ultramarinus – beyond the sea

New Territories

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.


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.


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.


A REMOTE LEISURE PARADISE, Grass Island (塔門), Hong Kong

Hong Kong has over 200 outlying islands, and only a handful are inhabited.  North of Sai Kung Peninsula (西貢), at the intersection of Mirs Bay (大鵬灣) and Long Harbour (大灘海), the small Grass Island or Tap Mun (塔門) lies across the South Channel from Ko Lau Wan (高流灣) Village in northeast Sai Kung.  At its peak, about 2000 inhabitants lived on the Grass Island.  They were mainly farmers or fishermen.  Today, only about 100 residents stay on the Grass Island, mainly as shopper or restaurant keepers to serve the influx of tourists during weekends and holiday, when the island would turn into a large camp ground for leisure seekers from all around the city.  Simple seafood eateries, a ferry pier, a Tin Hau Temple, an abandoned school, unique rock formations, old village homes, and a few stores catered for weekend tourists, Grass Island is a getaway destination for anyone who is willing to venture this far out from the city.

DSC_4461From Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung, we took a local ferry out to the Long Harbour (赤徑海) heading towards Grass Island.

DSC_4484Other than a newer cluster of buildings built in 1964 with a charity aid from New Zealand, most village homes on the Grass Island are located near the pier.

DSC_4507Near the pier, we stopped by a simple eatery for lunch.  The local squid is really fresh and delicious.

DSC_4508Sea urchin fried rice is a popular dish in many fishing villages in Hong Kong.

DSC_4511We also ordered the fresh catch-of-the-day: two small sea bream caught in the morning.

DSC_4531A few dragon boats were lying around a small waterfront area.

DSC_4539During Tuen Ng Festival, there would be a dragon boat race at the Grass Island.

DSC_4548A small trail off the main street of the Grass Island led us to a popular open area above the eastern shore of the island.  The space is crowded with camping tents, kite-playing visitors and feral cattle.

DSC_4567The sloped open lawn seemed had endured heavy foot traffic throughout the years.  The silhouette of the iconic Sharp Peak on the Sai Kung mainland provided the best backdrop for Grass Island.  In a clear day, the water should have been blue and Sharp Peak lush green.

DSC_4601From the hilltop overlooking the open lawn, we followed a off the beaten trail that winded through dense woods for half an hour and eventually arrived at the rocky beach of Che Wan (車灣).  This was probably the most difficult hike on the island.  Our aim was to seek for a seaside rock called the Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋).

DSC_4628The Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋) is one of Grass Island most famous natural feature.  It is frequented by hikers as well as visitors who come for fishing.

DSC_4639Back to the top of the lawn, we followed another footpath down the east coast of the island.  Along the path, some visitors set up tents and picnic areas, some went for fishing at the rock beaches, some braved the cliffs for rock climbing, some continued to fly their kites on the windy slopes.  The Grass Island is truly a small leisure paradise for all.

DSC_4640Another well known rock feature was the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石).  Two similar stone cubes, one sitting on top of the other, resemble the Chinese character of the surname “Lui”.

DSC_4671Looking at the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石) from afar, it was hard to imagine how the stacking rocks were formed in the first place.

DSC_4688The entire day was cool and grey while we were on the Grass Island.  The wind was a little strong, and so as the waves.

DSC_4706Ko Lau Wan(高流灣) at Sai Kung Peninsula seemed pretty close from the southern tip of the Grass Island.  The sea was a little rough in between, in the 400m wide channel of Tap Mun Mouth (塔門口).

DSC_4716The utilitarian New Village of Tap Mun was erected in 1964 by a charity from New Zealand.  The houses are still occupied today.

DSC_4722After the New Village, we were getting close to the pier again.

DSC_4723We could see the incoming ferry while on our way walking to the pier.

DSC_4731As we boarded the ferry, the sea and the fish farming areas seemed calm and relaxing.

DSC_4782After half a day on the small and remote Grass Island, it was time for us to return to Wong Shek Ferry Pier in Sai Kung.


PIONEER OF ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AND NATURE CONSERVATION, Kadoorie Farm (嘉道理農場), Hong Kong

On the northern slope of Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) at a place called Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) in the area of Lam Tsuen (林村), 148 hectare of organic farms, botanical gardens and mature forests terracing up to the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) reveal over half a century of efforts by the Kadoorie Farm (嘉道理農場).  Established in 1956, Kadoorie Farm has always stood at the forefront of Hong Kong’s agriculture, experimenting on new techniques and providing agricultural aid to farmers in need of support.  In 1951, the Kadoorie brothers (Horace and Lawrence) established the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA) in an attempt to help the sudden influx of Mainland farmers into Hong Kong during the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940’s.  They picked Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) near Lam Tsuen (林村) to establish an agricultural facility engaging in experiments on profitable and effecting farming and animal breeding, and training the new farmers with their developed techniques.  Today, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (嘉道理農場暨植物園) diversifies their effort to promote organic farming, sustainable living, nature conservation and education.  They also run extensive rehabilitation program for wild animals in Hong Kong.

DSC_8597Linked by 9 km of roads and 8 km of trails, various highlights of the Kadoorie Farm spread over the slope of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山).

DSC_8603One of the big highlights at the lower section of Kadoorie Farm is the “Eco Garden” (生機園), exhibiting different types of self sufficient and compact farming in a community scale.

DSC_8607The garden presents natural and organic ways to maintain soil’s nutrients and insect control, and the best combination of vegetables for each season.

DSC_8611Other than its freshness and taste, the organic vegetables such as the purple cabbages are also beautiful.

DSC_8618Spherical bird scarers are hung over a cluster of rainbow chards in the Eco Garden.

DSC_8658A wavy fence separates the Eco Garden with the other terraced farms and botanic gardens.

DSC_8599Other than organic farming, more innovative planting techniques are also examined at the Eco Garden.  Some farming techniques that requires less space or soil may suit urban living well.

DSC_8631At the Piers Jacobs Wildlife Sanctuary, native mammals such as a Barking Deer or Muntjac (麂) have been rescued as an orphan and raised in the sanctuary.

DSC_8641The wild boar is also another rescued orphan at the sanctuary.  Both wild boars and barking deer can be found in the forests in and around Kadoorie Farm.

DSC_8659In the old days, pig breeding was an important work at the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA).  Today a few Da Hua Bai Pigs (大花白豬) are kept at the farm for educational purposes.

DSC_8671Amphibians and reptiles are both vulnerable groups of wildlife in Hong Kong due to habitat loss.  Kadoorie Farm has a few of the native species at the Amphibian and Reptile House and Reptile Garden.

DSC_8674Interesting pavilions and artworks are all over the farm, including a dragon boat pigeon house.

