Until recently, I thought I was the only barefoot runner in Hong Kong. Then, one day, as I was on the MacLeHose trail near Sai Kung, with Matthew, we encountered Yuan, a barefoot trail runner in Hong Kong. We had done some exploring previously around Tung Yeung Shan in the same area.
An experienced barefooter
Yuan has 4 years barefooting under his belt! At the time we encountered him, he was climbing on the MacLeHose trail near to Sai Kung. We were going down instead… The Mac LeHose trail crosses from Sai Kung to Tsuen Wan and is one of the most challenging trails in Hong Kong.
At the time, Yuan told us he was training for the HK100 race. However, later when he took part in the race, because he started too strong, he had to abandon the race around km 63. Still, that is 63 kms barefoot!
The strategy around barefoot trail running
Yuan encouraged me to use hiking poles when running, as it allows to put less weight on your feet and allows you to shift weight when running. This is important as a barefoot trail runner, as you will often land on “uncomfortable” areas.
Beyond that, as can be seen from the pics, Yuan runs very lightly, with as little supplies as possible, using mostly gels to sustain himself while on the trail. Obviously, his speed was quite different from mine, as I am still very careful as to where I land, to avoid hurting myself and losing balance (especially the latter).
I also did a bout of trail running on this path:
Ultra running barefoot
Yuan does ultra trail running as I mentioned (100 K was his target). While rare, this is not totally impossible, fundamentally, the physiological aspect of ultra running being the same whether you are a barefoot trail runner or not. The only issue might be with abrasion, but after 4 years running, I guess that becomes a non-issue.
Obviously, you don’t start ultra running from a day to another. It takes just the same building up as with shoes, just maybe longer as beyond your muscles and bones, you need to prepare also a whole set of different muscles in the feet.
Yuan is a perfect example of how to push your limits when barefooting.
My original starting point as a barefoot runner and barefoot hiker has been explained in a previous post. The interesting part is that over the past year of barefoot life, barefooting is becoming like a virus, infecting my friends with the desire to start experiencing the same freedom and fun.
Hong Kong, a positive attitude to barefooting
It must be said that the generally positive attitude encountered on hiking trails when they see you barefooting in Hong Kong is quite encouraging. So far, I have yet to encounter a negative response to barefoot hiking or running.
Most of the accounts coming from Europe or the US talk about the social stigma associated with walking or being barefoot. In Hong Kong, on the contrary, and it is probably linked to the Chinese culture of reflexology, there is an acute awareness of the benefits of barefooting.
We were stopped by an older man (shod) who gave us a little pep talk which went like this:
We all know how good barefooting is for our health. Yet, very few of us go out of our comfort zone and do it”.
Old man on the trail
Those thoughts sum up the cringe or instinctive response to barefooting in a nutshell. When you dare go out of your comfort zone for the first time, everything else becomes so liberating.
This positive response, heard on the trails, plays as an encouragement and positive reinforcement for those who start barefooting.
When it transmits like a virus!
The fact that you are capable of barefooting along great distances can act as an incentive to friends who might take the step more easily. Often, people are scared of barefooting if they are alone (“comfort zone” again). When they are in a group, it becomes more “acceptable”, as the group shields the individual from directly facing the eyes of the others…
At any rate, the virus of barefooting has slowly transmitted to my friends.
Later, my other friend, Bailey, got also convinced to do a barefoot hiking, especially as he saw me targeting one after the other, the most challenging places such as Suicide Cliff, or Lantau Peak.
Hiking barefoot in group
So, in the end, we agreed to meet up and start a barefoot hike together, including his mother, Linda. Linda has been also barefoot hiking for quite a while and is an experienced barefooter. We chose to take the trail from Shatin to Kowloon peak, as it is an easy trail acceptable for a beginner.
It was thus that on the path, Linda kept progressing at a quick rate, Bailey instead huffing and puffing, as the rough terrain was taking a toll on his unconditioned feet. Nevertheless, he managed to hike all the way without wearing his shoes!
The beauty of hiking barefoot is that you can dip your feet in any small stream, or wet them to refresh them.
