When barefooting becomes a virus

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.

Barefoot hike on Jat's incline.
Capture of our barefoot hike with Matthew on Jat’s incline.

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.

We started first with Matthew, going out for barefoot runs together, then for barefoot hikes

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.

Pro and beginner barefooters
Linda, the pro barefooter and Bailey, the 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!

Barefooting on the trails…

The beauty of hiking barefoot is that you can dip your feet in any small stream, or wet them to refresh them.

Fresh water on bare feet
Bailey and Linda enjoying fresh water on bare feet

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.

Maximum  stretch
Maximum barefoot stretch on Jat’s Incline!

This shows that barefooting certainly increases your tendon flexibility and ease of extension.


Stretching barefoot
Linda stretching in the middle of a barefoot hike

Running downhill

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!

Hiking barefoot and running down Kowloon Peak!

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.

Hiking barefoot above the sea of clouds: Lantau Peak

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.

Memorial to pilots
A memorial is present at the very beginning of the trail, remembering two pilots of the GFS who crashed there

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 endless stairs climbing in the fog
The start of the trail on Lantau Peak: endless stairs disappearing in the clouds.

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.

Direction boards on Lantau Peak
Direction boards tell you how much time left until you reach the top of the mountain

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.

Rough trails
In some parts, instead of stairs, there are some rough trails. Barefooting requires some technique here.

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.

Climbing on Lantau Peak and seeing the sea of clouds

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!

Sea of clouds on Lantau Peak
Just before the summit of Lantau Peak, a shot shows Sunset peak surrounded by clouds

Summitting!

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.

Panorama pic
An idea of the gorgeous view at the top of Lantau Peak via this panorama pic.

The setting of the sea of cloud is so incredibly gorgeous, that it provides the occasion for many pics in dreamlike situations.

Hiker before sea of clouds
A hiker looks at the sea of clouds

Of course, I did have my own pictures taken up there…

On the top of Lantau Peak
On the top of Lantau Peak, barefoot. You can see Sunset peak in the background and the sea of clouds all around.
Snap before distance marker
I asked another hiker to snap a pic of me before the distance marker of Lantau Peak.

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.

Stairs descending from Lantau Peak.
The vertiginous view on the stairs descending from Lantau peak.

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.

Wisdom path shrouded in fog
The wisdom path shrouded in fog

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.


Barefoot hike on Tung Yeung Shan and Maclehose trail

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.

Panorama on Tate's Cairn
Panorama on Tate’s cairn

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.


Tung Yeung Shan by drone
An unremarkable small mountain in Kowloon.

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.

Hikers on Tung Yeung shan
Hikers on Tung Yeung Shan


A drone view from Tung Yeung Shan

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.

Going down Tung Yeung Shan

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.

Lost in the woods
Matthew and me, lost in the woods on Tung Yeung Shan

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…

Cooling down
Cooling down my bare feet in a side stream.

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.

Barefooting above the abyss: second barefoot hike on suicide cliff

A little less than one year ago, I had started my history of barefoot hiking, by electing to climb suicide cliff. Since then, I climbed several other times on Kowloon Peak, some times by night, other times with my daughter… But I did not go back on the Southern ridge, climbing the steep walls that lead to suicide cliff… Until now! In October, I started my second barefoot hike on suicide cliff.

An early start

As suicide cliff can get quite frequented later during the day, it is preferable to climb in the morning. I thus prepared myself to start my hike around 9.30 AM, and obviously, even if not recommended, I climbed alone. Early departure allows also to skip the issues with sun beating down on the mountain later in the day.

I started off barefooting from home. While initially, it was uncomfortable doing so with the guards at my condo, with time it got easier as I tend now to run and hike barefoot quite regularly.

What changed from one year ago?

To be honest, no huge changes affected the trail this year. There were however two noticeable differences: a small tree fell across the trail at the beginning, consequence of the typhoon Mangkhut, and there is now a stark warning about climbing to suicide cliff.

warning board on suicide cliff route
Warning board on the Southern ridge route to suicide cliff.

