Hong Kong is one of those unique cities in the world, known as their international image. Although such cities are a part of their own country and nation, their image is international, just like they represent the whole world. For many people the image of Hong Kong is a picture, presenting high skyscrapers, rich and luxury buildings, intensive marketing (where every famous brand has its presence) with a smell of money and pride, and millions of tourists, attracted by this “wonder of the world”.
But not many people know that this image of Hong Kong can be seen only in a small area of this city. Actually, Hong Kong is not a city, it is a Special Administrative Region, a former British colony, now a part of China. And there are two main cities inside it- Kowloon and Central Hong Kong, which is only around 20% of Hong Kong’s territory. And outside of it, everything is totally different. The rest of Hong Kong is covered by wild mountains, a maze of large and small islands, bays and peninsulas. And in some places- scattered towns, housing complexes and villages.
Geography of Hong Kong
Hong Kong is located in South China, at the same seacoast with Guangdong province. It’s land consists of a peninsula (in a highly complicated shape), two large islands- Lantau and Hong Kong, and many other smaller islands and islets. Its main urban part- Kowloon and Central Hong Kong are located only in the southern end of the peninsula and along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island. The rest of the area is mainly mountainous, including the islands. And it is covered by lush subtropical rainforest, where you can see wild animals like monkeys, wild pigs and many more.
Sai Kung Peninsula
The wildest part of Hong Kong can be found in its eastern part. There is a peninsula, called Sai Kung, and a lot of small islands around it, mostly covered by forest, a small town (also called Sai Kung) and a few villages and resorts, scattered in this forest. Some of these villages are really remote- there is no road leading to them, but only narrow paved paths. All this area is turned into a few natural parks, called Sai Kung East Country Park, West Country Park, and UNESCO Global Geo Park (featuring the volcanic sites of Sai Kung).
Far from the glamorous central urban areas of Hong Kong, Sai Kung is a place, wild enough for those, who look for adventures. So, this place really attracted us, as it attracts many adventure travelers. Thus we have planned and made a few trips there and seems we will do it again since it became our favorite part of Hong Kong.
A journey to Sai Kung
We visited Sai Kung Peninsula for the first time a few years ago. Our plan was camping in some of the campsites there. The whole trip from Kowloon to our campsite was a journey from the modern luxury to the wild. We started by subway and finished on foot through a jungle. Our route started from the highly urbanized areas of Kowloon, passed Sai Kung town, then through a few villages, and finally, we arrived in our first campsite: Wan Tsai South.
Camping in the forest
We spent our first camping night in Wan Tsai South- a nice, well-arranged campsite, with toilet, bathrooms and fresh water. There was a small beach nearby. It was not so good, but the forest was the main feature here.
There is a small wharf near the campsite, so on the next morning, we took a speed boat to another campsite- at Wong Shek Pier. It was Tai Tan campsite- a place for tents arranged on a small hill under the trees. We had a nice picnic time there, and on the next day, we explored the nearby river mouth. It was the place, where Hau Tong Kai river flows into the sea, through a lush mangrove forest.
And we often could see the local “hosts” of the forest- the cows. They are not exactly wild, although it is not clear who is their owner. Many cows wander day and night in the area. They are harmless, but they like visiting the campsites, looking for some remains from the visitors.
The wild animals
Two years later we came to the same campsite. We put our tent on the top of the hill, because the weather was unstable, with sudden rains. In the evening, we had our dinner on one of the stone tables set there. And we forgot some food on the table.
Then early in the morning, we were awakened by some guests. First, a wild pig came and started “exploring” what we remained on the table. I went out of the tent, and when the pig saw me, it ran away.
Soon the next visitors came- two large and loud monkeys. One of them grabbed a remnant of sausage and quickly jumped on the tree above the table. It looked at us, screaming angrily, ready to protect its “trophy”. The other monkey was staying aside, “laughing” loudly. Finally, they both disappeared in the thick jungle with our sausage.
But it was not the end. The third guest came- a cow. It approached the table and imperceptibly started eating what it found. And there was no way to let it go. We shouted at the cow, we tried to pull it aside- without result. The cow didn’t stop until it cleaned everything from the table, then slowly left.
Camping on the beach
That day we left Tai Tan campsite. We headed to the sea coast. We knew that Hong Kong has some small, but excellent beaches, hidden in the forests at the sea bays. And the best of them are located here, in Sai Kung Peninsula.
So, we moved by bus, then by taxi to a remote pavilion, where the road finishes. From there we had to hike about one hour, reaching one of the beaches at Dalang Bay. It was Sai Wan beach. There was another campsite there, and a small village. We set out tents on the beach sand (while some people camped behind the beach, in the forest).