The beauty of keeping fit
Incredibly, Linda showed us quite some feat of suppleness in her stretches during our hike. Thanks to her hard work, this lady keeps an incredible joint suppleness.
This shows that barefooting certainly increases your tendon flexibility and ease of extension.
As you may know, I often run downhill Kowloon Peak, after a hike around the mountain. Lately, I started long runs around the mountain, which end up with a downhill run.
Most of the time, I try to take the Wong Tai Sin route to add some mileage to my runs. Sometimes, however, I take the “short” route and run down Jat’s Incline, which amounts to roughly 9 to 10 kms from doorstep to doorstep.
The road can be quite rough in places, so it was a bit of a stretch for Bailey to run down, but he and his mother managed to do it with a great smile!
Barefooting alone is nice, doing it together is even better!
In the end, because we are a social animal, we tend to enjoy experiences in common more than alone… Communication and sharing the benefits of barefooting (without all the nonsense of “grounding”) may incite friends to join you on the trails. In Hong Kong and Asia, at least, barefooting can be done in a fun way.
My previous hike on Lantau peak was shod; it was thus only natural that I should attempt a barefoot hike on Lantau peak. The initial goal was just to manage to climb the mountain, but eventually, I managed to photograph a “sea of clouds“.
An opportunity hike
I decided to climb Lantau peak as I had to take my family to the airport. Remembering that I struggled with all my gear the previous time, I decided to hike light this time. My package contained water, my camera, my phone and a go pro. I also took a change of clothes and a fleece sweater, as I was expecting to be chilled on the return.
The departure took place pretty late, towards 3 PM, but that still gave me some margin, as sunset was to take place around 17h 30 pm, so I still had time to return to Nong Ping. However, on the way, I saw several Indians who were barely arriving within view of the summit around 16h 30, or close to 17h 00… Given that none of them had packed a torch other than their smartphone, I hope they managed to get down without issues.
As a reminder, if you expect your hike to have even a remote possibility of ending at night, you should carry a torch light.
The start of the hike
As usual, the hike starts on Pak Kung Au. This location is the starting point for both, Lantau peak hike and Sunset peak hike (where you hike all the way to Mui Wo). Pak Kung Au, being some distance from the town of Tung Chung, you must catch bus 23M (the one going to Nong Ping) and alight at Pak Kung Au station. From there, you have to walk uphill some short distance, before joining the start of the trail to Lantau Peak.
At the very start, you will see a memorial comemorating the two GFS (Government Flying Service) pilots who got killed in a helicopter accident on the flanks of Lantau Peak.
A heavy fog was blanketing all of Hong Kong, so I was not really expecting there to be any significant shots, but I was fine with it, as it was just for the exercise.
The first time I climbed Lantau Peak, it was at night, with a heavy load on my back and with a much lesser degree of cardio. This time, I was able to keep up a good level of speed, and if I didn’t manage to reach the 1h 1/4 promised by the direction boards, I did manage to get to the top in 1h 25 mins.
A grueling series of stairs
While very well signaled and built and unlike suicide cliff, perfectly safe to climb, the hike is mainly an endless succession of stone stairs. Keeping a light backpack is paramount to conserving energy and not exhausting yourself up there.
For a barefoot hiker, the challenge is compounded by some rough trails along the way, with loose stones. With some training, you just breeze past those areas, and bare feet do consent more balance. However, if you are unsure of your balance taking a hiking stick can certainly help.
Above the clouds
At a point, I exited finally from the cloud cover and was welcomed by a warm sun in its setting phase. There is always some marvel at seeing the sun after bathing in the fog, but the marvel was compounded when I turned around and saw that there was actually a sea of clouds! As a reminder, the “sea of clouds” is generally formed by a weather phenomenon called “temperature inversion”, where the air near the ground is colder than the air above, thus trapping the fog on the bottom.
It is often said that barefoot hiking allows you to experience the hike, as well as do it… But the real experience was the magnificent views on this hike. The gorgeous views would almost let you forget that there is an airport in operation just next to the mountain!
There is always a thrill in arriving to the top of a mountain, in my case, the thrill was increased by the fact that I did climb faster than I expected. A lot of hikers were busy taking pictures around on that day. And for cause! The sea of clouds was just gorgeous.