These boards are also affixed at the other main entrance to Kowloon Peak, namely the stairs. Besides these warnings, the hiking conditions on the path have not significantly deteriorated from one year ago, so hiking is still very practicable.

Despite this, it seems hikers get regularly stranded or even disappear on this mountain. It is thus not an endeavour to undertake alone. I provide a walkthrough in this post, but please do not climb the mountain alone if you are unfamiliar with the place.

The initial climb

As this time, I had a gopro camera with me, I filmed the main parts of my climb, mainly to give a feeling of what it is to hike on this route. I would invite you to watch the climbing videos in order for you to better understand the challenges, especially if you plan on climbing for the first time.

The start is taking place in the forest as starters.

The start of the climb on Kowloon Peak

The beginning of the climb is not really serious. Most of this path takes place within the forest, and you can grip to rocks or branches to secure your climb. The real technical part of the climb starts once you are out of the forested lower part of the mountain.

The fork

At a point, you are going to reach a fork in the path. To the right is the most challenging path (which eventually joins the first one), but I do not recommend using that path. One of the reasons being that I never took it, the second being that it is way more sandy than the other side. At any rate, I filmed the passage across the small stream, but be aware that the ropes which have been placed there are used and should not be relied upon.

The passage of the fork leading to the second half of the climb.

Rock scrambling

The second part of the climb, once you are out of the bushes is something of a rock scramble, more than a hike. You need to use all of your body to pull yourself up. This is a quite physical effort, which means that you can easily be drained after climbing the rock for two hours.

The second half of rock scrambling on Kowloon Peak

Open Air

View from Kowloon Peak
First stage, where you come up, above the bushy part of Kowloon Peak.

After all the rock scrambling, you will arrive to a plateau, where there is sufficient space to ensure that you can rest. The view on the city is also quite gorgeous at that point, and it is where you will take a breather after the intense efforts. This is where I flew my drone too, but had to land it quickly, as the wind was threatening to fly it against the mountain or have it escape my control. For being short, this video does a good job of providing a contextual view of the mountain.

I then resumed my climb, as it was the final leg towards suicide cliff.

The ledge to suicide cliff

Before getting to suicide clfif, proper, you must walk a tight ledge. Explaining how it looks does not help much, and you will only feel the thrill when you walk it yourself.

The final ledge to suicide clif

Needless to say, while looking very risky, this ledge is large enough to be walked along comfortably. Nevertheless, it is best to be slightly slanted towards the mountain, in order to avoid any loss of balance tipping you cliffside.

Obviously, on suicide cliff, the necessary selfies must be taken…

Selfie on suicide cliff
A selfie on suicide cliff
On suicide cliff
On suicide cliff

Scrambling upwards

Rock scrambling does not end with the suicide cliff. Not in the least. To get away from suicide cliff, you can only go down by the same path you came up (very steep) or continue climbing upwards (and that involves some more rock scrambling).

Rock scrambling

While not terribly technical per se, this involves however passing on a narrow ledge giving on a ten-meter cliff. Here again, unless you are scared of heights (in which case you should not even be attempting this climb!), no real issue. Just remember that taking your time and advancing prudently is key to hiking safely.

Once you get over that part, then, you must still get around a huge boulder, and it is not obvious unless you have already been there (although you can just follow the trail in the vegetation).

Getting around the boulder

Once at the top, you end up with big stones and rocks that can be a bit technical to navigate barefooted, but perfectly feasible. Here is an example:

Resting on Kowloon peak
Resting bare feet on the top of Kowloon Peak

Ending the hike

The final leg of the hike involves both getting around a communication tower with barbed wires and climbing to the radio tower and the helipad.

The final leg climbing up to the helipad

The last part of the hike is going down the stairs. Under no circumstances think about taking the “shorter” way down on Jat’s incline side! That route is treacherous and extremely dangerous, please always take the stairs, they present no risk at all.

