At the east end of the Eight Mountains of Kowloon (九龍群山), dozens granite quarries had been around in the area of today’s Kwun Tong (觀塘) since late 18th century. Mostly operated by skillful Hakka workers from Guangdong, four of the largest quarry settlements, namely Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角), Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣), and Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門), were collectively known as the Four Hills of Kowloon (九龍四山). Beside stone quarries, houses were constructed for the miners and their families, and piers were erected along the harbour to export the mined granite to other parts of Hong Kong, China, and even overseas to Japan and Europe. From granite stone in the 19th century to concrete aggregates in the 20th, stone quarrying was once a major industry in East Kowloon. Not until 1967 when the government banned the use of explosives at a time of social unrest that stone quarrying in Hong Kong had officially came to an end. Since then, many former quarries and worker villages have been built over and entirely erased from the urban context. In East Kowloon, not a trace of the historical quarries and worker settlements can be found in today’s Ngau Tau Kok and Sai Tso Wan. Two years from now, Cha Kwo Ling would also get wiped out from the map. With Victoria Harbour’s last stilted houses still standing along the shore, perhaps by reinventing itself as a tourist attraction and seafood designation that Lei Yue Mun may be spared from the fate of brutal demolition a little longer. Sitting across the harbour from Shau Kei Wan (筲箕灣), Lei Yue Mun and Cha Kwo Ling have long been seen as remote and accessible only by boat from Shau Kei Wan. In the latter half of 20th century, roads were finally built to connect Lei Yue Mun with Kwun Tong industrial town. With Lei Yue Mun’s affordable rent, seafood restaurants gradually found their way into Lei Yue Mun, transforming the former quarry settlement into a vibrant tourist destination. The former quarry and ruined structures have since become selfie backdrops for visitors.
Rising 200m above Lei Yue Mun Village, the lush green Devil’s Peak (魔鬼山) offers visitors a pleasant lookout of the surrounding scenery. Long before the arrival of tourists, Devil’s Peak was a crucial military site overlooking Lei Yue Mun Channel and Victoria Harbour. Batteries and redoubts were built between 1900 and 1914 on the peak to guard the eastern gateway of Victoria Harbour. While Devil’s Peak has nothing to do with the Devil, the name does remind visitors that Lei Yue Mun was once home to notorious pirates, prompting the colonial government to name it Devil’s Peak. Today, remnants of the military structures have become popular attractions for tourists and war game players. For anyone willing to climb the stairs up Devil’s Peak would certainly be rewarded with a magnificent view of Victoria Harbour on one side and Junk Bay (將軍澳) on the other. It wasn’t the finest day when we climbed Devil’s Peak. But the hazy sunset over Victoria Harbour was still impressive, forcing us to make a brief stop to take in the scenery. Below the hill, we meandered through the narrow alleys of Sam Ka Tsuen Village (三家村), passed by the pebble beach and small lighthouse where contented sunset watchers were about to leave. Back at Sam Ka Tsuen Typhoon Shelter near the village entrance, neon signs of Gateway Cuisine (南大門), one of the village’s largest seafood restaurant, were lit up to welcome the first customers of a rather peaceful night.
After an isolated retreat at Siwa Oasis, I once again headed back onto the road. This time, the destination was my home in Toronto. The journey from the Egypt’s Western Desert to Canada took me first to Alexandria and Cairo by land, and then Athens and Zurich by air before touching down on the North American soil. I took an 8-hour night bus leaving Siwa at 22:00, and arriving Alexandria in early morning the next day. I sat beside a friendly old lady who kept on offering me peanuts. After some snacks and chat, I felt asleep with my headphone music. When I get up, Alexandria was just minutes away.
Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, Alexandria is the largest city by the Mediterranean and the second largest city in Egypt. In the Classical era, the city was well known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and its Great Library, the largest library in the Classical World with 400,000 scrolls. The city itself was once the largest city in the western world before overtaken by Rome. Alexandria remained as the capital of Egypt for a thousand years from Ptolemaic Egypt, throughout much of the Roman and Byzantine era until the Muslim conquest in 641 AD, when the political centre of Egypt was shifted to Cairo. By that time, the magnificent city that once rivaled Rome and Constantinople was already largely plundered and destroyed. In the modern age, Alexandria regained a part of its former glory as an important port of international trading, connecting Egypt and its products (such as Egyptian cotton) to the outside world.
