting right beside her.  The first thing that caught our eyes was a qilin dance from one of the street communities on the island.

DSC_3264Basically the parade consisted of groups from different street communities of Cheung Chau.

DSC_3276Small statues of deities were taken out from temples and paraded around the main streets of the island.

DSC_3293Local children were dressed in traditional costumes and gave out souvenirs.

DSC_3301All parading groups were dressed in vivid colours.

DSC_3520.JPGBeautiful banners of the festival are taken out once a year.

DSC_3341Known as Parade of Floats (飄色), selected children are dressed in different costumes and raised with hidden metal supports.  Along with the ones in traditional costumes, each year some children would dress in costumes related to contemporary trends or current affairs.

DSC_3496This year, two were dressed like the chief executive of Hong Kong, one as Theresa May, one Buddha, one Super Mario, a group of characters from Jin Yong (金庸)’s The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (倚天屠龍記), etc.

IMG_7595A girl dressed in costume related to a historical TV series.

IMG_7600Another girl dressed as the chief executive of Hong Kong.

IMG_7621Two children dressed like a traditional princess.

IMG_7642Another one dressed like Super Mario.

DSC_3516.JPGThough the traditional lion dances on bamboo were even more impressive.

DSC_3565Brave lion dancer performed different moves on tall bamboo poles that were controlled and moved by his other teammates on the ground.

DSC_3578Dancing traditional large flags were also fun to watch.

DSC_3615The parade was a mixture of traditional heritage, current affairs, and community groups.

DSC_3649Parade band dressed in yellow and black performed along the street of Cheung Chau.

DSC_3659Inevitably, buns were used as a parade feature.

DSC_3733After the parade, we met the qilin dance group once again in the side street.

DSC_3748Approaching sunset, we returned to the forecourt in front of Pak Tai Temple.

DSC_3750Similar to 2014, there were three big traditional paper figures in the festival ground.

DSC_3766Some of the paper figures were moved to the waterfront for the burning rituals.

DSC_3761By the sea, offerings and lanterns were placed for all wandering ghosts.


TAI TAM COUNTRY PARK (大潭郊野公園), Hong Kong

Occupying about one fifth of area of Hong Kong Island, Tai Tam Country Park is one of the more accessible hiking destinations in the city.  The park is famous for its four reservoirs.  Built in 1888, 1904, 1907 and 1917 respectively, the Tai Tam Upper Reservoir (大潭上水塘), Tai Tam Byewash Reservoir (大潭副水塘), Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir (大潭中水塘) and Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir (大潭篤水塘) served as the major water sources for Hong Kong Island in the early 20th century.  These reservoirs are surrounded by a series of green hills, including Mount Parker (柏架山), Mount Butler (畢拿山), Violet Hill (紫羅蘭山), and Jardine’s Lookout (渣甸山).  A series of hiking trails wind through the hills and pass by the reservoirs, making the country park a popular hiking destination in Hong Kong.

DSC_8917One of the trailheads begins at Mount Parker Road, at a densely populated area of Quarry Bay and just a stone throw away from Taikoo Place, a busy business district in East Hong Kong Island.

DSC_8922 The country park provides a decent view for the adjacent residential developments.  Built in 1989, the five 34-level towers of Mount Parker Lodge (康景花園) present some of the most typical private residential developments for the city’s middle class.

DSC_8924Looking over to Taikoo Place, the 69-storey One Island East Tower rises above the densed residential neighbourhood of Quarry Bay.

DSC_8931.JPGOpposite to Quarry Bay and Taikoo Place, the second highest peak of Hong Kong Island, Mount Parker, is marked by the observatory station.

DSC_8934To the south we were treated with the scenery of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir and Tai Tam Bay.

DSC_8936As we reached the lookout of Mount Butler, we were treated with the view of Quarry Bay, Taikoo Place and the distant Kai Tak runway and East Kowloon.

DSC_8941A series of four water bodies make up the group of Tai Tam Reservoirs.

DSC_8943Looking west we could see the silhouette of Wanchai and Central in the haze.

DSC_8957Completed in late 1980s, the 18-tower Hong Kong Parkview (陽明山莊) is a luxurious residential and service apartment complex right by the country park.

DSC_8958We walked from the lookout of Mount Butler down to Wong Nai Chung Gap.

DSC_8959Soon we came to a lookout over Tai Tam Reservoir.

DSC_8964Looking northwest through Wong Nai Chung Gap (黃泥涌峽), the valley in the middle of Hong Kong Island, we could see the International Commerce Centre (ICC) and East Tsim Sha Tsui across Victoria Harbour.