Climbing down the stairs

As a conclusion, my advice is once again, to be very careful. It is always prudent to start a hike on a new route with someone who already knows the route. And if you wish to start a hike barefoot, make sure you recognized the terrain beforehand and that you pack a pair of shoes (there is no shame in adapting to the terrain). Finally, don’t think you need to prove anything by taking the most dangerous routes when there are less dangerous ones available. Kowloon Peak is a famous mountain, but it stays a mountain. It must be respected and handled with caution. Safe climbing!

A barefoot hike on Tai Mo Shan

Tai Mo Shan is the highest mountain in Hong Kong, culminating at 957 m. Despite being in Hong Kong for two years already, I had not visited Tai Mo Shan until recently. It must be said that it is a bit out of my way, and I already have the famous suicide cliff near to my place. I even went back there recently, but that will be the object of another post.

A photography meetup

I went up Tai Mo Shan with the members of a photography meetup, the PASM meetup. We went the day before the Typhoon Mangkhut hit the city, because prior to the typhoon, there is always some marvelous atmospheric effects in the sky.

Having missed the bus to Tai Mo Shan, we caught an Uber to be on the safe side. The side benefit of taking an uber was that the driver took us up about halfway up.

A windy start

Being on the side facing Yuen Long, we faced strong headwinds. An attempt to take off with my drone ended in a crash-landing that created some damage to the gimbal, although that damage was not immediately apparent.

Despite the wind, we managed to take some pictures on a rocky outcropping.

Bailey at Tai Mo Shan.
Bailey shooting pics on the protruding rock on Tai Mo Shan.

Climbing up

Although we had come halfway up on Tai Mo Shan, we still had halfway to walk, and so, we started climbing. Along the way, there is a viewpoint over the town of Tsuen Wan. While it is just the habitual cityscape of Hong Kong with high rises and some view of the sea (read: unremarkable), it was interesting to play with the drone around that area.


Bailey and Grace and Tsuen Wan
Bailey and Grace with Tsuen Wan in background

Of course, since the scene was there, I did take a dronie… Barefoot of course, as I was hiking the whole mountain barefoot.

Dronie on Tai Mo Shan
Dronie on Tai Mo Shan

The most fun was when another Mavic Pilot came down the mountain with his own drone, while he was actually riding a scooter. We then exchanged dronies capturing each other with our respective drones.

Two drone pilots in a dronie
Two drone pilots taking a dronie

The sunset over the mountain

Finally, after having climbed even higher, we came to an ideal position to see the setting sun. We were blessed with some angel lights shining through the clouds which made the sunset quite spectacular. Despite the proximity of the typhoon, and despite being on the exposed side of the mountain (again), there were no gusts, so the drone managed to be quite pliable.

sunset over Tai Mo Shan
The sunset over Tai Mo Shan.

Despite the lower dynamic range of the Mavic Pro, the picture is quite similar to the picture shot with the Nikon D 750.

View of the angel light through Nikon
A view of the angel light through my Nikon D750.

The reason for the absence of reddish sky is due to the wind which dispersed the pollutants which habitually diffract the blue part of the solar light. Habitually, Hong Kong and Bangkok are gifted with quite spectacular sunsets due to the high presence of pollutants in the sky. An approaching typhoon, obviously disperses these pollutants.

Going down

Once the sunset over, we started going down, also to get home on time to shelter from the typhoon. Nevertheless, that is when the sky started showing some spectacular hues.

Barefooting down the mountain
Bailey going down the mountain barefoot.

It was the occasion for me to shoot a pic of Bailey who, after a lot of prodding, finally decided to take off his shoes and start barefooting down the mountain.

Obviously, I took it to the next level, when I decided to jog down the mountain with my heavy backpack, still barefoot… But that is how a barefoot hike can be as much fun as a barefoot run!

