Taipei’s skyline has long been dominated by one building, Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings. Nowadays, it still is but it’s got company in the form of the Nan Shan Plaza and at least another skyscraper is under construction in the area. The best way to get an up-close view of Taipei 101 and its surroundings is Xiangshan (Elephant Hill), a small nearby mountain. There is a popular spot consisting of several boulders that is ideal for selfies but there are more than one vantage point. Besides Taipei 101, you can get sweeping views of the city as well as the northern hills.
As 2017 comes to a close, I’m not too sad. It was a rough year both personally and broadly speaking, regarding what was happening in the world (which I will touch on in another post).
My time in Hong Kong finally came to an end a few months ago. While things were disappointing for me on the work front as I left my job (one which I really busted my ass at), my time in Hong Kong helped me learn some important lessons, renew old friendships, make a few new friends, and save up a bit. I also did some good hikes though not during the summer when it was terribly hot. If there is one aspect about HK I really like, it is the hiking, which is easily accessible whether you’re in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, or the New Territories; and which offers some fantastic views of the sea, greenery and urban scenery.
Looking out to the sea and the eastern fringes of Hong Kong island from Devil’s Peak in Kowloon
Dragon’s Back hike has been called the best in Asia and it’s not hard to see why. This was my last hike in Hong Kong, done during my second-to-last week there
Sometimes the older and somewhat rundown buildings are the ones with the most character in Hong Kong, like these in Sai Ying Pun.
I’m not exactly a fan of cosplay and anime but I still decided to attend the anime convention in the summer. It was kind of decent.
During my last days in HK, I moved out to this hotel near my apartment. Great views, terrible rooms.
The smoky interior of Man Mo Temple’s main hall, with its lanterns and coils of burning incense
Continue reading “Hong Kong 2017 photo roundup”
In previous posts, I’ve pointed out that Hong Kong, despite being famous for its concrete jungle, is actually covered by a lot of mountains and nature parks. But besides that, Hong Kong is also a maritime city, surrounded by water and virtually next to the Pacific ocean. Well, specifically, it’s the East China Sea, but that leads to the Pacific. So Hong Kong is also full of coves, bays, and even beaches, as well as lots of small islands. While some of these places require a bit of hiking and/or a long transit to get to, others are a few subway stops and a short hike away.
One such place is Lei Yue Mun (Carp Channel) near Yau Tong, on the eastern edge of Kowloon. Between Yau Tong and Hong Kong island, there is a narrow gap that leads to the sea to the east, while to the west is Victoria Harbour. The two sides of the gap collectively are called Lei Yue Mun. In the old days, this was a vital strategic point that guarded the eastern side of Victoria Harbour from enemy ships. As a result, the British built forts and gun batteries in Lei Yue Mun. In Yau Tong, you can see the remnants of some of these battery walls, but not cannons, on Devil’s Peak, which is only a little over 200m high, but has some brilliant views of Junk Bay and the sea. You can also see Victoria Harbour as well though that is partly obscured. Despite its name, hiking Devil’s Peak isn’t that hard, but it does involve a long walk from Yau Tong subway station to the trailhead along a steep road (the Lion Rock hike is also the same – the walk to the trailhead from the subway is harder than the actual hike). Once you get onto the trail, it takes about 20 minutes or less to reach the summit and gun battery.
Just over the hill is the Lei Yue Mun gap
Looking to your right on Devil’s Peak lets you view Victoria Harbour, Wan Chai (left) and the rest of Kowloon (from the centre to the right)
Part of the gun battery
The start of the trail
Junk Bay. Even such a secluded cove has a large residential complex
Hong Kong kite, the local bird of prey
As one of Hong Kong’s most well-known mountains, Lion Rock is regarded as a symbol of Hong Kong’s working-class resilience as it developed into a prosperous financial hub in the latter half of the 20th-century. This originated from a local 1970s TV show called “Below the Lion Rock” about working-class families living in communities below Lion Rock.
