A night barefoot hike on Kowloon Peak

After having climbed suicide cliff barefoot and by night, I still had to more. That’s why, last Sunday, I decided to do a night barefoot hike on Kowloon Peak to catch the sunrise.

Starting off at 3 AM

Although I live very close to Kowloon Peak, arriving at the top on time still requires starting off early. I thus left my home at 3.30 in the morning. Being night time as since I was alone, I decided not to climb via the Suicide cliff, as it would have been too risky. I took the stairs on Fei Ngo Shan road. As I do now more or less regularly barefoot running, my cardio has improved. I managed to climb without making any pause. This being said, being barefoot also requires me to be slower and to watch where I set my feet. I had a headlamp as hiking by night requires you to see where you walk, all the more as you hike barefoot.

Upon arrival, it was still dark, although the first embers of dawn could be glimpsed. However, very annoyingly, the tip of the mountain was covered in clouds (and was quite windy too). Topping 500 meters, Kowloon Peak is often shrouded in clouds.

Helipad kowloon peak barefoot
Taking a pic on the helipad of Kowloon peak with my walking torch.

I then sheltered from the wind. As the daylight was slowly increasing, I attempted to shoot some pics of the city. Unfortunately, given the strong winds, my tripod was not so stable, so several shots were spoiled. I still managed to shoot some  pics with my iphone on a moment where the clouds parted.

View from Kowloon Peak
A veiw from the topmost part of Kowloon Peak at dawn, as the clouds parted for a short instant

Dawn breaking

Later, towards 6 AM, as the dawn was breaking, and the sky started taking the “blue hour” color. Fortunately, the clouds and the fog also started dissipating.

Kwun Tong in the clouds
Kwun Tong emerging from the clouds like a modern fairy tale castle

The blue hour also manifested itself in this picture.

Blue hour on Kowloon Peak
As dawn breaks, the blue hour shows on Kowloon peak

It must be said that the clouds kept covering the top of Kowloon Peak. This gave however a lovely feeling to the area, as Kowloon peak is one of the few places where you can be said to be “walking in the clouds”.

Drone view of Kowloon Peak

The winds at the top were quite strong, so I was not too adventurous when flying my Mavic Pro. I tried however to take some context pictures that would show the area and how it really feels.

For example, an iconic shot at the top of Kowloon peak is the helipad on the top. A “dronie” with the helipad helps to show the path down from the top of the mountain.

Dronie from Kowloon Peak
A dronie from the platform of Kowloon Peak.

Kowloon peak also has very gorgeous view on Kowloon itself.

Dronie and view on Kowloon
A dronie with a view on Kowloon

As the dawn advanced, the clouds started to clear up, but on the other ridges of Kowloon peak, it gave a lovely Chinese watercolor effect.

Clouds shroud middle peak
Clouds shroud middle peak.

Going down

Normally, going down should be quicker than going up. That’s true but when barefoot, you have to be more careful, obviously. The danger is not so much about hurting your feet as of losing your balance. The technique I used is to land on my forefoot (similar to barefoot running) and being watchful when resting the remainder of my foot; indeed, landing on a pebble might be discomfortable (or even slightly painful), but with training, you take it in stride (your foot redistributes the weight differently). If you jump or land too heavily, there is a risk of losing balance (I had a rucksack and a tripod) and falling. That’s why, barefoot hiking should be done with as light gear as possible.

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On the whole, the sunrise experience was perfect in the timing and the pleasure of hiking barefoot in the mountain, but a bit marred by the lack of sunrise. I only got to see some sun when going down.

Rising sun over Sai Kung
A rising sun shines over Sai Kung

A dawn exploration of Busan: Jagalchi fish market

I was in Busan for a couple of days already, and it was my goal to try and see the fish auctions of the Jagalchi fish market. Descriptions and indications are pretty sketchy on how to get to see these auctions given the early hour at which they take place.

Nevertheless, as there was no public transportation at that time, I grabbed a taxi to get to Jagalchi fish market, and arrived there around 4.45 AM.

 

A profusion of fish

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Jagalchi, is the profusion of fish available everywhere.

Jagalchi fish market
Frozen fish stocked for sale at the jagalchi fish market

The Jagalchi fish market is one of the most well-furnished markets in terms of fresh seafood, and this general reputation was confirmed seeing the market at 5 AM.

I found out one of the main halls where wholesalers present their produce. While it looks astonishingly clean, the floor was drenched in water and there was quite a “fishy” smell in the air.

