A day in the life of a refuelling ship

Hong Kong is one of the biggest world harbours. As such, it is one of the huge transiting places for container ships. On the way, these ships need to refuel. It was thus that I had the opportunity of sharing the life of the crew of a refueling ship for a few hours, during one of their shifts.

The life of this ship is shared between refuelling the ships which transit through Hong Kong and taking in oil to fill its tanks. There are two crews of 5 people who share the grueling 12-hrs shifts.

Captain at the helm
As two o’clock ring, the captain gives the departure signal and heads into the sea

As we got closer to the container ship we had to refuel, the crew took its positions.

Crew in position
Crew in position as the refueling ship nears its client.

A strenuous work

While interspersed with long periods of inaction, the work aboard the refueling ship can also take its toll, because of the long periods of work. The crew ensures continuous shifts between filling its tanks and refueling, which go up to several hours, with just two or three hours to rest.

As we were nearing the container ship, the workers started hoisting the heavy buoy to separate both ships.

Preparing for boarding
The crew prepares a buoy to isolate from the ship they are about to refuel.

Despite their hard work, all the men of the crew were extremely welcoming for the photographers and very helpful in guiding us.

Refueling a ship

This day, we were to fuel a Japanese container ship, the “Hyundai Harmony“, with Panama flag. Initially, this all started with having to moor both ships together, to avoid any issue during the delicate refueling operations.

Loaded rope
A crewman of the “Hyundai Harmony” throws a loaded rope to the refueling ship.

This also involved crews of both ships throwing loaded ropes to reach the other ship and pull the heavier ropes.

teamwork to moor ships
The crew of the Hyundai Harmony, pulling on a cable to moor both ships together

The crew of the Hyundai Harmony then started pulling the ropes to secure both vessels together.

On the refuelling ship, Two heavy motors started pulling a very old and fraught rope and brought the two vessels together.

The mooring operations on the refuelling ship: two heavy engines pull the mooring ropes
Rope on the ship
Mooring rope on the ship

After mooring alongside the ship, several of the crew members of the refuelling ship boarded the “Hyundai Harmony” to help them to connect the hoses for fuel resupply.

Crew preparing hose
A crew member prepares the hose for connection onboard the container ship.

This also gave way to some exchanges near to the connection pipes. Interestingly, the Hyundai Harmony was using maritime diesel for propulsion in China, and heavy fuel for propulsion out of China. It also tells how regulating maritime energy consumption might help to solve the pollution problems which keep affecting our planet.

Crew exchanging
The Chinese and Filipino crew of both vessels exchange around one of the diesel entry vents.

Once the business end of the transaction initiated, we started exchanging with the (very friendly) Filipino crew. They soon warmed up to us, and offered us some coke (with actually a Vietnamese package!)

A big family

The beautiful part of that trip was that the welcoming nature of seamen. We were quickly integrated in the group and were even invited to share the dinner of the crew of the refueling ship.

Sharing a meal in the mess
Sharing a meal in the mess

The ship’s mess was really a men’s room, complete with pinup on the wall.

Pinup on the wall
Pinup on the wall of the refueling ship’s mess

To give an idea of the ship, I did film a walkthrough, starting with the first mate’s quarters.

Walking through a refuelling ship.

Despite their hard work, the crew also knew to smile, and this allowed me to get this lovely portrait of a member of the crew.

Crew member
A member of the crew of the refueling ship

The moments of happiness were also present among the Filipino crew who joked playfully among them.

Filipino crew
Filipino crew of the refueling ship

Soon, and after some hesitation, as there was no proper gangway to reach the other ship, we decided to head to the container ship and see closer our new friends.

A common practice, yet a whiff of danger

Both crews jumped very easily from one ship to another, the frequency of the maneuver probably inoculating them to the inherent danger, but for my friend and me, it was the first attempt. We however benefited from the friendly advice of one of the crew members who gave us some tips on how to cross the most safely possible. As the sea was calm and the ships were quite close, the danger was limited, except for the grease present everywhere on this fuel ship, which made metallic surfaces quite slippery.

Crossing between ships seen by GoPro

In the end, we managed to set foot on the other side. On our request, the crew accepted to accompany up topsails, to the bridge of the Hyundai Harmony.

