The dangers of hiking: evacuation on suicide cliff

Yesterday, there had to be a helicopter rescue mission on the top of Kowloon peak with an evacuation on suicide cliff. Whether it is extreme dehydration (with 35 ° C, yesterday was a day of hell) or injury, this proves that you should never attempt difficult hikes without having more experienced climbers with you.

The difference between hiking safely and being evacuated

Despite this, I went back through a different route (Middle Hill) to Kowloon Peak with a group. While not excessively difficult, it passes near to some cliffs, and hence requires being careful. The extreme heat was a complicating factor too, but we were a nicely knit group from the Hiking meetup. So, don’t forget to take a lot of water, and go slow rather than too fast. And better go with someone who knows the route.

Photo taken approximately from Middle hill on the final leg to Kowloon Peak.

Suicide cliff at night

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Suicide Cliff, an excellent spot for night photography

 

Last night, I decided to climb the Kowloon peak to manage to take a nice night picture of the city at night with the backdrop of the suicide cliff. I was not alone, as a hike leader of Hong Kong Hiking Meetup was with me.

It took however all of one hour to get to the top, but the reward was the magnificent view of the city by night and with the backdrop of the suicide cliff.

However, as shown in the daylight pics in my other post, this hike should not be done alone if you are not familiar (and even if you are) and certainly not at night if you never did that route before. It can be dangerous as there are some tight passages and there is no lighting on the way (you must carry your own torch).

Please note also that once you get near to the top of the mountain, there is often clouds over there (giving you the impression of “walking in the clouds). The inconvenience is that, of course, that may obscure visibility for your hikes.

 

BEPS and the increasing restriction on special tax statuses: Hong Kong’s case

The Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) initiative of the OECD has been influencing a lot of the visible (changes in legislation) and less visible changes in the global tax environment. We already talked about it broadly here. Today, we are addressing the issues in the offshore status of Hong Kong.

The principle of territorial taxation

Hong Kong has long been reknown for its famous “offshore” status which is actually a derivation from its territorial taxation principle. This means that, as long as you didn’t have any profit-making operations in Hong Kong (contract negotiations, order taking, and of course, sales), you could be safe from taxation.

This principle is constantly affirmed by HK courts who always look at where the taxpayer has done the operations allowing it to book a profit (for example, where the contract was negotiated, where the products were manufactured, services carried out etc). This remains a question of fact for courts and IRD alike.

So far, there was no reversal in the case law of the HK courts on the offshore status.

A change by practices of the IRD

In theory, the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) officially still upholds the principles of the territorial taxation stated in its DIPN 21. Nevertheless, from the practice of tax professionals, a change has been observed in the practices of that department: more offshore claims are now scrutinized in depth.

This is done among others through a transfer of cases to the famous and feared “Unit 4” of the IRD, also called the Field Audit Unit. Among tax advisers, the rumor is that once a case has been transferred to Unit 4, nobody comes out without paying some taxes whether high or low. De facto, that means that there is a manner by the IRD to reduce the number of admitted offshore claims.

Furthermore, the IRD has also been finding more and more elements to attach taxability to operations, such as having offices in HK, bank accounts in HK (all elements considered as innocuous until recently and rather strange if you consider that it is a legal obligation to have registered offices in HK).

Beps and the search for tax revenues

The reason for the evolution by the IRD may be twofold. Before 1997 and right until 2009, the offshore status was mainly a manner of attracting capital and bringing businesses to Hong Kong as a gateway to China. Today, while investment happens directly in China through WOOFE’s (Wholly-owned foreign enterprises) or through joint-ventures, Hong Kong has become largely dependent on Chinese capitals investing into the city and much less on foreign money.

Hence, there is much less incentive to keep an offshore status which regularly threatens to get the city blacklisted as a tax heaven.

The second reason, is that with BEPS (and also thanks to China’s pressure), Hong Kong is feeling an increasing pressure to demonstrate it is not a tax heaven.

While the official interpretation is still that the law has not changed, the attitude of the IRD has changed and they now pursue actively offshore establishments when they are based on purely tax reasons.

In fact, in a remarked decision of the Board of Review dating from 2016 did recognize onshore nature to trading profits where the company didn’t do anything in Hong Kong else than being an intermediary between a Taiwan company and a mainland company.

A progressive evolution towards the end of the offshore status?

The practical consequence of this is that while the offshore status is officially reaffirmed in communications and in the legal texts of Hong Kong, unofficially, the practices has changed.

Today, obtaining an offshore status would require probably mainly being a services company; being subject to taxes in another jurisdiction (a question which becomes a staple nowadays); and having little to no presence in Hong Kong.

De facto, we are moving towards a progressive elimination of the offshore status for “newer” companies, while the ancient ones might be keeping it, albeit with more scrutiny at any change in operations, going forward.