 

Jagalchi fish market hall
Halls of Jagalchi fish market

 

It seems unfortunately that I was quite a bit late there, since I did not manage to find the actual auctions of fish. All I did manage to find was an auction for clams. On the whole, Jagalchi fish market has the reputation of having vendors who are quite hostile to pictures being taken, but my experience was quite the contrary. It is maybe because I look European, or maybe also because I did smile and engage my subjects when taking photos.

Auction at Jagalchi fish market
An auction for clams just ended at Jagalchi fish market

 

Life around the market

The interesting thing about a market is the life that gravitates around that market. In fact, vendors need also to feed themselves and need also to rest or have their needs tended to. So, you have plenty of small businesses thriving around, like a sweet potato vendor using an old coal furnace.

Sweet potato vendor
A sweet potato vendor

The feeling was extraordinarily atmospheric, being out at 5 AM in the cold and seeing first the market, then the scenes such as this small merchant. The world belongs to the early risers, and this is especially true for photographers.

On the technical side, of course, shooting at night is a challenge, but I equipped my Nikon 20mm F.1.8, and this helped me to handle the difficult lighting condition. You could obtain the same results with a (cheaper) 50 mm F 1.8, but then, the inconvenience is that you must stay further from your subject. And nothing engages as much as close range photography for your viewer.

 

Jagalchi fish market
An incredible wealth of fish and seafood available at Jagalchi fish market

A local breakfast

My original plan was to enjoy a local breakfast at the hotel. However, on the way, my attention got caught by a local shop grilling fresh fish in front of the shop and serving local breakfasts. I think the owner of the shop got scared seeing a foreigner, as she attempted to tell me her shop is closed, before eventually relenting when a local patron invited me to sit down in front of him.

The breakfast was every bit hearty and delicious as expected, with several pickles, a fish soup, and of course, the grilled fish. It was a perfect restoring meal before heading to Haeundae beach, my following stop.

 

Local Korean breakfast
Local Korean breakfast

Victoria park on Chinese New Year eve

Yesterday night was Chinese New Year eve. It is a tradition for honkongers to go to Victoria park on Chinese New Year eve. Mainly because of the local flower and plushes market taking place there. Chinese New Year eve is the last day of the market, so vendors are hard pressed to sell their goods as soon as possible to avoid having to throw or to give them for free after midnight, when the market closes.

Learning business “on the job”

Victoria Park is also the setting of a real life “business school” for high school students. In fact, many students use the CNY market as an occasion to learn the basics of doing business. From starting a business plan, to pricing, sourcing, setting price, marketing and then adapting to competition on the market;

High school student selling plushes
A high school student texts while selling plushes with her comrades in Victoria park

Highly valuable, the experience sees the teenagers throwing themselves into the fray, rivaling with ideas to attract customers. Some even tried the idea of hanging plushes with sticks above the heads of the crowd!

Victoria park hanging plushes above the head
Students try to attract customers by hanging plushes above their heads

The Flower market

The other big attraction of the Victoria Park CNY market is, of course, the flower market. Replete with mandarin trees and various other plants or flowers, it is an occasion for Hongkongers to come and find cheap flowers to decorate their house.

On Chinese New Year eve, you can literally see “live” vendors discounting their wares as the hour advances.

Discounted plants
A merchant holds signs to attract customers for his discounted plants

As the hour advances and it gets closer to midnight, customers also hurry to get their shopping done. After midnight, the vendors must throw or donate their flowers, as they cannot be sold anymore.

Buying flowers on CNY eve
A mother and her daughter are buying flowers at a stall in Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve

It must be said that the flowers look magnificent and are a welcome decoration.

Flowers on sale
Flowers on sale as hongkongers pass by.

Finally, if you are not there to buy flowers, then maybe you just go there to take pictures and selfies. It is a bit what these three pretty girls were doing in Victoria park, with their smartphones.

3 pretty girsl on CNY eve
Three pretty girls stroll into Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve

In conclusion, although it was quite crowded, going to Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve is an experience to try! You can also read about my similar experience with Chinese New Year in Bangkok, here.

Happy New Year: ending 2017 with a barefoot hike on Dragon’s Back!

Ending the year with a barefoot hike on Dragon’s Back

Originally, before starting on my barefoot hike on suicide cliff, I had planned on starting barefoot hiking by a first barefoot hike on Dragon’s Back. The reason being that the Dragon’s back is fairly easy and straightforward and has none of the habitual dangers associated with hiking in a mountain. Things turned differently, and I started the harder exercise before the easiest. The Dragon’s back is one of the most populated hikes in Hong Kong. So, to celebrate the year end, I decided to go on the Dragon’s Back in the evening to enjoy the last sunset of the year and the absence of people.  I even spotted a guy with Vibrams walking on this trail!