Climbing up on the Hyundai Harmony

We took a selfie at the top.

Selfie on the top bridge
Selfie on the top bridge of the Hyundai Harmony

Drone views of the refueling: taking off from a ship, a challenge for the compass!

This refueling operation was an occasion for me of testing takeoff and landing on a reduced space, namely a ship. For a drone pilot, taking off from a ship spells great trouble, as everything is metallic… So the compass becomes just crazy. The key is to master the “hand launch” (which can be pretty easy, if you go through the route of the automated launch). The key here, being to use the on-screen “launch instruction” rather than the remote control. Indeed, when using the on-screen launch program, the drone automatically rises to 1 m 20 above its launch point (your hand). This minimizes risks of getting hit by the propellers, but you should clearly raise your hand well above your head.

While I took also a number of shots in horizontal perspective, I believe the portrait mode of the Mavic Pro allowed to get the best impression of the length of the container ship.

Container ship by drone
A view by drone of the container ship “Hyundai Harmony”

Other shots shop the refuelling ship in operation next to the container ship.

Refuelling operations
Refuelling operations on the Hyundai Harmony.

Returning to port

After the refuellng was completed, the tanker ship unmoored and started heading to refill its tanks with more fuel for the next shipment.

A crane operator lifts a buoy
A crane operator lifting back the pipes into the ship

One the pipes were back on board, it was time to bring back up the heavy buoy that avoided our ship creating friction with the container ship. The interesting part was that they did this while on the move. I decided to use a tripod and long exposure to show the movement, while keeping the ship in focus.

Moving away
The refueling ship moves away from the container ship

We could have remained with the crew until 3 AM, the time at which the ship’s tanks would be filled again. However, anxious of getting some rest, we opted instead to hitch a ride on a fast boat which was carrying one of the HK technicians sent to assist the Hyundai Harmony. But this was not before taking a last parting shot of the ship.

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.

The Monastery of Monserrrat

During our trip to Barcelona, we took advantage of having a car to drive all the way to the Monstery of Monserrat. A beacon of Catalan culture since the IXth century, when it was founded, this Monastery survived one millenium of upheaval. The most serious threats to the monastery being the depredations by the Napoleonian troops in XIXth century and the Spanish civil war in the XXth century (23 monks were killed by Republicans). Today, it is a place of pilgrimage, of tourism and also of hiking due to its magnificent views.

Driving to Monserrat

The first part of the drive is pretty much boring, as it involves taking the highway C-58 out of Barcelona for about 45 kms. Ordinary drive, ordinary traffic, so not much to say about  it. It starts getting interesting when you reach the area of Monserrat, as you see high gorges arising and the road starts making twists and turns.

Driving in Spain
Driving in Spain

The gorges of Monserrat

As you arrive near Monserrat, the twisting road starts being surrounded by high gorges, which prepare you to the elevated position of the Monastery.

Gorges of Monserrat
The gorges of Monserrat seen by drone.

As we were around, we managed to take a “dronie” in those gorges.

Dronie in Monserrat
A dronie in the gorges of Monserrat

The beauty of those gorges cannot be stressed enough. It is a wild and beautiful area.

Monserrat river
Monserrat and the local river seen by drone


Monserrat as haven for Catalan language

Besides being an important monastery, Monserrat was also one of the first places where Catalan language was born and developed. In that respect, one of the most beautiful hymns in Catalan is “El Virolai”. While I did not get the chance of hearing this hymn during my visit, you can have a rendition below. It is absolutely profound and moving.


El Virolai sung by the boy’s choir of Monserrat

Taking the Cremallera

The monastery of Monserrat is built on the top of the mountain. To reach it, you can either take the cremallera, or you can also climb a hiking trail right to the top.

Monserrat tram
The monserrat tram passing above one of the earlier models near the station

The views from the cremallera are just gorgeous, so make sure you are sitting on the left side of the train for pics.

Mitchy in the Cremallera of Monserrat
Mitchy poses in the cremallera of Monserrat

The Cremallera goes all the way to the top of the mountain, near the Basillica.

