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A Walk on the Wild Side, Hong Kong

The café owner looks at me long and hard, his eyes almost piercing beneath a full head of silver hair.

“I remember you. Didn’t you come here as a young boy?”

Astonished, I manage a simple “yes”, wondering how he could have recognised me after all these years.

“I think I may know your father.”

The man speaks with the familiarity of an old friend, his beaming smile a striking contrast to his sun-drenched skin. He exudes the quiet satisfaction of a lifestyle few can boast of in this city of seven million people.

I am here, on the rugged Sai Kung Peninsula, with my brother and two friends from out of town. At the next table a small handful of other hikers brood wistfully over a flag-sized map. Close by the owner’s dogs lie dozing in the shade.

We sink blissfully into our chairs, listening to the sound of waves blowing in from the bay. A tidal creek – crossed by a worn, rickety plank bridge – is all that separates us from the white sands of Ham Tin Wan.

Unspoilt beaches of Tai Long Wan

Motor boats, Ham Tin Beach

The way to lunch

Winter blossoms

A wall of beer bottles

I jab at my drink with a spoon, digging out the pineapple wedges buried under a mass of shaved ice. The swirling concoction reminds me of a semi-forgotten part of our childhoods, involving winter hikes, bumpy rides in the back of a livestock van, and grilled cheese sandwiches on the mountaintop.

It has taken us nearly three hours to navigate the 15 miles between the centre of town and Ham Tin. Perhaps a third of that was spent on foot; the rest was done via 10 stops on the metro, a double-decker bus, and a taxi for the final leg to the trailhead. Even on a weekday, the remoter parts of Hong Kong are well served by public transport.

When the conversation slows I turn around and scan the horizon. In its battered state, the plank bridge leading down to the beach seems unlikely to survive the next typhoon. But it’s been there for as long as I remember.

Soon enough the café owner returns, hands full with steaming plates of Sweet and Sour Fish and Yeung Chow Fried Rice – two of our childhood favourites.

The fish is perfectly fried, coated in a layer of crispy batter but still moist and tender on the tongue. I can’t help tattooing my rice with the reddish-brown sauce. Infused with hints of chili and vinegar, it yields a delicious, unexpected kick.

Incoming waves

Wild cows

Footprints in the sand

An empty beach

Behind a modest hut an unsuspecting flight of broken steps lead us onto an unmarked trail, rough and eroded but ripe with the promise of a shortcut over the headland. The path is a tangled web of exposed roots and loose rocks, tempered by a chain of ropes attached to the nearby tree trunks.

On the other side we are rewarded with an entire beach to ourselves, vacant except for a herd of feral cows sitting placidly by the water. This is Tai Wan, a surfer’s haven and the centre of an untamed stretch of coastline. Its name is Tai Long Wan, or “Big Wave Bay”.

Decamping in the middle of the beach, we hurriedly strip down to our swimming trunks and run headlong into the rushing waters, surrendering ourselves to the power of the sea. The wild cows linger for a while, disappearing into the scrubland with a trail of hoof prints.

Hours pass and the sun begins its slow descent over the mountains. I lie motionless on the sand, arms outstretched, feeling the water sweeping gently through my fingertips. It’s hard to imagine that just fifteen miles away stands a proud, pulsating metropolis – its streets jammed with people and the sounds of incessant traffic, all amidst a shimmering forest of skyscrapers.

The other side of Hong Kong

A breaker develops

Pounding surf


A message

Evening, Ham Tin Beach

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. It’s amazing in a place as dense as Hong Kong a quiet and clean place like this beach still exists (finding such thing in Jakarta’s coast can be a really tough thing to do). And feral cows! Ever since my visit to Hong Kong the city constantly surprises me, in the good way.

    March 31, 2012
    • We have a couple of places like this, especially in the eastern side where it’s not as built up. I will have to take you there the next time you come!

      March 31, 2012
  2. Wow this is absolutely beautiful! I had no idea that this kind of landscape existed in Hong Kong. Is there a faster way to get there than you took?

    April 1, 2012
    • There is – it’s possible to go by boat but it does cost quite a bit more. I don’t know if it operates to a fixed timetable but it’s probably your best bet in the summer months!

      April 1, 2012
  3. Wow, great stuff. It looks incredible there…

    April 1, 2012
    • It was beautiful, I couldn’t have asked for better weather myself!

      April 1, 2012
  4. Awesome writing and pics! May I make use of some of your pics from your blog?

    April 9, 2012
    • Thanks! If it’s for educational purposes please go ahead. 🙂

      April 9, 2012
      • Indeed, it’s intended for educational purposes. It adds spice to the kids’ essays when posted on the blog. My thanks!

        April 9, 2012
      • No problem, however I would really appreciate it if you could include some kind of reference – a quick mention would be fine.

        April 9, 2012
      • That’s for sure!

        April 9, 2012
      • Thanks in advance. 🙂

        April 9, 2012
  5. How can I get to Tai Wan?

    April 9, 2012
    • The easiest way is to get into the town of Sai Kung, where a regular bus service takes you to the pavilion at the start of the hiking trail. Look for the minibus 29R; it leaves from the McDonald’s outlet in Sai Kung and you’re looking to get off at “Sai Wan Ting”, the last stop.

      April 10, 2012
      • thanks a lot! nice blog by the way, will def use it if i go to spain some time 🙂

        April 12, 2012
      • No problem! I’m happy to see how much you’ve been enjoying my hometown. 🙂

        April 12, 2012
  6. I never did spend enough time in Hong Kong – and this has convinced me even more of that fact. Lovely post.

    April 26, 2012
    • You’ll have to come back and see a little more of it someday. I guess it’s like a slightly larger version of Gibraltar – and that was even more so before 1997!

      April 26, 2012
  7. Rick #

    Great pictures, they bring back good memories. One of the best beaches I have visited ever, anywhere. I will have to go back to Hong Kong sometime soon.

    September 9, 2012
  8. This is the Hong Kong I wasnt able to experience when I went there in 2010. 5 days is never enough (even if one would consider how relatively small Hong Kong is). I should go back (in the future). 🙂

    February 21, 2013
    • Absolutely James – Hong Kong is full of contradictions and surprises at every turn. After Mt Pulag, hiking to this beach will be a breeze!

      February 21, 2013
      • I agree James (weird, it’s like Im ‘talking’ to myself.haha) those contradictions and surprises make your city more appealing.

        Thanks for going through that blog entry (it ‘s my personal favorite, so far).

        February 21, 2013

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