An ideal terrain for learning barefoot hiking

While not cemented, the Dragon’s Back is one of the easiest trail available in Hong Kong. In fact, most of the terrain is sandy with a few rocky passages. Given the absence of gravel, it provides a lovely terrain for learning to hike barefoot if you are not yet familiar with the exercise.

Initial path of the Dragon's back trail
The initial two to three kilometers of the Dragon’s back are stony but very walkable.

Although the terrain is stony and filled with roots, as long as you are paying attention to where you place your feet, this is walkable at a brisk hiking speed and is even a pleasurable terrain to walk upon. In terms of feeling, this does not compare even remotely with the painfulness of some parts of the Shoushan national park hike.

There is however one delicate passage, which is a rocky embankment which might be complicated with shoes and more without because of its jaded nature. However, I managed to cross it without problems.

Jaded rock embankment
A jaded rock embankment a bit difficult to cross

The Dragon’s back ridge

Before getting to the Dragon’s back ridge, there is a rocky climb, which is pretty slippery with shoes and very easy  to climb barefooted. It is where you start recognizing the sandy nature of the trail.

Rocky climb to Dragon's Back ridge
Rocky climb to the Dragon’s Back ridge

I managed to climb the ridge with no issues and even took a video for you to see how easy it is.

Climb on Dragon’s Back ridge

The view at the top

The view from the top of the Dragon’s Back ridge is truly marvelous. Even more so, when you fly a drone.

Drone view of the Dragon's back ridge
Drone view of the Dragon’s back ridge

Of course, I did fly my drone around to take some shots of the environment. This gives you an idea of the marvelous views on this very easy hike (even five-year old kids can complete it).

Drone's view from Dragon's back
Drone’s view from Dragon’s Back

Finally, I took a “dronie”, that is a drone selfie.

Dronie on Dragon's Back trail
A “dronie” shot on the Dragon’s back trail…

At that point, I was still very much near the head of the ridge’s trail, and it was getting dark very quickly.

Fortunately, as you always should, I had taken my headlamp with me, allowing me to see the trail at night. In fact, the Dragon’s back trail, while totally easy, can become dangerous. If you don’t see where you are setting your feet, especially when you are hiking barefoot, you might slip and hurt yourself. So if you are hiking in the late afternoon, always pack a torch or a headlamp.

The end of the trail

The Dragon’s Back trail typically ends at its highest point, marked by a placard. It is where I chose to take my last picture of the trail: illuminating my feet with the green light of the lamp while using the background light of the Big Waves beach. Sorry for the poor quality, but it was pitch dark by then.

Barefoot hike on Dragon's Back
Last picture of the Barefoot hike on Dragon’s Back

I also used my camera on long exposure, but without tripod (hence had to leave the diaphragm wide open). The result is still lovely, as it captures the blue hour perfectly from the top of the Dragon’s Back trail.

Dragon's Back at night
A view from the Dragon’s Back at night.

After that, the remainder of the trail was pretty straightforward. I just had to get back down to To Kwa Wan, which is the end of the trail near Shek O village. Nevertheless, of course, a headlamp was a requirement as the moon did not shine over the trail.

How to get there?

Getting there is pretty easy. You take the MTR to the station Shau Kei Wan (or Chai Wan, but it involves climbing through the Sai Wan cemetery). At Shau Kei Wan, you take the bus number 9 direction Shek O beach. You must alight at Tai Tam gap correctional institution and there starts the hike. Upon arriving to the end of the trail you will be at the To Tei Wan bus stop. From there you can catch the number 9 direction either Shek O (to enjoy the beach) or direction Shau Kei Wan. On week-ends, in general, the bus is already full at Shek O, and gets even fuller at To Tei Wan, so a better option might be to take the number 9 to Shek O and grab a minibus to Shau Kei Wan.

 

The moment a travel turns to magic

As you may have surmised from my instagram, I am in Korea right now. However, on the way, in the Asiana plane, there was a moment the travel turns to magic…

It was the moment sunset shined over the winglet of the A330, while the moon rose in the background. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I had to use my IPhone, but the picture is surely in itself magical.

And another one showcasing the delicate reddish tones of sunset…

I guess travelers live for these moments, where everything aligns for a lovely moment and a lasting memory.

Flight to Kaohsiung: it all starts with a delay…

Last Sunday, I was flying to Kaohsiung, in Taiwan. This trip took place thanks to a promotion of American Express and Zuji, which both offered tickets to various destinations around the world for 30,000 pts on your credit card. The offer was too good not to enjoy (although flights are always on inconvenient dates, but not a big deal if you are taking vacations anyway).

HK airport lounge

As you never know what you might find on the plane as food, I had my dinner at the Premium Lounge of the airport (which you can access with a priority pass card (often given for free by some cards issuers).

