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 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.

Busan Gwangandaegyo Bridge

One of the main sites upon arriving in the city of Busan, in Korea, is the Gwangandaegyo Bridge. Spanning 7.4 kms over the Busan bay, from Namcheon to Haeundae, it offers a gorgeous sight from the Gwangalli beach. Obviously, that was the first spot I hit upon arriving in Busan.

A bridge which looks its best at night

The bridge is illuminated at night, so it is no wonder that it looks its best then. Beyond the spectacular view on the bridge spanning across the bay, this bridge can also be seen from a mountain nearby, called the Hwangnyeongsan.

But on my first evening in Busan, I just went down to the Namcheon beach, as it was the more accessible area to shoot the bridge. That evening, I was lucky as the moon shone over the sea, giving the whole area a perfect flavor.

Busan main bridge
Busan’s main bridge under the moon and by -3° C

To the left, there are a number of buildings, offering an interesting contrast to the bridge, and further down the animated area (where I confess I did not go).

Busan bridge
The bridge and the apartment complex before which it passes in the distance

But the real best shot can be taken after a short hike up Hwangnyeongsan.

 

The view from the mountain

As mentioned, Hwangnyeongsan has the best views on the bridge and the bay.

The climb up Hwangnyeongsan
The climb up Hwangnyeongsan in the sunset

The climb is steep, but the whole road is paved, so not much of a challenge.At a point, you will find a viewpoint platform. In winter, not a lot of people do this hike, so I had the whole place all to myself.

In the sunset and during the blue hour, Gwangandaegyo Bridge then becomes magical. Obviously, you must use a zoom to exclude all the trees in the way, but still, the general view of the bridge is quite impressive.

Busan's bridge at dusk
Busan’s bridge at dusk

As the night sets in, the colors and the impression gets closer from what you you can see when you are on the Busan beach.

Busan Gwangandaegyo Bridge
A view on Busan Gwangandaegyo Bridge

After this, I went back down, this time looking for some food.

How to get there?

There are two places where I shot the pictures in this post. The first one was near the MRT Geumnyeonsan, and involves walking down to the beach.

The second place is up on the mountain, but I could not retrace exactly the place; suffice it to say that at a point, after climbing Hwangnyeongsan, you will come across a viewpoint on Gwangandaegyo bridge, on the right of the road.

 

 

 

Celebrating spring with two barefoot hikes

Since I came back from Canada, I slowly resumed my barefoot running. This week, I also resumed barefoot hiking. Ok, not in very challenging conditions, but I wanted to celebrate spring with two barefoot hikes. Right now; temperatures are very moderate (a high of 19° C), so a perfect time to undertake hiking. My first goal was to scale Tung Yeung Shan.

Tung Yeung Shan

Tung Yeung Shan is much less well known than its more illustrious neighbor, Kowloon peak, but it deserves interest all the same. Mainly known by Hongkongers, it offers a very lovely view on the Marina Cove of Sai Kung.

Getting there involves, for the first part, to pass in front of the entrance of the path to Suicide cliff and to choose to disregard it. You then continue on Fei Ngo Shan road, straight, until the road arrives to an embranchment towards a camping ground (just before a hairpin curve taking you to the Kowloon Peak observation point). That is where you turn right. You walk down, a few hundreds of meters and you can start to climb Tung Yeung Shan very easily, as the first half of the trail is made of stairs. The second part is rocky and involves some scrambling, but nothing really serious.

Barefooting a mountain

It goes without saying that I was barefoot from the start of my hike and of course, barefoot still on Tung Yeung Shan. Actually, when climbing, bare feet offer an excellent adherence to the nooks of the terrain. In my previous visit to this area, I had stopped after the first volley of stairs.

When going down, bare feet did not have issues. The terrain was also covered with leaves, hence making it a bit slippery. Nevertheless, with bare feet, adhesion was optimal (I know I would have been losing traction with shoes). I also encountered fellows from a Hong Kong Hiking Meetup. Comments were all appreciative (and several commented that it made feet strong!).

Tung Yeung Shan
Going down on Tung Yeung shan

Of course, I don’t only climb mountains for the sport now. I also drag around my drone, but it took some testing before I made it fly, as there was quite some strong winds up there in altitude.