Getting to Tai Mo Shan

We took it the easy way, as we hired an uber which took us up to halfway the mountain. Nevertheless, if you wish to climb Tai Mo Shan more “classically”, you must first head to the Tsuen Wan West MTR station. From there, you grab bus n° 50 and alight near the mountain. From there, it is impossible to get lost, as the path to the top is straight and paved until the end.

Barefoot hike on a volcano

In the series of pushing the envelope on barefoot hiking, this time, I tackled the Taal Volcano, a caldera located some 55 kms from Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Taal Volcano

Taal Volcano is a caldera, a super-volcano that is estimated to have culminated at 18,000 feet in prehistoric eras, before collapsing and making it today the smallest (311 meters) volcano in the Philippines. Originally, the crater was filled with sea water as there was a channel opened between the volcano and the bay near Cavite. Since then, the channel closed, making Taal volcano a large freshwater body.

Although it was quite calm when we visited, the Taal Volcano is not a dormant or extinct volcano, it can be quite active, with a huge magma chamber below. In fact, my first visit was in 2012, and at the time, steam was hissing through some vents in the ground.

Mitchy and Maria-Sophia in 2012 on Taal Volcano.

Since then, the authorities have restricted the access to the crater of the volcano island as there have been episodes of boiling water projections down there, or toxic gases. To explain why, it is good to know that in 2012, some people even went canoeing on the crater lake!

From Manila to Tagaytay

The one big inconvenience reaching Tagaytay is transportation. Although it is only 30 kms from Manila, it takes almost 3 hours to reach by car.

Car from Manila to Tagaytay
In the car from Manila to Tagaytay

We took it the lazy way, and just called a Grab car. You must be aware that the app will provide a very low price for the transfer to Tagaytay, which makes it uneconomical for drivers to take you there. So, what we did was to negotiate a price for full day hire and cancel our booking. In all, this costed us 4,500 PHP, but the driver stuck around, hence avoiding us having to roam around finding transportation back to Manila. One caveat however, there is an incredible number of toll fees between Manila and Tagaytay when you take the highway (called “skyway” here).

Finding transportation on the lake

Once you get to Tagaytay, you must find a boat to carry you over the lake. Typically, this would cost about 300 to 500 PHP per head two ways. Since 2012, it seems most of the locals have been replaced by resorts who offer well-organized transfers across the lake, mainly for Koreans.

It was thus no surprise that our driver recommended us a Korean-operated resort. The resort operates an “all inclusive” package which includes boat crossing two ways, horse ride up and down the mountain and (if you wish) Korean buffet. Prices go from 1300 PHP per head to 1420 PHP with meal included.

Boat Crossing

The boats used on the lake for the crossing are those typical “barca”, made of a central hull and two balancers. The lake being originally the crater of a volcano, there are often algae that can get tangled around the propellers. In our case, the pilots had to jump in the water to release the propellers.

Family on boat
The family on the barca crossing the lake

Horse riding

There are a number of villagers living on the volcano itself. Namely some impoverished locals whose only livelihood is around having tourists riding their horses up and down the volcano’s crater.

As we were hesitating about who would take our daughter on its horse, Maria-Sophia announced determinedly that she would ride her own horse! It was thus that she got to climb on her own horse, with the guide taking a ride behind her.

Maria-Sophia and horse
Maria-Sophia looks at th ehorse she will be riding

The climb up is not very strenuous and the cliffs are not that steep. So, riding a horse seems a bit too much. Nevertheless, many tourists fall into the trap, but it is extremely uncomfortable to ride.

In my case, it seems my heavy photo backpack was causing the horse to have some issues with balancing, so my guide kept on telling me to keep my balance. I rode the horse barefoot, but later, when they needed to rearrange the saddle (a close way to the top), I dismounted and carried on on foot.

Barefoot hiking on the volcano

Strangely for people who keep climbing the volcano with mere flip-flops, the guides were a bit scared and surprised to see me hike up barefoot. Nevertheless, most of the terrain is sandy, with some edgy stones in some places. As such, I would not deem it as one of the most challenging hikes I did.