Known as Asia’s largest remaining colonial fortress and an UNESCO World Heritage site, Galle is a popular tourist destination in southwest Sri Lanka. Galle has long been an important trading port of the island since ancient times. Cinnamon was exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC, and Galle was likely the main port of export. Throughout history, Galle traded with the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese, Arabs, Malays, and Indians. Sri Lanka’s colonial history began when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century and built a fortified city in Galle. Galle continued to serve as the main port for spices export. In 1640, the Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch East India Company. After the takeover, the Dutch built the fort that we saw today with bastions and a solid granite wall. In 1796, Galle and Sri Lanka changed hands again when the island became a British Crown colony named Ceylon. The 400-year colonial rule came to an end in 1948 when independence was granted to establish Dominion of Ceylon in the Commonwealth. Then 28 years later in 1972, Sri Lanka finally became a republic. From four centuries as a colonial port of export for spices and coffee (then replaced by tea) to a tourist town based on commercialization of its colonial past, Galle’s fortune has always been tied with the outside world.
We dropped off our backpacks at the baggage storage in Galle Railway Station, then found our way into the old fortified city.
The first thing we saw inside the fortress was Galle Services Club (est. 1947) and the 1883 clock tower.
Located on the highest point in the fortress, the Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk) was built by the Dutch in 1755. It was the third Dutch Reformed church in Galle and signified the rise of the Dutch after the Portuguese.
Further down the road from the Dutch Reformed Church stands All Saints’ Church, Galle’s first Anglican Church (consecrated in 1871) and a powerful statement by the British.
The former Dutch warehouse from the 17th century has become the National Maritime Archaeology Museum.
In 1796, the British relocated the emblem of the Dutch East India Company from the outer gate to the inner, and put up the British Royal Emblem at the outer gate.
The interior of the old gate is used for motorcycle parking.
First built by the Portuguese, then renamed to Zwart Fort (Black Fort) by the Dutch. We accessed the Black Fort via a police compound. At Zwart Fort, a staff came out to show us around and told us about the history of the place.
The Old Dutch Hospital was established by the Dutch to look after the staff of the Dutch East India Company. Then the British extended the building and converted it into a barracks. After independence, the building was used as the town hall. In 2014, the building was once again converted into a shopping and dining complex.
Meeran Jumma Masjid looks more like a church than a mosque, but this Islamic prayer hall has been around for 300 years already. More than half of the population inside the fort are Moor. They are believed to be descendants of the Arab traders who settled in Sri Lanka at around the 9th century.
Galle Fort is built on a rock peninsula and there are a few small beaches near the lighthouse.
The Galle Lighthouse is the oldest light station in the nation. The original was built by the British in 1848 but was destroyed by fire in 1936. The current 26.5m tall lighthouse was constructed in 1939.
Strolling or cycling aimlessly within Galle Fort is a nice way to explore the town.
In Galle Fort, Dairy King icecream has been recommended by a number of guidebooks and blogs.
Dairy King is a great place to take a short break during a visit to Galle Fort.
Many houses in Galle Fort have been converted into guesthouses, restaurants, or shops catered for tourists.
The ambience of the colonial times is the top selling point for the tourist industry in Galle.
Some old mansions are transformed into high end retail shops for fabrics, furniture, housewares, and other design items with a twist of Sri Lankan style.
Established in 1892, Al Bahajathul Ibraheemiyyah Arabic College is one of the oldest Islamic Arabic institutions in Sri Lanka.
On our way out of the fort, we passed by Sri Sudharmalaya Buddhist Temple, a Buddhist temple with a unique appearance. The temple dated back to 1889. The belfry of the building suggests that temple might be converted from an earlier church.