DSC_8687And also the fish mosaic at the Cascade Garden near the Chicken House.

DSC_8709As the farm terraces up the hillside of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), the view to the surrounding landscape becomes more spectacular.

DSC_8721The Butterfly Path winds up the hill through dense forests and open terraces, following part of an old trail which led the locals up the hill of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) for a religious blessing.

DSC_8700In order to preserve the natural feel, there is minimal modern safety infrastructure provided at the Butterfly Path.

DSC_87329 km of roads circulate up and down the Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), going through some densely forested areas, the habitat for some native species in Hong Kong, such as the barking deer.

DSC_8714… and the wild boar.

DSC_8750At 550m above sea level, the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is the highest point in Kadoorie Farm.  For centuries, farmers came up to the summit to seek blessings from the goddess of Kwun Yum.

DSC_8752The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) allows visitors to have fine view of the New Territories and even Shenzhen on a fine and clear day.

DSC_8757The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is at 1812 ft, or 550 m.

DSC_8759Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is sandwiched between Tai To Yan (大刀屻) to the north and Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) to the south.

DSC_8767Heading downhill, visitors can either take a shuttle bus or walk down a winding road.

DSC_8829Along the downhill road, sounds of monkeys can often be heard.  Occasionally visitors may spot monkeys jumping from one tree to another.


AN UNDISTURBED WATER WORLD, Nam Sang Wai (南生圍), Hong Kong

Known as the “backyard” of Hong Kong, Nam Sang Wai (南生圍) is an area of tranquil wetlands north of Yuen Long (元朗).  The “Wai” in “Nam Sang Wai” refers to “gei wai” (基圍), an old method mainly for shrimp culture introduced to Hong Kong in the 1940’s. Bounded by man made embankments, gei wai is a shallow pool in a mangrove wetland with 10 to 30 cm of water collected from the Deep Bay (后海灣).   The shrimp farmer would use a water gate to control the amount of incoming water from Deep Bay.  The sea water would also bring in juvenile fish and shrimps.  The shrimps would  then feed on the organic matters from the mangroves.  Gei wai shrimps (基圍蝦), usually steamed, has became a local delicacy throughout the years.  The gei wai method has been mostly phased out nowadays.   The former gei wai pools and fish ponds of Nam Sang Wai have became a semi-manmade wetland where visitors enjoy the serene waterways, reed clusters and pockets of grasslands, and learn more the wetland ecosystem.  It also offers a network of pleasant footpaths winding through waterways and pools, providing the perfect venue for an afternoon stroll, wedding photos, and even filming set for movies, TV shows and music videos.

DSC_1900The passenger boat at Shan Pui River (山貝河) is the last public passenger boat service in Hong Kong operated entirely by hand.

DSC_1902The first impression of Nam Sang Wai for most visitors is its overwhelming serenity of water networks.

DSC_1908The footpaths at Nam Sang Wai are lined with beautiful Red Gum Trees (赤桉樹).

DSC_1911Some old houses in Nam Sang Wai are abandoned, and are sometimes used for filming local movies.

DSC_1918The boardwalk by the old fish ponds are popular spots for photos.

DSC_1937The large lawn at Nam Sang Wai is equally popular for couples, families and pets to hang out.

DSC_1944Nam Sang Wai is a hotspot for both migrating birds and local waterfowls.

DSC_1956Beyond Shan Pui River (山貝河), the urban and industrial developments of Yuan Long seem like they may one day encroach into the wetland territories.

DSC_1981The peaceful water of Nam Sang Wai remains like a flawless mirror.

DSC_1987As a natural system to purify the surface runoff of the city, wetlands are essential in the entire water cycle of the city.

DSC_2002As villagers move out of the rural areas, some old stores and houses in Nam Sang Wai are gradually crumbling into ruins.

DSC_2009A handful of occupied houses remain in Nam Sang Wai.

DSC_2010Though most of them are in need of restoration.

DSC_2020Like pets in other rural areas of Hong Kong, the cats and dogs in Nam Sang Wai also lead peaceful lives.

DSC_2033_01A number of village homes built on stilts can be founded along Shan Pui River (山貝河).

DSC_2031Such serene and picturesque setting are great for photography and sketches.

DSC_2027After a long and relaxing stroll in Nam Sang Wai, the small man-powered boat at Nam Sang Wai Pier is always around to bring visitors back to the city’s side.


280 MILLION-YEAR-OLD GEOLOGICAL PARADISE, Ma Shi Chau (馬屎洲), Hong Kong

Ma Shi Chau (馬屎洲), which literally means “horse excrement island”, is a tidal island off a traditional fishing village Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) at the northeastern New Territories near Tai Po (大埔).  Facing the Tolo Channel opposite from the dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖), Ma Shi Chau belongs to the UNESCO Geopark network in Hong Kong.  The remote tidal island is famous for its unique rock formation and outcropped strata dated back to the Permian Period (280 million years ago).

Ma Shi Chau is accessible via Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡).  A short hike on known as Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail will bring visitors to walk along the southeast coast of the island.  Along the coastal areas, unique and colourful rock formations are visible everywhere.  Millions of years ago, Ma Shi Chau was a basin in which surrounding waters continuously to deposit sediments such as sand and gravel.  Over the years as water level changed and so as the kinds of sediments accumulated.   Sedimentary rocks were formed after the process of lithification.  Vaults and folds are also visible on Ma Shi Chau as tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities transformed the rock surface.  Like many parts of Hong Kong, granite is also present at Ma Shi Chau as a result of magma intrusion during the Jurassic Period.  Other than rocks, views of the Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) to the north, and the new town of Ma On Shan to the southeast across the Tolo Harbour (吐露港) are equally impressive.

DSC_3191Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) is a small fishing village inhabited mainly by former boat people (fishermen families who lived on their boats in typhoon shelter).

DSC_3195From Sam Mun Tsai, a short walk brought me up to a hill dotted with graves.  On the high point, fish farming nets in the waters of Plover Cove.

DSC_3197The trail continued to wind through the ridge of a hill dotted with graves.

DSC_3202The trail then went downhill to the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡), a natural sand bar that originally would be submerged in water during during high tide.  Over the years, villagers put boulders and sediments on the sand bar, so that it would be exposed above water even during high tide.

DSC_3205Today, the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is a convenient venue for a leisure stroll and water activities such as sea kayaking.

DSC_3204The Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is also the gateway to the Ma Shi Chau Special Area, part of the Hong Kong Geopark.

DSC_3247On Ma Shi Chau Island, there is a short trail called Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail (馬屎洲自然教育徑) bringing visitors to a number of coastal woods and rock beaches.  Giant Golden Orb Weaver, one of the largest kinds of spiders in the world, are quite common in the woods.  Some of these are about the size of a human palm.