The crater

I mentioned earlier, the Taal Volcano is actually a caldera, a sort of super-volcano. This explains why there are actually two craters: a first, the largest, being the calderas’s main crater, and a second one which appeared later in the center of the lake. This gives the volcano that peculiarity of having two lakes in its midst. The best way of having an idea of the gigantic nature of this volcano is through drone views. Here, below, a view of the observation deck set up on the rim of the crater.

Taal crater seen by drone
The Taal volcano observation point and crater seen by drone
Taal volcano and the lake
The observation deck and in the background, a glimpse of the main Taal lake.

This video also probably gives you an idea of the beauty of the place.

A very touristy place

Taal being this natural curiosity, it is also one of the main touristic attractions for the area. They did quite some nice work to make the crater’s surroundings likable for tourists, like planting flowers.

Flower on crater
A flower planted on the rim of the crater brings a touch of color to the greenish tone of the water.

Similarly, a bit further, they planted red carnations, again, providing some color in the otherwise greenish tone of the crater.

Red carnations on the crater
Red carnations on the crater

The whole family then took a dronie and a selfie before the crater. Our daughter was rather disappointed that she could not see lava or magma as in a “real” volcano. But this volcano is quite active. All the more as since our last visit, it is prohibited to walk down to the crater’s edge.

As I walked along the crater, a Filipino seeing me barefoot took out his flip-flops and started walking barefoot too, giving me the thumbs-up.

Hiking down barefoot

After having suffered with the discomfort of the horse ride, I decided to go down the mountain barefoot. As the path was downward and furthermore, I was walking on a terrain that was mostly dusty, I arrived to the end point at almost the same time as the horses that departed with me. And this is only logical, as the horses can only ride as fast as their guides let them.

Once again, the views going down were absolutely gorgeous.

A hike worth the while

Japanese say that only fools attempt to climb mount Fuji twice. In this case, it was the second time I climbed Taal Volcano, but this time, I did it mainly on (bare)foot.

It was nice to come back to the place several years after my first visit, and more particularly to bring back my daughter who had visited the place as a baby.

Barefoot hike on the Ancient Trail from Tsuen Wan to Yuen Long

I tackled a fairly easy (ok, just because it is paved, but the effort required is tough at the start) trail barefoot. The Ancient trail from Tsuen Wan to Yuen Long which I hiked barefoot, was built centuries ago, to connect two of these localities in Hong Kong’s new territories by land. Today, they have become a hiking trail, mainly paved and generally requiring some extensive walk.

Tsuen Wan: doors open to the large

Tsuen Wan being on the Western edge of Hong Kong is also, in some way a door open to the large. From its surrounding mountains, you can see the container harbor, as well as the Tsing Ma bridge. And what’s more, it is an excellent plane-spotting point. Towering at 458 m, the highest point of the hike allows to see from quite close the underbelly of the planes on their final approach to the airport.

View on the Tsing Ma bridge
View by drone on the Tsing Ma bridge.

A steep climb

When you get to Tsuen Wan (if that is the direction you elect to hike, many people go the other way, starting in Yuen Long), you start the hike just opposite the Adventist hospital. The trouble is that you are in for 500 m steep climb for about one kilometer or two.

While on the hike, I crossed many trail runners tackling this trail.

Start of the trail
The start of the trail opposite the adventist hospital of Tsuen Wan.

Although the path is cemented, it climbs relentlessly for at least 1 km. Under the harsh sun and heat of that Sunday afternoon, it was grueling with my 12-kgs camera bag on top of it. It must be said that the floor was also close to scalding as I was hiking barefoot and it was sunny that day. Difficult not to be discouraged when seeing the endless climb.

Endless climb
Climbing is ok, but demands quite some effort.

I tried to fly my Mavic Pro here, but the metallic bars in the paved road kept giving wrong feedback to my drone’s compass, so, for safety, I decided to wait and get to a more open area.

The gorgeous views over Tsing Ma bridge

The Ancient Trail is an ideal place to obtain a great view on the Tsuen Wan and the three bridges.