Drone shots

I did say that Tung Yeung Shan has a marvelous viewpoint on Sai Kung. Well, here were three youngsters who were trying their best to get a selfie with the backdrop of Sai Kung. I did offer them their picture, of course, as it probably beated hands down their selfie stick pic.

Tung Yeung Shan
Three young Hongkongese take a selfie on the background of Sai Kung

I followed their example, and here is my dronie with Sai Kung in the background.

Dronie on Tung Yeung Shan
A dronie with Sai Kung in the background

Tung Yeung Shan offers a lovely viewpoint for a number of interesting landmarks, such as the Metereological observatory of Tate’s Cairn.

Tate's cairn
The meteorological observatory on Tate’s Cairn

Of course, the day after, I would go closer.

The return was unremarkable, except that instead of going the full circle around Kowloon Peak, I elected to go back down the same way I came.

After this hike, the feet were quite a bit tender (mainly because of the asphalt), but with some care, they were ready for the next adventure. In a way, the feet feel “oversollicited” nervously with a barefoot hike (and that’s maybe where it is different from barefoot running, as the interaction with the ground is quite different).

When leaving, I hqd the occasion of shooting an interesting encounter between a paraglider and a plane (obviously at very different altitudes).

Encounter in altitude
A plane encounters a paraglider near Tung Yeung Shan

 

Hike on Jat’s Incline

The following day, my feet having recovered, I decided to go on Jat’s incline (as my condo faces that road) and take a closer look to the Meteorological observatory. I decided to leave on sunset, and on the whole I did good time in climbing the three kilometers of Jat’s incline, until the viewing point.

It must be said that the roads leading to Jat’s incline are covered in stones mixed in the asphalt. They literally kill your feet when you are a beginner (about the same material was present in Shoushan national park). I am getting accustomed to this material, and so, on the return, I even jogged back down Jat’s Incline.

Jat's incline
Stones in the cement, on Jat’s incline.

 

My drone took off on a higher portion of the road, simply to give it as close a view of the observatory as possible. In the background, you can see the city of  Shatin, in the New Territories.

The meteorological observatory of Tate's Cairn in Sunset
The meteorological observatory of Tate’s Cairn in Sunset

I then went back down to the observation point, to shoot another set of pics. This viewpoint is a pretty famous spot for awaiting the sunset.

Viewpoint on Jat's incline
Many people drive to the viewpoint, just to admire the sunset.

This place also provided a safe operation area from which to launch the drone. And then, of course, the most fun part was probably taking another “dronie”.

Dronie on Jat's incline
A dronie on the viewpoint of Jat’s Incline

Later, I went down, on Shatin’s pass road, but I realized that the whole mountains, from Kowloon Peak to Shatin’s pass, were literally covered in electrical poles.

Shatin's pass road
In the distance, you can see how many electrical poles there are on the side of the mountain.

Of course, flying a drone over electric poles should never be done for two reasons. Firstly, in case of contact with the electric wires, you may cause a major incident knocking out power over a vast area. Secondly, the high-voltage electricity generates a magnetic field which may affect your gps and the internal compass of the drone, hence causing a loss of control (and a loss of the drone, obviously).

Running barefoot, a healthy activity

On the return, I did run down the mountain. Despite the ground being rough (as shown above), and the occasional stone in the darkness, it was a lovely experience. It goes also to show that barefoot running really does strengthen your feet on the long run. My feet don’t hurt and they feel rejuvenated the day after. For those who wonder if I have heavy calluses by now, the answer is negative. The skin is soft, and if my feet are always as sensitive (they will always be), but the mechanism of adaptation have changed as my feet automatically shift weight if they land on something painful. Sometimes a tiny pebble nestles in my feet, but I just need to brush it off.

A test with a positive conclusion

The goal in doing a barefoot hike two days consecutively was to test my adaptation and my resilience, and so far the result is positive. After having started to run barefoot a few months ago, the results have been quite positive on my overall form and strength. When hiking, not having rigid soles under your feet is an incredible advantage. When running, you cqn feel truly light running barefoot. Of course, in part, these were not really challenging hikes, as they mainly took place on asphalt, but it is still quite a climb upwards and a really fun moment.

