Hiking in Hong Kong
Lung Mun Country Trail &
Shing Mun Reservoir
Distance: 23.5 km
Time: 6 hours
Ascent: 1081 m
Date: July 2018
Start: Tsuen Wan MTR
End: Tsuen Wan MTR
Do Lung Mun Country Trail if:
you crave beautiful, secluded trails
you’re after a runnable trail without long steep climbs (except that last stair section)
Avoid Lung Mun Country Trail if:
you would prefer not to wear a silk veil for much of the trek
Do Shing Mun Reservoir if:
you like having a choice of trail or road
you want to get up close and personal with the local wildlife
Avoid Shing Mun Reservoir if:
you want the trail/road to yourself
Note: this hike should have taken a lot less than six hours. I was mesmerised by beauty of the forest and stopped no less than 300 times to take photos. Adjust your expected time accordingly.
On my map the Lung Mun Country Trail looked fairly close to where I lived, and at only 5 km long it seemed like an easy one knock out. It started in the middle of nowhere and ended at Shing Mun Reservoir, also referred to as Pineapple Dam. I studied the map and decided to tack on a loop around the reservoir before making my way back to the start via unnamed (but hopefully accessible) trails.
My hike commenced at Tsuen Wan MTR, from where it was an easy walk (with the help of my phone) out of town, up several hundred stairs and past a couple of temples to reach the catchwater jogging path. As usual dozens of locals were out getting their daily exercise, enjoying the car-free, flat paths overlooking the city of Tsuen Wan.
I had planned to take a small trail up to a peak labelled Fu Yung Shan, but as per usual my map had let me down and there was no access to this track from the catchwater. I continued on, finding the main set of concrete stairs leading up the hill, and started climbing. After a while I noticed that every 50th step was numbered, giving me a running tally of my efforts (starting from the catchwater). The last step was painted 719. I’m pretty sure I ascended that many from Tsuen Wan just to reach the catchwater. So over 1400 steps done and I hadn't even stepped foot on dirt yet. It was going to be another decent workout for my legs today.
At the top of the stairs I found the peak I was initially searching for, with a lookout towards Lantau. After quick pause to soak up the view I continued on up the trail (which was now finally composed of earth rather than concrete), climbing yet more stairs to reach the beginning of the Lung Mun Country Trail. I was worried I wouldn’t find the turn off, but I didn’t need to be concerned – the gigantic archway stating I had arrived was a bit of a giveaway.
I was in love with my first steps on the trail. Dense, mossy forests, gushing rivers, an undulating dirt path, and not a soul in sight. It was perfect. I clambered over rocks up to small waterfalls, spotted frogs hiding under rocks, and listened to the birds in the trees. I could have walked through there for hours. The only downside was the constant spiderwebs, causing me to clutch at my face and arms every few steps. It seemed like no one else had walked this route today, and I was the one who copped the full force of the arachnids’ handiwork.
Eventually the forest gave way to tall grasslands, giving brief glimpses of distant skyscrapers. The sun was shining and I felt like I was a million miles from anyone else. The forest quickly returned and brought with it bright orange soil, the whole scene being reminiscent of the Australian countryside (except for the torturous humidity). The spiderwebs definitely reminded me of home.
I turned onto a wider, better maintained path and started descending. I knew I was getting close to the reservoir when I started encountering other hikers, the first I had seen since starting the trail. My peaceful solo journey was over, and I was heading towards the crowds.
Thousands of steps later I arrived at the bottom, at a wide picnic area with three other occupants. Two of these were human. The other was a large pig. He had discovered an upturned bin (or perhaps he had knocked it over himself) and was enjoying the discarded scraps of previous picnickers. I crept up as close as I felt comfortable, doing my best not to alarm him. He appeared more interested in the food than me, and didn’t react to my presence. After his meal he found a log to rub his belly on, and spent several minutes giving himself a good scratch. I could almost feel the enjoyment he was receiving from this action. Although it looked quite funny, he seemed like the happiest pig in the world. Finally he wandered off into the forest, maybe in search of another bin to raid.
From the picnic site it was down more stairs to a nature trail alongside the reservoir, which led to further steps down to tourist central. Busloads of people were being dropped off, mostly local residents on a day trip out of the city. The buses provided an easy escape route if I wanted to give up now and head home, but I wasn’t even halfway through my planned hike and I had no reason to quit. The set up here was very hiker-friendly: not only was there public transport, but also clean toilet blocks and well-stocked vending machines. I could have done with the latter on my recent Hong Kong Trail hike.