DSC_7192Constructed between 1883 to 1888, the Reservoir Dam and Valve House of Tai Tam Upper Reservoir (大潭上水塘) were among the first phase of reservoir construction in Tai Tam.

DSC_7169The original dam was 30.5m high and 122m long, connected to a network that brought water through tunnels and aqueducts all the way to Central.

DSC_8974On our way down to Wong Nai Chung Gap (黃泥涌峽), we passed by a former granite quarry.

DSC_8970The old quarry is now occupied by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Depot where the police deals with explosives.

DSC_8985Hong Kong Parkview (陽明山莊) is famous of its surrounding scenic views, and also its occasional break-ins.

DSC_8992We exited the country park near Wong Nai Chung Gap.  So we came to the historic Wong Nai Chung Reservoir (黃泥涌水塘).  Built in 1889 as Hong Kong’s third reservoir, Wong Nai Chung Reservoir has been used as a boat park for 30 years from 1986 to 2017.

DSC_8997Wong Nai Chung Reservoir is one of the six pre-war reservoir groups in the city.


SHARP PEAK (蚺蛇尖), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

One thing truly amazing about Hong Kong is the proximity of untouched nature from its bustling commercial downtown and the ease of access by means of public transportation.  At the northeast of Hong Kong, the lush green hills, turquoise water and sandy beaches of Sai Kung is popular for hikers, beachgoers, bikers, kayakers, and all kinds of nature lovers.  The tallest of the three steepest peaks in Sai Kung, Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖, literally translates to Python Snake Peak in Chinese) is often considered the Holy Grail for hikers in Hong Kong.  At 468m, Sharp Peak is not the highest peak in the city, but its steep slopes, prominent existence in the area, and the fantastic views of East Sai Kung’s subtropical coastline from the peak makes it a unique hiking destination.  During weekends, the area can get a little crowded, including the trail that heads up the Sharp Peak.  Though the scenic views from the peak and the reward of chilling out on the pristine beaches below make all the efforts of scrambling up the steep rocky slope of Sharp Peak among groups after groups of fellow hikers more than worthwhile.

DSC_6774Bus 94 from Sai Kung City to Wong Shek Pier dropped us off at the trailhead at Pak Tam Au (北潭凹).

DSC_6776After about an hour on the MacLehose Trail, we passed by the tranquil village of Chek Keng (赤徑) and deviated from the main trail at Tai Long Au (大浪坳), we reached the small trail heading towards Nam She Au (蚺蛇坳), where the ascend of the Sharp Peak officially began.  A few signs were erected between Tai Long Au and Nam She Au to warn against anyone who wished to reach the summit of Sharp Peak due to the treacherous conditions of the mountain trail.

DSC_6782Along the way we could see traces of rain erosion due to recent downpours.

DSC_6783Soon we were on our way walking up the first steep section of the ascend.

DSC_6791The trail was exposed with hardly any shade.  Despite its difficulty and relatively remoteness, the trail up the Sharp Peak was far from peaceful because of the crowds.

DSC_6824It was exciting to see that the summit was get closer.

DSC_6829Looking back down the route we came up, views of the beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) were quite amazing despite the haze.

DSC_6832There were several sections of the trail that we needed to scramble up the slope using our hands.

DSC_6857After about two and a half hours from the trailhead, we finally reached the summit of the Sharp Peak.  The small summit area was filled with hikers of all sort.

DSC_6835 From the summit of Sharp Peak, the view of Nam She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣) below, and the Peninsula of Ko Lau Wan Tsui (高流灣咀) and Grass Island (塔門) beyond was incredible despite the haze.

DSC_6841Looking east to the four beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) from left to right: Tung Wan (東灣), Tai Wan (大灣), Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), and Sai Wan (西灣).

DSC_6875Some hikers prefer to climb the north ridge of Sharp Peak from She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣).  The north ridge is well known for its steepness, especially the last part of the trail where grabbing onto the metal ribbon was essential.

DSC_6850.JPGThe descend down towards Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) is not a walk in the park either, especially when one is already tired from the ascend.

DSC_6892The route of Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) was slippery at parts due to loose gravel.

DSC_6894Tung Wan (東灣) appeared much closer when we reached Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂).

DSC_6895The summit of Sharp Peak already appeared like distant memory.

DSC_6912Ahead of us was Tung Wan Shan (東灣山),  a saddle shape hill overlooking Tung Wan.

DSC_6925After about an hour of descend we were approaching the pristine beach of Tung Wan.

DSC_6938The four beaches of Tai Long Wan, literally means Big Wave Bay, are famous for their turquoise water and fine sand.

DSC_6942Due to its remoteness, there are no lifeguards and shower facilities at Tung Wan.