 

English Bay: a beach in the city

The first hotel in which I was was the Best Western Sands. As it name indicates, it is very close to English Bay, a “beach in the city” within Vancouver.

A last minute choice based on its proximity to the beach, this Best Western was more akin to a motel. In the end, a wrong choice for every possible reason. Indeed, I soon discovered that hygiene was an approximation in that hotel, as the toilet bowl sitting cover was covered in drops of urine that had never been cleaned. To make it worst, the reception never sent someone to clean, nor did they provide the disinfecting wipes I had asked for. It was a rather bad experience to start my stay in Vancouver, but I did not let that deter me. I went out immediately with my gear, to capture the snowstorm that was buffeting the city.

On day 2, after seeing Vancouver under the snow, I changed my hotel (more on that story at the end). I dropped at the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa a wonderful old England style hotel in the center of Vancouver. I may write more about the stay at that hotel, but this post is not the place for it.

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An epic snowstorm

Reading the news afterwards, I realized better how the storm hit the city.  The snow had disrupted significantly the city, with up to 20 cm in places. This provided a magnificent backdrop for photos, so, the evening of my arrival, I went out to shoot.

 

The engagement
The “engagement”, an artwork by the artist Oppenheim.

In some places, the view of the snowy English Bay was wonderfully enchanting, not unlike Finland. Bear in mind that these pictures were shot on tripod in the midst of a snowstorm.

Vancouver beach in snow
A building on Vancouver’s English bay beach

The best part was probably seeing kids and adults trying to sled down the icy slopes of English bay. Others built a quite complete snowman.

Snowman in English bay
A very nice snowman in English Bay

All in all, the very special setting of English bay made it a lovely place to shoot the snowstorm and the locals enjoying it.

Vancouver English bay beach
Vancouver English bay beach

English Bay under the snow by day

Of course, seeing the marvelous setting of English bay under the snow by day, just gave me the desire to come back. So, the next afternoon, I went back and got the chance of seeing a wonderful winter sky which gave a special tone to the place.

English bay in winter
The marvelous winter sky on English bay under the snow.

People were out in numbers to enjoy the snow on English Bay, given that the place is so scenic. Couples, among others took a seat watching the sea and the snowy landscape.

Couple on English bay watching scenery
A couple on English Bay, watching the scenery

Further away, it could be seen that many locals came to try either sledding on the snow, or even trying some cross-country skiing!

Cross-country skiing in english bay
An elderly couple trying cross-country skiing in English Bay

The most Asian of Canadian cities

Vancouver could be dubbed “the most Asian of Canadian cities”. Indeed, during my stay, I had the occasion of seeing quite a large part of the population being Asian. To be even more precise, I came across some retirees speaking Cantonese somewhere near main street. But Chinese and HongKongese are not the only ones here. I also heard a lot of Japanese, either families living in Vancouver, or tourists. Koreans were also well represented. This ethnic composition makes Vancouver quite a rich community.

It is thus no mystery that I came across a group of Asian students on English bay, celebrating (a graduation or a birthday). They were kind enough to pose for me when they saw me pointing my lens towards them.

Asian students in english bay
Asian students in english bay

Another sign of Asian influence was spotting these stone piles in English bay. For some reason, they always appear wherever Chinese visit (I saw them also in French beach, on Vancouver island).

Stone piles in English bay
Stone piles: a very Asian sign

The typical Canada geese were around, flying in their typical “V” formation and providing a lovely view for the beach.

Geese flying in English bay
Geese flying in V formation

When flying above the structures of English bay, this became a typical scene of Canada. Somehow, it proves that with some patience and open eyes, even birds flying around can become a good subject for photography (my previous example being on Haeundae beach, in Korea).

Geese over English bay
A flight of geese passing over English Bay

How to get there?

If you have a car, it is quite easy to get there, otherwise, you can take a metro straight from the airport to the station Waterfront or Burrard and then switch for the Trolleybus n° 6 which will take you quite nearby.