An interesting evolution might be found in the evolution of the offshore status in Macao. Macao, just like Hong Kong, is another “Special Administrative Region”.  Apparently a few years ago, Macao has ceased authorizing offshore companies for the sale of goods. Hence there is a limited number of such companies remaining on the market often sold at very high prices when they are for sale. It is likely that this will be the final model of the offshore status in Hong Kong a few years from now.

The Lost Markets of Bangkok (2/2): Pak Khlong Talad

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Ah, Pak Khlong Talad! This flower market was an island of poetry in Bangkok. Especially around Valentine’s day, it was a hub of beauty and of happiness.

Flowers, activity and friendliness

A bustling flower market, most active at night time, Pak Khlong Talad was a favorite destination for tourists. With its colorful flowers and its welcoming vendors, it was one of the most charming aspects of the Thai capital.

Best stall in Pak Khlong Talad
One of the best and most colorful stalls of the market.

The vendors themselves, as they sold mostly to Thais, had no incentive whatsoever to cheat or scam tourists. On the contrary, they certainly appreciated the interest of the few Westerners who took the trouble of coming and witnessing this typical market.

Rose vendor
A beautiful rose vendor talks animatedly at her stall in Pak Khlong Talad

The end of Pak Khlong Talad

In 2016, once again under the impulse of the Thai junta Pak Khlong Talad was shut down. In a matter of weeks, and despite the protests of the merchants, the market was shut down.

This, despite the fact that cleanliness was not really an issue compared to other roadside food markets. Vendors had expanded onto the street, but that made for a lively, colorful and beautiful market.

Yet, the Junta and the Bangkok Municipal Administration were relentless in their drive to push out the vendors of Pak Khlong Talad. Some late protests took place by unhappy vendors, but eventually, they all had to close their stalls and move away, either to neighboring buildings, or to other areas of Bangkok. As a result, what was left behind was a large dark and empty street.

Dark and empty street
The same street after the eviction of Pak Khlong Talad.

The Lost markets of Bangkok (1/2): Sukhumvit 38

This is a two-part series on the dying street markets of Bangkok. We will consider first Sukhumvit 38 and thereafter Pak Khlong Talad, the defunct flower market.

At the beginning of Soi Sukhumvit 38 was a vibrant and wonderful hub of street food. This hub of street food was resting especially on the tolerance of an old landlord who allowed low rents for the vendors in order to keep alive that lovely place.

Earlier, in 2016, after the death of the landlord, his heirs sold the land to a real estate company which is planning on building another of those towering condominium complexes on that land (very near to the Thonglor BTS).

As a consequence, Sukhumvit 38 street food slowly died off, most vendors relocating voluntarily or being replaced by the Bangkok Municipal Authority into closed markets. People lamented this for being the “singaporisation” of street food, but while the folklore and warmth of Sukhumvit 38 was undeniable, this had also its inconveniences, in particular grease on the pavements, poor hygiene and pollution due to the use of charcoal for open fires (see pics).

Today, the market is about dead and only pictures remain as a far reminder of a place that once enticed foreigners and Thais alike.

Back on suicide cliff!

A while after going there with the PASM phootography meetup, I went back alone on Kowloon Peak…

Difficult conditions

Due to the quick changing weather conditions on the mountain, I got caught in a small rain shower on the mountain (not ideal for lightning danger, but thankfully it was not a thunderstorm).

Conditions became a bit more difficult after the rain (very slippery ground), but still feasible. I managed to get to the top again and enjoyed the exhilarating views from above.

However, due to the slippery nature of the terrain, hiking when it rains should be avoided at all cost.

On top of the world
A great view on the city is the reward to overcoming the final obstacle: a tight ledge over the abyss.

 

 

 

The Suicide Cliff in Hong Kong: a hike to die for!

Suicide cliff is one of the most researched topics for readers arriving on this blog. I do regularly edit this post as to give you more information on the conditions and the route to follow for the hike. Look at the slideshow for a visual description of the route. You have below a Google maps route to find your way from the MTR.

A place which became famous in Hong Kong after featuring in the National Geographic, “Suicide Cliff” is so called because it is a rocky outcropping just like a springboard, with a magnificent view over the city.

A word of warning

Sadly, my original title got true as a hiker died on 29 November 2017 on Kowloon Peak. It is a dangerous hike if it is taken too lightly!

I must also admonish you if you are considering this hike: don’t be one of those hikers who end up rescued by the Government Flying Service with a helicopter like I report in several posts. I strongly advise and recommend to AVOID the Jat’s Incline route. All of the hikers who died, disappeared or needed to be rescued on Kowloon Peak happened to have taken this route. I also advise all groups hiking on this mountain to avoid imposing a fast pace to the hikers. This mountain must be climbed with patience, it is not a race to complete, given its steepness. Avoid groups such as Hong Kong Hiking Meetup which tend to impose too fast a pace when hiking.