At 495m, it is not very high but it commands the best views of urban Hong Kong, letting you take in Kowloon, Hong Kong island and even the smaller islets in the west. To have so much of Hong Kong spread out below you is a fantastic feeling, though one which you will likely have to share with dozens of people around you on the peak. Lion Rock also has a special role in recent politics as a physical platform to express ideas. Since the Occupy Central protests in 2014, Pro-Hong Kong democracy activists have scaled its cliffs to hang political banners, which were then promptly taken down by the police.
I climbed Lion Rock from east to west, going from Wong Tai Sin MTR station to the Shatin Pass Road, going up the trail head there, and coming down by a small garden to Chuk Yuen Road. I followed the directions here, which is an excellent site for Hong Kong hikes. The walk to the trailhead on Shatin Pass Road was probably the most gruelling part. It is a funny trait of several Hong Kong hikes that the walk to the trail is much tougher than the actual hike itself. The Peak hike on Lugard Road is the same in that the walk to the trailhead from Sai Ying Pun station is the most arduous part.
Hong Kong is covered with hills, and Hong Kong Island, where the main business and government offices are, is no different. It makes a very striking contrast when you have forested hills and skyscrapers juxtaposed with each other. Previously, I’ve posted about the Peak Lugard Road hike which provides the best urban sight from above in the world. Well, Braemar Hill, near North Point on the other side of the island, also provides fine urban views.
More specifically, these fine views can be seen atop a pile of boulders that form a vantage point called “hong xianglu feng” (紅香爐峰) in Chinese (according to Google Maps). What you see is on your left, Wan Chai and its distinctive Hong Kong Convention Center by the waterfront, and on your right, Kowloon. Further to the left or behind you are lush forested hills that make up Tai Tam Country Park. It was a bit hazy on the day I went there, so the views would be even better on a fine day. The dirt path to the boulders lies just off the main trail which is a concrete path.
The hike itself is not very hard, taking less than one and a half hours walking from the ground, though there are several trails that extend further south and towards higher hills. I headed up to Braemar Hill from Mount Parker Road which is several minutes’ walk west of Tai Koo MTR Station. There is an alternate route (I did it the opposite way from east to west).
It almost seems like skyscrapers grow on hills in HK
Nice view of a cruise ships and sailboats with Eastern Kowloon in the back
Black kite, Hong Kong’s most common bird of prey
Some kind of sailboat race or procession was going on
The boulders from where you get the best views
The dirt path in the center, which is just off the main trail, leads to the boulders in the photo above.
It’s like you’re never far from a jungle of towers wherever you go in Hong Kong. This is at the beginning of the trail.
As we get set to move into the Year of the Rooster with Chinese New Year coming up on the weekend, enjoy this photo round-up from a CNY trip to Huangshan a few years ago. While it certainly wasn’t the best time to visit the mountain, it was still enjoyable enough.
The subject of countless paintings, photos and literary references, Huangshan is one of China’s most beautiful mountains, and it is not hard to see why. Despite not being able to hike around the paths at the top in full and having to share it with thousands of Chinese tourists, I was still able to experience some of the mountain’s beauty and magnificence.
With Chinese New Year coming up in just a few weeks, it’s fitting I should finally write about my first Chinese New Year in China in 2014.
Back then in Beijing, I made a spontaneous decision one week in advance to travel to somewhere in the country, specifically Huangshan, one of China’s most famous mountains. In hindsight, it was a foolish decision and I learned my lesson not to travel to places at the exact same time as multitudes of Chinese. But, the trip was still kind of good. I didn’t go all the way to Anhui from Beijing just to visit Huangshan, but also Xidi and Hongcun, two grand old villages in the area that are also UNESCO World Heritage sites. Hongcun is especially beautiful, and scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were shot there.
I had long wanted to visit Huangshan, one of China’s most beautiful and famous mountains, its mist-covered slopes and pine trees a familiar image in countless photos and paintings. Its beauty has been paid tribute to in poems and ….. So when the New Year holiday came up and as I wasn’t going overseas, I decided to go to somewhere in China, thinking that the crowds would not be as bad as during the National Week in October (I was told this by at least one acquaintance as well). I deliberated between Shanxi (Pingyao and Datong) and Huangshan and the latter won out. However, I was going to spend several days in the area, which meant staying in Tunxi, a small town an hour away from Huangshan. Getting to Tunxi meant taking a high-speed train from Beijing to Nanjing, then taking a sleeper from there to Tunxi.
