My original starting point as a barefoot runner and barefoot hiker has been explained in a previous post. The interesting part is that over the past year of barefoot life, barefooting is becoming like a virus, infecting my friends with the desire to start experiencing the same freedom and fun.
Hong Kong, a positive attitude to barefooting
It must be said that the generally positive attitude encountered on hiking trails when they see you barefooting in Hong Kong is quite encouraging. So far, I have yet to encounter a negative response to barefoot hiking or running.
Most of the accounts coming from Europe or the US talk about the social stigma associated with walking or being barefoot. In Hong Kong, on the contrary, and it is probably linked to the Chinese culture of reflexology, there is an acute awareness of the benefits of barefooting.
We were stopped by an older man (shod) who gave us a little pep talk which went like this:
We all know how good barefooting is for our health. Yet, very few of us go out of our comfort zone and do it”.
Old man on the trail
Those thoughts sum up the cringe or instinctive response to barefooting in a nutshell. When you dare go out of your comfort zone for the first time, everything else becomes so liberating.
This positive response, heard on the trails, plays as an encouragement and positive reinforcement for those who start barefooting.
When it transmits like a virus!
The fact that you are capable of barefooting along great distances can act as an incentive to friends who might take the step more easily. Often, people are scared of barefooting if they are alone (“comfort zone” again). When they are in a group, it becomes more “acceptable”, as the group shields the individual from directly facing the eyes of the others…
At any rate, the virus of barefooting has slowly transmitted to my friends.
Later, my other friend, Bailey, got also convinced to do a barefoot hiking, especially as he saw me targeting one after the other, the most challenging places such as Suicide Cliff, or Lantau Peak.
Hiking barefoot in group
So, in the end, we agreed to meet up and start a barefoot hike together, including his mother, Linda. Linda has been also barefoot hiking for quite a while and is an experienced barefooter. We chose to take the trail from Shatin to Kowloon peak, as it is an easy trail acceptable for a beginner.
It was thus that on the path, Linda kept progressing at a quick rate, Bailey instead huffing and puffing, as the rough terrain was taking a toll on his unconditioned feet. Nevertheless, he managed to hike all the way without wearing his shoes!
The beauty of hiking barefoot is that you can dip your feet in any small stream, or wet them to refresh them.
The beauty of keeping fit
Incredibly, Linda showed us quite some feat of suppleness in her stretches during our hike. Thanks to her hard work, this lady keeps an incredible joint suppleness.
This shows that barefooting certainly increases your tendon flexibility and ease of extension.
As you may know, I often run downhill Kowloon Peak, after a hike around the mountain. Lately, I started long runs around the mountain, which end up with a downhill run.
Most of the time, I try to take the Wong Tai Sin route to add some mileage to my runs. Sometimes, however, I take the “short” route and run down Jat’s Incline, which amounts to roughly 9 to 10 kms from doorstep to doorstep.
The road can be quite rough in places, so it was a bit of a stretch for Bailey to run down, but he and his mother managed to do it with a great smile!
Barefooting alone is nice, doing it together is even better!
In the end, because we are a social animal, we tend to enjoy experiences in common more than alone… Communication and sharing the benefits of barefooting (without all the nonsense of “grounding”) may incite friends to join you on the trails. In Hong Kong and Asia, at least, barefooting can be done in a fun way.
Last May, I was in Prague to participate to a meeting organized by my company. I seized the occasion to have my wife and daughter fly with me to the “Golden Prague” or the “golden city” as the Czech capital is known, occasion of seeing one of the most beautiful cities in Central Europe.
There are many ways to reach Prague from Asia, but we took Finnair, as it was the most convenient way of reaching the city. My wife and daughter enjoyed the business class on board the Finnair flight to Prague.
It was an excellent flight, with the habitual excellent food of Finnair. Mitch and Maria-Sophia both enjoyed this short but agreeable trip.
The landing was smooth with the lovely Czech countryside developing for miles before the landing.