DSC_3267Visitors are usually fascinated by the rock formations when arriving at the first open coastal area.

DSC_3295Vaults and folds are visible at Ma Shi Chau due to prehistoric tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities.

DSC_3299Many of the outcropped strata and rock formations are colourful and eye catching.

DSC_3310Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.

DSC_3319Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.

DSC_3331Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.

DSC_3347To the northeast of Ma Shi Chau across the Plover Cove (船灣海), the 2km dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖) is only a few hundred metres away.

DSC_3352To the southeast across Tolo Harbour (吐露港), the new residential developments below Ma On Shan (馬鞍山) look like a bunch of toy blocks.

DSC_3359Construction of the new town of Ma On Shan began in 1980s, including private residential developments and public housing estates.

DSC_3363

DSC_3366Fishermen may still test their luck in the Tolo Harbour.

DSC_3371In late afternoon, Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) north of Ma Shi Chau looks gorgeous.

DSC_3374Under the shadow of Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺), the tiny island of Yeung Chau and the fish farms in the Plover Cove (船灣海) look like a peaceful picture.


Hong Kong Wetland Park (香港濕地公園), Tin Shui Wai (天水圍), Hong Kong

Just a stone throw away from Lau Fau Shan, to the north of Tin Shui Wai New Town (天水圍) stands the 61-hectare Hong Kong Wetland Park (香港濕地公園).  Created as an ecological mitigation area to compensate for the loss of wetland in the new town construction, the Wetland Park is doubled as a tourist attraction with facilities including recreated wetland reserve for waterbirds and other wildlife, boardwalk circuits over the mudflats to offer a close encounter with the wetland habitats, and a visitor centre hosting exhibitions on wetland’s biodiversity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKnown as the “Succession Walk”, an elevated winding boardwalk takes visitors out to the water pond to closely appreciate various types of aquatic plants.

DSC_5245Different types of waterlilies are some of the highlights of “Succession Walk”.

DSC_5234At “Wetland at Work”, visitors can learn more about the crops produced from wetlands, such as the rice from rice paddies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollowing the boardwalk deeper into the park, visitor arrives at the “Mangrove Boardwalk”.

DSC_5317At “Mangrove Boardwalk”, there is a good chance to have close encounter with some of the inhabitants of the wetland mudflats, such as the Bluespotted Mudskipper and Common Mudskipper.

DSC_5316Able to breathe through their skin, these amphibious fish are quite active on the mud, actively skipping around to defend their territories.  Staying in mud burrows allow them to keep moist and maintain their body temperature.

DSC_5378-2Another type of common inhabitant at the mudflats is the Fiddler Crab.  The male uses its small claw to feed and the big claw to defend.

DSC_5398Little Egret are common in Hong Kong, and can be seen in all seasons at the Wetland Park.

DSC_5418The boardwalk of Wildside Walk takes visitors to the far end of the park, where a few types of tranquil pools await both the visitors and dragonflies.

DSC_5433At some pools, algae completely covers the water like a soft green carpet.

DSC_5444The pattern on the algae looks like an abstract painting.

DSC_5458After a loop of the wetland reserve, one can return to the modernist Visitor Centre for further information.  The building is one of the few in Hong Kong extensively using exposed architectural concrete.

IMG_0842The lobby where visitors arrive is always busy.

DSC_5460One of the exhibit highlights is Pui Pui, a Salt Water Crocodile caught at Shan Pui River in 2003 when it was a juvenile.  It is believes that Pui Pui was an abandoned illegal pet from the area that had grown too big to handle.  Hong Kong Wetland Park became Pui Pui’s permanent home in 2006.

DSC_5503Other wetland wildlife on display includes freshwater fish.

DSC_5515Looking out of the Visitor Centre, one can fully appreciate the extent of the wetland reserve, a common type of ecosystem that once dominated large areas of Northern New Territories.

DSC_5522The modernist concrete architecture matches well with the peaceful landscape of the wetlands.

DSC_5525It is pleasant to appreciate the serene wetlands from the upper level of the Visitor Centre before leaving.

 


SUNSET OVER OYSTER WATERS, Lau Fau Shan (流浮山), Hong Kong

For 700 years, oysters have been farmed in the water of Deep Bay/ Shenzhen Bay (后海灣) near the sleepy village of Lau Fau Shan (流浮山).  Situated in the Pearl River Estuary where fresh water constantly enters the bay, Deep Bay/ Shenzhen Bay is a perfect site for oyster farming.  Today, Lau Fau Shan is the last remaining site in Hong Kong that oyster cultivation still exists.  Generations of oysters and oyster sauce consumption have put these molluscs an important part of cultural heritage of, not just Lau Fau Shan villagers, but Hong Kong citizens in general.  In fact, the oyster species cultivated in Lau Fau Shan is known as Crassostrea hongkongensis, which is named after the city itself.  Oyster farming has gone through a gradual decline since 1980’s, partly due to climate change, ocean acidification and deterioration of local water quality, and partly due to stronger competition of foreign oysters in the local market in recent years.  Apart from oysters, Lau Fau Shan is also best known for its seafood restaurants and the romantic sunset over the tidal flats.  Standing by the waterfront, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor (深港西部通道) or Shenzhen Bay Bridge and the myriad of highrise constructions over at the Shenzhen side stretch along the horizon, while on the Deep Bay’s southern shore in the sleepy village of Lau Fau Shan, time seems to have stood still in the past few decades.

DSC_0442Coming all the way to the northwest corner of Hong Kong, we entered the village of Lau Fau Shan and immediately stopped by a small eatery by the main street.  Trying the fried or grilled oyster at one of the several simple eateries offers a pleasant alternative to the more upscale seafood restaurants along Lau Fau Shan Main Street.

DSC_0451The special attraction of Lau Fau Shan is indisputably the oysters.

DSC_0454Similar to Sai Kung and Lei Yue Mun, Lau Fau Shan is also well known of its seafood restaurants.

DSC_0456Some seafood restaurants look quite traditional and casual.

DSC_0463There are a few shops in Lau Fau Shan specialized in making oyster sauce.  Inevitably oyster sauce has became one of the most popular souvenir of the village.

DSC_0467Along the main street, two workers were busy opening the harvested oysters for sale.

DSC_0481Along the main street, different types of dried seafood were sold.

DSC_0477Near the waterfront, containers and air tubes for live seafood lie all over a temporary covered area.

DSC_0510The waterfront of Lau Fau Shan was covered with oyster shells.

DSC_0501Many boats just lay on mud flats during low tide.

DSC_0490At the waterfront, the shallow water over the mud flats looked like a peaceful mirror.  Beyond the Deep Bay stood the silhouette of another metropolis of Southern China, Shenzhen.