Views on Tsuen Wan
Views on Tsuen Wan

The ancient trail itself is mainly composed of big stone pavements. They are very easy to walk upon, except when it is very sunny, as it can quickly scald your bare feet.

Tsuen Wan Ancient trail
Tsuen Wan ancient trail

Obviously, as it was getting late in the afternoon and it was a bit cloudy, the trail was still walkable. On the side of the trails, you could see the traces left by feral cattle.

Walking on the ancient trail
Walking on the ancient trail

Drone views over the trail

It must be said that flying a drone safely is not possible over the whole trail. Although a significant part of the trail is exposed, in some places, the iron rebar in the trail confuse the compass, in others the tree canopy makes it impossible to take off.

But when you can launch your Mavic Pro, you are greeted by majestic views.

A view from the trail on the three bridges.

Similarly, photography is just as interesting, except that the distance and the wide angle of the drone do it a disservice for the spectacular views.

View on the Tsing Ma bridge
View by drone on the Tsing Ma bridge.

Looking back on the city of Tsuen Wan is more rewarding in terms of photographic effect.

Tsuen wan from the ancient trail
Tsuen Wan, seen from the ancient trail

At any rate, once you arrive at these viewpoints, you are merely at the beginning of the trail. The trail continues then for several kilometers, always through paved roads. In some places, however, the paved road is damaged (or more exactly, they are in the process of repaving it). While technical, the trail is quite doable barefoot (at least at my level of training) and here is the video to prove it.

And then, of course, the habitual dronie on the trail:

A dronie on the Tsuen Wan ancient trail
Dronie on the Tsuen Wan ancient trail.

As the evening fell, I only managed to reach the halfway of the trail, namely Sham Tseng, which is the only earliest exit short of returning on your steps. If you are interested, there is a famous roasted goose restaurant, just near the exit of the trail.

From Sham Tseng, I grabbed a minibus to Tsuen Wan, where eventually I managed to catch a MTR towards my home to the other end of the city.

A photographic excursion to the Kap Shui Mun bridge

Old ambulance at the Kap Shui Mun bridge
Just before reaching the bridge, you can see this old ambulance parked under a shed.

The Kap Shui Mun bridge as well as the Tsing Ma bridge, which it prolongs are some of the marking signs of Hong Kong. Everybody entering to Hong Kong, never mind how, must pass through this bridge. Incidentally, the viewpoint near to the bridge offers quite a spectacular view over the bridge and Hong Kong as well.

A viewing pavilion, but no official trail

Although there is a viewing pavilion which can be seen from a distance when crossing the bridge, it is obvious that there is no official trail to go there. So, you can get there only by taxi or bus. Bus being probably the most convenient, as long as you can one of the E-xx buses heading to the airport. You must alight at the Lantau Link bus station and then walk back. One of the paths starts at the Lantau link and leads up to a mountain. Another involves following the highway back to the bridge, and this was the one I took.

Getting to the bridge.
To get to the bridge, you must walk alongside the highway.

If you are barefoot, you will note that the blocks on which you are walking are sometimes disjointed, but no danger.

Just before reaching the bridge, you will see an old sort of airport ambulance parked under  a shed.

 

 

Upwards or downwards

Once you arrive at the bridge, you have two choices: you may either climb to be level with the bridge for photography… or you may walk down beneath the bridge to try some of the filming experiments I did with my drone.

View from the top
The view from the top

At any rate, here is a view from the top, and as you can see, while the bridge still keeps you in awe, it is nothing to write home about. The true dimension of the bridge really comes to light by drone.

I did not manage to go to the pavilion, mainly because I felt that the best view of the bridge was close by to it. The beauty of the setting of the bridge is being able to see what is behind it.

A drone view

I launched my drone a first time to get a visual impression of the area.