The setting of the sea of cloud is so incredibly gorgeous, that it provides the occasion for many pics in dreamlike situations.
Of course, I did have my own pictures taken up there…
And after this, it was time to head back down…
The road down
The first few meters down from Lantau Peak are quite impressive as you progress down an almost vertical flight of stairs which can certainly give fear of heights to people who are subject to it. The views, however are just gorgeous, as you feel you are descending from heaven.
The stairs are nothing to write home about, on the way down. You must just be careful if they are humid as they might be slippery (especially when barefoot), but beyond that, although I was barefoot, I managed to reach Nong Ping before any of the other hikers who left the top at the same time as me.
It was a bit difficult for me to maintain trace of my upward progression as I missed a number of the landmarks we had been through during the night hike. However, I managed to evaluate my (fast) progression on the way down, by recognizing a number of benches or other features along the way. What was missing most was the possibility of recognizing the wisdom path along the way. When I finally encountered it, it was shrouded in the fog, giving it an eery aspect.
On the way back
On the way, I checked the abandoned village near Nong Ping. In a previous post, I had mentioned about the creepy doll in one of the abandoned shops. It seems that since my last visit, some vandals broke the windows of that shop and stole the doll. A pity, as she was one of the features to give a friendly face to this abandoned village.
In Tung Chung, after catching one of the last buses from Nong Ping, I caught the E22 bus to take me home straight, without having to change 2x MTR.
As a conclusion, the Lantau Peak hike, although grueling by the efforts required, is quite an easy hike, which can be easily done even by relatively inexperienced hikers due to the presence of stairs all along the path.
A final word: the overwhelming positive approach to barefooting on the trails
All the reactions of other hikers on the trail were admirative of barefoot hiking, so in general, hiking barefoot in Hong Kong is more of a subject of admiration. Barefooting on rough terrain commands even more admiration, as people cringe inwardly about the “pain” that could be a result.
While the terrain commands a slower hiking approach than shod, at the end of the day, the legs feel wonderfully light after the hike is over. Just good muscular tiredness, with no exhaustion on the feet.
As a barefoot runner and hiker, visibility is also important in convincing others to take the first step towards this life-changing practice.
On a nice Sunday, my friend Matthew and me, both decided to go for a hike around , but an exploratory hike, without knowing too much where we were headed. In the end, it took us across some less traveled trails all the way down to the Maclehose trail.
Starting with a climb
Of course, although I live near to Kowloon Peak, this still means I must climb about 300 m to get to the Kowloon Peak viewpoint. As usual with any hike lately, I did it barefoot.
I met Matthew who was coming from Shatin, near to Tate’s Cairn, where I managed to fly my drone. As the scenery is gorgeous, I managed to take a panorama pictures with my Mavic Pro. To do this, the drone takes about 21 shots and stitches them together (in fact, I stitched them in post-prod under Lightroom). The result offers a gorgeous view over the whole area.
Around Tate’s Cairn and Kowloon Peak, it is fairly civilized as there are practicable roads around. It changes when you get around Kowloon Peak and down to Gilwell camp site. just near the camp site, there is a small mountain called “Tung Yeung Shan“, where a small (partly build) track leads.
An unnoticeable little mountain
Tung Yeung Shan often pales from its proximity with the famous Kowloon peak and its “suicide cliff”. So, only the most passionate hikers pay attention to the mountain on the right, yet, although not as spectacular or difficult as its big brother, this little mountain can be fun to explore.
Climbing the mountain is pretty straightforward as can be seen in this video.
Where it gets tricky, is once at the top, when you decide to follow the trail (there are some discrete markers here and there, but the trail is not much used, so you must really search for them among the high grass).
The view at the top offers a perfect perspective on both, Sai Kung and Shatin. A few months ago, I managed to capture a perfect picture of a group of young hikers on the same mountain.
Getting lost to find your way
As this was a first time exploration, we relied heavily on trail markers by previous hikers. This worked well, until we got down from the mountain.
Then, at a point, the trail got lost in the middle of a woody area. The words “Nel mezzo del’ camin’ di nostra vita”, came to mind, and I pictured myself as a new Dante lost in the forests of life.