DSC_0587From a fishing village before 1980 to today’s metropolis of over 10 million inhabitants, the emergence of Shenzhen is a miracle to many.

DSC_0593While we took pictures of mud flats and Deep Bay, a cyclist emerged from nowhere and stopped for a moment at the waterfront.  Beyond lay the 5.5km Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor (深港西部通道), or the Shenzhen Bay Bridge (深圳灣公路大橋) linking the two cities at the Deep Bay since 2007.

DSC_0614The sun finally appeared behind the clouds, casting an orange tint to the drying seafood by the shore.

DSC_0621In late afternoon, more boats returned from Deep Bay.  Some boats arrived at the pier and offloaded passengers who might have spent the entire day fishing in the bay.

DSC_0695The silhouette of Hong Kong Shenzhen Western Corridor (深港西部通道) or Shenzhen Bay Bridge (深圳灣公路大橋) stood out along the western horizon under the late afternoon sun.

DSC_0744Soon enough, the sun made its daily routine down to the horizon beyond the bridge.

DSC_0759As the sun lowered to the horizon, the tide had also quietly returned to the waterfront of Lau Fau Shan.

DSC_0784_01The moon was already up above Lau Fau Shan.  Most tourists had left except a few passionate photographers refusing to leave the waterfront despite the sun was fading fast.

DSC_0794As we left the waterfront of Lau Fau Shan, the lights from the opposite shore began to lit up one by one.


CLEAR WATER & FINE SAND, Long Ke Wan (浪茄灣) to Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

Just twenty minutes walk from High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Long Ke Wan is one of the favorite beaches in Hong Kong for many.  Facing east to Mirs Bay (大鵬灣) along with the four beaches of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣), Long Ke Wan’s (浪茄灣) hexagonal stone columns, white and powdery sand and unpolluted sea water make it a popular destination for beachgoers who make the effort to the eastern edge of Sai Kung Peninsula.  It is possible to reach Long Ke Wan from two different directions, both involve some degree of hiking.  The easiest is to hop on a taxi from Sai Kung town centre to the East Dam of High Island Reservoir, from there it is only a 20 minutes walk to the beach.  The other option is to take a village bus from Sai Kung town centre to Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭).  From the pavilion, it is a two-hour scenic hike to Long Ke Wan.  This walk covers part of the Section 2 of MacLehose Trail (麥理浩徑), from Sai Wan Shan (西灣山) to Long Ke Wan.  Atop Sai Wan Shan, the picturesque beaches of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) down below with the mighty Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) as backdrop is truly one of the most iconic panoramas of Hong Kong’s natural beauty.

01Much of coastal area from Long Ke Wan and High Island Reservoir East Dam all the way to the outlying islands south of the Sai Kung Peninsula are covered with polygonal stone columns.

02These surreal stone formations are evidences from an active volcanic era 140 million years ago.  The 20-minute walk from High Island Reservoir East Dam to Long Ke Wan offers great opportunity to see the coastal rock formations.

04Flanked both sides by lush green slopes and back against Tuk Ngu Shan (獨孤山), Long Ke Wan (浪茄灣) is a protected bay opened southeastwards to the South China Sea.

DSC_1369The beach of Long Ke Wan is decent in size, with fine sand and crystal clear water.

05Adjacent to Long Ke Wan, the coastal scenery of rock formations and sea caves are equally impressive.

03Many visitors come to the area by yachts or hired boats.

DSC_3162At the remote Long Ke Wan, there is no cafe or changing rooms.  All there is are natural scenery of a beautiful beach.

08Many visitors set up tents on the sand.  There is also a popular camp site at the back of the beach.

09Unlike the beaches of Big Wave Bay where the waves can become quite strong, Long Ke is usually calmer.

10During the summer months, the beach is very popular among young people.

11Tidal pools can be found at the rocky areas at the side of beach.

12A visitor comes to test his luck at the tidal pool.

13Walking north from Long Ke Wan to Sai Wan Shan (西灣山) along the MacLehose Trail (麥理浩徑), hikers can have another magnificent overview of Long Ke Wan from above.

14On Sai Wan Shan (西灣山), the view of High Island Reservoir and the outlying islands south of Sai Kung Peninsula makes one forget this is Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated city in the world.

15Looking north from the top of Sai Wan Shan (西灣山), the scenery of Big Wave Bay beaches (大浪灣) and Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) is the icon of Hong Kong’s wilderness.

16The trail then goes downhill from Sai Wan Shan to Chui Tung Au (吹筒坳), then winds along the north edge of High Island Reservoir towards Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭).

17From the trail, visitors can see the West Dam of High Island Reservoir from distance.

18The turquoise and green colours of High Island Reservoir always look refreshing.

19From Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭), there is infrequent village buses return to the pier of Sai Kung town.


NATURAL vs. MAN-MADE WONDER, High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

Completed in 1978, High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫) is the largest reservoir in Hong Kong in terms of volume.  Situated at the southeastern end of Sai Kung Peninsula, High Island Reservoir is surrounded by some of the city’s most scenic country parks and pristine beaches.  Designated as an UNESCO geopark, the coastal areas near the East Dam (東壩) of the High Island Reservoir is filled with hexagonal volcanic columns unseen anywhere else in Hong Kong.  140 million years ago, catastrophic volcanic eruption covered much of the area in layers of tuff.  The tuff cooled throughout time and gradually solidified to form rock.  The hexagonal columns were formed from contraction during the cooling.  Today, remnants from the highly active volcanic era become one of the most spectacular natural sights in the city.  Equally impressive at the East Dam are the concrete dolosse blocks at one side of the Dam along the coast.  Each dolos block weights up to 20 tons.  They are used as wave breakers to protect the dam against the rough sea.  To complete the beautiful picture, there are also sea caves and stack islands dotted around the coast, and the azure sky and boundless South China Sea.

01From Sai Kung Town, the taxi ride to the East Dam, the furthest point of High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫), takes about 45 minutes.

02The spectacular High Island Reservoir East Dam separates the buffer lake of the reservoir and the boundless South China Sea.  Known as Po Pin Chau (破邊洲), the magnificent stack island outside of the East Dam is famous for its tall volcanic columns on one side of its cliff.

03The concrete East Dam structure that separates the two sides of blue water is really photogenic.

04The dolosse blocks pile up on the seaward side of the East Dam, creating a chaotic yet beautiful barrier.  Walking on the dam, we could hear the waves but weren’t be able to find an open view of the sea unless we climbed on the dolosse blocks.

07Once we climbed on the dolosse blocks, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the powerful waves hitting against the coastal volcanic hexagonal columns.

05We climbed down the dam, sat on one of the step and had a quick picnic lunch.