Cremallera of Monserrat
Cremallera of Monserrat

The Basilica of Monserrat

Mitchy at Monserrat
Mitchy on the esplanade of Monserrat

The basilica of Monserrat was originally built according to the Gothic style. However, it was heavily damaged during the Napoleonic wars, and thus had to be rebuilt towards the end of the XIXth century. Today, it is thus not really the IXth century monastery and basilica that you will be seeing but something more recent, with the facade built in 1904.

Mitchy before the Monserrat basilica facade.
Mitchy before the Monserrat basilica facade.

The church itself is very beautiful. After WWII, a new area was built to hold the Black Madonna statue of Monserrat.

The Black Madonna

Mitchy praying at the Virgin of Monserrat.
Mitchy praying before the Virgin of Monserrat

This “Black Madonna” is not black by design, but the wood in which it is sculpted darkened with age. Thereafter, successive restorers painted the statue black. Originally, legend had it that it was sculpted in Jerusalem, in the early days of the church, some 2000 years ago. Although not as old as that, it seems the statue must be dating back to the late XIIth century. There are very few Black Madonna statues in Europe, the other most famous one being in Czestochowa in Poland.

Its importance in the Catholic religious history cannot be understated, as it is before this very Black Madonna that Ignatius de Loyola lay down his weapons, before creating the Company of Jesus or the Jesuit order as it is known nowadays. For Catholics, it is an important moment and something to be thankful for.

The Ave Maria path

After you exit the statue display area, you arrive at an area known as the “Ave Maria camin”. It is a long path alongside the exterior of the Basilica, where you can light candles (which my wife did, of course).

Mitchy and her candle
Mitchy about to light a candle in the Ave Maria path in Monserrat

The area is also interesting for some atmospheric pictures. Candles always have something warm, both in their light and in the symbol they represent for us.

Candles on ave maria path
Candles lit along the Ave Maria path

The multicolor view of the candles allows you to take a quite colorful picture of the area.

When you come out again in the main area, do not forget to look upwards to the funicular taking you to Saint Jerome, the highest point in Monserrat mountains…

Saint jerome, in Monserrat.
The vertiginous climb to Monserrat’s Saint Jerome.


Cony and Brown in Monserrat

Before leaving, we did take a picture with our alter egos, Cony and Brown in from of the Monastery. It was a way of expressing both, our appreciation for the place and our personal love stories with those lovely characters of LINE.

Cony and Brown in Monserrat
Cony and Brown in Monserrat

In conclusion, if you are in Barcelona, the Monastery of Monserrat is too unique to miss. The views and the location of the monastery are just amazing. The spiritual experience is also wonderful in this place, and you can understand the appeal of this monastery for so many centuries.

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.

Peng Chau island: an oasis in Hong Kong

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).

View by drone on the ferry pier of Peng Chau
View by drone on the Ferry Pier of Peng Chau

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.

Beach in Peng Chau
Nothing beats the deserted beaches of Peng Chau

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.

Smoking beauty
A young lady smokes a cigarette in middle of the waves

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.

Peng Chau by drone
As can be seen, the relative size of Peng Chau is very comparable to Cheung Chau

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.

Tai Lei island by drone
Tai Lei island by drone

On the opposite side of the Ferry pier, there is a, inviting beach inside a cove.

Peng Chau main beach
Peng Chau’s main beach

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.

Tsing Ma bridge seen from the Peng Chau beach
The Tsing Ma bridge seen from the Peng Chau beach.

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.

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.

A day trip to “grass island”

The nice thing of Hong Kong is that in merely one hour, you can reach isolated islands where you are basically left to explore. Ok, I am exaggerating, of course, for a day trip to “grass island” is anything but adventure. Tap Mun in its Cantonese name, the island has long been a fisherman’s haven back in the days where China did not plunder all the resources around. Nowadays, there is a hesitant reconversion towards tourism, but the island lacks facilities and is small, both of which make its charm and make it less well known.

An antiquated ferry

Catching the ferry to Tap Mun island can be done in two places, both of them already involving about one hour commute. You can either catch it in Sai Kung, or near HK University, in Tai Po district. The ferry in those places is called “kaito”, an older indigenous name. The ferry does stop on its way to several small islands where people disembark, apparently to camp or swim.

