Hiking in Hong Kong
Tai To Yan
Distance: 9 km
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Ascent: 780 m
Date: October 2022
Start: Wu TIp Shan Path, Fanling
End: Lam Kam Road, Lam tsuen
Explore this place if:
you like a variety of terrains and environments
you want views across all directions of Hong Kong
Avoid this place if:
your preference is for a dirt climb over a stair climb
you like hikes with gradual ascents
Several years ago I ran in a trail event that passed over Tai To Yan. I remember thinking it was beautiful, but I didn't have time to stop and stare at the scenery. I put it on the to-do list and soon forgot about it. Recently, I revisited that list, and there it was: Tai To Yan to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. I don't mind exploring a garden every now and then, so I thought it would be a great idea to combine the hike with tour of Kadoorie. However, in my research I discovered that Kadoorie was also an animal farm, so I decided to give it a miss.
The trek commenced in the town of Fanling at small, roadside garden (or sitting out area, as they call them in Hong Kong) beside a temple. I ignored both of these as I headed to the start point, Wu Tip Shan Path.
There was zero warm-up time. The path went straight up at an insane angle, which had my heart thumping within seconds. Over the first few hundred metres I calculated it was about a 15% gradient, which is an angle I would prefer to be eased into. At least it was paved and shaded, but I wasn't loving how busy it was. It seemed that everyone in the area exercised here.
It wasn't long before the stairs started, intensifying the gradient even further. Just below the first peak, Kei Lak Tsai, a group of elderly locals were performing a dance workout. Dancing is the last thing I felt like doing after getting up here.
The peak offered my first view of the day, out towards the mountain range of Tai To Yan. I had to scramble around a man meditating on a rock just to take a photo of what I had to look forward to. Meditation seemed a much more appropriate activity up here than dancing.
From the top I followed an easy path going downhill combined with stairs going in both directions. After 2.5 km I happily hit dirt, where it was noticeably quieter. I guess the locals preferred the stability of the concrete, but my preference was definitely for the bare earth. At some point along here I left Wu Tip Shan Path and started on Tai To Yan Path. That’s when things started getting serious.
Stairs. Never-ending stairs. Not only did the stairs continue, they increased exponentially. I didn't see anything for the next kilometre or so but stairs. Every time I reached the top of one set, I'd turn the corner to find another rising up in front of me, the end out of sight. It was soul crushing. I didn't remember this section during the race, and I might not have returned if I did. Although it wasn’t the steepest trek I have undertaken in Hong Kong (I’m giving that title to the climb up to Suicide Cliff), the legs were definitely feeling it.
Just when I thought I couldn't take any more stairs, I hit Pak Tai To Yan, the smaller of the two peaks on this mountain. I hadn't even hit the 4 km mark, but I had already accumulated well over 500 m of elevation. The view was incredible, out to the east towards the town of Tai Po and Tolo Harbour beyond. Plover Cove Reservoir was just visible in the background. By this stage the clouds had come across, which was great for the ascent but not for my photos.
Just below the peak, I passed a sign urging me not to proceed due to the dangerous nature of the path ahead. This wasn’t the first time I had seen this sign in Hong Kong. It also wasn’t the first time I ignored it.
From here the trail undulated across a rugged terrain. There were a few more stairs thrown in but mostly I was going up and down dirt and rocks. This was my type of trail. The views out east continued, but now I could see out northwest too, all the way to the skyscrapers of Shenzhen. After a while I entered a gorgeous forest, where the virtually flat path carried me across the mountain range in the cool of the shade.
Once I emerge from the trees, I pushed up the final climb to the peak, Tai To Yan, at 566 m above sea level. I had only booked 6.4 km from the start line, but my legs felt like they had done a great deal more. The panoramic view was superb, all the way around from Shenzhen out north, Tolo Harbour out east, and around to Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong's tallest mountain, in the south. Way below me I could see the road that marked the end of the trail, and I knew I had a step descent waiting for me. At least the clouds and the cool breeze meant the sweat meter wasn't so high.
The downward climb followed an exposed ridgeline, giving me views of Hong Kong on both sides as well as the rise and fall of the trail ahead. It wasn't hard to see why it was called Razor's Edge Trail in English. This was the section I remembered from the race, and why I had wanted to come back - it was stunning, and easily my favourite part of the day. It was steep and slippery, and at times I was forced to jump from rock to rock just to make my way down. But I didn't care how hard it was; I was just loving the scenery around me.
The path eventually entered another pretty forest, where sturdy stairs carried me downhill for an eternity. When I eventually hit the road and the end of the trail, I sat in a bus stop to eat my lunch. I had planned to catch a bus home from here, but in the end I decided that 9 km was not enough of a workout. I picked up my pack, hoisted it on my back, and embarked on the stair-filled journey back to Fanling.