Bangkok: How a mall was built

The start of the project

This project started when I was living in Bangkok, in the posh area of Thonglor at soi 17. Just next door to my condo, in 2013, they started destroying an old house to make way for a new construction. As I had an unparalleled view from above, I decided to follow the progress of the construction. The original was to make it a sort of timelapse of the changes on the construction site, but with time, the real interest focused on the workers. Then it became the story of how a mall was built, namely “the Commons” mall in Bangkok. And more largely, a documentation of the working conditions on Thai construction sites and the workers along with the quirks and peculiarities of work in Thailand.

The hidden actors of Bangkok’s rise

Thus, the project moved towards telling the story of those workers who have made possible the fast rise of Bangkok. In a way, it is also an ethnological study of a micro-society.

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It all starts with destroying

In Bangkok, in prime locations, new projects often start with destroying old buildings. The construction site of the Commons was no exception, as they destroyed an old restaurant that occupied two stories in the back of the land. Probably an inefficient use of space for such valuable land.

Workers climb on the roof to pull down the main beams.

Of course, here most of the work was done by hand by workers with barely any protection against the hazards (no safety shoes, no helmets, if you notice the picture).

A picture of the context and the general idea of the location:

The demolition work progressed quickly.

Laying the foundations

Once the old house was torn apart and the rubble taken away, started the extensive work of laying the foundations. As a reminder, Bangkok is built on a former swamp, and the land is foundering by an average of 6 cms a year (huge by geological standards!). Hence, before building the main structure, the construction company kept on driving into the ground huge cement stilts to ensure the stability of the final construction.

Foundations layer
This machine is used to lay the foundations for the building. Here on day one, when it was not yet built up.

The machine used to thump into the ground those huge cement rods. This alone took upwards of 4 months.

This machine pushed down in the ground huge metallic rods to stabilize the foundations.

 

Preparing the construction itself

In a second stage, the workers started preparing the infrastructure for the construction work properly said. This involved mounting a crane. On that occasion, I had the utter surprise of seeing workers climbing up in the branches of a crane without any safety gear. But this was only the start of an incredible few years witnessing how the Thai construction workers got their job done.

darevils in a crane
To build the crane, workers climb without any security.

Once the foundations were laid, and a central cemented base was solidified, the central crane was used to lift all the heavy materials on the additional stories as they were being built.

The first cement basis provided the basis for building the other floors.

The building process

The building process involves laying layers of reinforced concrete, building support columns with more reinforced concrete, then building another floor above, often all at the same time. A fascinating work but done with a happy-go-lucky stance and total disregard for safety. As in this picture, you can see how many workers wear a helmet…

 

Scaffoldings
The building process required laying a layer of reinforced concrete then building columns and pouring another layer of reinforced concrete above.

Strangely for a construction site, a lot of ladies worked there. And despite the dust and the hard work, they never failed to try to be coquettish even on the construction site.

Coquettish even on a construction site.

This did not mean that the work was not hard, for ladies more than anyone.

Binding
Workers unite to finish a portion of the armature.

Ladies had to carry metal rods like anyone else, sometimes better, sometimes worst than men…

Ladies on construction site
Ladies struggle with carrying metallic rods across the construction site.

Odd situations

Often, this construction site offered quite quirky moments. From a lady taking a rest in a hammock hung on the scaffolding… to guys playing in flip flops on a construction site.

Hamac on scaffolding
A worker hangs a hamac on the scaffolding to take a rest.

Probably the most striking was the total lack of regard for safety. The workers often came working with flip flops, almost never wore a helmet and played in a very relaxed manner around other workers. Like in this case.

Playing on construction site
Two workers in flip flops play while a third is using a circular saw to cut a piece of wood.

edge
A worker stands on the edge of the building as the day draws to a close.

Safety : Thai-style approach

Probably, the most concerning part of the whole work was the fact that workers seemed to be completely ignorant of elementary safety rules on a construction site. Furthermore, most of them wandered on the working place either in flip-flops or without any safety gear such as helmets or protective shoes.

Safety not really a concern as these workers climb on unstable rods or work directly underneath.

In some cases, a worker can be holding a metal rod with his flip-flops while another worker hammers it into place…

 

Feet in danger!
A flip-flop worker is holding a metal bar with his uncovered feet, while a fellow worker hammers by the side.