All in all, the ferry ride takes over one hour, exploring the surroundings of Plover Cove. Upon arrival in Tap Mun, you disembark right on the jetty.

Tap Mun Island jetty
Tap Mun island jetty by drone

Most of the visitors (a lot of mainlanders from China) rush into the restaurants instead of exploring the island (which is small, less than 1 km² for the walkable section). As to me, I did the whole hike barefoot as is now becoming customary.

Tin Hau Temple

The island is small, so five minutes after leaving the jetty, you will come across one of the oldest structures of Hong Kong, the Tin Hau temple. Aged 400 years, this temple is said to be connected to a cave on the other side of the island.

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A sign of the relationship of the island to the sea life can be found in the presence of a wodden model boat inside the temple. If you go there, don’t miss the delicate ceramic figures on either side of the altar.

When taking a look at the big picture, you can see the location of the temple is just near to the harbour, and was probably at the center of the fishing community 400 years ago. You can also see to the right how Tap Mun island provided a nicely protected cove for fishing boats.

Tin Hau temple by drone
Tin Hau temple seen by drone

The first traces of population on the island go back to AD 1573, the Tanka people starting to use the island and building the Tin Hau Temple towards the XVIIth century.

A grassy island

The nickname of “grass island” is easily understood once you walk a bit around. Great parts of the islands are covered in grass, with some forest on the uninhabited part.

Grass island
Grass island and the pavillon on the northern part

Once again, using a drone allows to see the full size of the island and to better understand its structure. I did have some interested people during my flight, however. Thankfully my friend, Matthew, was helpful enough in talking to them.

Flying a drone
Flying a drone over the harbour

Some tourists do sit down on the gentle slopes, others try to camp over there.

Sitting on the slopes of grass island
Sitting on the slopes of grass island

In fact, the walkable portion of the island island is about 1 km, so you get around very quickly. But the presence of shelters makes it quite easy to move around and visit the island.

Shelter on Tap Mun island
Shelter on Tap Mun island

Feral cattle

Tap Mun island is also home to a small population of feral cattle. Namely, these are descendants of cattle that were released when the locals left. Nowadays, although “wild”, they are among the kindest animals of the sort that you can see in Hong Kong. They are all over the grassy slopes of the island.

Feral Cattle in Tap Mun island
Feral cattle in Tap Mun island (calves in this case)

Although kind, these animals are not domesticated. As such, you should not caress them or attempt stunts with them. Of course, this recommendation falls into deaf years with mainland Chinese who get into hot waters trying to have a pic taken with the cows.

Chinese tourist attempting stunt with feral cattle
A Chinese tourist attempts a stunt with a feral cattle

The “Balanced Rock”

The “balanced rock” is a natural rocky formation created by erosion, which left two rocks standing in equilibrium on each other.

Balanced rock of tap mun island
The balanced rock of Tap Mun island – and I am barefoot as usual.

Many tourists stop on the top of the cliff and take in the beauty of the island.

Tourist on Tap mun
Tourist on Tap Mun island

To get there, you must take a small buffalo path on the flanks of the hill (left on the photo below).

Balanced rock by drone
A view of the balanced rock seen by drone

Legend has it that a cave nearby communicates with the Tin Hau temple. At any rate, it is worth veering off the main course and seeing the balanced rock up close, but few hikers do that (the descent looks more impressive than it actually is, as I did it barefoot).

Fishermen on the island

The fishing past of the locals is still very present nowadays on the island. During my visit, I could see a man fishing on a cliff right above the crashing waves.

Old man and the sea
An old fisherman casts his line as the waves break around him.

Further to that, there were two other fishermen who were trying their luck near the balanced rock in a position less exposed to the waves.

Two fishermen near the "balanced rock"
Two fishermen casting their lines near the “balanced rock”

Finally, here is a walk through Tap Mun island with my friend, Matthew.

How to get there?

 

The first ferry for Tap Mun island  leaves at 8.30 in the morning (full schedule here). To catch it, you must first take the east line of the MTR to University Station.From there, you can walk or catch  a taxi to the Mau Liu Shui ferry pier.