Known as the eastern gateway of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour (維多利亞港), the sea channel of Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門) is the narrowest point of the harbour between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. During the British colonial era, defending the channel of Lei Yue Mun was seen vital for the protection of Hong Kong Island. Military defense had been set up on the hills at both sides of Lei Yue Mun, many of which can still be seen today as historical sites. The area in East Kowloon around the Lei Yue Mun Channel is also called Lei Yue Mun. One of the most important villages at Lei Yue Mun is Sam Ka Village (三家村) . Since the opening of Yau Tong (油塘) MTR Station in 2002, visiting the once remote Lei Yue Mun has became just a half an hour metro ride from Central Hong Kong. While in the old days Lei Yue Mun was well known for its typhoon shelter and villagers were mainly engaged in the industries of fishery, farming and mining, today when people thinks about Lei Yue Mun the first thing comes to mind is definitely the seafood. With its picturesque seaside village setting, fantastic lookouts for the sunset, and romantic ruins of the former quarry buildings, Lei Yue Mun has much more to offer than steamed prawns and broiled lobsters.
In the afternoon, seafood restaurant staff were busy preparing for their evening business.
The Main Street at Sam Ka Village of Lei Yue Mun has dozens of seafood restaurants. Most restaurants install large glass tanks at their shopfront to display their catches of the day.
Beyond the cluster of seafood restaurant, Sam Ka Village is a tranquil village by the sea.
The Lei Yue Mun Lighthouse has been standing at the waterfront for over half a century to guide the sea traffic at the eastern gateway if the Victoria Harbour between Sau Kee Wan (筲箕灣) on Hong Kong Island and Sam Ka Village in Kowloon.
Living by the Victoria Harbour has became a luxury feature for Hong Kong’s real estate. At Lei Yue Mun, living by the sea literally means having a house exposed to the wind and waves at a few feet above the sea.
Fishing is one of the most popular hobbies for local villagers.
Like many other villages by the sea in Hong Kong there is a Tin Hau Temple in Sam Ka Village.
The semi open forecourt of Lei Yue Mun’s Tin Hau Temple is full of hanging incense.
Behind the Tin Hau Temple, there is a popular fortune teller.
Founded for nearly 150 years, Lei Yue Mun was a village known for agriculture, fishery and mining until the 1960’s. After gradual decline of the three industries, today’s Lei Yue Mun is best known for its seafood restaurants.
The stone quarry site at the southern tip of Lei Yue Mun has been abandoned since the 1960’s.
Mining has been around in Lei Yue Mun since the 19th century. In the British era, Hong Kong is well known for its fine grained granite stones. The ruins at Lei Yue Mun are the remnants of Wong Yin Quarry (旺賢石廠), which was abandoned in 1968 after explosives were banned for mining.
Ruins of the old jetty, sea walls, stone houses and concrete foundations of the former quarry have became a romantic ruin for all to enjoy.
Young people love to come here to take photos, or just chilled out by the sea.
Some visitors like to climb onto the alcoves on the seaside stone cliffs to have some sober moments by the sea. Beyond Lei Yue Mun and across the Junk Bay or Tseung Kwan O (將軍澳) stand the new residential developments at Lohas Park (日出康城).
While most were enjoying the sunset or taking selfies at the ruins, a young lady came to one of the stone beaches to collect garbage.
In the late afternoon, even the dogs look truly relaxed at Lei Yue Mun.
While Hong Kong has been known for its materialistic way of living, villagers in Lei Yue Mun seem to maintain a relatively simple lifestyle.
Under the western sun, a swimmer enjoys himself swimming in the Victoria Harbour. Given the amount of boat traffic in the harbour, swimming in Lei Yue Mun is in fact a dangerous act.
Late afternoon or early evening is definitely the best time to visit Lei Yue Mun’s Sam Ka Village.
Watching the sunset is so popular in Lei Yue Mun, especially for photography enthusiasts. Most would gather near the lighthouse to witness the sun moving behind the skyline of Sai Wan Ho (西灣河).
The super tall residential developments Grand Promenade (嘉亨灣) look absolutely out of proportion.
As the day’s last twilight fades, a distinct ambiance emerges as the neon signs of the seafood restaurants are being lit up.
In the relaxing atmosphere of Lei Yue Mun, even a dog would wear a bow tie to pose for visitors.