Helicopter rescue on Kowloon peak
On 26 November 2017, at almost midnight the GFS rescues hikers stranded on Kowloon Peak.


A photographic route to the top

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Is it dangerous?

To be totally honest, the answer to this question depends on several factors. Firstly, if you have never done this route before, you are certainly increasing the risk factor. If you are not accustomed to hiking on unmarked paths and clambering over rocks, then you increase the risk factor even more. I never actually felt in danger on the southern ridge path, but then, I have some experience with hiking, and I am now familiar, having done it very frequently. If you want an idea of what it is to climb the suicide cliff from an FPV perspective, check out my post about my latest barefoot hike on suicide cliff.

It is an unmarked trail, very steep and thus could pose issues if you have fear of heights. There are some tricky passages and when it rains, rocks and mud become slippery (I know, I have been up there in the rain). Hence my second advice, definitely get shoes with a good grip and a hiking pole. This being said, the last time I climbed, I saw an old guy going down with flip flops! On the other hand, rigid hiking boots do a disservice on such terrain: you need flexibility to nestle your feet in the nooks of the terrain. In this respect, you may want to read my post about my barefoot hike on suicide cliff.

My concern over my frequent visits to suicide cliff has been mainly with the erosion of the path. The high traffic on suicide cliff is doing no good to the mountain and participating to its erosion are most people use heavy boots and hiking poles.

You can climb it at night too (see my other post here), but be sure to keep a headlight or torch in your kit in that case. You should, under no circumstances, attempt climbing suicide cliff at night if you did not climb it at least several times during the day or have an experienced guide with you. In the dark, it could be easier to lose your bearings and end on the wrong side of a cliff.

And again, please be careful. I have seen at least seven or eight times a helicopter coming to rescue people near the top of the cliff or in the middle of Jat’s incline route. That is not something for which you want to disturb rescue services. So, unless you have done the hike countless times by day, please do not hike by night and in particular, do not hike the Jat’s Incline route.

What to take with you?

Get a lot of water (2 liters is barely enough) and some snacks with you. The path is totally exposed and there is no shelter along the way, so either you get roasted by the sun, or you will be buffeted by wind and/or rain. It can get quite windy and cooler up in the mountain, so better get a change of clothes too. A light is also useful if you are caught up by the night.

In the final approach to the suicide cliff, the view is vertiginous.

The different ways of reaching suicide cliff

As it is near my apartment, I climbed it several times, at the beginning from the “easy” path, namely a set of stairs set in the mountain which offer an easier climb (although tiring if you are not fit). Get a lot of mosquito repellent, as they are quite aggressive in the forest part!

Since that first time, I climbed through a more demanding and unmarked path in the mountain starting at Fei Ngo Shan Road (Southern ridge). It was far more fun, as each time you turn around, you have really a wonderful view over the city. Most of the people climb on the Southern ridge then go down through the stairs. A few daredevils take the opposite route (which certainly shortens the way back to the city). All in all, this covers no more than 7 km, but it is demanding because of the steep initial ascent (500 meters in less than 2 km).

Some people then push through with hiking all the way to the Kowloon Peak viewpoint (which involves going up and down through three different hills on the way)

The view over Kowloon and Kowloon Bay from Kowloon Peak.

When to climb?

The issue with Hong Kong is that there is often a lot of haze on the city, hence obscuring the view. To avoid the haze, the best would be to go immediately after a shower or a thunderstorm. However, that would be increasing the risk tenfold, so I will advise against doing that. Furthermore, the little stream that crosses the path at one point (see pictures in the slideshow) may become a torrent with rain.

Best is to climb in winter, on a sunny day, in early morning (bearing in mind that the dew will give you conditions equivalent to rain) or late afternoon, to enjoy the sunset. Despite the remoteness, this place sees quite a lot of visitors during week-ends and suicide cliff can get crowded…

How to get to Suicide Cliff?

To get to suicide cliff, the best way is to start at Choi Hung MTR station. From there, grab the bus n° 16 and get down at its terminus, near Good Hope school. You will be very near to the mountain, but will still have to walk somehow to get to the starting point of the trail.

If you want to take the stairs, you must continue walking on Fei Ngo Shan road. You will see stairs starting to climb with a number “328” written in red on a rock.

The three smiths statue

The statue of the three smiths just in front of Stockmann department store.

The three smiths

In Helsinki’s center, a famous landmark is the “three smiths” statue. A donation by a private foundation, this statue  (called Kolmen sepän patsas in Finnish) was created by the sculptor Felix Nylund in 1932. Today, it has become one of the main points of recognition of Helsinki, where it stands just near to the famous Stockmann department store.

You can see some damages on the statue from a bombardment from the Continuation War of 1941. A reminder that Finland’s life has not always been easy in its struggle for freedom from Russia.

 

Where to find it?

The statue is situated in front of the department store Stockmann, and is just a walking distance from the Central Station.