Hiking barefoot above the sea of clouds: Lantau Peak

My previous hike on Lantau peak was shod; it was thus only natural that I should attempt a barefoot hike on Lantau peak. The initial goal was just to manage to climb the mountain, but eventually, I managed to photograph a “sea of clouds“.

An opportunity hike

I decided to climb Lantau peak as I had to take my family to the airport. Remembering that I struggled with all my gear the previous time, I decided to hike light this time. My package contained water, my camera, my phone and a go pro. I also took a change of clothes and a fleece sweater, as I was expecting to be chilled on the return.

The departure took place pretty late, towards 3 PM, but that still gave me some margin, as sunset was to take place around 17h 30 pm, so I still had time to return to Nong Ping. However, on the way, I saw several Indians who were barely arriving within view of the summit around 16h 30, or close to 17h 00… Given that none of them had packed a torch other than their smartphone, I hope they managed to get down without issues.

As a reminder, if you expect your hike to have even a remote possibility of ending at night, you should carry a torch light.

The start of the hike

As usual, the hike starts on Pak Kung Au. This location is the starting point for both, Lantau peak hike and Sunset peak hike (where you hike all the way to Mui Wo). Pak Kung Au, being some distance from the town of Tung Chung, you must catch bus 23M (the one going to Nong Ping) and alight at Pak Kung Au station. From there, you have to walk uphill some short distance, before joining the start of the trail to Lantau Peak.

At the very start, you will see a memorial comemorating the two GFS (Government Flying Service) pilots who got killed in a helicopter accident on the flanks of Lantau Peak.

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

A heavy fog was blanketing all of Hong Kong, so I was not really expecting there to be any significant shots, but I was fine with it, as it was just for the exercise.

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

The first time I climbed Lantau Peak, it was at night, with a heavy load on my back and with a much lesser degree of cardio. This time, I was able to keep up a good level of speed, and if I didn’t manage to reach the 1h 1/4 promised by the direction boards, I did manage to get to the top in 1h 25 mins.

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

A grueling series of stairs

While very well signaled and built and unlike suicide cliff, perfectly safe to climb, the hike is mainly an endless succession of stone stairs. Keeping a light backpack is paramount to conserving energy and not exhausting yourself up there.

For a barefoot hiker, the challenge is compounded by some rough trails along the way, with loose stones. With some training, you just breeze past those areas, and bare feet do consent more balance. However, if you are unsure of your balance taking a hiking stick can certainly help.

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

Above the clouds

At a point, I exited finally from the cloud cover and was welcomed by a warm sun in its setting phase. There is always some marvel at seeing the sun after bathing in the fog, but the marvel was compounded when I turned around and saw that there was actually a sea of clouds! As a reminder, the “sea of clouds” is generally formed by a weather phenomenon called “temperature inversion”, where the air near the ground is colder than the air above, thus trapping the fog on the bottom.

Climbing on Lantau Peak and seeing the sea of clouds

It is often said that barefoot hiking allows you to experience the hike, as well as do it… But the real experience was the magnificent views on this hike. The gorgeous views would almost let you forget that there is an airport in operation just next to the mountain!

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

Summitting!

There is always a thrill in arriving to the top of a mountain, in my case, the thrill was increased by the fact that I did climb faster than I expected. A lot of hikers were busy taking pictures around on that day. And for cause! The sea of clouds was just gorgeous.

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

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

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

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

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

And after this, it was time to head back down…

The road down

The first few meters down from Lantau Peak are quite impressive as you progress down an almost vertical flight of stairs which can certainly give fear of heights to people who are subject to it. The views, however are just gorgeous, as you feel you are descending from heaven.

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

The stairs are nothing to write home about, on the way down. You must just be careful if they are humid as they might be slippery (especially when barefoot), but beyond that, although I was barefoot, I managed to reach Nong Ping before any of the other hikers who left the top at the same time as me.

Wisdom path shrouded in fog
The wisdom path shrouded in fog

It was a bit difficult for me to maintain trace of my upward progression as I missed a number of the landmarks we had been through during the night hike. However, I managed to evaluate my (fast) progression on the way down, by recognizing a number of benches or other features along the way. What was missing most was the possibility of recognizing the wisdom path along the way. When I finally encountered it, it was shrouded in the fog, giving it an eery aspect.