The “golden city”
Prague has often had the nickname of being the “golden city”, for its sheer beauty and baroque rooftops. Upon our arrival, we set out thus, to go and see for ourselves the beautiful city. My hotel was at the King’s Court, a very centrally located hotel in the old city of Prague. It allowed us to take a stroll immediately in the pedestrian center of the city.
We dropped our luggage and set off exploring the beautiful city of Prague right away
The Prague Castle
The obligatory passage of any visit in Prague is the Prague castle, of course. After meandering through the streets of Prague, we came across this magnificent IXth century castle, which is also the official seat of the President of the Czech Republic.
While the IXth century St. Vitus cathedral presents undoubtedly gothic features, the surroundings of the cathedral have been heavily influenced over the centuries by various constructions and particularly in the baroque style, such as the St. George basilica featured above.
The best part in Prague castle is probably the magnificent view over the rooftops. To get this view, you must enter a little coffee shop which offers an excellent package of coffee + strudel for about 5 €. Unbeatable for the magnificent views.
Most people decide to take pictures on the ramparts of the castle, and that’s what we did with Maria-Sophia too.
We eventually came back to Prague castle on our last day for more photos. It is worth pointing out that Asian tourists (and particularly Korean couples) seem to affection Prague, both at the castle and the Charles bridge for prenuptial pictorials.
Besides couples, you have also a lot of Asian tourists visiting this historical city.
Heading to the Moldau
You have two ways to go back to the Moldau. The first is to climb through the Wenceslas vineyards, which offer also a magnificent photo backdrop.
The other part involves exiting the castle at the opposite point of entrance and going down stairs in the old city. Many Asian tourists chose to take this route, just as these two Chinese tourists.
Of course, we also had our own photo sessions on these stairs.
Once we came back down to the historical center, we meandered again to the Charles bridge. This place is an absolute nightmare filled with tourists at any time of the day. The best moment to visit it is probably during early mornings, where fewer tourists are around.
The Charles Bridge
The Charles bridge is also famous for the saint who reportedly was executed on this bridge in the Middle Ages, namely Saint John of Nepomuk. Executed because, allegedly, he refused to betray the secret of the confession, it seems rather this execution was orbiting around the Western Schism. Saint John of Nepomuk supported a candidate wanted by the Roman Pope against the wishes of King Wenceslas for the attribution of a very rich abbey. This might be more of a motive than the romantic legend of refusing to violate the secrecy of confession.
As a reminder, the Western Schism was between the supporters of the Pope in Avignon, infeodated to the King of France and the Pope in Rome, who maintained the supremacy of the Church over earthly sovereigns. In short, the short-lived fight around theocracy, which came to an end under Pope Boniface VIII. This schism ended dividing European kingdoms across support for one or the other Pope, and sometimes even ran lines of divide within some nations, such as in present-day Czechia.
Today, a statue is erected on the Charles Bridge, at the place where the saint was thrown in the river.
The Charles Bridge, in itself was closed to circulation after WWII, as its age and multiple damages from flooding had weakened its structure. Its modern-day restoration which ended in 2010 is strongly criticized for failing to respect the ancient character of the bridge and mixing older and newer materials.
Along the Moldau
I guess that when you come to Prague, you suddenly understand the famous “Moldau” symphonic poem by the Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana. The river and its flow do really evoke the powerful and peaceful music of Smetana, and for a classical music lover, it is quite an emotional moment.
Prague is also the birth city of another great Czech composer, Anton Dvorak.
A golden city… with disagreeable people
After our travel to Prague, we came to the conclusion that while the city is magnificent, Czech people instead are mostly disagreeable and lack common customer service sense. The general attitude was rather rough and rude in shops or cafes, not to mention there is none of the friendliness we encountered for example in Finland or Spain.
My previous hike on Lantau peak was shod; it was thus only natural that I should attempt a barefoot hike on Lantau peak. The initial goal was just to manage to climb the mountain, but eventually, I managed to photograph a “sea of clouds“.