DSC_6969There were hardly anyone on the beach too except hikers.

DSC_6987Swimmers who make the effort to Tung Wan (by hiking or private yacht) may enjoy the beautiful water of South China Sea without the crowds commonly found in other beaches in Hong Kong.

DSC_6996The second beach Tai Wan (大灣) is the biggest of the four beaches.

DSC_6998Few more visitors showed up on Tai Wan (大灣).

DSC_6999At Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), we finally had a chance to sit down at a beach eatery and washed down a plate of fried rice with beer.

DSC_7009Lying lazily on the sand of Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) and looking back at the majestic Sharp Peak, it was hard to imagine that we were standing on the summit just a few hours prior.

DSC_7022Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) is the beach in Sai Kung that we visit the most.  The beach is accessed via a narrow wooden bridge.

DSC_7040In the evening, we were too lazy to walk another hour over to Sai Wan for the village bus.  We decided to jump onto a motor boat for an exciting but bumpy 45-minutes journey back to Sai Kung city.


AUTUMN FOG, SILVER GRASS AND STONE HUTS, Sunset Peak (大東山), Lantau Island (大嶼山), Hong Kong

At 869m above sea level, Sunset Peak (大東山) on Lantau Island (大嶼山) is the third tallest mountain in Hong Kong.  Situated east of Lantau Peak (鳳凰山, 2nd tallest), and west of Lin Fa Shan (蓮花山, 6th tallest) and Yi Tung Shan (二東山, 7th tallest), Sunset Peak is at the centre of the mountainous area on the island.  Sunset Peak is very popular with hikers in the autumn, when much of the mountain would be covered with golden miscanthus, or silver grass.  Other than the golden grass, the mysterious stone cabins dated to the 1920’s near the summit area between Yi Tung shan and Sunset Peak also draw the attention of visitors.  Probably built by foreign missionary in Southern China who came to Lantau for the annual summer retreat, the two dozen or so stone cabins known as Lantau Mountain Camp (爛頭營) reveal the once thriving retreat community on the remote mountain on Lantau.

DSC_8195There are numerous ways to hike up Sunset Peak.  We chose to begin our walk from Nam Shan (南山) Campsite near Mui Wo (梅窩).  The trail gradually went upwards with uneven stone steps.

DSC_8250The miscanthus, or silver grass (芒草), started to dominate the landscape at half way up the mountain.  Soon we were embraced by fog.  The higher we went, the foggier it became.

DSC_8251It became quite wet and misty as we approached Yi Tung Shan (二東山).

DSC_8257On the route from Yi Tung Shan (二東山) to Sunset Peak (大東山), the stone cabins known as Lantau Mountain Camp (爛頭營) emerged from the fog.  In the fog, it was difficult to tell how many stone cabins were actually there.

DSC_8286Silver grass (芒草) was so dense in the summit area.  We followed some of the narrow paths in the sea of grass to reach a few of the stone cabins.

DSC_8297Some said the stone cabins were summer retreat camps of foreigners who lived in Southern China.  Originally built in 1925, the cabins were damaged during the Second War World and were subsequently repaired after the war.

DSC_8304After the war, the stone cabins were managed by missionary organizations and the Lantau Mountain Camp Resident’s Associations.  These historical cabins are now under a new threat from the overwhelming numbers of visitors and campers who would climb on the roof for photos or leave behind piles of rubbish.

DSC_8309On Sunset Peak, third tallest mountain in Hong Kong, there were no golden sunset as the name suggested.  Instead, it was a unique imagery of autumn fog, silver grass and historical stone cabins.

DSC_8327Surrounded by the taller-than-human silver grass (芒草), it was easy to lose one’s bearings and walk in circles.

DSC_8367Time was getting late.  We decided to move on the trail downhill towards Pak Kung Au (伯公坳), the mountain pass between Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak.

DSC_8377From then on it was all uneven steps downwards.

DSC_8419It was a tiring descend until our legs started to shake a bit from time to time.

DSC_8435The sky was dark and we could briefly see the coastline of Cheung Sha Beach.

DSC_8439The downhill walk was dominated by the view of Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) to the west.

DSC_8477A little sun break as we went for the final descend to Pak Kung Au (伯公坳).

DSC_8497Despite the sun break, the summit of Lantau Peak was still concealed in thick clouds.

DSC_8484Bidding farewell to the Sunset Peak, we passed by the last patch of silver grass (芒草) near Pak Kung Au (伯公坳).  At Pak Kung Au, it wasn’t easy to get on a bus as most were already full.  After a few packed one, we managed to hop on a bus heading to Tung Chung (東涌).