Hiking in Hong Kong
Tai Lam Nature Trail &
Yuen Tun Country Trail
Distance: 22 km
Time: 5 hours
Ascent: 770 m
Date: June 2018
Start: Castle peak Rd, Sham Tseng Village
End: Castle peak Rd, Sham Tseng Village
Do this hike if:
hiking on roads is agreeable with you
you're an animal lover
Avoid this hike if:
you prefer trails made of dirt
surprise animal encounters don't sit well with you
The decision to trek these two routes came about for two reasons: the names kept popping up as I hiked the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail, and they also appeared on my map as I researched trails in the area. While they covered the same region, each followed a slightly different course. They ended near to each other, so it gave me the perfect opportunity to walk one on the way out, and the other on the way back.
I caught the bus down Castle Peak Road and got off at Sham Tseng Village, where I started and ended the hike. With map in hand I navigated the back streets and alleyways to find the inevitable set of stairs heading up the hill. In less than a kilometre I hit a road, which carried me to the trail head for the Tai Lam Nature Trail.
It didn't take long to discover that this was going to be less of a "nature trail" and more of a "walk up the road". A wide, paved, empty road. A close scrutiny of my map confirmed that it was bitumen from start to finish. That was less than ideal. As I had already commenced I decided to keep going, hoping that there was some redeeming feature to make it worthwhile.
Overall, no, there wasn't. But there were a couple of highlights. First was a tiny ecological park set up on the side of the road, with a two minute walking path through the middle. The signs advertised butterflies, and they didn't lie. Numerous species were spotted flitting between the flowers, and if I could have been bothered I could have identified each type using an information board. It was a lovely area but the minuscule size only held my attention for a couple of minutes.
The next positive point was the main lookout, almost three kilometres along the trail. Although the weather wasn't the greatest, the far-reaching views in three directions gave a sense of the vastness and greenness of the countryside. There was much to explore out there.
A little further along the trail I had one of two disconcerting experiences of the day. Up ahead I could see a clearing with a lookout over the water, so I eagerly powerhiked towards it. Just before reaching the viewpoint a large herd of cows came sauntering out of the forest, crossed the road to the clearing, and took off down the side of the mountain. I kept my distance, not wanting to get between a parent and their calf, happy to finally see the animals rather than just their poo (it was everywhere). Once most had cleared the area I took a couple of photos at the lookout then set off again down the road. But I wasn't alone. The last cow to come out of the forest was the big daddy, a bull as tall as me with horns as long as my arm (well, almost). For some reason he decided I looked like better company than his family, so he pursued me down the road. Every few seconds I glanced over my shoulder, wondering if he would start charging towards me. I had no idea what to do if he did, other than hide behind one of the slim trees nearby. My heart rate was elevated at this point, and it definitely wasn't because of the hike. I don't know why he picked me but I really wished he hadn't. After a few minutes he must have decided I was fairly boring, and he wandered away. Relief.
As much as I was hating the road, there were three great aspects to it: 1) It was impossible to get lost. 2) There were no stairs. 3) Zero spiderwebs. This last point almost swayed me from trail hiking to road hiking. Almost.
It had been cloudy all day but just as I reached the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir, the sun came out. Not when I was on top of a mountain, not when there was a scenic view in front of me, but when I was down at the lowest point with nothing of interest to look at. Today's hike was not going on my highlights reel.
Past the reservoir the road continued uphill, where I somehow missed a turn off onto a trail. An actual trail. It was the only off-road portion of this entire route and I walked straight by. I checked the map and found that the road I was on circled around to meet up with the end of the Tai Lam Nature Walk, so I hiked up to this point and came down the trail from the reverse direction. It only lasted 750 metres, but it was easily the best section of whole trek. Of course I ran into the obligatory spiderwebs with giant spiders waiting to ambush me, but being able to step foot onto solid earth made the risk worthwhile. If only it had all been like this.
Taking the road back to the reservoir allowed me to join up with the start of the Yuen Tun Country Trail. Within minutes I was off the paved surface and climbing up hundreds of dirt steps. This was more like it. Being able to stretch my arms out to either side and touch leaves was what I had in mind, not a space so wide that two Mack trucks could pass by each other with ease.
Once I reached the top of the stairs the rest of the trail was gently undulating. The views were few and far between, however the constantly changing scenery was fascinating. From lush, dark green fern valleys, to bamboo plants towering metres above me; dense forests so thick the light could hardly penetrate, to exposed sandy tracks dotted with shrubs. I thought it was the best trail I had walked in Hong Kong so far (despite the relentless spiderwebs), although my opinion was skewed by the dirtless route I had taken that morning.
The second disconcerting experience happened in this section. I was walking along, listening to the insects and birds in the trees, when all of a sudden there was a rustling sound, then a loud, high-pitched noise, followed by hundreds of small animals flying out from a tree beside me. I had no idea what they were, but they looked like either giant moths or small bats. I immediately froze as they flew off, then tentatively took a few more steps. At the next tree, the same thing happened. The noise, the chaos, the fear that they would fly in my direction and attack me. That didn't happen, but after a repeat of the performance at a third tree I was ready to get out of there. A mini-sprint through this section and I was back to the peace and quiet I cherished.
About 2.5 km from my starting point the trail ended at a campsite, and turned into road. I followed this down the hill, joining up with the Tai Lam Nature Trail again. I was back to civilisation, where all the friendly people I passed said good morning or something to that effect in Cantonese (I tried repeating one phrase back to an elderly man. He just laughed and walked off). All day I had seen three cyclists and maybe a dozen walkers, but only on the roads - the trails I had all to myself.