What we saw there was really excellent. The beach was one of the most beautiful beaches that I have ever seen in China- wild, remote, exotic, and with relatively clear water. Actually, there are a few other beaches in this area- Ham Tin, Tai Wan, and Tung Wan- all located north of our beach, and separated by small rocky peninsulas. The beaches are surrounded by wild forests and mountains. Yes, it really looked very different than Hong Kong, which most of the people know.
Then we left Sai Kung and tried Lama Island of Hong Kong. It is also a very beautiful island, but its beaches are far from the quality of Sai Kung’s beaches.
There are actually many other campsites in Hong Kong- not only in Sai Kung Peninsula but in a few other areas. All campsites are free. Some of them are well arranged with toilets and bathrooms. There are also some small shops, cafes or bars near some of the campsites.
But other campsites are completely wild. No toilets, no water, nothing. Only a sign that it is a campsite, some stone barbecue tables, and benches, and that’s all. We were in such a campsite, on our last trip to Sai Kung. There were no other people there, but we chose it just because it was too late to look for other places.
Theoretically, it is forbidden to camp outside the campsites in Hong Kong. But if you can’t find a campsite, the night is coming and you are looking for a place to spend the night (especially in rainy weather), nobody will push you out of the place that you have found. During our last trip, we saw people sleeping even in the pavilion of the tourist center, right beside the guards, since it was rainy.
There are many beaches in Hong Kong, and all of them are actually very quite small. And the best beaches are located in Sai Kung Peninsula.
One of the reasons why the beaches in Sai Kung are the best is the nearby Pearl River Delta. Its waters are murky and polluted. And it makes the sea water at the western parts of Hong Kong murky too. The western continental part of Hong Kong, Lantau Island and the small islands around it, all these places are under the Pearl River Delta impact. But Sai Kung is on the east, far from the delta. That’s why its waters are much clearer, although far from the crystal blue waters of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Oceania.
And of course, the other reason is nature. It is the wildest part of Hong Kong. No cities, no pollution, no luxury resorts. Only mountains, covered by lush forest and small villages scattered around.
However, not all the beaches in Sai Kung are good. There are some very small beach-like coasts, with stunning natural views, but with muddy bottom. They are usually located much inside the bays, where the sea is more like a lagoon or lake, rather than a real sea. But the best beaches are those, which are opened to the big sea, and the waves and currents can reach them.
So, as I mentioned, there are four beaches, all situated at a large bay. The name of the bay is Tai Long Wan (which means Big Waves Bay), and the beaches are Sai Wan, Ham Tin, Tai Wan, and Tung Wan. And there are three more beaches in Sai Kung- also very exotic and beautiful, located in other parts of the park- Long Ke Wan, Pak Lap Wan in the southeast, and Nam She Wan in the northeast.
All these beaches are remote, far from any roads and inaccessible by car or bus. They can be reached only on foot, by hiking. And with the exception of Pak Lap Wan and Nam She Wan, there are campsites in all of them.
Hiking in the mountain
The whole area of Sai Kung Peninsula is mountainous. Its highest point is Shek Uk peak (481 m altitude), located in the western part of the peninsula. Another prominent peak is Sharp Peak, located north of Tai Long Bay. Most of the mountains are covered by deep forest, and besides the few roads, which cross the peninsula, there are only paths, great for hiking.
Yes, most of the paths are not really wild but are paved by cement, marked by signs. And many of them have their names. The most popular hiking trail is MacLehose trail. It is 100 km long, and it goes through one of the main mountain chains in Hong Kong. Actually, it starts (or ends, if you prefer) from Sau Kung and ends (or starts) at Tuen Mun, in the west.
Besides MacLehose, there are many other additional local trails, crossing the mountains of Sai Kung peninsula in various directions. In fact, these trails are the only way to reach many of the beautiful places there, as well as most of the campsite. Thus you can hike in the day, reaching a campsite and spending the night there.
Here are the main points of interest, that can be reached by these trails, besides the few roads, crossing the area, as firstly I will start with Sai Kung Town:
Sai Kung Town
This is the largest settlement in the peninsula. Sai Kung town is well known for its seafood, and trying it in the local restaurants is the best thing that you can do there. But most importantly- it is your starting point for exploring the area.
First, there is the main pier of Sai Kung Peninsula, from where you can reach the islands around it, as well as some of the other piers of the area. Second- there is the main bus terminal, where you would arrive from the central parts of Hong Kong and proceed to Wong Shek Pier, Hoi Ha or Pak Tam Junction. And third- it is the best place to make your shopping before your adventures. Buy some food, water, other drinks, and everything else that would be necessary for your time in Sai Kung.