Drone view of Kap Shui Mun bridge
Drone view of Kap Shui Mun bridge

While the general view gives a good picture of the whole structure of the two bridges (Tsing Ma bridge in background), it does not give as dramatic an effect as I would have wanted. I later experimented more with pictures. In this case, I was able to include one of the ships which just sailed under the bridge.

Ship after the Kap Shui Mun bridge.
Ship sailing after passing the Kap Shui Mun bridge.

But the most dramatic picture probably came at dusk and much closer to the bridge, which is the picture I chose as featured image. It is to be noted that this bridge is a marvel of engineering as even the MTR to the airport and to Tung Chung passes underneath! When you are near the bridge, you can hear the MTR screeching in the underbelly of the bridge.

Kap Shui Mun bridge
The Kap Shui Mun bridge at dusk

And here is a dronie of yours truly as he operates the drone barefoot.

Dronie near Kap Shui Mun bridge
Dronie near Kap Shui Mun bridge

As there is very little haze right now on Hong Kong, visibility is pretty clear. You can even see Central Hong Kong from the bridge!

View from the bridge
The view from the bridge can extend until Central HK when there is no haze.

The video

All in all, a great experience, both with the easy hike to the place and the images captured. Here, a drone video for you to see the bridge in all its glory. To be noted: the hike can be continued uphill to a rock resembling a vase. However, as you will be further away from the bridge, the dramatic effect of the structure is lost.

Barefoot hike on Devil’s Peak

Devil’s peak is probably one of the easiest hikes in Hong Kong. The proof of it is that many old people come up there for their morning or evening exercise. It was thus just logical that I would attempt a barefoot hike on Devil’s peak.

One of the easiest hikes in Hong Kong

The Devil’s peak, despite its scary name, is one of the easiest hikes in Hong Kong, its path being mostly cemented. Of course, it depends where you make your entry, but it is quite an easy hike with a very moderate climb of roughly 20 mins to 1/2 hr. Many oldies come on the peak to exercise in the morning or in the evening.

Climbing to the Gough battery through the shortcut takes  a bit more scrambling as it is a makeshift path. Still, for a barefoot hiker, it is very easy (about the level of Dragon’s Back).

The path to Gough Battery
The Path to Gough Battery

The Devil’s peak is at the end of the Wilson trail, one of the famous HK hiking trails crossing across all of Hong Kong. However, you don’t need to complete the full Wilson trail to reach Devil’s Peak. There are far easier entrance points.

Gorgeous views

The Devil’s Peak is located just next to the Permanent Chinese cemetery of Junk Bay. For Westerners, there is a something unique and soothing in this view, for Chinese, it tends to make them extra nervous.

When looking on the other side, the view extends on Kowloon bay and Victoria Harbour and is a favourite spot for sunsets.

Angel's light on Devil's peak
A view of the gorgeous sunset on Devil’s Peak with “angel’s light shining down

A view by drone provides even a better context as it allows to capture both, the devil’s peak and the view behind.:

Devil's peak at sunset by drone
Devil’s peak seen by drone on sunset

The Permanent Chinese cemetery

Obviously, in Chinese-language sources, you will not find a lot of resources on this cemetery, but it has a gorgeous view on Junk Bay. As previously explained, there is a lot of superstition around death in the Chinese population, so they get very nervous by the simple evocation of cemetery. You can see below a view by drone of the cemetery which faces the sea in good “feng shui” manner.

Permanent Chinese cemetery of Junk Bay
The Permanent Chinese cemetery of Junk Bay

Cemetery of Junk Bay
Cemetery of Junk Bay

The panorama is quite gorgeous from up there.

A panoramic view of Junk Bay
Panorama of Junk Bay

Kowloon bay view

However, despite the majestic beauty of Junk Bay, the best view at sunset is obviously on the other side. When there are clouds, the “angel light” effect can lead to some quite stunning pictures.

Angel light over Kowloon Bay
Angel light over Kowloon Bay

Obviously, because of its ease of access, a lot of photographers occupy the premises at evening, often with ND filters to dim the sunlight. I did not use a ND filter, yet the result is quite acceptable in my feeling.