Chicken, rice and vegetables as well as mushroom soup were on my menu. Nothing to talk home about, but certainly more tasty than on the plane.

China Airlines nice staff, but chronic delays

China Airlines is the largest airline in Taiwan and is part of the Skyteam alliance (uniting some older European airlines such as Air France or KLM). I didn’t know that company or had never flown on their planes until now. In economy, the service is quite ok, even if the flight attendants had to be scrambling around to feed everyone given the short duration of the flight.

In business instead, I would be a bit more doubtful, as I saw them storing the food temporarily on the floor just outside the plane (all wrapped up, of course).

Food stored
Food stored on the floor for the flight to Kaohsiung.

Departing, we had a huge delay, so we arrived only at midnight in Kaohsiung, too late to catch any MRT. The worst part is probably that on the return flight, they were also delayed! In this case, however, the delay was less meaningful, as HK has plenty of transportation options until late at night (and even during the night).

I mentioned about the short duration of the flight? Well, given their seemingly systematic delays, China Airlines “pads” its flight time and for a flight time of 1h10, they announce actually 1h40.

Arrival in Kaohsiung: already welcoming!

I have had my share of experience with immigration authorities in various countries. However, Taiwan was one of the most welcoming immigration experience I ever had. You must just give your passport and affix your two indexes on a digital print scanner upon arrival as well as upon exit (and complete an arrival card). Less easy than the entrance for residents in Hong Kong, but still easy and fast. Of course, absolutely not comparable to the living hell that can be the Thai immigration.

Conveyor belt
Luggages were distributed pretty quickly from the plane to the conveyor belt.

I then had to catch an Uber which, of course, gouged me with a price of 429 NT$ for just six kilometers. My hotel was the Art Eyes Sunduo, a sort of serviced apartment, which, thankfully had someone on watch despite the late hour. Which pretty spacious as apartment for one person and with an excellent view, I was pretty put off by the sign warning not to dispose of toilet paper in the toilet…

Art eyes
The hotel room at Art eyes Sunduo.

The view from the hotel room was gorgeous, however.

Kaohsiung by night
The gorgeous view from the hotel at night.

The following day, I was getting ready to start a long hike…. Which I will relate in my next post!

Sunset at Suicide Cliff

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

A long wait

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

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

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

Shooting people

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

After sunset
Suicide cliff after sunset

Night at suicide cliff

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

View over Kowloon
View on Kowloon from Kowloon Peak.

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

Kowloon Bay
Kowloon Bay at night

Epilogue

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

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

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

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

Full moon on Kowloon Peak

 

I posted a few weeks ago a picture of a moon crescent over Kowloon Peak. Yesterday night, the stars were aligned again, this time with the full moon.

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What is different this time?

For starters, it is a full moon, versus a crescent. I also experimented some more this time. Took shots with faster shutter speed, higher isos…

The clouds gave both a mysterious tone to the mountain, and at the same time, as they covered completely the mountain at times, spoiled several of my shots.

 

 

The red moon of Hong Kong

Tonight, there was a red moon on Hong Kong. As the moon crescent was well formed and the skies were somehow clearer, the moon could be clearly visible as it went down over the horizon. Sadly, as always where there is nice weather on Hong Kong, the sky still had some haze.

Why a red moon?

Well, it is important to mention that earlier during the evening, the moon was not red. It was white. It got that reddish tone, simply because as it got lower, the atmospheric pollution caused the bluish components of the light to be lost.

You can find an interesting explanation on the causes of that phenomenon on USCB Science Line.

Technical aspects

On the technical side, the picture was shot at 200 mm, and I raised the iso slightly to 400, in order to keep a faster shutter speed (exposure is still 15 seconds here!), to try to keep the moon clear enough to be distinguishable.

The earth turns!

When you are doing astrophotography, an important part to bear in mind, and this is particularly true for the moon: the earth rotates!

It may not seem as much, but the rotation of the earth is sufficient to cause a blur during the 15 seconds exposure on this picture.

Astronomists generally use a gear that rotates slightly the camera to account for the earth’s rotation, but obviously, that’s not my specialty right now.

How to get the moon clearer?

You can opt to try shorter exposure times by opening the diaphragm and increasing the shutter speed to keep exposure as short as possible. Obviously, it gets tricky with you include darker elements such as a cityscape. In the end, as always, it ends up being a question of choices and compromise. I made the choice to keep the picture with as little grain as possible while reducing exposure time to try and minimize the effect of earth’s rotation.

 

A summer evening stroll in Kwun Tong

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

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

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

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

How to get there?

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

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

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