06Looking inland, we could see the inner East Dam that separating the buffer pool with the main reservoir above.  The massive dam structure looked to us as if merged with the adjacent natural landscape.

08Sea caves are common features near the East Dam.

09At the East Dam, natural volcanic hexagonal columns appear side by side with the manmade dolosse blocks.

10To explore a bit of the surrounding coastal landscape, we decided to walk further into the trail heading to Fa Shan (花山) and Pak Lap (白臘).  The trail was not very well defined, but we managed to find our way in the hill of shrubs reaching waist height.

10aOur goal was to at least to have a closer look at the cliff of volcanic columns of the stack island of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).

11The coastal landscape in the area was truly spectacular.  Some like to explore the area by sea kayaking.

12Passing by the stone beach of Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘), we saw a few hikers watching the powerful waves.

13Some visitors didn’t mind to get wet and chose to explore by boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, we reached the closest lookout overlooking the magnificent Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).

14The stone columns of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) appeared like a gigantic church organ.

16We then found our way down to the Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) to get a even closer look and even touch of the volcanic columns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll cliff sides at Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) were covered with stone columns.

17After the hike out to Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) and Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣), it was already late afternoon by the time we returned to the East Dam.

18.JPGInstead of calling a taxi, we decided to walk back out to the main road where we could take a public bus.  The route led us to go along a little over half the perimeter of High Island Reservoir and took about two hours.

19Beyond the haze we could see the Sharp Peak or Nam She Tsim (蚺蛇尖) in a distance, a popular challenge for hikers in Hong Kong.

20Soon the full moon was up over the tranquil water of High Island Reservoir.

21The scenery of High Island Reservoir was serene and calm.

22We enjoyed a few minutes of perfect sunset when we reached the West Dam (西壩).  Beyond the West Dam was Port Shelter Sea (牛尾海) and a series of islands.  The closest island was Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲).

23As the sun gradually set, we picked up our pace of walking.  Known as the Maclehose Trail Section 1, the trail surrounding High Island Reservoir was long but relative flat and easy.  By the time we reached the bus stop at Tai Mong Tsai Road it was almost dark.


FRAGRANT SEA AND PRESTIGIOUS MOUNTAIN (香海名山), Tsing Shan Monastery (青山禪院), Tuen Mun (屯門), Hong Kong

In the middle of the 5th century, Buddhist Master Pui To (杯渡禪師) from India arrived in Tuen Mun, where at that time was a military outpost where foreigners were required to go through immigration customs.  Legend has it that Pui To traveled in a “wooden cup” across the sea, and therefore was named “Pui To”, which literally means “cup sailing”.  Pui To decided to stay in Tuen Mun to host religious ceremonies and teaching sessions for the stationed soldiers.  He settled on the mountain above the military station and practiced meditation regularly in a cave.  His name was widespread across the region, and his residing place (a grotto and hut) soon became a place for pilgrimage.  In the next 1500 years, this pilgrimage site had been considered as the origin of Buddhism in Hong Kong.  In 1829, the To clan built a Taoist institution known as Tsing Wan Kwun (青雲觀) just adjacent to the pilgrim site of Pui To.  In the 1910s, Chan Chun-ting bought the adjacent land to redevelop Tsing Wan Kwun.  His plan made a big twist in 1918 when Chan was converted to Buddhism.  Instead of a Taoist temple, Chan developed the Tsing Shan Monastery (青山禪院), which encompassed Buddhist halls, Pui To’s grotto, as well as the Taoist Tsing Wan Kwun.  The monastery and Taoist temple fell into legal dispute after Chan Chun-ting died in 1932.  In 1998, the case for Tsing Shan Monastery concluded at the High Court.  The court ruled that the Monastery would become a public institution managed by a charity trust.

We arrived in Tuen Mun by bus No. 962 all the way from Causeway Bay.  It was a grey day and it seemed that rain patch might come in any minute.  In the first glance, Tuen Mun New Town appeared like another uninspiring satellite town built in the 1970s by the British government to resolve the housing issue of Hong Kong.  Adjacent to the new town, the lush green Castle Hill (青山) was partly hidden in the mist.  We came to visit what claimed to be the oldest temple in Hong Kong.  From Tsing Shan Village, the winding Tsing Shan Monastery Path was a decent uphill walk to the monastery.

01With relaxed hearts, we slowly climbed the Tsing Shan Monastery Path to the famous Pailou (牌坊).  On the Pailou, the calligraphic inscription 香海名山 or “Fragrant Sea and Prestigious Mountain” was written by Hong Kong Governor Sir Cecil Clementi (金文泰) in 1929.  Clementi was a British administrator who possessed deep knowledge of Chinese culture, fluent in Cantonese and mastered the skills of Chinese calligraphy.

02The front gate (山門) of Tsing Shan Monastery was renewed in 2009 into the current appearance.

03The first thing that caught our attention was a portrait of Maitreya (彌勒佛) displayed on the wall of the Guardian Pavilion (護法殿).

04To the right of the Guardian Pavilion (護法殿) stood the Tsing Wan Kun (青雲觀).  The original heritage building was the oldest structure in the entire Tsing Shan Monastery.  Against advise of conservationists, the old structure was controversially demolished in 2004 by the To family, the owner of the monastery.  A new building in style of the Tang Dynasty was erected in its place.

05
Despite the relatively new building, there were still a number of historical items inside the Tsing Wan Kun, such as the bronze bell in the courtyard.

06Inside the Taoist Tsing Wan Kun, there were quite a variety of deities for worship, such as the 60 Tai Sui deities (太歲), a group of deities created from the orbiting stars directly opposite to the Jupiter in Chinese astrology.  Worshipers would come each year to pay respect to a specific Tai Sui deity according to his or her birth year.  Other than the Tai Sui, the central altar was dedicated to Doumu (斗母), the mother deity of the Big Dipper.

07Other deities could be found in the upper chamber of Tsing Wan Kun.  Like many Taoist temples, Tsing Wan Kun houses a variety of traditional deities.

08The atmospheric inner hall of Tsing Wan Kun was filled with suspended incenses.

09Buddhist figures like the Guanyin was present in the inner hall of Tsing Wan Kun.  Most believe that the Chinese Guanyin originated from Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

10Back to the entrance courtyard of Tsing Shan Monastery, we followed the path to the back of the Guardian Pavilion and arrived at the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿).  Eight characters were inscribed on the front wall, “Everything on Earth Has Ties and Reaches Nirvana Together” (一切有情、同登覺地).

11The Grand Hall (大雄寶殿) was dominated by the altar of three Buddha statues.

12On the side walls of the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿), there were a series of tiny niches each with a bodhisattva figure lit up from above, many were marked with a donor’s name.