By drone, you can have a general view including the Devil’s Peak and Gough’s Battery, but the lack of dynamic range on the Mavic Pro’s sensors do flatten a bit the colors of the sunset.

Drone view of sunset over Devil's Peak.
A drone view of the sunset over Devil’s Peak

At any rate, here is the sunset with my Nikon:

Sunset over Kowloon Bay
Sunset over Kowloon Bay

And to end this, a panorama over Kowloon Bay:

Panorama over Kowloon Bay
Panorama over Kowloon Bay

How to get there?

Getting to Devil’s Peak is as simple as taking the MTR to the station Yau Tong. From there, you will have two paths to reach Devil’s peak: the first one which involves a quite steep climb on a paved road. This path is generally preferred by some Chinese who are superstitious and scared of walking close to a cemetery. If you can, you may do a barefoot hike on Devil’s Peak.

I do recommend the second path, which passes near to a temple. I provided a google maps instruction below. The climb is much easier. Just beware that at dusk, you may have wild boars forraging in the surroundings. Never touch them or approach them and they should leave you alone.

Barefoot hike with a little girl on Kowloon Peak

Kowloon peak is close to the place where I live and so, it is a very easy hike, when you do it via the stairs. I did it previously via suicide cliff shod and barefoot. I did go back up barefoot and at night. This time, I wished to satisfy my daughter, who had been demanding a hike for a while now. It is not often that you see a child on Kowloon Peak.

Children on Kowloon Peak?

Although it can be dangerous on the Suicide cliff side, some parents do take their kids up on suicide cliff.

Japanese family and daughter
A Japanese family brings along their daughter on Kowloon peak.

However, given that my daughter was only aged six and had never been there before, I did not wish to confront her immediately with the challenge of climbing suicide cliff by herself. We thus headed for the stairs, but walking until those did already put a couple kilometers in the legs of my daughter. We had to stop several times to make a break along the way. Finally, we got set to start climbing.

Bottom of Kowloon Peak
At the bottom of the stairs with the ominous warning

The trail on the stairs

The big inconvenience of the trail was that it had rained the day before. As a result, on the shaded part, a number of very hungry mosquitoes took us as targets. My daughter ended with about 12 bites, despite having used insect repellent. I had a few less, but the presence of aggressive mosquitoes is a new factor (they were less of a nuisance the previous times).

While it climbs continuously, the presence of stairs does not make it as challenging as the climb on suicide cliff.

Nevertheless people who are not trained may find the climb arduous (as I did the first few times I climbed Kowloon Peak). We made several stops along the way, to allow Maria-Sophia to take a breather.

Once arrived at the top, Maria-Sophia was totally exhilarated.

On the top

At the top of Kowloon Peak, there is usually quite a strong wind, so caution must be used when flying a drone. Despite this, we managed to take some “dronies”.

Dronie
Dronie on Kowloon Peak

Later, we moved lower down, closer to suicide cliff. When there is no fog, the views are spectacular.  However, with the fog, the spectacular views on the side of the cliffs were hidden under coton-like clouds. We passed near a radio tower and the passage is a bit tight, but my daughter handled it marvelously and with confidence.

Cliffs on Kowloon Peak
On either side, spectacular cliffs on Kowloon Peak

As can be seen, I continued hiking barefoot all the way, while my daughter kept her hiking shoes.

Going down

Going downstairs proved much slower than climbing. In part, this was because my daughter was unaccustomed to the place, so sought my hand to climb down from rocks or stairs. Myself being barefoot, I took extra care. On the way down, we encountered two groups who admired my daughter for her fortitude. Being aged only 6, it was quite a feat for her. The length of the hike took its toll, in the end, and she started showing signs of fatigue, once we got down, despite frequent halts.

In the end, it was a wonderful bonding moment for father and daughter, with my little girl enjoying the possibility of catching the clouds on the mountain. You should never hesitate taking your kids with you when going out, whether barefoot or not!