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Unmasking ‘The Big Lychee’

Hong Kong snapshot_1

As a nickname, it’s not nearly as popular as ‘The Big Durian’ (Jakarta) or ‘The Big Mango’ (Bangkok), but some expats have affectionately called Hong Kong ‘The Big Lychee’. Native to the rainforests of southern China, the lychee fruit is protected in a thin, brittle shell concealing a delicate pulp with an aromatic, perfume-like flavour.

Intensely sweet and dangerously “heaty” in traditional Chinese medicine, the fruit tree’s presence in the local geography is reflected in a handful of historic place names, including ‘Lychee Point’ (Lai Chi Kok), ‘Lychee Hill’ (Lai Chi Shan) and the village of ‘Lychee Nest’ (Lai Chi Wo). These names are a dramatic counterpoint to Hong Kong’s Gotham-like appearance on the silver screen.

The enduring image of narrow, gritty streets bristling with neon signs befits one of the most densely-populated cities on earth, and it’s a semi-romantic notion that is happily mined by action film directors, video game developers and artists. Though not at all inaccurate (except for presenting an explosive, crime-ridden environment ruled by the Triads), it does not give audiences the full picture.

Another Hong Kong awaits just over the hill, often a quick ferry or bus ride from the gleaming, self-important corridors of the financial district. Here, the endless din of the big city gives way to the hum of cicadas and birdsong, and the ocean surf laps audibly against a rocky coastline dotted with almost 90 beaches. Outdoors enthusiasts will take joy in the fact that 40% of Hong Kong’s land area is protected country park, and its warm waters shelter mangroves and hard coral.

In this post I’ll be presenting some of the simple joys I’ve found from Hong Kong’s four corners, in a series of unpublished photos gathered from the past year and a half. It’s a tribute to the surprising diversity and natural beauty of my hometown, and an invitation for you to go beyond its famously crowded streets.

Island resident, Cheung Chau

Island resident, Cheung Chau

Village houses, Cheung Chau

Village houses, Cheung Chau

Pak Tai Temple & playground, Cheung Chau

Pak Tai Temple & playground, Cheung Chau

Ham Tin Wan Beach, Sai Kung

Ham Tin Wan Beach, Sai Kung

Blue House, Wan Chai

Blue House, Wan Chai

"Wall tree", Sai Ying Pun

“Wall tree”, Sai Ying Pun

Dog days, Shek O

Dog days, Shek O

Village road, Shek O

Village road, Shek O

Out to sea, Shek O

Out to sea, Shek O

Country park, New Territories

Country park, New Territories

Reflections, New Territories

Reflections, New Territories

Star Ferry, Victoria Harbour

Star Ferry, Victoria Harbour

Butcher's stall, Central wet markets

Butcher’s stall, Central wet markets

27 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for the stroll around Hong Kong. I have been lucky enough to get off the beaten track on my visits. I love Hong Kong and look forward to my next stay there in early October.

    July 15, 2013
    • You’re more than welcome, Debra. I’m glad you have good friends here to show you around!

      July 15, 2013
  2. Beautiful images.

    July 15, 2013
    • Glad you enjoyed them. 🙂

      July 15, 2013
  3. Nice pics. I love it. 🙂

    July 16, 2013
  4. Hard to believe you can still find a quiet place like this in HK!

    July 16, 2013
    • Surprisingly, HK has plenty of pockets of solitude. You just have to know where to look!

      July 17, 2013
  5. Love Lychee fruit!

    July 16, 2013
    • It’s also one of my favourites – and perfectly understandable when you have a sweet tooth!

      July 17, 2013
  6. Love that Wall tree James – it’s like nature reasserting itself in man’s concrete jungle.
    Thank you for this glimpse into parts of Hong Kong not usually trampled by tourists!

    July 17, 2013
    • Absolutely, Dennis! Those “wall trees” are a hallmark of some of the older districts, especially on Hong Kong Island. In some cases it almost suggests a scene straight out of the Cambodian jungle…

      July 17, 2013
  7. I love how tropical Hong Kong is, but I didn’t know it has 90 different beaches! I’m glad that so much of it is protected so business can’t knock down the trees and build skyscrapers on top of everything. Some of it should stay untouched. That picture you took of the mountains in Country Park reminds me of the movie Jurassic Park! 😀

    July 17, 2013
    • I agree Rachel; it’s a great thing the colonial authorities started the country park network back in the 70s. There was once a time when the South China tiger roamed the forests… but sadly those are now long gone, except for a few places in China where they still live.

      July 17, 2013
  8. I’m glad when I went to HK last year you took me to some of the places most tourists don’t know. The more I read your posts on HK, the more I want to come back one day. It’s amazing how some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers share the same tiny island with secluded beaches.

    July 17, 2013
    • I would say the great outdoors are one of HK’s most underrated assets – few people seem to know about this whole other dimension that lies just beyond the skyscrapers. It’s a bit of a shame, but then again I’m not sure I’d want busloads of visitors pulling up and decamping at my favourite beach…

      July 17, 2013
  9. Great captures. Thanks for sharing. I love the one with the cat 🙂

    -following ur blog

    July 18, 2013
    • You’re welcome, Kai. Thanks too for the follow. 🙂

      July 19, 2013
  10. I’m amazed by the survival of that Wall tree. Thx for the photo. And is that desolate beach like that often…deserted?

    July 21, 2013
    • There are quite a number of them scattered around the older, more historic parts of the city. That beach in particular only fills up on weekends… and even so the only way to get there is by hiking or chartering a boat!

      July 26, 2013
  11. Great entry. I’m currently living in Hong Kong and I think you presented the alternative side of the city very accurately. There really is so much more beyond the regular tourist trail.

    July 24, 2013
    • Thanks, Michael! Hong Kong’s great outdoors is simply underrated… few visitors make the effort to go beyond the frenetic streets and star attractions. I would say that most don’t even know that side of the city exists.

      July 26, 2013
  12. Enjoyed your lovely tour of a Hong Kong less trodden James. The new territories in particular grab me. But I love the gritty central markets equally. It has been four years since our last visit. Itching to return 🙂

    July 30, 2013
    • Thank you, Madhu! It’s amazing how much Hong Kong can pack into such a small area. 🙂

      July 30, 2013
  13. BHD #

    Great post, James! I’m heading to S. Korea and Hong Kong a year from now so I will remember your thoughts as I visit the Big Lychee! Cheers!

    September 15, 2013
    • Thanks for that – I hope you enjoy my hometown when you come next year!

      September 15, 2013

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