I followed the south side of the dam until the path branched in two directions. The lower path followed the outline of the reservoir at close to water level. The upper path climbed high above it. As the lower path was part of the Wilson Trail, I planned to save that for another day. Plus I thought that the higher route might offer better views over the water and surrounding mountains. I'm not sure I made the right choice.
After climbing a short set of stairs I started what was labelled the Reservoir Walk. I soon discovered that this route was entirely on the road, compared to what looked like a natural path forming the Wilson Trail. The road ascended and descended continually, sometimes gently, sometimes sharply. The forest on either side was lovely, but I didn’t feel connected to it walking along the asphalt. The title Reservoir Walk was slightly misleading, as sightings of the dam were few and far between. I saw more people than water views as I continuously passed groups of Sunday strollers. To top it all off, halfway around it started to rain. It wasn’t the most enjoyable 7-8 km.
There was one redeeming feature: monkeys. I came to a bridge that was taken over by a whole troop of monkeys. Of course I stayed here for ages, attempting to get closer and closer to take a photo. A couple of times the larger monkeys would give me a threatening look and start walking towards me, forcing me to back off. I didn't exactly know what an angry monkey looked like, but I guessed it was something like what I was witnessing. I was more scared that they would take my phone, thinking it was food, rather than attack me. The babies were adorable, running back and forth along the railing and swinging between the posts, but I made sure I kept my distance. I eventually pressed on, keen to get out of the rain and not wanting to push my luck with papa monkey.
Once I had almost completed a loop of the dam I turned off up a steep road, ready to tackle the trails back to where I started. I chose this road rather than returning via the Lung Mun Country Trail as I hoped to avoid the thousands of stairs I had descended to reach the reservoir. My wish was granted, and I only had to deal with almost vertical slopes rather than a never-ending stairway.
At the 16 km mark I was off the road and gratefully back onto a trail, one that would return me to the top of the Country Trail stairs. This definitely was not a popular path, being overgrown in places and devoid of the hundreds of walkers I had encountered along the Reservoir Walk. Which of course meant I loved it. It wasn’t long before I was back on the main trail though, where I only had a few stairs to ascend before I could venture off onto unnamed paths and hope they would take me where I wanted to go.
The first section was incredibly steep, and the rain had caused the soil to become slick. Luckily the large number of exposed roots provided a natural staircase that gave me some traction. Up and up and up I clambered, until the forest gave way to open grassland. Seemingly out of nowhere I was now looking down over Tsuen Wan, the high rises appearing much closer than I expected. I felt like I was high up in the mountains, but the towering peaks ahead of me suggested I didn’t know what high was.
The grassland turned into forest again, and I turned onto a path directing me towards the catchwater. This route ran parallel to the Country Trail, offering similar scenery but at a greater altitude. Still I climbed higher, the sharp inclines causing my muscles to burn and sweat to pour off me. I wonder how my body will react come winter, when temperatures are 20 degrees cooler and the humidity disappears. I could carry half the amount of liquid with me, and I could probably fly around these trails without feeling like I was going to die of heatstroke.
I arrived at a junction where I had the option of taking a path leading back to the Country Trail, or continuing on my parallel journey. I wanted to continue on. The route had other plans for me. A sign in front of me read: Road closed, landslip risk. By the look of the trail no one had walked along here in a long time. I debated my choices and for once I listened to the signs. I turned towards the Country Trail.
It ended up being a rewarding decision. Only 100 metres or so down the path was a lookout point with almost 360 degree panoramic views, gazing out over the city in front of me and the taller mountains behind me. Through the haze I could see all the way to Hong Kong Island, its skyscrapers sitting in front of distant peaks. It was by far the best view I had seen all day. I stayed there for a while, taking it all in, appreciating the solitude, but also conscious of the dark clouds forming behind me. A hundred or so photos later it was time to make my way down this hill and hopefully beat the storms back.
I would definitely not recommend this path in the rain. The narrow, exposed, dirt track was already slightly slippery due to the morning’s shower, but during a heavy downpour I could imagine it would become a river. I thankfully managed to make it back to the more stable terrain in the sheltered forest without incident, which even surprised myself (I am notorious for falling over at some stage on a trail).
More roots, rocks and stone steps followed, and then I was back on the Lung Mun Country Trail. A short hike returned me to the first lookout I had visited that morning, then it was the 1400 or so steps back down to Tsuen Wan (just as the storms started - perfect timing).
I’m not sure why this trail captivated me so much compared to other trails in the region. Maybe I needed a day to myself, in nature, away from the city. Maybe I was comparing it to the last trail I hiked, the Hong Kong Trail, which left me slightly disappointed. Maybe because at times it was reminiscent of home. Or maybe I just woke up in a good mood and I could have found the beauty in anything. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t have asked for a better day out in the hills of Hong Kong.