13Outside of the Grand Hall, we could clearly see the interesting roof detail of Guardian Pavilion (護法殿)

14Behind the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿) we walked up the stair to the upper section of Tsing Shan Monastery.  From the upper platform, we could have a closer look at the roof carvings of the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿), which included a pair of dragons on the ridge.

15And a ceramic lion at the side hip of the roof.

16On the upper part of Tsing Shan Monastery we reached a open platform overlooking town centre of Tuen Mun below.

17One of the highlight of the monastery’s upper platform was the shrine at what believed to the the grotto where Master Pui To (杯渡禪師) meditated.

18Near the grotto, there was a offering table and a wall of plaques with donor’s names.

19Near the grotto, a small stair led us up to another platform where a three-tier Buddhist stupa (時輪金剛佛塔) stood.

20Further up the hill stood the ruins of the old Abbot’s Chamber (方丈室).

21As we turned away from the ruined Abbot’s Chamber, we spotted the profile of two people standing at a lookout.  Soon we found out they were actually life size paper cut of passed actors Bruce Lee (李小龍) and Roy Chiao (喬宏).  In 1973, Lee, Chiao and their crew members came to Tsing Shan Monastery to film a scene of “Enter the Dragon” (龍爭虎鬥).

22Back down to the level of the grotto, we passed by a garden and the Gate of Harmony (和合山門).  On both sides of the gate, the inscriptions stated that “No sweeping is needed for pure land.  No closing is needed for empty doors” (淨土何須掃,空門不用關).   At the end of the garden stood a yellow pailou.  It was part of the original Hall of Scriptures (藏經閣).

23After a decent stroll of the monastery ground, it was time for us to head back downhill.  We passed by the Entrance Pailou once again.  Instead of “Fragrant Sea and Prestigious Mountain” ( 香海名山) at the front of the pailou, this time the back of the Pailou read as “Repentance is Salvation” (回頭是岸).

24After the descend, we soon reached a large public square and the historical Hau Kok Tin Hau Temple (后角天后廟 ).  Tin Hau was the deity that former fishermen of Tuen Mun prayed for a peaceful return from the sea.

25In the public square, a large bamboo pavilion was erected, probably as a stage and performance theatre for traditional Chinese operas.

26Adjacent to the Tin Hau Temple, there was a relatively new museum housing three enormous ceremonial backdrops.

27We walked southwards along the Tuen Mun River Channel.

28Since 1970s, Tuen Mun new town has been developed into a city with close to half a million of population.

29Boats by the shore at the mouth of Tuen Mun River reminded us that Tuen Mun was once a fishing village.

30In the evening, we walked to the mouth of Tuen Mun River and reached the Butterfly Beach (蝴蝶灣) in the dark.  The Inner River Dock (內河碼頭) where container ships to and from China’s Pearl River would stop for customs.


LAI CHI WO (荔枝窩), Plover Cove Country Park (船灣郊野公園), New Territories, Hong Kong

At the northeast extent of the New Territories where Mainland China is just a stone throw away, vacant houses and abandoned farmlands reveal a forgotten past of the rural communities situate at what is now known as the Plover Cove Country Park (船灣郊野公園) and Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).  One of the largest villages in the area is Lai Chi Wo (荔枝窩), a famous Hakka village dated back to 400 years ago.  At its peak, Lai Chi Wo had more than 200 houses and over a thousand inhabitants.  As the city rapidly urbanized, most residents of Lai Chi Wo either moved to urban areas,  or overseas.  Today many houses in the village had been vacant for years.  Behind the rusty gates, broken windows and crumbling walls, rotting furniture and old housewares lay on the dusty floor.  Yet in recent year or two, some people from the city turned to farming.  They move to Lai Chi Wo and re-cultivate some of the abandoned farmlands.

Despite situated far from the city at the northeast border of Hong Kong, we didn’t particularly start our hike early.  By the time we reached Wu Kau Tang Village (烏蛟騰), it was already early afternoon.  From Wu Kau Tang, there were a number of hiking trails heading into Plover Cove Country Park.  We headed east to another village, Sam A Village (三椏村), right by the coast of Yan Chau Tong or Double Haven Marine Park.  Like most villages in the area, Sam A has passed its prime long ago.  Today, only a few villagers return to Sam A during weekends to run their restaurants and shops serving hikers and tourists.  At Sam A, we stopped by Yuan Hing Restaurant (源興食店) for lunch.  Only open in weekends, Yuan Hing serves good Hakka dishes and tofu dessert.  The restaurant was fully packed, and a number of dishes were already sold out when we got there.

Along the way, we passed by stone beaches and mangrove groves of the Yan Chau Tong Marine Park.  Famed for its tranquil scenery and interesting rock formations, the coastal landscape of Yan Chau Tong were created by a series of prehistoric volcanic eruptions.  Protected from the open sea by several islands at the outer edge of the bay, the water of Yan Chau Tong is often calm.  We reached the village of Lai Chi Woo at around 4pm.  Old trees, dense mangroves and giant vines greeted our arrival.  At the main plaza, a huge banyan tree stood like a large umbrella.  A few elderly villagers were cleaning up a vending stall in front of a former primary school building.  After most tourists left with the 3:30pm boat, Lai Chi Woo returned to its half-abandoned state of serenity.  We wandered for a while, and asked around for the way going to Luk Keng (鹿頸), where we could take a minibus getting back to the city.  It was getting dark and we still had another 2.5 hour of hiking ahead.

We quickly confirmed the route with a villager and headed out of Lai Chi Woo.  Along the way to Luk Keng, we passed by a few more ghost villages until we reached a fork path where the water of Starling Inlet separated Hong Kong and Shenzhen of China.  A dessert and snack vendor was about to close his stall Old San Tofu Dessert.  We ordered a bowl of dessert tofu and sat by the waterfront to finish it.  From then on, it was about 45 minute walk along the waterfront to the village of Luk Keng.  As it grew darker, the buildings and port across the water in Shenzhen looked bright and busy.  We finally reached Luk Keng before 7pm.  In the dark, we were surprised seeing a very long queue at the micro-bus station.  We ended up waiting for over an hour to board the last bus of the night heading to Fanling Station.

DSC_8874The village of Wu Kau Tang (烏蛟騰) served as a trail-head for a number of hiking routes.

DSC_8983Mangrove sprouted from cracks at the coast of Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).

DSC_8985Interesting coastal rocks at Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).

DSC_9000We reached Sam A Village (三椏村) where we sat down for lunch at Yuan Hing Restaurant (源興食店) .

DSC_9039Mangrove groves at Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).

DSC_9041Ancient trees greeted our arrival at Lai Chi Woo (荔枝窩).

DSC_9047The old giant vines were fenced off from the main path.