Situated in Central China, Anhui is probably best known, besides Huangshan, for being the setting of The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. Set in 1930s China, this novel follows the hard struggle of a peasant amid poverty, war and instability as he tries to move up in life. While China, and the province, has long moved on from those terrible times, largely agricultural Anhui is still one of the country’s poorer provinces despite having rich neighbors like Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Many migrant workers in the country, especially in Shanghai and Beijing (I also had a couple of colleagues and friends from there, though they weren’t migrant workers) hail from Anhui. However, Anhui is also the ancestral home of former Chinese President Hu Jintao and current Premier Li Keqiang.
But Anhui’s earthy reputation belies an interesting cultural heritage (Huizhou) that culminated in a distinct regional architectural style with black roofs and impressive wooden designs, which Xidi and Hongcun both feature some good examples of.
My trip was eventful even before it actually got underway because when I got into Nanjing, my favorite Chinese city actually, in the afternoon, I tried to find a bus to Tunxi but there wasn’t one since it was Chinese New Year. I then booked a ticket on a sleeper train but I had several hours to kill. As I wasn’t feeling to sightsee, I went to book a room at a nearby hotel. But what was supposedly a straightforward task turned out to be a jarring shock because I was turned away from several hotels because their system didn’t allow Hong Kongers (I’m one by virtue of birth and ID card) to book hourly rooms. I’d heard of similar experiences happening to Westerners when trying to book a regular room but I didn’t think this could happen to Hong Kongers as you know, being part of China. But finally I found one where the boss told his receptionist to let me stay, saying “it’s New Year, let him in,” displaying a fitting holiday generosity that was glaringly lacking from all the other hotels’ staff.
The train trip was straightforward and I got into the town in the morning, taking a taxi to my hotel, with the driver refusing to use the meter because “it’s New Year.” I went to the village of Xidi that first day, then went to Huangshan the next by a one-hour bus to Tangkou, a tourist village at the foot of the mountain. It seemed I arrived too late despite it being early afternoon, I learned that crowds would mean going up by cable car would take hours. My plan was to take the cable car up and hike around the paths on top because that was where the views were.
I had a decision to make – return to Tunxi and come back the next day bright and early, or stay in Tangkou for the night, thus paying extra for another hotel. I chose the latter because I wanted an early start. After I found a hotel, I took a walk through the village which provided some fantastic views of Huangshan from the ground. I did get that early start but apparently 6 am wasn’t early enough, because when I left my hotel at that time the next morning, I found the street filled with other tourists making their way to the car park to take the bus to Huangshan visitor center (from there, you then hike or take the cable car up the mountain). The car park itself was filled with people and the lines were crazy. Eventually I got into one and after what felt like an hour, got into a bus.
That felt like a relief, but it was temporary because when I arrived at the visitor center, I saw even more people than there were at the car park! When I approached the cable car station, the line was so long it started from the second floor or the station and extended downstairs and outside.
As before, my plan was to take the cable car up so I could hike around the top. With no choice now, I would have to hike to the top and hope I had enough time and energy to walk around the trails on the peak. As Huangshan is not that high, it took me about two and a half hours (fitter people can surely do it in less time), and while I was traveling solo, I was accompanied by dozens of Chinese. Some were in tour groups while others were with friends or family, and noone seemed to be hiking solo like me. Being in China, some of those folks just couldn’t keep quiet so there was a constant chorus of shouting, yelling, and throat-clearing, as well as music playing on little portable radios that some older hikers in China and Taiwan like using.
The nearer I reached the top, the better the views got and I was able to get a glimpse of the much vaunted peaks with clouds that Huangshan is famous for. It is a beautiful mountain up close, not just from afar, with its forested slopes and rocky granite peaks. Along the way, you’ll pass well-known rock formations and trees, such as the first photo on top, and these are even named, for example, “God Points Road” and “An Immortal Pointing the Way” (probably sounds better in Chinese).