The once vibrant typhoon shelter of Sam Ka Village has became a leisure place for busy Hong Kongers to escape from their daily hassles.
Half an hour after sunset, the neon signs of the restaurants have taken over the night at Lei Yue Mun. Leaving Lei Yue Mun by boat at Sam Ka Village Pier is the best way to bid farewell.
While remote Fan Lau (分流) is the westernmost village in Hong Kong, Po Toi Island (蒲台島) is its counterpart at the southernmost point of the territory. From 2000 inhabitants in the 1950’s down to about 10 today, like many rural communities in the city, Po Toi Island has gone through a rapid decline in population in the modern era. The remote island with a population of merely 10 would become lively during weekends when a few boat loads of visitors arrive at the dock. Beautiful granite formations, ancient stone carving, a lone lighthouse, a few simple houses, several fishing boats and nets, and racks of drying seafood and seaweeds, Po Toi Island is a peaceful getaway less than an hour ferry from either Aberdeen (香港仔) or Stanley (赤柱). A day before Chinese New Year in a fine Sunday morning, we decided to take the 8:15 ferry, the only scheduled departure of the day, from Aberdeen to Po Toi.
There are either one to two ferries on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from Aberdeen going to Po Toi Island. On Sunday, there are more Po Toi bound ferries departing from Stanley. For us, we opted for Aberdeen because of the unique scenery of its famous typhoon shelter, the home of Aberdeen Floating Village (香港仔水上人家). There were once over 6000 inhabitants living on the boats in Aberdeen, one of the most significant port in Hong Kong since the 19th century.
Today there are still a number of boat villagers staying, and so as their fleet of fishing boats, seafood stalls, floating restaurants, and the seafood wholesale business, etc. At 7:30am on a Chinese New Year’s Eve, local residents were busy shopping for seafood from the fishermen at Aberdeen Waterfront Promenade. On such an important day of the year, their seafood would be sold out in less than an hour.
Decorations for the Chinese New Year could be seen at piers and boats along the promenade.
Under the soft morning sun, colourful boats of all sizes crisscrossed the waterways among the boats parked between Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau Island. The Ap Lei Chau Island sheltered Aberdeen from the wind and waves of the open sea, making Aberdeen Channel one of the best typhoon shelter in Hong Kong.
Despite most fishermen have moved onto apartments in Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau, the scenery of Aberdeen is still dominated the channel and typhoon shelter.
The open waterway in the middle of Aberdeen Channel was like a water highway to us.
Our ferry also passed by one of the famous floating seafood restaurants in Aberdeen.
And we also passed by the Ocean Park, the iconic ocean-themed amusement park and aquarium.
From a distance, we also recognized the beautiful Repulse Bay.
Our ferry finally docked at Po Toi’s pier at Tai Wan (大灣). There weren’t that many visitors around. We only shared the island with a handful of tourists and the remaining Po Toi inhabitants.
Po Toi remains as a remote, sleepy and simple fishing village. From the pier, we walked for a few minutes to reach the main beach in the middle of Tai Wan (大灣). There was a seafood restaurant called Ming Kee, probably the only seafood restaurant on the island.
Dried seafood (fish, squid, and even octopus) were common sights.
There were racks on the main beach Tai Wan (大灣) where villagers dried their fishing nets and other fishing equipment.
Some houses on Po Toi were colourfully painted, presenting a great match to the bright blue sky.
On the other end of Tai Wan (大灣) stood an old Tin Hau Temple, dedicated to the sea goddess of Tin Hau for protecting the fishermen at the sea.
Inside the temple, we saw a number of decorations related to the fishing culture of Po Toi, such as the wooden model of a dragon boat.
Adjacent to the Tin Hau Temple, we followed the metal chain up the granite hill to start our day hike.
On two thirds the way up we could clearly see the magnificent scenery of Tai Wan (大灣) and the public pier below.
Looking south we saw Lighthouse no. 126 and the southern tip of the island.
We leisurely walked down the hill in the direction of the lighthouse.
On our way we passed by some graves facing the sea, quite a scenic resting place for the departed.
Atop another hill we encountered a well known attraction on Po Toi. Known as the Monk Rock, this rock formation resembled a Buddhist monk when viewed from afar.
