A day after the attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, Regimental Sergeant Major Enos Charles Ford at Hong Kong’s Fort Davis was woken up by the Japanese raid of Kai Tak across the harbour at 08:00, 8th of December 1941. Ford and his fellow gunners returned fire but the Japanese aircraft were out of range. The raid of Kai Tak officially pulled the curtain for the short but intense Battle of Hong Kong. At 269m tall, Mount Davis at the westernmost point of Hong Kong Island had been a major defensive facility for the city since the 1910’s. Five guns were mounted at different locations on the mount, and two were later relocated to Stanley. Jubilee Battery near the shore was later added to guard the coast below. During WWII, a force of about 50 gunners was stationed at the fort. Thanks to the diary of Regimental Sergeant Major Enos Charles Ford, a brief account of what had happened at one of the most bombarded spot in Hong Kong during WWII survived to the present. From 8th of December to the 24th, Fort Davis engaged in fierce battles with the Japanese and was under intense bombardment by both warships and aircraft. The gunners fought hard from the fort until Christmas Eve, when they were sent to Wanchai to fight as infantry in the last desperate attempt to fend off the enemy. The colony of Hong Kong surrendered on the Christmas Day of 1941, and the damaged Fort Davis fell in the Japanese hands two days later. After the war, the fort was used for a variety of military purposes until 1970’s, when the site was abandoned and gradually crumbled into ruins. Ever since, the ruins have become a hot spot for war games and ghost tours, certainly not a place for the faint hearted.
Below Mount Davis, the Jubilee Battery complex was converted into Victoria Detention Centre in 1961, before emptying out after the Chinese takeover in 1997. The abandoned Jubilee Battery was finally offered a second life in 2013, when University of Chicago becomes the new occupier of the site. The revitalization plan was met with a poetic response by the late Canadian architect Bing Thom (now Revery Architecture): a winding architecture perched over the hillside of Jubilee Battery overlooking Sulphur Channel and the western approach of the Victoria Harbour. Named as Francis and Rose Yuen Campus of the University of Chicago, the sleek architecture curves around a 75 year old flame tree, and floats above ground on slim pillars to minimize impact on the delicate coastal landscape and the heritage structures. Since inception in 2018, the Yuen Campus has become a popular place for watching the sunset. Its heritage interpretation centre offers visitors insights of the history of Mount Davis, and military history of the former colony.
After checking out the Yuen Campus, it is worthwhile to do a short hike to check out the military ruins on Mount Davis behind the school.
I first learnt about the swimming sheds from my father, who used to explore the waters of Sai Wan (西環) at the westernmost area of Hong Kong Island in his childhood. Back in 1950’s and 1960’s, sea swimming was not necessary a half day journey to a beach far away from the city. Hongkongers could instead hop to one of the ten or dozen of swimming sheds along Victoria Harbour after work for a quick dip in the sea. This swimming culture originates in 1911, when the first swimming shed was built at Tsat Tsz Mui (七姊妹) in North Point. It became a hit and soon expanded to seven sheds in the area. Taking the tram to the swimming sheds was the most popular pastime back then. A newspaper in 1929 estimated that each day there were about 5000 swimmers visiting the swimming sheds. These sheds were constructed of bamboo and timber, housing changing rooms, lockers and showers facilities, and a series of decks on stilts to enter the water. At its peak, some big establishments even had eateries, boat rentals, and arena for roller-skates. Back then, limited transportation options kept many Hongkongers away from more faraway beaches, while the water of Victoria Harbour was still relatively clean.
As beach facilities and public swimming pools became more accessible to common people, the degraded water quality of the Harbour, and most important of all, land reclamation and waterfront redevelopment projects have basically nailed the coffin for all swimming sheds in 1970’s. In 1988, Chung Sing Swimming Shed (鐘聲泳棚) reopened at the western end of Kennedy Town, where lush green Mount Davis slopes down to the sea. This remnant from the past, with about 20 members, has become the last operating swimming shed in Hong Kong. The membership of the swimming shed is far from its heyday decades ago. But the relatively secluded Chung Sing Swimming Shed, which commonly known as Sai Wan Swimming Shed (西環泳棚) nowadays, has been offered a second life. Photos of the lovely sunset over tranquil water at Sai Wan Swimming Shed has become an Instagram sensation in the recent decade.
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.
There 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.
The 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.
It became quite wet and misty as we approached Yi Tung Shan (二東山).
On 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.
Silver 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.
Some 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.
After 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.
On 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.