The issue of electric shocks and elementary safety precautions, such as wearing shoes when climbing on tight surfaces seemed totally lost on these workers. A soldering iron was used, for example, with the wire hanging partly in water in the picture below.

Casings
The workers prepare casings where they will let the cement flow. Acrobatics in flip-flops? nothing to shudder about. Nor using soldering irons with the wire hanging in water.

Then, let us not forget about the acrobat climbing metal rods in flip-flops…

Flip-flop worker climbing
Flip-flop workers climbing metallic rods.

 

An incredible pace

Thanks to the breakneck pace and the extended hours (7 AM to 10 PM), the construction site moved very quickly, and as can be seen in this picture, where three different floors are being built simultaneously. Sometimes, this breakneck pace ends tragically, when structural issues cause a collapse of the construction.

Construction
Construction progressed quickly and simultaneously as can be grasped from this picture..

 

Good humor

Foreman
Foreman makes a sign to his workers as they leave the construction site

Despite the difficult working conditions and the heat, most of these workers had a good-natured disposition, having fun when they could and often joking among them. And at the core, it had to be a teamwork.

Supporting columns of the building
The workers group together to bind the iron rods that will make one of the supporting columns of the building.

The final stages

Towards the end of the building, the main crane was dismounted in favor of a small roof-mounted crane. In order to pour cement, the crane carried a worker who had to action the lever allowing the cement to flow.

This was the occasion for some spectacular pictures of the worker on the sunset.

Life in the balance
A life in the balance: the construction workers in Bangkok

Of course, even construction workers have smartphones, so these guys dismounting the crane did not miss taking some pics of the scenery.

 

Dismounting crane
Busy with dismounting the main crane, these two workers still find the time to take a picture of the environment from their high-perched observation point.

As the construction neared its end, it was time for a nostalgic picture closing the story. Here, the building was basically completed and the roof was already installed.

Nightfall on construction site
The end of the construction nightfall

The end result

Of course, we are in Thailand, so an important part of the buildup was… installing a spirit house on the roof!

how a mall was built: Spirit house
After the Commons was almost completed, first thing they did was install a spirit house on the roof.

I visited the Commons immediately after it was opened, and it was really remarkable to contrast the finished product with the years of work that preceded. Today, the Commons is a very posh mall and open-air restaurant. Nobody has any idea how this mall was built, nor of the efforts of the workers in building it. It is highly likely that any of the workers of the construction site will never be able to experience this mall, given its steep prices.

 

interior of the commons
Interior arrangement at the Commons

 

The Commons
The years of dangerous work were all for this: a fancy eating place for Bangkok’s elite.

If this project interested you, please leave your comments and/or feel free to share it.

 

 

 

Sunset at Suicide Cliff

Once again, I was back up on Kowloon peak. After previous visits with the photography meetup, with the hiking meetup at night, and solo during the day, I joined a hiking meetup that was passing through suicide cliff. I abandonned the group once at Suicide Cliff, mainly because hiking meetups are focused on covering as quickly as possible the most distance, whereas I prefer to focus on photography. In this case, I was aiming at shooting the sunset at suicide cliff.

A long wait

As the hiking meetup climbed Kowloon Peak at a breakneck pace (I was last and dragging with 15 kgs gear, yet broke my own personal record), we arrived up there at around 14.00 to 15.00. As you can imagine, 3pm is not exactly the time for sunset. So, I shot  all the members of the meetup who wanted their pictures taken at that picture perfect spot.

Hikers on suicide cliff
The HK Hiking Meetup team posing for a picture on Suicide Cliff.

Later, I broadcasted a periscope (unless I am mistaken, the first one ever taken from up there) https://www.pscp.tv/w/1ypKdNDAALdJW .

Shooting people

Of course, to occupy the long wait, I tried to shoot some pictures right and left, and obviously, the most interesting were the people posing for selfies on the suicide cliff. A Filipina who had been already taking shots on the rock above emerged as the winner…

Filipina selfie
A Filipina takes extra risks for a selfie on hazy background.

The other surprise of the day was seeing a Japanese family bring their kid along for the hike. I guess that it is generally considered as pretty “safe” despite the steepness of the mountain and the rock clambering required.