An opportunity hike
I decided to climb Lantau peak as I had to take my family to the airport. Remembering that I struggled with all my gear the previous time, I decided to hike light this time. My package contained water, my camera, my phone and a go pro. I also took a change of clothes and a fleece sweater, as I was expecting to be chilled on the return.
The departure took place pretty late, towards 3 PM, but that still gave me some margin, as sunset was to take place around 17h 30 pm, so I still had time to return to Nong Ping. However, on the way, I saw several Indians who were barely arriving within view of the summit around 16h 30, or close to 17h 00… Given that none of them had packed a torch other than their smartphone, I hope they managed to get down without issues.
As a reminder, if you expect your hike to have even a remote possibility of ending at night, you should carry a torch light.
The start of the hike
As usual, the hike starts on Pak Kung Au. This location is the starting point for both, Lantau peak hike and Sunset peak hike (where you hike all the way to Mui Wo). Pak Kung Au, being some distance from the town of Tung Chung, you must catch bus 23M (the one going to Nong Ping) and alight at Pak Kung Au station. From there, you have to walk uphill some short distance, before joining the start of the trail to Lantau Peak.
At the very start, you will see a memorial comemorating the two GFS (Government Flying Service) pilots who got killed in a helicopter accident on the flanks of Lantau Peak.
A heavy fog was blanketing all of Hong Kong, so I was not really expecting there to be any significant shots, but I was fine with it, as it was just for the exercise.
The first time I climbed Lantau Peak, it was at night, with a heavy load on my back and with a much lesser degree of cardio. This time, I was able to keep up a good level of speed, and if I didn’t manage to reach the 1h 1/4 promised by the direction boards, I did manage to get to the top in 1h 25 mins.
A grueling series of stairs
While very well signaled and built and unlike suicide cliff, perfectly safe to climb, the hike is mainly an endless succession of stone stairs. Keeping a light backpack is paramount to conserving energy and not exhausting yourself up there.
For a barefoot hiker, the challenge is compounded by some rough trails along the way, with loose stones. With some training, you just breeze past those areas, and bare feet do consent more balance. However, if you are unsure of your balance taking a hiking stick can certainly help.
Above the clouds
At a point, I exited finally from the cloud cover and was welcomed by a warm sun in its setting phase. There is always some marvel at seeing the sun after bathing in the fog, but the marvel was compounded when I turned around and saw that there was actually a sea of clouds! As a reminder, the “sea of clouds” is generally formed by a weather phenomenon called “temperature inversion”, where the air near the ground is colder than the air above, thus trapping the fog on the bottom.
It is often said that barefoot hiking allows you to experience the hike, as well as do it… But the real experience was the magnificent views on this hike. The gorgeous views would almost let you forget that there is an airport in operation just next to the mountain!
There is always a thrill in arriving to the top of a mountain, in my case, the thrill was increased by the fact that I did climb faster than I expected. A lot of hikers were busy taking pictures around on that day. And for cause! The sea of clouds was just gorgeous.
The setting of the sea of cloud is so incredibly gorgeous, that it provides the occasion for many pics in dreamlike situations.
Of course, I did have my own pictures taken up there…
And after this, it was time to head back down…
The road down
The first few meters down from Lantau Peak are quite impressive as you progress down an almost vertical flight of stairs which can certainly give fear of heights to people who are subject to it. The views, however are just gorgeous, as you feel you are descending from heaven.
The stairs are nothing to write home about, on the way down. You must just be careful if they are humid as they might be slippery (especially when barefoot), but beyond that, although I was barefoot, I managed to reach Nong Ping before any of the other hikers who left the top at the same time as me.
It was a bit difficult for me to maintain trace of my upward progression as I missed a number of the landmarks we had been through during the night hike. However, I managed to evaluate my (fast) progression on the way down, by recognizing a number of benches or other features along the way. What was missing most was the possibility of recognizing the wisdom path along the way. When I finally encountered it, it was shrouded in the fog, giving it an eery aspect.