Surrounded by the taller-than-human silver grass (芒草), it was easy to lose one’s bearings and walk in circles.
Time 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.
From then on it was all uneven steps downwards.
It was a tiring descend until our legs started to shake a bit from time to time.
The sky was dark and we could briefly see the coastline of Cheung Sha Beach.
The downhill walk was dominated by the view of Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) to the west.
A little sun break as we went for the final descend to Pak Kung Au (伯公坳).
Despite the sun break, the summit of Lantau Peak was still concealed in thick clouds.
Bidding 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).
Prior to the opening of Tsing Ma Bridge in 1997 and the MTR Lantau Line in 1998, the busy ferry pier of Mui Wo (梅窩) was one of the only two gateways to Lantau Island (大嶼山) from the city centre. Before the establishment of Disneyland, Tian Tan Buddha, and Ngong Ping tourist area on the island, the resort hotels and bike rental shops at Mui Wo’s Silvermine Beach (銀礦灣) offered one of the island’s most popular getaway experience during weekends. Those days were long gone. Today, the MTR brings most Lantau visitors to the new town of Tung Chung (東涌). In comparison, Mui Wo is much more laid back and sparsely populated. In fact, for hundreds of years Mui Wo had always been an isolated rural area until 1950 when the pier was established, receiving first boats from Cheung Chau (長洲) and then soon from Central (中環). Today, Mui Wo has returned to its peaceful old self, and its charm lies exactly in its sleepy ambience.
Sandwiched between the foot of Sunset Peak (大東山) to the west and Silvermine Beach to the east, the area of Mui Wo hosts half a dozen or so rural villages. Near the village of Pak Ngan Heung (白銀鄉), or White Silver Country, few tourists would venture this far inland from the beach and pier to visit the Silvermine Waterfalls and the nearby Silvermine Cave, where silver mining operated briefly from 1886 to 1898. South of Mui Wo, a narrow seaside trail connects to another sleep rural area at Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣). A short hike westwards from Chi Ma Wan would take visitors to the popular beach of Pui O (貝澳), where visitors of all ages come and dig into the wet sand in search of edible clams. Seeing bucket after bucket of clams have been taken in one Saturday afternoon made me wonder if there would be any left for the next weekend.
From Mui Wo town centre, a footbridge leads visitors into the farming villages at the foot of Sunset Peak. A small shrine dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, is set up right by the bridge.
Organic farming in Mui Wo have been gaining popularity in recent years.
Many farms in the area, like this one in Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘), are small in scale and offer prearranged interpretative tours or family activities.
On our way into Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘), a small cat greeted us at the village’s entrance.
Another delightful feature at the path leading to Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘) was a row of vivid flags.
Back against the lush green slope of Sunset Peak (大東山), Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘) is a quiet farming village with a dramatic setting.
Originally there were six guard towers in the area of Mui Wo. Today only two remain intact and standing. Built in the early 1940’s, the Luk Tei Tong Guard Tower (鹿地塘更樓) is one of them. In the old days, these guard towers were used to defend against pirates.
Chinese New Year has just past. Celebratory banners still remain on the doors and walls of village homes.
Despite prohibited by law, the loud noise of firecrackers can still be heard in some rural areas in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year.
Other than traditional firecrackers, modern ornaments and lights are also used to decorate the small courtyard in front of a ancestral hall in Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘).
Somehow these colourful incandescent bulbs in Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘) reveal a sense of nostalgia.
From Heading north from Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘), we soon reached the Mui Wo Primary School. Founded in 1939, the Mui Wo Primary School is located in the village of Tai Tei Tong (大地塘). Throughout the years, the school had gone through a few phases of expansion.
Continued north from Tai Tei Tong (大地塘) would lead to Pak Ngan Heung (白銀鄉), or White Silver Country, the village close to the former silver mine.
Just a few minutes walk from Pak Ngan Heung (白銀鄉) leads to Silvermine Waterfall (銀鑛瀑布), a natural feature popular with visitors.
The once busy Silvermine Bay Beach has became relatively quiet as visitors to Mui Wo declined significantly after the opening of Tsing Ma Bridge and MTR Lantau Line.
The Silvermine Bay Resort Hotel has became a collective memory for many.
Silver River (銀河) flows through the central area of Mui Wo and enters the sea at Silvermine Bay.
Walking along the coastal trail from Mui Wo Ferry Pier Road would bring one to Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣), a serene coastal area south of Mui Wo.
During the hike, I was the only visitor on the trail, except the flying crows.