DSC_9051The former primary school at Lai Chi Woo.

DSC_9052The prominent banyan tree at the main village plaza of Lai Chi Woo.

DSC_9056Traditional lanterns were hung on the branches of the old banyan tree.

DSC_9061Illustration of Lai Chi Woo with its rows of houses backed by a fungshui forest.  A fengshui forest was believed to be a natural protection from outer harms.

DSC_9064Some of the abandoned houses are now occupied once again.

DSC_9071 Farming returned to Lai Chi Woo once again.

DSC_9072We left Lai Chi Woo through the west gate.

DSC_9111Abandoned houses were common sights on our way to Luk Keng.

DSC_9153The delicious tofu dessert at Old San vendor.

DSC_9195Across Starling Inlet the skyline of East Shenzhen was clearly visible.

DSC_9220At last we arrived at Luk Keng at almost 7pm.


MA PO PO: Sustainable Future in Fanling, Hong Kong

We almost forgot Hong Kong still has a considerable amount of arable land suitable for farming until we visited Ma Po Po (馬寶寶), the community farm at Ma Shi Po Village (馬屎埔) in Fanling (粉嶺). In recent months, the government’s proposal to develop rural areas and farming villages into high dense residential communities in Northeast North Territories has became a controversial topic in the city.

1Ma Po Po Community Farm is located at Ma Shi Po Village in Fanling.

2A group of youthful artists from YMCA enlivened the village with beautiful wall paintings. At village entrance, we were welcomed by this handsome cat farmer.

1aHanging on the metal gate of Ma Po Po Community Farmer’s Market is a handmade signage. Ma Po Po literally means “Baby Horse”. The founders of the farmer’s market hope that everyone would treat the gradually disappearing farmland with care and love as if their baby.

3Every two weeks a community market is held at Ma Po Po, selling cook-to-order snacks and bread, organic vegetables, biodegradable home products, handcrafts, souvenirs, etc.

4The farmers market at Ma Po Po offers some of the best produce in the entire city.

7Developing the north region of New Territories is a controversial topic in recent months.  Many farmers, including the villagers at Ma Po Po, are facing a real risk of eviction.  The Hong Kong government favors urban development over agriculture, and doesn’t seem to bother finding a balanced solution that encourages the coexistence of farming and urban development.

5“I love my home, to North Fanling, from Hong Kong citizens,” the banner says.

6Fresh bread was made from these communal ovens.

8A month-old puppy was looking for a new home.

9Lego display of recent news incident in support of the Umbrella Revolution (Occupy Central Movement).

9a0Many people like us who came visit the farmer’s market would join a brief local to learn more about the Ma Shi Po Village.

9a
Wall mural depicting the snacks that once sold at this village’s grocery store. The elderly shop owner is still living in this house, but his tiny shop couldn’t stand the contest with the chain supermarkets outside the village.

10Simple wall murals are common in Ma Shi Po depicting original farming scenes.  Since the residential towers were built across the street from the village, sunlight exposure to certain farmlands is greatly affected.  Some owners switch to growing fruit trees instead.

11Raising poultry was once part of the village life.  However, we were told that in recent years the government has imposed heavy restrictions on raising poultry.  Today, free range chickens and ducks can only be seen on wall murals captured by the young artists.

12Hong Kong’s climate is suitable for farming all year round.  Green vegetables dominate the farms during winter, while melons and fruits wait for their chance in summertime.

13
The guide presented a bucket of soy pulp collected from a tofu shops nearby.  Many types of organic waste are being collected from restaurants and markets in nearby neighborhoods to support organic farming.  Ma Po Po aims to demonstrate a perfect cycle of co-existence among organic farmers, restaurants and the local communities.  Not only does their collection/compost/farming cycle create some of the best produce in the city, it also indicates a strategy that partially alleviates the burden of organic waste.

14The last part of the tour was to demonstrate about how the collected organic waste is turned into organic fertilizer.  Removing the plastic wrap, our guide showed us a compost mount, in which dry leaves and branches were mixed with small amount of organic waste such as fish bones.

15Farms at Ma Shi Po Village are usually small in scale.  Each family decides on their crop selection and farming methods.  Even the bird repellent method is unique for each farm.

15bPapaya is common in rural Hong Kong.

15cThese mandarin oranges seem to remind everyone that Chinese New Year is just around the corner.

16Not everyone in Ma Shi Po maintains a farm.

17Many original farmlands and houses have been vacant or sold to large developers.  Large developers then come and fence off the properties under their control.  After months of neglect these lands would soon turn into overgrown wastelands. Some people have proposed to rent the abandoned farmlands from the developers while the land was left idling.  Their proposals were rejected by the developers.

17aBanners in protest of earlier land bidding exercises when farm lands were sold off to developers.

18Ng Tung River dominates the scenery north of Ma Shi Po. This river has once been the reason for the founding the farming community.

19While exiting Ma Shi Po, we could clearly see the overwhelming residential development just across the street.  Without character, memories, and living traditions, these highrise developments are efficient machines to house a population made up mainly with people from elsewhere in the city.

20We brought back lots of fresh vegetables from Ma Po Po.  They were definitely the sweetest vegetables we’ve ever had in recent months. Now, a visit to Ma Po Po Farmer’s Market has become our weekly ritual. People who live in the Fanling area are lucky to live so close to this terrific organic farm.  We believe in balanced development.  The coexistence of Ma Po Po and the surrounding neighborhoods shows us a good example of what a sustainable future may look like for generations to come.


HOI HA WAN (海下灣)– Marine Treasure Trove in Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

Hoi Ha Wan, literally means “Under Sea Bay”, is best known for its marine biodiversity and mangrove forests. Prohibited for fishing, boating and collecting marine wildlife, the small bay of Hoi Ha Wan is a marine park frequented by divers, snorkelers and kayakers, as well as families who come for a lesson of natural science.

I came to spend a causal afternoon. Under the mid-afternoon sun, a few groups of children walked out into shallow water searching for starfishes and sea cucumbers. From the shore, I could see rock corals, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, crabs, seashells and fishes of various colours and sizes.  At Hoi Ha Village, banners were hung at a number of places urging developers to stay off the Hoi Ha area.

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TAI LONG WAN (大浪灣), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong’s Last Environmental Frontiers

Facing the Pacific to the east, Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) of Sai Kung has been voted by many as the number one outdoor destination in Hong Kong.  At the eastern tip of Hong Kong’s territory and the east coast of Sai Kung Peninsula, Tai Long Wan consists of four gorgeous beaches, including Tung Wan (East Bay), Tai Wan (Big Bay), Ham Tin Wan (Salty Field Bay), and Sai Wan (West Bay).