Japanese on Suicide cliff
A Japanese family brings along their daughter on Kowloon peak.

 

Finally the sunset at suicide cliff… and an “Apocalypse Now moment”

After three long hours of wait, the sun began to descend on the horizon. It was the occasion of starting to shoot, and obviously, the big issue was that everybody wanted their picture with the sunset, while I was hoping for an empty cliff. However, the addition of a human element allowed to provide a size element for a sunset at suicide cliff, so that is the picture I opted to keep.

As the sun kept going down on the horizon, I was gifted with my very own “Apocalypse Now” moment. A Government Flying Service helicopter decided serendipitously to fly into the setting sun allowing me a wonderful shot (obviously, as I was shooting with an 80-200, I had to crop to the max to isolate this picture).

Apocalypse now pic
A GFS helicopter decided to fly into the setting sun as it reached the final moments of sunset.

After the sunset took place, suicide cliff looked barren. I did not stay for a night picture, as you can see a previous attempt here. Instead I wanted to move up, away from suicide cliff before nightfall. Incidentally, I wished to take a pic from the rock above.

After sunset
Suicide cliff after sunset

Night at suicide cliff

Obviously, the view from Kowloon Peak is majestic and impressive, and even more so during the blue hour, immediately after sunset. I got the occasion of using my tripod there, as I had been dragging it for the whole hike (I think my combined gear was around 15 kgs). Fortunately, after sunset, the haze that had been worrying me before sunset dissipated greatly allowing some interesting shots of the sunset.

View over Kowloon
View on Kowloon from Kowloon Peak.

I took several pics, but chose to focus on a general view of Kowloon and this other picture, which focuses on Kowloon Bay.

Kowloon Bay
Kowloon Bay at night

Epilogue

After these pics I headed down through the stairs leading to Fei Ngo Shan. I must have been pretty tired, as I tripped once, grazing my right knee. My ankle also kept buckling, so my guess is extreme tiredness. I was wearing low-cut Reebok trail running shoes (ideal when climbing, contrary to my hiking shoes, whose sole is too rigid). While good for climbing, the shoe does not support your ankle when buckling.

I ended so tired coming down, that I took out my shoes and walked the rest of the way barefoot (thus enjoying a free massage too).

There is one point on which I would like to call your attention, if you are planning on going to Suicide Cliff. A helicopter of the GFS had to come again and rescue hikers from the mountain today, around sunset. This is becoming pretty usual now, and that testifies to the inexperience or callousness of many hikers. When you don’t know the way, take the stairs on Fei Ngo Shan. When you are inexperienced, don’t go through Jat’s Incline route.

If you are tired or prejudged from your strength, you should have thought about it beforehand. Helicopters are used on important rescue missions, not to help wary or lost hikers. So, please, please, do be careful and don’t be too adventurous when tackling suicide cliff. There are well-marked trails which are adventurous enough without going on dangerous paths.

Hong Kong, the vertical city

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There is no other way to apprehend why Hong Kong is often called “the vertical city” than to climb upon a mountain and to look down on the city. The pictures in this post are taken in Kowloon.

Human Density

Kowloon is one of the most densly populated areas of Hong Kong and also cumulates a number of the poorest areas such as Sham Shui Po or Yau Ma Tei.

The human density on this part of the city led to a profusion of high-rise buildings erected as far as the eye can see. In some way, this both answers to and replicates the human density with an architectural density.

In a previous post, I wrote about “architectural compression” in Hong Kong when talking about Montane Mansion. Here, we are talking about a different “compression”.

Compression takes place in height, rather than in space. With the limited space available, logically, most buildings are erected upwards.

View from a mountain

All of the pictures featured in this post were shot from a mountain, namely Shatin’s pass, between Kowloon Peak and Wong Tai Sin. It is a lovely hiking route, with almost no danger (excepted the cars attempting to replicate a mountain rallye race). In addition to the lovely route, Shatin’s pass affords some exceptional viewpoints when the sky is clear.

In this case, there was some haze (treated partly under Lightroom), so not the ideal situation.

A vertical city soon in crisis?