We then had to do some exploring in the middle of an unmarked forest. In the end, hearing voices of other hikers, we finally managed to retrieve the main route.
For a barefooter, while descending, the most annoying part is those cutting edges of cement steps. Even more so than the twigs or small stones sometimes lodged in the middle of the steps.
On the MacLehose trail
There are two ways to reach Sai Kung: taking the MacLeHose trail, or taking the Wilson trail. We happened to take the MacLehose trail, but had misjudged our water resources. The MacLehose trail is quite picturesque and beautiful and easy to get down from (most hikers prefer climbing it). At a point, I took a water dip in a little stream by the side of the trail…
We finally exited in a little town closer to Shatin. Exhausted by our exploration and the heat, I headed straight to get some drinks, while we decompressed after the gruesome exploration.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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…
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).
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).
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:
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 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.
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!
One year ago, in October 2017, at night, out of sheer despair, I cast aside my flip-flops and set off on my first steps barefoot running. Slightly painful though they were at the beginning, soon, these steps gave way to the elation of being able to run once again, about one year after having undergone an ACL reconstruction. Since then, over one year barefoot running and hiking, I kept pushing the envelope, among others barefoot hiking on Suicide Cliff.
Slow start vs strong start
It is traditional for barefoot running proponents to advocate a slow start, and this probably makes sense for most runners. I must say that since I have lived in Thailand, I generally do walk barefoot at home and use wooden sandals most of the time, otherwise.
When trying to resume running with shoes, the knee patella pain was too present to allow me any form of recovery. As a last resort, I switched to barefooting – and to be quite honest, always wanted to run barefoot.
As such, and rather counter-intuitively, my start was immediately with 1/2 hr runs and 4 to 5 kms each time. Though I was rather out of shape when I started, I did not suffer serious inconveniences when running. At the beginning, and mostly an effect of bad technique, I did have a few blisters. But beyond that, what I did was avoid running every day. I started by running twice to thrice a week, which gave time to the tendons to adapt. My feet, in themselves, did not suffer at all of the barefoot running, on the contrary.
Recently, I acquired a garmin smart watch. This allowed me to identify more precisely my running cadence, and it seems very close to the 180 steps per minute which are the optimal cadence at which barefoot running should be practiced.
Advantages of barefoot running
The advantages of barefoot running, beyond allowing me to get back to the point where I can run even with shoes, are numerous.
I realized when hiking barefoot lately, that my ankles and body muscles have grown stronger and can now ensure stability in all terrain, especially in the mountain. I did not have any injury, except a sensitivity once, to the Achilles tendon, which got solved simply by taking two consecutive days of rest.
Running barefoot also helps gaining in self-confidence as it is something putting you under the spotlight. Only people with a relative confidence in themselves can do this exercise.
Another advantage of barefoot running is the comfort in which you feel even after several hours running/hiking barefoot. You don’t have shoes weighing you down or making your feet sweat.
Now the most obvious will be that gone are any pretense at passing unseen or discretion. Often people don’t look at the feet, but when they do, you can be guaranteed to see various levels of shock.
Look, for instance, at this video of my latest barefoot hike on Needle Hill:
People do tend to get surprised when they see someone walking or running barefoot. Some people may react aggressively, as somehow, the feet seem to have a special place in the human mind.
Sometimes, the problem is with “conviction-based” barefooters who tend to appear as aggressive in enforcing barefooting as Jehovah witnesses at your doorstep.
Your tendons and feet muscle will also be loaded much more than with shoes, and at least at the start, it is important to bear that in mind. Indeed, starting too quick may overstress those body parts and lead to overuse injury as well.
The other factor to bear in mind, is that you are inherently more vulnerable barefoot. As such, you generally run or hike slower (especially hiking in rough terrain). The counterpart to this being , of course, that you hike more leisurely and are more in phase with your environment.
After all, what better experience than being able to remember the feel of the terrain on a hike on top of the view or the general area?
A key word in building up your resistance and capacity to run barefoot is to be consistent. Most of us cannot walk barefoot 24/7, so while we wear shoes, our feet lose some of the benefits of barefooting as well as become softer (which is not always a boon when practicing on rough terrain).