Feral buffalo is a common sight on Lantau Island.
Walking inland westwards from Chi Ma Wan, one would arrive in the old village of Shap Long(十塱)
There is hardly any other visitos in Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣)
Before reaching Pui O (貝澳), the path wind along a series of curving slopes.
At the beach of Pui O (貝澳), some enjoy swimming in the sea, while others are busy digging the sand for clams.
Pui O Beach was shaped by the water of South China Sea and the river streams.
The persistent clam diggers dig the sand of Pui O till the last twilight fades.
Not a particular fine day in Mid-December, but our souls yearned for a brief departure from the crowded streets and densely built-up neighborhoods of Central Hong Kong. We picked the Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) on Lantau Island. At 934m above sea level, Lantau Peak is the second highest peak in Hong Kong, and we expected there would be a considerable amount of steps to climb. After less than an hour of ferry and a bus ride, we arrived at the trailhead at Pak Kung Au (伯公坳). Known as Section 3 of the Lantau Trail (鳳凰徑), the 5.5km hike from Pak Kung Au up to Lantau Peak and then down to the Big Buddha of Ngong Ping would take about 4 hours.
With our back facing Hong Kong’s 3rd highest peak, the Sunset Peak (大東山, 869m), we followed the signs to begin the climb of Lantau Peak.
The climb took us less than two hours, on a mostly exposed mountain trail winding on mountain ridges until reaching the final portion of the hike which was largely uneven steps.
Camellia (茶花) is quite a common sight when hiking in during the winter months in Hong Kong.
The air of Hong Kong during the winter months could be quite hazy.
On our way up, despite the haze and smog from China, we could still faintly see the beaches, Tung Chung New Town and Hong Kong International Airport below.
The steps seemed never ended, but we pushed ourselves to go for the final assault for the summit.
The air was much cooler as we approached the last bit of the uphill climb.
The mountainous landscape down below was quite scenic.
Up on the summit it was foggy, windy and cool.
At the top platform, there was a simple shelter for wind protection, a wooden plague stating the height of the mountain, and lots of visitors taking pictures.
The wooden plague stating the summit of Lantau Peak at 934m.
It was windy up there and we didn’t stay for long on the summit.
The downhill hike towards Ngong Ping (昂坪) was uneven steps all the way down. Facing Shek Pik Reservoir (石壁水塘) in a distance, we took our time for the descend.
The stepped trail then switched north towards Ngong Ping. We could recognize the silhouette of Tian Tan Buddha (天壇大佛), Po Lin Buddhist Monastery (寶蓮禪寺), and the sea beyond where construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge was almost completed.
Although we could see our destination, there was still quite a long way of steep steps to go before reaching Ngong Ping.
The Buddha was getting bigger as we gradually walked closer to Ngong Ping.
Reaching the gateway of “Sunrise on Lantau Peak” signified that we had reached Ngong Ping.
After about 3 hours on the trail and just a stone throw away from Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, we reached a unique landscape feature known as the Wisdom Path (心經簡林).
The Wisdom Path is consisted of large wooden columns set up in the pattern of an infinity symbol (8). On each column, text from the Heart Sutra (心經) or Mahayana Sutraare inscribed onto the wood.
Finally we reached Tian Tan Buddha. Up on the upper platform where the Buddha sat, here were six angle-like statues handing offerings to the Buddha known as “The Offering of the Six Devas”.
Installed in 1993, Tian Tan Buddha (天壇大佛) is a large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni.
Below the Buddha, Ngong Ping (昂坪) has been developed by the government as a tourist corridor with retail, restaurants, and entertainment businesses. We didn’t check out any of the shops. All we wanted was to catch a bus for Tung Chung, where where we could switch to the MTR (Hong Kong’s reliable metro system) for our journey home.
The trail from Fan Lau to Yi O was less well maintained than the path we walked in the morning. It took us about 40 minutes to walk from Fan Lau Sai Wan (分流西灣) to the farming village of Yi O (二澳). This was our second visit of Yi O. A little over two years ago, we came to Yi O and found a beautiful valley where a few farmers trying hard to reintroduce rice farming back to Lantau Island. Yi O, a farming village with over two hundred years of history and over a thousand villagers in its heyday, became an abandoned village in the 1970s when the last of its inhabitants moved out to the city. In 2013, a farming cooperative secured a 30-year lease after negotiations with the original four clans of villagers to re-cultivate the land of Yi-O for organic rice paddies. Since then more lands were cultivated and more helpers were hired each year. Over 10% of Yi-O’s land had been worked on to develop the farm-to-table business. In the past, growing rice in a constantly lightly flooded plot in front of village homes was a self-sustainable way of living for Yi-O inhabitants. Nowadays, the cooperative tried to revive this method, but were still experimenting with more efficient ways to yield more crops. Under the late afternoon sun, the golden rice paddies revealed a lovely rural dream. In the era of enormous concerns regarding food safety, the farming experiment of Yi-O might prove crucial for Hong Kong to reduce some degree of reliance on food imports.