Despite the construction craze which can be seen in some of the pictures, the HK Government has kept on warning hongkongers to beware of a backlash and possibly a drop in real estate pricing. Pointless to say that with some cultural factors such as no lady accepting to marry you if you don’t have your own flat, such warnings fall into deaf ears. Real estate prices still climb, fed by cheap money with the low interest rates for mortgages.

How to get there?

Ok, I forgot to tell you how to get there… Two routes. Either you get down to Wong Tai Sin MTR and walk up to Shatin’s Pass, or you take the thougher route which is to climb the whole Jat’s Incline after alighting at Choi Hung MTR. Either way, be prepared for some tough climbing even if it will be on perfectly paved roads.

Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok – Memory of times to be no more

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Where some backpackers might be familiar with the Hua Lamphong train station, in Bangkok, most people ignore this wonderful station. It is a rich location for street photography and, depending on the time of day, the colors can be absolutely stunning (see the gallery above).

It was recently decided to move that station away to Bang Sue and to transform the current Hua Lamphong station in museum, so I can only invite you to visit it now, as long as it is still in service.

A classic architecture

Hua Lamphong station’s construction started in 1910, at about the same time that many European train stations were erected. Although railways were still in their infancy, King Rama V launched railways in Thailand already since 1891. At the same time, another Asian power, Japan,  also raced to adopt European technology to modernize its society. Of course, the architect building the train station was European too, and more precisely, Italian, Mario Tamagno (more on his creations here). Being Italian, obviously, he permeated his construction with neo-renaissance style (he also built a number of other landmarks of Bangkok, see the link above).

Photography in the station

Hua Lamphong is first and foremost  a place of passage. While nowadays, planes are much cheaper and more convenient, the train remains the only affordable transportation for country-dwelling Thais. A place where country immigrants land when arriving to Bangkok, or where they transit on their way back to the province, it provides very interesting sights and photographic opportunities.

Using black and white also allows to focus on the essentials in a place where there are a lot of directing lines.

Focusing on the people in the station can also provide interesting photographic opportunities and cute scenes as this lady fanning her puppy.

A lady refreshes a puppy while waiting for a train.

The ultimate adventure: taking the train!

Finally, if you are ready to face hellish travel conditions, grab a ticket and go for a quick trip to Ayutthaya. While absolutely disastrous in terms of comfort, this provides a very authentic experience, especially if you travel in third class. Be advised however that there is no aircon, and fans sometimes don’t even work.

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Thailand is moving towards implementing a high-speed train (when, remains to be seen), so these scenes are liable to disappear one day. I would thus invite you to go and enjoy the extraordinary atmosphere in that station as long as it is still there.

How to get there?

Either you grab a taxi, or you take the MRT to the Hua Lamphong station, either way, there is no way to be confused. There are other minor stations around Bangkok which are just as interesting, but I will address one of those in a future post.

For now, please note that the station is also very close to Wat Traimit, a chinatown temple which features a 2-ton massive gold Buddha statue (more to come soon!).

The map for Hua Lamphong station:

A summer evening stroll in Kwun Tong

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Last Saturday, I decided to take a stroll on a spot I had noticed while riding the minibus 68. Kwun Tong promenade was built between 2010 and 2015 and hence still looks pretty fresh and new.

Built on the site of the former Kwun Tong Public Cargo Working Area home to many paper recyclers, this promenade offers a lovely sea front view at sunset.

Nevertheless, when comparing to Victoria Harbour or the peak, the view on the Kwun Tong harbour is somehow cluttered by a number of industrial structures, like construction boats.

If you can make abstraction from these distractions, then, Kwun Tong Promenade a is lovely place to have a midsummer stroll and take a few pics.

How to get there?

Getting there might be problematic, as the nearest MTR station is Kwun Tong, but you have to walk about 1 km to get to the place. An easier way of doing it is to go to Kowloon Bay MTR, walking or taking the shuttle to the Megabox mall and catching the minibus 68 there.

You may also catch the 68 from Choi Hung MTR if you prefer (easier, as you arrive on the same side of the street as the promenade).

As usual, no real way of telling which station to stop too, but when you will see the lamps featured in my pics, you can call out to the driver to stop.