On the way back

On the way, I checked the abandoned village near Nong Ping. In a previous post, I had mentioned about the creepy doll in one of the abandoned shops. It seems that since my last visit, some vandals broke the windows of that shop and stole the doll. A pity, as she was one of the features to give a friendly face to this abandoned village.

In Tung Chung, after catching one of the last buses from Nong Ping, I caught the E22 bus to take me home straight, without having to change 2x MTR.

As a conclusion, the Lantau Peak hike, although grueling by the efforts required, is quite an easy hike, which can be easily done even by relatively inexperienced hikers due to the presence of stairs all along the path.

A final word: the overwhelming positive approach to barefooting on the trails

All the reactions of other hikers on the trail were admirative of barefoot hiking, so in general, hiking barefoot in Hong Kong is more of a subject of admiration. Barefooting on rough terrain commands even more admiration, as people cringe inwardly about the “pain” that could be a result.

While the terrain commands a slower hiking approach than shod, at the end of the day, the legs feel wonderfully light after the hike is over. Just good muscular tiredness, with no exhaustion on the feet.

As a barefoot runner and hiker, visibility is also important in convincing others to take the first step towards this life-changing practice.


Barefoot hike on 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.

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

Another barefoot hike on the Dragon’s Back

On this extended week-end of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, it was exciting to go for a hike. The easiest option available was, obviously, to go for another barefoot hike on the Dragon’s Back.

A crowded hike

On week-ends, habitually, the hike is pretty crowded, but on Chinese New Year, it became worse. Indeed, between mainland Chinese, expats and a throng of Filipina maids, the hike became quite busy.

However, as we started earlier, it was a bit less crowded at the start in the forest. You can see the terrain is pretty flat, with just some roots to watch for and the odd pebble.

Dragon's back beginning
Walking through the first part of the hike, which is a forested flat hike.

Once again, the Dragon’s back is one of the easiest and most accessible hikes of Hong Kong. I did it several times, and at least once before, barefoot at night. So, the whole first part of the hike went excessively well, if I except the habitual “barefoot!” exclamations of other hikers, or Chinese sniggering in my back. A few people gave me the thumbs up, some commenting that it was pretty “hardcore”. Filipina maids, generally look aghast…

 

On the Dragon’s Back

Once on the Dragon’s back, it was just the habitual ups and downs on the ridge… I decided not to fly the drone because of the high wind speed in altitude. In addition, the slight haze visible did make it less interesting to take pics (I had better pictures with better lighting and atmospheric conditions from previous visits). My wife took her turn photographing this time, and I played model.

Dragon's back
Past the first leg of the Dragon’s back.

Walking further on the trail, there was always that mixture of marvel, stupefaction or admiration in the other hikers. Seldom indifference, if at all. For a society tolerating plenty of devious behaviors, seeing someone barefoot seems pretty shocking…

My wife, this being said, wore her hiking boots. She gave me, also the occasion of shooting some pics of her along the trail.

Mitchy on Dragon's Back
Mitchy wearing hiking boots on the Dragon’s Back trail

Riding the Head

Reaching the end of the trail, this time, we pushed further to what might be deemed the “head” of the Dragon’s back: a cliff dominating the village of Shek O.

While situated beyond a warning panel, the views on this cliff are quite gorgeous and deserve a visit. However, the crowd present on the Dragon’s Back kept taking risks.

I noticed especially the Filipina maids, who have a propensity to take risks for the perfect selfie. Here, one of them kept posing on one leg right at the edge of the cliff (and it was quite windy!). The moment after this pic was shot, a wind gust blew away her cap…

Dragon's back maids
A Fililpina maid poses in equilibrium on one leg

The interesting of this last part of the hike from a barefoot hiking point of view, is that the granite of the cliff is a perfect terrain for walking barefoot. Where I used to find the terrain particularly slippery with hiking boots (the sand is rather treacherous!) or even trail running shoes, here, the rock was just perfectly adhesive with my bare feet. So, while this picture (courtesy of my wife!) may appear risky, it is well below any real risk-taking as there is a further ledge on the other side of the cliff, and there was no risk of slipping. The big issue is when people try taking selfies and don’t appreciate the distances behind them.