But when I got to the top, I realized there was a lot of people there as well. I continued walking and got onto a trail, figuring the crowds would thin out along the mountaintop. But no, everywhere I went there were people, and the trails were so clogged, it was impossible to pass people. After continuing for over an hour, the sheer congestion meant I couldn’t make a circuit of the trail, and also I’d have to hurry back to the cable car station if I wanted to make it down by mid-afternoon. I hadn’t planned to stay another night in Tangkou as I wanted to get back to Tunxi.
I wish I had been able to hike around the paths on top and I feel I will return to do just that in future. Huangshan hasn’t seen the last of me yet!
Lineup for the cable car at the foot of Huangshan, at 8 am. No way was I going to endure that, so I chose to hike up instead.
The hike up was pleasant in some parts.
The higher I got, the better the view as the mountaintop started appearing.
There was a bit of the sea of clouds for which Huangshan is famous for.
Lineup for the cable car at the top of Huangshan
Perfect view of Huangshan from Tangkou
One really good thing about Hong Kong is that it is very hilly and a hiker’s paradise. Not many people may realize this because the main images of Hong Kong that always get shown are soaring skyscrapers and densely packed apartment towers. But from Lantau to Hong Kong Island to New Territories, these places are all covered by hilly terrain. The hills and mountains of Hong Kong and its concrete jungles are like worlds apart, except on Hong Kong Island, where there is one hike that combines the two and gives you the world’s best urban views from on high.
This would be the hike to the Peak along the Lugard Road trail, which I’ve done twice starting from my neighborhood, which required a lot of walking up steep and winding streets, and from Sai Ying Pun, closer to the route. Alternatively, you can go up to the Peak by taking the famous funicular tram or a bus, and then walk westwards. Either way, this trail provides a splendid view of Hong Kong Island’s array of corporate skyscrapers and apartment towers, the harbour, and the southern tip of bustling Kowloon across the body of water. On a good day, like the second time I went, you can look up north and see the hills where Kowloon ends and the New Territories begin in the distance.
The first time, in May, I meant to walk around upper Sheung Wan but when I realized it was close to a path to the Peak, I kept on walking until I reached it. Then I followed the trail, which actually is part of the Lungfu Shan Park, and took the southern route to the Peak which has nice views of the sea. It was actually quite hazy but the view was still quite good. After I reached the Peak, I took the northern route, the aforementioned Lugard Road trail, and then went back down. The second time, in mid-June, I went up from Sai Ying Pun, which is the district next to Sheung Wan, to the Lugard Road trail, reached the Peak, then turned around and went back to Sai Ying Pun. It was incredibly hot but the skies were so blue and the views amazing, so it was damn worth it.
A lot of people probably don’t realize Beijing has mountains. This is because much of the city center is flat (and smog often obscures the views), but Beijing is actually ringed by mountains that extend from Haidian district all the way to the Great Wall and towards Hebei.
When I lived in Beijing, I only did two hikes near the city. Both were in Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills). Located in the northwestern part of the city in Haidian district, a little further beyond the old and new Summer Palaces, the 557-meter-tall Xiangshan is a decent, scenic choice for an outdoor outing. The whole place is a park, created all the way back in 1186, and was visited by emperors. At the foot of the hill are a garden, a Buddhist pagoda and Biyun Si (Temple of Azure Clouds), which features a large white stone pagoda called Vajrasana Pagoda. While Xiangshan isn’t too high, there is also a chair lift which I never took but I wish I did. The hill is nicely forested, though the path is a concrete stairway with little pavilions along the way. Interestingly, Biyun Si also has an exhibition dedicated to Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese political icon. This is because after Sun died in Beijing in 1925, his body was placed at the temple until being taken to Nanjing to be buried.
The first time I went there was in the afternoon and I only went halfway up the hill because I didn’t think I had enough time, but the second time I went up all the way. The summit was crowded with people, noisy and shouting and creating quite a commotion, as Chinese tend to do. On top, you can look onto urban Beijing but still feel that you are in a completely separate place, with forest and mountains all around you. You can even see the Summer Palace’s lake. I always intended to go back again, but given I lived all the way on the other side of the city, I never did.
Here are more photos of Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko, which lies near the foot of the mountain.
Almost as if I were soaring in the clouds
Volcanic crater on the summit
This is on the trail at the fifth station, where I started from
Rock cairn on the summit
Close to the top
Looks like a grave