The Beaches of Sai Kung
As I already said, all the beaches of Sai Kung are reachable only by hiking. Besides a long trek through Hong Kong, the easiest way to reach the beaches from Sai Kung is by bus to Pak Tam junction, then by taxi to Sai Wan pavilion, from where you can reach the four beaches of Tai Long Wan.
Or you can go by taxi on the other road heading eastward- to High Island Reservoir East Dam, where you can reach Long Ke Wan and Pak Lap beaches. Nam She Wan beach is the most difficult to reach. You can go there in two ways. First- by a private boat from Wong Shek Pier or other piers in the area- to Ko Lau Wan Public Pier, then walk around an hour to the beach. And second- by a few hours trekking from the nearest road (and bus stop), through Luk Wu Tsuen and Nam She Tsim- to the beach.
High Island Reservoir
It is a former strait between Sai Kung Peninsula and High Island. The strait has been closed by two dam walls during the 70s of the 20th century and turned into a reservoir. The reservoir itself is nothing special, but just a beautiful panoramic place. However, the more interesting places are beside it.
The Hexagonal Columns
It is an ancient volcanic landform, created by a certain kind of volcanic eruption. This eruption has formed unique hexagonal rocky columns at the sea coast. Such hexagonal columns can be seen only in a few places on the Earth, and one of them is Sai Kung.
Sheung Luk Stream
This is the most beautiful mountain river in Sai Kung. It flows into the sea at the northern side of Sai Wan Beach, and it features three interesting places:
– Sai Kung Rock Pools– an exotic river pools with small waterfalls pouring on them- an exciting place to swim.
– Thousand Threads Waterfall– a higher waterfall, actually the highest one in Sai Kung.
– Luk Wu Tsuen– ruins of an old village, existed centuries ago around Sheung Luk Stream.
Sheung Yiu Folk Museum
It is a former small Hakka village, located south of Pak Tam junction, only 15 mins walk on the Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail. The village consists of a few connected houses and a common yard, surrounded by a wall. Now it is turned into a museum, presenting the life of the locals from the past until now. Admission: free.
Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park
It is a bay, located on the north side of Sai Kung Peninsula, and it is the best diving spot in Hong Kong. Since it is separated from the opened sea by Wan Tsai Peninsula and other islands and straits, its water is calm and it preserves the best coral field in the area. It is reachable by bus to Hoi Ha village and short hiking from there.
The peaks of the Sai Kung mountains
Although the mountains in Sai Kung are not very tall, many of their peaks are not covered by forest, but by grasslands, revealing a stunning panoramic view of Sai Kung peninsula and the surrounding sea. The most attractive peak is Sharp Peak, located north of Tung Wan Beach.
The villages and the piers
There are many villages in Sai Kung Peninsula, but they are so small (usually only a few houses) that some of them are hard to find in the forest. Few of the villages are located near the sea coast, or beside the road with public transport. And there are also a few piers, serving mainly to connect the villages, as well as for the tourists, in some specific areas. One of the best pier, which can be used for traveling in the area, is Wong Shek Pier, which is easily reachable by bus from Sai Kung town.
The pre-historic volcano
It is another unique feature of Sai Kung, although it is presented mainly in the islands near the peninsula. The scientists consider that there has been a supervolcano, somewhere between 140 and 160 million years ago. And today we can see its remnants- volcanic rocks, hexagonal rocky columns and other volcanic formations. The whole this area is now turned into Sai Kung UNESCO Global Geopark.
Besides the hexagonal columns at the High Island Reservoir Dam, there is another interesting place with volcanic remains. It is Sharp Island, located some 15-20 mins travel by boat from Sai Kung Town.
So, you can go to the main pier of Sai Kung Town, and there you will see many private cruise tours to Sharp Island and other nearby places. We chose a boat trip, which took us not directly to the island, but first guiding us to its southern edge, where we saw a volcanic cavern. Then we proceeded to the main wharf and explored its most interesting part- the sandbar connecting Sharp Island with another small island, called Kiu Tau. The unique landscape itself was really amazing, but one of the most interesting things that we saw were the volcanic bombs- small round rocks with a cracked surface. There are also two beaches on the island, as well as a place for camping (unofficial campsite), but with not so good quality.
For this trip to Sharp Island, we found a boat for 50 HKD per person. There are various options, some of them cheaper, some- more expensive, depending on the route that they offer. And usually, the longest routes, including the eastern edges of Sai Kung Peninsula are possible only in good weather and calm sea. So you can just go to the pier and choose- there are really a lot of cruises the whole day.