Barefoot on dragon's back
A barefoot portrait on the cliff above Shek O. Photo @mitchayfern

Shek O beach

The final goal, after coming down from the Dragon’s back, was to go to Shek O village. We did arrive there, had lunch, and then headed to the beach. With the strong winds the waves were quite powerful, and nobody was swimming. It was a perfect occasion to use the drone and shoot some spectacular scenes over the water.

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The interesting part was that some Filipina or Indonesian was having her prenuptial pictorials on the beach. I pirated some pics.

Prenup pictorial
Prenup pictorial on Shek O beach

Sometimes, some pics can be just as telling or as funny as you can imagine. Composition-wise, it was also interesting.

Prenup pictorial
Criss-crossing looks on the pictorial

Later, I also took a video of Shek O beach with my Mavic Pro:

How to get there?

I previously explained this point in a previous post. Please consult it for information. Once you complete the Dragon’s back trail, you can catch the bus n° 9, heading to Shek O. Be warned though, on crowded periods, the village and the beach can be quite busy… and the bus waiting queue can reach epic sizes.

 

Daytrip to Cijin island

On my last day in Kaohsiung I completed one of my goals, namely take a daytrip to Cijin island. Located barely 10 minutes away by ferry from the mainland, Cijin island is truly a destination to recommend if you are in Kaohsiung. The bucolic atmosphere makes it a lovely traveling destination. Although you cannot swim in the ocean (the red flag is permanently up, probably because of strong riptides), walking in the warm black sand and having your feet in the sea is as relaxing as it gets.



 

Getting there

To get there, you must take the MRT until Sizihwan station where you take exit 1. When you get out of the station (easy, follow the signs pointing to the ferry), you must walk on the main street, then take left at the second or third street. The ferry itself is pretty cheap, about 15 NT$ if you are on foot, and 50 NT$ if you are with a bicycle. Obviously, your best bet is to grab a city bike from the station just near to the ferry pier and take it with you on the ferry. Cijin island, although small, is best covered on bike (it is also the perfect way to enjoy the place).

Other solutions are to hire a local taxi or rickshaw (taxis, I heard, charge up to 300 NT$ to tour you around, which is probably the best way of seeing everything comfortably, but takes away a huge chunk of the fun of biking in the fresh sea breeze).

Rickshaws on Cijin island
Rickshaws available for hire on Cijin island

The beach: no swimming!

Cijin beach has apparently a permanent red flag, probably due to strong currents. This didn’t mean some courageous surfers didn’t attempt to ride the (low) rolls.

Surfer on Cinjin island
A surfer tackles the strong currents on Cijin Island

As to me, I did a Periscope from the beach, sharing a bit the lovely weather and holiday atmosphere I was into. I waded into water to refresh myself (despite being only 25° C, the reverberation from the sea and the sand were quite hot).

Seawater on feet
An incredibly relaxing feeling with fresh seawater bathing your feet.

The black sand is quite visible on your feet, but there are water fountains around to rince your feet. The annoying thing about the beach is that you should beware when walking on the local grass or herbs. There are some quite spiky thorns embedding into your feet (but since my feet were already accustomed to barefoot running and walking, no skin broken for me).

A “rainbow chapel”

A little further from the beach, there is a shellfish museum, and something they call a “rainbow chapel”, with a sculpture of two seahorses kissing.

Seahorses
Two seahorses kissing near the “Rainbow chapel”.

Further down the island, you can see a wind farm. Supposedly installed to promote green electricity, I doubt the small installation can be sufficiently efficient to produce electricity for the whole island, let alone a few houses.

Wind farm
The wind farm of Cijin island

 

Humble shots

But the beauty of Cijin island is that you need not limit yourself to the “official” attractions.

Sometimes, you must not hesitate to take a close look at even ordinary things… Here, some poor flowers on the beach, providing a colorful touch on a beach otherwise devoid of activity or focus points.