Yi O lies in the embrace of lush-green mountains from both sides.
The golden rice paddies looked promising. Perhaps it was almost harvest time for these fields. Because of its small output, it isn’t easy to buy a bag of rice from Yi O. The farming cooperative has a small shop in Tai O to promote their products.
We found our way to the main path in the middle of Yi O, and continued to walk north towards Yi O Bay.
Winding through the village of Yi O, we could still encounter a number of abandoned homes and construction equipment.
The sun was low and so as the tide when we reached Yi O Bay. The tidal flat is the ideal place for mangrove trees to thrive.
As we left Yi O Bay and headed towards Tai O, a few dogs came the opposite direction towards Yi O. One by one the dogs walked across the mudflat and disappear into the village of Yi O.
The mudflat of Yi O Bay faces north towards Pearl River Estuary.
Reflection of the western sun and distant mountains and the incoming tidal water on the mudflat of Yi O Bay was quite picturesque.
The sun was fading fast behind the silhouette of mountains adjacent to Yi O.
The flag of Yi O flew high at a nearby concrete pier.
Despite the hazy weather, the sunset over Pearl River Estuary was quite spectacular.
About an hour after we left Yi O, we arrived at the small village of Fan Kwai Tong (番鬼塘), across the bay from Tai O.
We walked across the Tai O Promenade from Fan Kwai Tong (番鬼塘) to Tai O (大澳). The tide was coming in as the last twilight faded.
In early evening, the popular Tai O wasn’t as busy as we thought. Without the tourist groups, it was our first time to experience the charm of Tai O as a tranquil fishing village but not a busy tourist trap with vendors trying to sell you all kinds of souvenirs and snacks.
Without the tourists, we could leisurely admire the beauty of the fishing community. After a long day of hike, we decided to have dinner in Tai O before returning to the city centre.
As we entered Tai O, vendors selling dried seafood to tourists were about to close their stalls.
We soon reached the iconic suspended bridge of Tai O. The festive lights from the Chinese New Year were still up.
We crossed the suspended bridge to enter the main part of the fishing village.
Without the noise from tourists, Tai O was quite peaceful. Many inhabitants were preparing dinner in their stilt houses.
We passed by an interesting shrine dedicated to the deity of the local land.
Tai O Community Centre is the main venue for cultural activities at the fishing village.
We passed by a number of shrimp paste shops and manufacturers, an industry that Tai O has been famous for many generations. Many of the shops were already closed for the day.
After wandering through Tai O, we ended up at Tai O Heritage Hotel. The hotel was established in 2009, after extensive renovations were carried out for the historical police station built in 1902. We dined at the glass roofed restaurant Tai O Lookout in the hotel. The food was nothing spectacular but the historical setting of the complex and the airy atmosphere of the glassy building offered us a pleasant experience to finish the day.
After dinner, we strolled through the village once again heading for the bus station at the village entrance.
The tide was much higher than an hour or two ago, and so as the moon.
All the stores near the bus station were closed. We waited for about ten minutes before boarding a Lantau bus for Tung Chung at North Lantau, where we would switch to the MTR, Hong Kong’s super efficient metro system, to return home.
At the southwest tip of Lantau Island, the Fan Lau Peninsula (分流) extends out into the Pearl River Estuary, with its northwest facing the slightly brown water of Pearl River and its southeast to South China Sea’s pristine blue. Only accessible on foot, at this westernmost corner of Hong Kong, deserted beaches and abandoned village homes of Fan Lau reminisce some of the city’s long lost memories. The pleasant and relatively flat 6-hour hike to Fan Lau has been on our wish list for quite some time. Known as the Lantau Trail Section 8, the first part of the trail brought us onto a coastal trail, where open views of the South China Sea dominated the horizon, with the hazy silhouette of Lantau Peak or Fung Wong Shan (鳳凰山) behind us in a distance. In the trail’s second part we made a detour onto the Fan Lau Peninsula to visit its various attractions. Then we followed the Lantau Trail Section 7 north to Yi O and then Tai O, our final destination of the day.