Sai Kung Volcano Discovery Center
If you really want to explore Sharp Island and the other volcanic sites in the area, I would recommend first to visit the Volcano Discovery Center. It is a small museum, right beside the Bus Terminal. It is free and it can give you a good introduction to what you are going to visit.
How to reach Sai Kung
To explore Sai Kung Peninsula and the surrounding islands, first, you have to reach Sai Kung Town. The best way is by subway and bus, as follows:
- Go to Kowloon Tong MTR station and take the subway to Diamond Hill station.
- Take bus No. 92 to Sai Kung Bus Terminal. Or bus 96R (however it is operating only during the holidays), directly to Wong Shek Pier (if you have already bought your food). Other options are buses No. 99 from Heng On, No. 299X from Shatin Central and No. 792M from Tseung Kwan O station. Bus fare is 5,5 HKD. There are also green minibusses: No. 1 from Kowloon Telford Gardens, and No. 1A from Choi Hung station.
- From Sai Kung Bus Terminal you can go to the pier and choose one of the cruises to the volcanic sites of the area. Or you can take a bus to the interior of Sai Kung Peninsula, to a chosen spot from where you can start hiking, camping or cruising from a local pier. To Wong Shek Pier you can get bus No. 94. Other buses going to this direction (they are all minibusses) are No. 7- to Hoi Ha Village, and No. 9- to Lady MacLehose Village.
- If you want to reach High Island Reservoir Dam or Sai Wan Pavilion, which are also starting points of hiking to the beaches of Sai Kung, you can take a taxi from Pak Tam Chung Country Park Management Center, and the price is usually between 50 and 80 HKD in one direction. Or just walk 2-3 hours from the junction to the beaches.
Of course, the best accommodation in Sai Kung Peninsula is your tent. It can be exciting, and it is free. Also, it gives you the freedom to sleep almost wherever the night meets you. And if you want to go camping on the beaches, but arrive in Sai Kung too late, first you can take bus No. 94 to Wong Shek Pier and camp in Tai Tan Campsite, then proceed to the beaches on the next day.
But, if you don’t want to sleep in a tent for some reason (for example if the weather is not good), there are some local options nearby. We found Lady MacLehose Village, which is a really excellent place, especially if you are with kids. It is a bungalow complex, arranged for school students camp. And it provides a lot of facilities, as well as free activities for children, such as art craft, sports, games and even science (usually every morning from 9 to 11 am).
However, if you want to book a house (yes, they give a whole bungalow, which has a living room and two bedrooms with two bathrooms), it is better you do it in advance from here and confirm by calling their phone number: +852-2792 6430 or +852-2792 6417. You can try just go there directly, and most likely you can find a free house, as we did, but if you want to be sure about your booking, do it at least 10 days earlier. The price is per person and it was 57 HKD, which is quite cheap for the Hong Kong standard.
Seasons in Sai Kung
Sai Kung, as the whole of Hong Kong and the whole Guangdong province, is located in the southern part of the wet subtropical zone. So the rains are not something rare. Basically, there are four seasons in this part of the world.
The wettest season. It starts at the end of February and proceeds until May. In the first half of the season, the weather is often foggy with constant showers. Later, with the raising of the temperature, the showers turn to moderate rain to thunderstorms, followed by short sunny periods. Generally, not the best time for beach and hiking, unless you have good gear, especially a good 2-layered tent.
Hot and wet. Not good for hiking- if it is sunny, you can literally “swim” in your sweat, and there is a danger of sunstroke. For beach and camping is ok, but sudden thunderstorms are quite possible. Besides- it is a typhoon season. When a typhoon approaches Hong Kong, it is better to stay away from the area or just look for a normal accommodation.
The best season. Warm and nice. Yes, rains are still possible, even typhoons, but not as often as in summer. However, from October 1 to 7 many people from Mainland China go to Sai Kung during the National Holiday so it may be a little crowded.
Cold for beach, but good for hiking. Most of the time it’s sunny and cool. But when a cold wave comes from the north, the weather is very uncomfortable- cold, rainy and sometimes windy, a little like the winter in Britain and Ireland. Occasionally, the temperature may drop almost to 5℃.
Anyway, no matter which season you choose, you can have a great and exciting experience in Sai Kung. You just need to prepare a good camping and hiking gear, then you can enjoy the beauty of this area and its nature, exploring the wildest part of Hong Kong.
Check out some guides and other information about the wild parts of Hong Kong!
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