In addition, consistency will ensure that your tendons and other body parts remain trained to support the heavier load put on them by barefoot running. As for me, partly because it is fun, partly because it pushes the envelope on personal comfort, I do sometimes take the MTR barefoot after a hike. For example, see this timelapse:
The future is probably not a generalization of barefoot running, but the development of a core of consistent barefooters who will serve as a reminder to the other runners that barefooting can be good for health. Obviously, in Asian cultures, where some degree of barefooting has always historically existed, acceptation of barefooting is greater than in Western countries.
And then, obviously, there are areas such as San Francisco, where barefoot running is basically impossible given the dirtiness and disastrous condition of the streets.
Nevertheless, never mind how gross or “painful” this may appear to you, try running or walking barefoot in the street. You will be amazed at the sensations and the incredible benefits this practice can bring. And if you need more references, I created a page solely for collecting references on barefoot walking and running.
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.
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.
Of course, since the scene was there, I did take a dronie… Barefoot of course, as I was hiking the whole mountain barefoot.
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.
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.
Despite the lower dynamic range of the Mavic Pro, the picture is quite similar to the picture shot with the Nikon D 750.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Similarly, a bit further, they planted red carnations, again, providing some color in the otherwise greenish tone of 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.
Everybody knows Cheung Chau and its crowded streets. Now go a bit outside of the beaten path and you may come across Peng Chau island, a small island which feels pretty much more like an oasis.
Originally, a lime production center
Until the 1970’s, Peng Chau was a bustling area of industrial production for two main products, namely lime and matchsticks.
Lime was obtained by burning oyster and clam shells, corals, to produce the final material which was then used in various other industries. After the 1950’s lime was used less and less in construction, and eventually the lime kilns went out of business.
The matchstick production faced a similar fate when disposable lighters appeared in the 1970’s. Today, all that remains are old buildings (which I did not visit on this occasion).
An excellent light hike path
Cheung Chau might be appreciated and invaded by tourists, but Peng Chau has nothing to envy to its big neighbor. Actually, it might be worth saying that Peng Chau beats Cheung Chau by the peace on the island. Being a small island, the area to cover is pretty limited, but with less tourists around it is much more pleasant.
Nothing beats thus the deserted beaches of Peng Chau. Nothing to do with the crowds of Cheung Chau and the numerous glass pieces that can be found along the beach.
The island built a very convenient hiking path which was a pleasure to trod barefoot. You can also climb up to the Finger Hill view point on stairs which are quite easy to hike upon.
The Old Fisherman’s rock
One of the landmarks of the island, at its northern end is the “old fisherman’s rock”, a balanced rock formation, a bit similar to the one found in Tap Mun island.
This place is easily reached after 20 min-1/2 hour walk from the ferry pier. The interesting part of this rock is the view it affords on both, discovery bay (Disneyland) on the other side and the Tsing ma bridge in the distance.
Nearby, there is an even more secluded beach, where I managed to stumble upon a scene directly taken out from the 1950’s… A young lady smoking a cigarette in the middle of the sea.
A small island
Cheung Chau is said to be small, but it seems that Peng Chau is quite smaller. This is best understood when looking at it from a drone.
The main island is connected by a land bridge to a tiny island called “Tai Lei”, on which are hosted most of the utilities for the island. BTW, there are no cars at all on Peng Chau, which makes it absolutely lovely.
On the opposite side of the Ferry pier, there is a, inviting beach inside a cove.
One warning however: there is a large infestation of big cockroaches all over the beach’s wall. Seem they have a huge pest problem on the island, and by the behavior of the insects they are not very scared of humans.
At night, that beach provides the ideal setting for some night photography with a magnificent view on the Tsing Ma bridge.
How to get there?
Getting to the island is pretty easy. You must go to pier number 6 in Central, and from there catch one of the two hourly ferries. It takes roughly 40 mins to navigate until Peng Chau, but the island itself is covered in half a day, depending on your walking speed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking back on the city of Tsuen Wan is more rewarding in terms of photographic effect.
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:
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.