On the way back
On the way, I checked the abandoned village near Nong Ping. In a previous post, I had mentioned about the creepy doll in one of the abandoned shops. It seems that since my last visit, some vandals broke the windows of that shop and stole the doll. A pity, as she was one of the features to give a friendly face to this abandoned village.
In Tung Chung, after catching one of the last buses from Nong Ping, I caught the E22 bus to take me home straight, without having to change 2x MTR.
As a conclusion, the Lantau Peak hike, although grueling by the efforts required, is quite an easy hike, which can be easily done even by relatively inexperienced hikers due to the presence of stairs all along the path.
A final word: the overwhelming positive approach to barefooting on the trails
All the reactions of other hikers on the trail were admirative of barefoot hiking, so in general, hiking barefoot in Hong Kong is more of a subject of admiration. Barefooting on rough terrain commands even more admiration, as people cringe inwardly about the “pain” that could be a result.
While the terrain commands a slower hiking approach than shod, at the end of the day, the legs feel wonderfully light after the hike is over. Just good muscular tiredness, with no exhaustion on the feet.
As a barefoot runner and hiker, visibility is also important in convincing others to take the first step towards this life-changing practice.
On a nice Sunday, my friend Matthew and me, both decided to go for a hike around , but an exploratory hike, without knowing too much where we were headed. In the end, it took us across some less traveled trails all the way down to the Maclehose trail.
Starting with a climb
Of course, although I live near to Kowloon Peak, this still means I must climb about 300 m to get to the Kowloon Peak viewpoint. As usual with any hike lately, I did it barefoot.
I met Matthew who was coming from Shatin, near to Tate’s Cairn, where I managed to fly my drone. As the scenery is gorgeous, I managed to take a panorama pictures with my Mavic Pro. To do this, the drone takes about 21 shots and stitches them together (in fact, I stitched them in post-prod under Lightroom). The result offers a gorgeous view over the whole area.
Around Tate’s Cairn and Kowloon Peak, it is fairly civilized as there are practicable roads around. It changes when you get around Kowloon Peak and down to Gilwell camp site. just near the camp site, there is a small mountain called “Tung Yeung Shan“, where a small (partly build) track leads.
An unnoticeable little mountain
Tung Yeung Shan often pales from its proximity with the famous Kowloon peak and its “suicide cliff”. So, only the most passionate hikers pay attention to the mountain on the right, yet, although not as spectacular or difficult as its big brother, this little mountain can be fun to explore.
Climbing the mountain is pretty straightforward as can be seen in this video.
Where it gets tricky, is once at the top, when you decide to follow the trail (there are some discrete markers here and there, but the trail is not much used, so you must really search for them among the high grass).
The view at the top offers a perfect perspective on both, Sai Kung and Shatin. A few months ago, I managed to capture a perfect picture of a group of young hikers on the same mountain.
Getting lost to find your way
As this was a first time exploration, we relied heavily on trail markers by previous hikers. This worked well, until we got down from the mountain.
Then, at a point, the trail got lost in the middle of a woody area. The words “Nel mezzo del’ camin’ di nostra vita”, came to mind, and I pictured myself as a new Dante lost in the forests of life.
We then had to do some exploring in the middle of an unmarked forest. In the end, hearing voices of other hikers, we finally managed to retrieve the main route.
For a barefooter, while descending, the most annoying part is those cutting edges of cement steps. Even more so than the twigs or small stones sometimes lodged in the middle of the steps.
On the MacLehose trail
There are two ways to reach Sai Kung: taking the MacLeHose trail, or taking the Wilson trail. We happened to take the MacLehose trail, but had misjudged our water resources. The MacLehose trail is quite picturesque and beautiful and easy to get down from (most hikers prefer climbing it). At a point, I took a water dip in a little stream by the side of the trail…
We finally exited in a little town closer to Shatin. Exhausted by our exploration and the heat, I headed straight to get some drinks, while we decompressed after the gruesome exploration.