<A>Hong Kong - On Paths Less Traveled

Written by Mar 4, 2006 01:03
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Discovering A Green City

Crossing the border from mainland China into the modern, fast-paced city of Hong Kong is something like stepping briefly into another world. Seen in the realm of bright lights, high-tech shops, endless boutiques and glistening skyscrapers, this beautiful cosmopolitan city has come a long way from its earlier description as a "barren rock" more than a century ago and has much to offer visitors of varying interests.

My journey into Hong Kong began with a walk through the long, enclosed border corridor from the mainland city of Shenzhen. Here a full range of vendors and small shops provide a "last chance" opportunity to buy all manner of souvenirs, mementos and other personal items. After proceeding through the required customs formalities and exchanging money into Hong Kong dollars, the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) is conveniently located to whisk passengers directly down to Kowloon, a densely populated peninsula jutting out into the familiar postcard scene of Victoria Harbor. Looking across this busy harbor one catches their first glimpse of Hong Kong Island as the smell of the sea air and the charm of rolling mountains provide a backdrop for the vast line of skyscrapers and high rise buildings. Joining hundreds of others at the Star Ferry Concourse it is only a few minutes wait before the next ferry loads and departs to transport passengers across the short distance separating Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. Transiting back and forth all day and into the night hours, these busy ferries provide a crucial and inexpensive link for visitors to the island.

Though many people travel to Hong Kong particularly for the bargain shopping opportunities, open-air markets, world-class cuisine and fashionable department stores, my main goal as a hiker and nature lover was to search out some of the conservation trails and green areas within the city. Therefore, after spending a bit of time wandering along the elevated pedestrian walkways in the city center admiring the waterfront views and craning my neck upwards at the amazing architectural sights, I set out toward the fresh air of the less populated hills and mountains.

In spite of being home to several million people, I found the city of Hong Kong to be quite compact and easy to walk. It has also made a significant investment in parks for the long-term health of the community. Examples of this include the ever popular Victoria Park, the Zoological and Botanical Gardens and countless smaller parks scattered throughout different areas of the city. One conveniently located and easy to find hiking trail is named the Wan Chai Green Trail. This trail begins at the old Post Office and climbs upward from there in the direction of Victoria Peak (396 m) with its birds eye views of the city and glimmering water below. Since such nature trails generally remain off the beaten path of the normal tourist circuit, relatively few short-term visitors ever get to see the awesome natural beauty of the sights along these trails. Nevertheless, for those with time and energy, it is well worth the hike up the mountains to enjoy the beautiful island terrain and a more pristine, greener side of Hong Kong Island.

Hiking the Outlying Islands

My trip to Hong Kong would have been incomplete without traveling beyond the immediate confines of the city to see some of the vast New Territories and diverse Outlying Islands. These more remote areas are full of variety and can be very attractive for visitors wishing to get away from the crowded city streets. With Hong Kong's efficient transportation system, these outlying areas are easily accessible by ferries or the Mass Transit Railway (MTR). My own sights were set on hiking the large nearby island called Lantau Island, known to many only for the Hong Kong International Airport and the newly established Disneyland located in the northwest corner. Basing my adventures from a youth hostel strategically positioned near the famous Tian Tan Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, I explored a number of the well-marked and well-maintained trails which fan out across the large island.

The Giant Buddha is touted as the world's tallest outdoor seated Buddha and is visible as a prominent landmark which can be seen in the distance from several directions. Here, away from the bustling crowds of people, one can climb Sunset Peak (869 m) or Lantau Peak (934 m) and view a colorful sunrise or sunset from above the clouds. Hiking the steep, up-and-down path eastward along the islands central ridge, the continuous views of mountain peaks, waving grasslands, blue skies and blue sea are both restful and invigorating. Gazing farther out across the South China Sea one sees large ocean-going freighters carrying cargo from destinations all over the world, and smaller coastal fishing vessels skillfully navigated by locals.

Striking out on the trails that lead across the rural island regions, one is completely free to discover the many isolated monasteries, temples and rock carvings scattered around the island while gaining a greater appreciation for the lifestyle of the people who inhabit the steep hillsides. The spectacular mountain scenery is a photographers dream as each bend in the trail or new ascent to a craggy hilltop provides a more breathtaking panoramic view than the last. In the western section of the island those who wish can find locations to camp overnight under the wide open skies and take a break from the rigors of the mountain trails. There are also some lower-elevation and less strenuous trails along the southwestern coast for those who prefer not to scale the rocky mountain peaks where the island stretches almost up to the sky. These coastal trails lead hikers to quiet spots along secluded beaches with beautiful stretches of rocks, sand, shells and clear blue water.

One interesting small town that can be reached either by foot trail or bus is the quaint fishing village of Tai O on the western side of Lantau Island. Here, the local economy and lifestyle of the people depend completely on the sea, filling the daily market with all kinds of fresh and sometimes exotic seafood. To protect their homes from the fury of the sea, many of the old houses have been built high above the water on raised wooden stilts. Other houses and small businesses are constructed from sheets of aluminum in a fashion very similar to the hull shape of small ships. The overall marine atmosphere of the quaint village with its many fishing boats and ferries plying across the small harbor as people gather in the shade to mend their nets provides visitors with a close-up look at a simpler and more routine side of island life.

Whenever and wherever the name Hong Kong is mentioned, it is indisputably regarded as an important world-class city teeming with color and motion. Yet beyond the bright lights of the city, there is an additional and colorful side to Hong Kong that is worth exploring for those who love getting back to nature. After all the shopping, delicious dining and enjoying the fast-paced city life, it is quite possible for visitors to find refreshment and serenity in the remoter areas of Hong Kong by journeying out on"paths less traveled".

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