In a sunny but hazy winter Saturday morning, we took the ferry from Central to Pui Wo of Lantau Island. On our way to the Central Pier, we passed by Lung Wo Road where the annual Hong Kong Marathon was taking place. After arriving at Mui Wo of Lantau Island, we boarded a local bus for Shek Pik (石壁) Reservoir to reach the trailhead.
The first half hour or so we walked along a storm-water channel right by the mountain foot.
With the day’s heavy hazy, we could only barely see the silhouette of Lantau Peak or Fung Wong Shan (鳳凰山) behind us.
In less than an hour from trailhead, we made a short detour out to a peninsula near Kau Ling Chung (狗嶺涌) to check out the South Obelisk (嶼南界碑). The small obelisk was erected by the British in 1902 to mark the southern boundary of Lantau Island.
The hilltop of the South Obelisk offered us a good view of the beaches of Kau Ling Chung (狗嶺涌) and Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣) further afield. We followed a path down to the campsite and beach of Kau Ling Chung, and walked further southwest towards the tip of Fan Lau Peninsula.
The coastal path up and down the peninsula took us closer to Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣).
We finally reached the main beach of Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣), and were delighted to find the colourful rocks on the sand.
Unfortunately, other than rocks we could also find a never-ending blanket of rubbish on the beach.
From the main beach, there was a small path that led to Chan’s Store, one of few houses in Fan Lau Village that were still occupied. In fact, according to South China Morning Post, the owner of the store could well be the only resident left in the village.
Many houses in the area were already overtaken by vegetation.
The village was mostly desert, except for Chan’s Store. We picked up a can of soft drink and rested for a few minutes.
From Chan’s Store, we returned to the beach of Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣). At the end of the beach we exited the beach into a narrow uphill path. A peculiar rock (石筍) stood atop the hill overlooking the beach, just a few minutes before we reached the remnant of the old Fan Lau Fort (分流炮台).
Built in 1729 by the Qing government, the fort was abandoned in 1898 when the British were granted the lease of the New Territories. It was originally built to defend the coastal area from pirates.
Also on the Fan Lau Peninsula was a mysterious stone circle. Archaeologists believe that the circle was arranged for ceremonial purposes during the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
Leaving Peninsula behind, we stumbled upon a small beach called Fan Lau Miu Wan (分流廟灣), where a Tin Hau Temple was built. The temple was probably erected in 1820.
There wasn’t anyone in the temple when we entered. The neat altar and fresh offerings on the counter suggested the temple, though remote, was under well maintenance.
In the temple’s anteroom there was a traditional bed with slippers and shoes on display. Maybe that chamber was some sort of representation of the home of the deity?
In another small chamber there were old stone plagues dated from late Qing Dynasty, Nationalist era, to just a few years ago. Each plague recorded a major renovation of the temple and the names of donors (mainly from individuals and business around West Lantau. There were also two wooden boat models on display.
After checking out the temple, we stepped back onto the Fan Lau Country Trail. Some parts of the trail was dominated by taller-than-human silver grass.
As we left the tip of Fan Lau Peninsula behind, Fan Lau Country Trail led us back to the main path of Lantau Trail Section 7, where we once again encountered the former settlement of Fan Lau Village (分流村).
At this westernmost area of Hong Kong, Fan Lau Village once housed 200 people, but now there could be only one inhabitant left (owner of Chan’s Store). We passed by plenty of abandoned houses in various state of crumbling.
One of the highlight in the village was the former Fan Lau School.
There was only one room in the building. The blackboard was still on the wall. There was a photography show by artist Lily Leung on display in the building. Her works depicted a strong sense of nostalgia of the nearly abandoned Fan Lau.
Many old utensils were left behind in the village, including a stone grinder below a banyan tree.
In most of the abandoned houses, there was a mezzanine floor. Large ceramic containers were also common.
The wooden roofs of many village homes crumbled, while walls were taken over by vegetation.
One of the most impressive building in Fan Lau Village was undoubtedly the ancestral hall. Some travelers set up a tent right in front of the former ancestral hall.
Some village houses revealed unique preferences of the former residences.
Glass details of the old windows revealed the age. These glass windows were popular decades ago, but is now a rarity.
Before leaving Fan Lau Village, we passed by another iconic structure from the village’s heyday, a chimney structure right by the Fan Lau Sai Wan (分流西灣). After the village, we continued on our hike on Lantau Trail Section 7 northwards to Yi O.