A few tents were set up near Lighthouse No. 126. Po Toi is a popular spot for camping. Far from the city’s light pollution, those who brave for the night here get a chance to admire and photographing the starry night sky.
We finally reached the No. 126 Lighthouse, a simple white washed structure perched on top of granite rocks, overlooking the southern shore and the vast South China Sea.
Reaching the No. 126 Lighthouse at the southernmost point of Hong Kong overlooking the boundless water in a day of very fine weather was emotional and satisfying.
We then moved on to the real southern tip of the island. The South China Sea looked surprisingly busy with cargo ships.
Heading back towards the pier, we reached another attraction of Po Toi, the interesting rock formation with large vertical stone strips known as the Buddhist Palm.
More graves appeared as we walked closer to the village. Like grey boulders, the tombstones looked quite blended in with the overall natural setting.
There are a number of ancient stone carvings in Hong Kong and its outlying islands. There is a mysterious one on Po Toi, simply known as Po Toi Island Stone Carvings (蒲台島石刻).
Back to the village, we decided to sit down at Ming Kee (明記海鮮酒家), the only seafood restaurant on the island.
We just ordered their set lunch with shrimps, squid, small abalone, sweet and sour pork and stir fry vegetables.
After lunch, we wandered along the beach at Tai Wan (大灣).
Po Toi is the most famous spot in Hong Kong for seaweed and kelp. We could clearly see the seaweed above the water.
There were drying kelp and seaweed allover the tiny village. We couldn’t resist but bought a few packs.
A dog lying beside the rack as if guarding the drying kelp.
Before leaving the island, we sat down at one of the simple snack shops and ordered the kelp and green bean soup (海帶綠豆沙), a sweet delight full of aroma of seaweed and herbs that every visitor should try a bowl.
Named after the ship captained by Fitz Roy who took Charles Darwin on board to study natural science around the globe, Beagle Channel was one of the three sail routes where ships could go between the Atlantic and Pacific before the opening of Panama Canal. The Beagle channel is narrow, but the water is crystal clear and full of marine wildlife. Doing a cruise in the Beagle Channel is a mandatory activity for all visitors to Ushuaia. There are many tour companies in town offering various boat rides up the Beagle Channel.
After the seafood lunch at Chiko, we took a boat tour with Tres Marias. With only 10 people on board, touring the Beagle Channel on a sailboat is a unique experience unlike most of the other cruise boats that can take dozens or even over a hundred of passengers at a time. While most boats would take tourists to see the sea lions and sea birds from afar, and reach as far as the Lighthouse Les Eclaireurs, we chose Tres Marias because it allowed passengers to physically land on Isla “H”, a small island in the channel within the Isla Bridges natural reserve.
The sea was calm today. After leaving our bags in the cabin, we climbed up to the deck and sat under the boom. The trip to Isla H took about an hour. After we arrived, we got about an hour to hike around the island with our guide. The island is largely covered with small plants that can survive the harsh Fuegian winds. On a stone beach, we passed by a shell mound left by the former canoe people, the nomadic Yamana. There were also various types of seaweed and seashells all over. On the high point of the island, our guide led us to a colony of rock cormorants nesting on the cliff.
After Isla H, Tres Marias took us to a colony of sea lions on a small island. Waves were higher on our way back with water splashing onto the deck every so often. Since we were sitting at the front of the boat, we both got soaking wet as if exposed to a cold shower. Overall it was a pleasant experience to sail in the Beagle Channel. It was cold, wet, but the scenery and the wildlife made it worthwhile.
Today, we left Patagonia (would return in a few days) and headed south to the Island of Tierra del Fuego. In the next few days we would be staying in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world after Puerto Williams of Chile (a smaller town at the opposite site of Beagle Channel). It was a unique experience crossing the Magellan Strait, the famous channel that separates Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. During the 20-minute crossing, we had to get out of the bus and stayed in the passenger lounge of the ferry. Our eyes were glued to the windows in the passenger lounge in hope of spotting marine wildlife. Happily, we saw a group of dolphins jumping out of the waves three times.
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