In 2010, an unauthorized land excavation at Tai Long Sai Wan (Big Wave West Bay) sparked public outcry urging for proper environmental protection and land-use parameters of country park enclaves, the 70+ pieces of private or government land adjacent to or surrounded by country parks.  Despite not designated as country parks, many enclaves are environmental sensitive areas with great value to the conservation of natural heritage of Hong Kong.  In 2013, after great effort from environmental groups, Tai Long Sai Wan was finally incorporated into the boundary of protected country park.  However, under great pressure from profit orientated private developers and anxious government for finding easy solution to tackle housing shortage, many country park enclaves are in grave danger in the near future, including Sai Kung’s Hoi Ha Wan (Jone’s Cove), the priceless marine park famous for its marine biodiversity and mangrove forest.

In 34 °C heat, hiking under the sun is not the most comfortable way to spend a Sunday.  However, in exchange for the crystal clear water of Tai Long Wan, a cold beer at sandy beach, and a bowl of fresh “shan shui” tofu dessert at a village eatery, all the sweat and exhaustion really didn’t matter much.  Besides, seeing the great scenery and breathing in the fresh air of Sai Kung is far healthier than spending the weekend sardining in Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui.  I started the hike from Pak Tam Au bus stop, walked past the half-desert village of Chek Keng and the hill pass of Tai Long Au, and stopped by Tai Long village for a bowl of noodle and tofu dessert.  I spent much of the afternoon hopping between the four beaches of Tai Long Wan.  At the end of day, I walked up the steep MacLehose Trail outside Sai Wan Village for the pass of Chui Tung Au.  From there, it was another 30-minute walk above the magnificent Highland Reservoir to Sai Wan Pavilion for the village-bus back to Sai Kung Town.

In many ways, hiking in the countryside of Sai Kung made me realized that every square inch of mangrove forest and coral reef left in Hong Kong is so preciously beautiful and yet so vulnerable at the same time.  Not only do they are challenged by the rising sea temperature caused by global warming, but also seriously threatened by the pathetic vision and monetary greed of certain developers and governmental officials.
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The sleepy village of Check Keng faces the inner gulf of Chek Keng Kau.
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A bowl of “shan shui” tofu dessert at Tai Long Village came as the perfect way to cool down my overheat body.
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The first glimpse of Tung Wan made me hard to believe that I was in Hong Kong.
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Markings from a frequent visitor in a small rock alcove at Tung Wan.
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Tai Wan offers the biggest stretch of sandy beach at Tai Long Wan.
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Wooden bridge at the entry point of Ham Tin Wan.
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Scenery of Ham Tin Wan.
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Looming in a distance, Sharp Peak offers one of the most challenging and rewarding uphill hike in Hong Kong.
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It was so hot that even a little dog preferred a dip in the water.
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Because of its close proximity to the village-bus stop, Sai Wan seemed to receive the most number of visitors.


POON CHOI – A Brief Visit of Ping Shan in Yuen Long, Hong Kong

An unexpected opportunity came up.  I found myself tagging along my cousin to participate in a traditional poon choi dinner at the Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan, a rural area between the new towns of Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai.  Poon choi is a traditional dish originated from the villages of the New Territories.  It was believed that poon choi was invented in late Song Dynasty (late 13th century) when villages in the New Territories gathered their best dishes available together in large wooden washbasins to serve the exile Song emperor and his army.  Today, poon choi is often served in large stainless steel or ceramic bowls for everyone to share around the table.  The food served in poon choi varies, but usually it is a combination of seafood and meat.  Throughout the centuries, poon choi has become a signature dish for communal gatherings and celebrations in many parts of the New Territories.

Despite largely renovated in recent years, the original Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan was built over 700 years ago by the Tang Clan.  Today it is still used regularly by the Tang Clan in Ping Shan for rituals and gatherings.  In 1993, the government established the Ping Shan Heritage Trail to promote tourism in the area.  The trail connects a number of historical sights and an interpretation centre housed in the former Ping Shan Police Station.  The Tang Ancestral Hall is one of the star attractions along the trail.  With an entry courtyard, a central hall for reception, and an inner hall to house the ancestral alter, the Tang Ancestral Hall is a typical example of a traditional ancestral hall, which in ancient times functioned as the social nucleus of a clan village.

Before dinner, we had a chance to stroll around the area.  We walked by Tsui Sing Lau, Hong Kong’s only historical pagoda dating back to 600 years ago, an old well that once served the villagers for over two centuries, and the entrance to Sheung Cheung Wai, a walled village constructed more than 200 years ago.  Despite drastically transformed from the heydays, clan villages and walled communities are still common in rural areas of the New Territories.  Many walled villages, like Sheung Cheung Wai in Ping Shan, were once heavily fortified with high walls and deep moats for self-defense against pirates.  Moats were filled and cannons removed, but many wall enclosures survived to the present day.
ImageWith its 700-year history, the Tang Ancestral Hall is the star attraction of Ping Shan.
ImageDining tables were set up at the semi-open central hall of the Tang Ancestral Hall.
ImageWarmed with a portable gas stove throughout the dinner, the poon choi was the centre piece on the dining table.  The wine-marinated chicken and duck soup on the side were equally impressive.
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The Tang Ancestral Hall has been undergoing major renovations in recent years.  Scaffolding has been set up at the inner hall where the ancestral altar is located.
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Many farmlands in Ping Shan and its surroundings have been converted into parking lots and new housing estates, including the new town of Tin Shui Wai.  The land where Tin Shui Wai occupies was mainly marshland a century ago.  Villagers then converted the marshes into rice paddies and fish ponds.  As the economy changed, most rice paddies and fish ponds were abandoned and the government finally stepped in to transform the land into the new town of Tin Shui Wai in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
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ImageThe Tsui Sing Lau pagoda originally contained 7 storeys.  It was used for the worship of the star constellations for academic achievement.
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Sheung Cheung Wai remains as a example of the traditional walled villages in the New Territories.


HONG KONG – a New Chapter

Angela and I started “Blue Lapis Road” in 2013 to publish a photo journal of our backpacking trip to South America as we wandered through the vast continent in 90 days.  It has been over 3 months since we left Valparaiso of Chile, the last destination of our S.A. trip.  Since early March, I have relocated to another continent and started a new life chapter in Hong Kong, a city that I was once very familiar with as I spent my childhood here two decades ago.

With vibrate city life, complex social structure, recent colonial memories, multifaceted regionalism, intertwining global cultures, hyper dense neighborhoods, vast countryside, and subtropical beaches, Hong Kong has much more to offer than just fine dining, crazy shopping, and extravagant night life.

In the next chapter of “Blue Lapis Road”, we are going to share with you our explorations in this magnificent metropolis, Hong Kong.

BlueLapisRoad_HK Introduction