Hiking in Hong Kong
Tung O Ancient Trail
Distance: 14.3 km
Time: 3 hours
Ascent: 314 m
Date: June 2018
Start: Tung Chung MTR
End: Tai O
Do this hike if:
you want a less strenuous hike compared to other treks
you like predominantly paved walkways
you're looking for a route with coastal views and gentle undulations
Avoid this hike if:
you want to climb peaks for far reaching views
you prefer to hike on dirt rather than concrete paths
you need escape points. Once you're in, you're in. There are no roads to take you out.
The Tung O Ancient Trail roughly follows the coast along northwestern Lantau Island, from Tung Chung to Tai O. As it was near the sea I expected a fairly easy walk with little elevation gain and coastal views, and I wasn't disappointed.
From the Tung Chung MTR I quickly found a walking/cycling path that led me in the direction I was heading, so I followed this out to Tung Chung Fort (~2 km), which I would recommend skipping over unless you are a hardcore fort fan. This is technically the start of the trail, but my kilometre markings from here on will be from the MTR station.
The entire route is not well-signposted but generally it is easy to follow. I needed to use my phone for the first section, out past Hau Wong Temple, but then after that I followed signs to Tai O or small villages along the way. There are no distance markings, unlike many other trails in HK, but the occasional sign will tell you how far it is to Tai O.
Walking along the concrete path out of town I wondered how long it would be before I saw an dirt trail. My curiosity turned into an acceptance that this was not going to be an off-road adventure. The first five kilometres were almost entirely flat and were entirely paved, passing through forested and grassy environments to arrive at San Tau. This was the first village on the route, containing traditional old houses covered with Chinese characters. Nothing looked touristy, so I guessed the residents were out there living a regular life away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
After San Tau the path started to become more undulating, with short, steep hills adding some variety to the trek. I passed several locals walking between the villages, plus a couple of cyclists and a guy on a scooter, but the nearest road was several kilometres away. It was a lengthy trip by foot if you needed something in town.
Most of this next section was forested, with small plantations of palm trees, taking me back to tropical island getaways in South East Asia. Small waterfalls or creeks came down from the surrounding mountains and flowed underneath the path out to sea, but they weren't what I would consider photo-worthy. There was only the sporadic view of the water, which on the northern part of the island meant looking straight across to the airport and at the Hong Kong-Macau bridge. This quickly put an end to all tropical island fantasies and brought me back to city life.
The wildlife was the most exciting part, passing camouflaged crabs, gold-flecked lizards, giant snails, colourful butterflies and spiders as big as my hand. Thankfully the path was wide enough (and popular enough) that I barely saw any spiderwebs. The most annoying animal was the mosquito. At one point I looked down at my legs and saw 10 of them there, having a feast. A quick dousing of insect repellent soon stopped that, but it didn't prevent them from flying next to my ear, buzzing away incessantly.
The second major village, Sha Lo Wan, appeared out of nowhere. One moment I was hiking through forest, the next moment I was in a clearing with ramshackle buildings in the foreground and towering mountains behind. They picked a decent spot to live.
Through the town and back into the forest I came to the biggest hill of the day, which lasted all of 200 metres. There was nothing to see at the top, but there were enormous houses dotted throughout the area, mostly hidden by trees. It looked like people with money lived here, but we were in the middle of nowhere and there weren't even sea views, so I had no idea who lived there or why.
After about 10 km came the dreaded stairs. I had been surprised not see any stairs up to this point, and thought maybe I had escaped them here. It wasn't to be. I counted only 170 in total, a minuscule number by Hong Kong's standards. The number of bicycles deposited at the bottom suggested that this was more than enough for some.
At the 11.5 km mark is where it became interesting. The path stopped and the earth below became visible. Finally, a trail! Rocks, sand, mud, puddles - it was fantastic. And to make it even better, the forest ended and there were uninterrupted views out to the water most of the time. There was no airport now but unfortunately that bridge was still the focal point of the landscape. But to hear the waves lapping on the shore and see birds flying overhead, without a vehicle in earshot, easily made this my favourite part of the entire hike.
The trail lasted less than two kilometres. The concrete returned as the route entered Tai O, a fishing village on the west coast. Chinese stilt houses were lined up over the water, looking ready to fall down if a strong gust of wind came through. Fishing boats filled the narrow waterways, and the latest catch was displayed out the front of almost every house and shop. The entire town smelled like dried seafood, forcing me to breathe through my mouth for the five minute stroll to the bus stop. I spotted a few tourists perusing the souvenir shops, and local restaurants were getting ready for what looked to be a quiet lunch service. I would definitely describe it as a sleepy village, but also charming and fascinating.
From Tai O it's simple to catch the bus back to Tung Chung or to Mui Wo and the ferry back to Hong Kong Island. The Lantau Trail also passes through Tai O, so you could link up with this trek from here too. Or you could walk back the way you came, admiring the views from the opposite direction. For an easy half day excursion, the Tung O Ancient Trail is a worthy expedition.