 

Cijin island beach
Sometimes, the most humble subjects also bring a touch of color… here some wild flowers on the beach.

Otherwise, other points of interest can be the usual debris found on the beach. Here, I believe black and white provides a better focus on the structure and composition of the picture.

Beach debris Cijin island
Beach debris in Cijin island

Normally, a daytrip to Cijin island does not involve staying at a hotel on the island itself as it is so close to Kaohsiung. Nevertheless, there are a couple of hotels on the island, but I would not advise staying there with the choice available in Kaohsiung itself.

Taiwanese lunch

On the way back, I did a stop at a local restaurant to enjoy some chicken with rice. It was interesting to watch them prepare the chicken behind the scenes.

Restaurant in Cijin island
A nice little restaurant on the way to the ferry harbor.

The food, while simple, was delicious.

Chicken with rice
A simple but delicious chicken with rice

And finally, it was time to head for the last time to my hotel and pack my belongings to head to the airport.

 

Kaoshiung Airport
The wings of Kaohsiung Airport

How to get there?

Cijin island is easy to reach. Just grab the MRT (orange line) until the station KRT Sizihwan. From there, exit 1. Then you walk until the second or third road turning left which leads straight to the ferry harbor. There, climb on the ferry (obvious!).

 

First day in Korea: Nami island

Nami island is a little locality in the neighbourhood of Seoul. It shot to fame when the Korean drama “Winter Sonata” became an Asian (and in a lesser measure worldwide) hit in 2002. Since then, the island has sought to build on the fame brought by this unexpected notoriety by creating an environment catering to the tourists, but also with its own personality. As an example, they try to showcase the art of local artists, making the place something catering to K-drama afficionados as well as to hipster bloggers.

Easy to reach

Nami island has another asset: its ease to reach. You can get there simply by taking  a metro from any place in Seoul. I was located in a guesthouse in Gangnam for my stay (I quickly regretted that decision). So, for me, any trip even within Seoul involved heavy commutes, in this case, getting to the interchange station of Wangsimni. From there, you must catch the line direction Chuncheon. You have about 1/2 hr to 3/4 hr ride until the station of Gapyeong, where you must get down.

Metro in Seoul
The metro in Seoul is very convenient and bilingual in its signals and announcements.

Taking the metro in Seoul

The metro in itself is clean, convenient and fast. The one inconvenience is that you might have to carry any heavy luggage up and down the stairs. Otherwise, signage and announcements are bilingual and it is extremely easy to navigate for foreigners.

Metro wagon in Seoul
Sideways seating in the metro, just like in Hong Kong

Interesting cultural observations

Obviously, for Asia, or the XXIst century in general, most people in the metro are on their smartphones. But it was a lovely surprise to see a young girl knitting to pass her time on the metro to Gapyeong, rather than keying or browsing her smartphone. It is may be the first time in Asia, I that see a young lady passing her time on a more traditional craft. It was a lovely sight to behold.

Girls knitting in Seoul Metro
In the XXIst century, there are still young girls who enjoy knitting and not being on smartphones…

Gapyeong station

Once you arrive in Gapyeong station you must still transfer to Nami island. That means either taking  a taxi (between 4,000 to 6,000 KRW) or a tour bus (6,000 KRW, but it includes return and transfer to “Little France”, which I skipped). If you arrive too late, you will be drowned in a crowd of tourists all heading to Nami Island as well. You may run the risk of not being able to catch  the tour bus, which leaves every hour. I had to stand for the whole way, so my advice, if you can, is arrive and leave early.

Meanwhile, at the station, you can enjoy the local food. I recommend the cheese toast at the little restaurant (cheese apparently includes Cabbage in the Korean recipe).

Cheese toast
The Cheese toast is to recommend in this eatery.

If after having eaten your cheese toast, you still have time to kill, there is a little coffee shop, but expect it to be crowded as well. And don’t wait too long, or you might not have any seats left on the bus!

Waiting for tour bus
A nice place to have a coffee while waiting for the tour bus

Otherwise, there is a little exhibition in the Gapyeong station, showcasing the history of human settlements in the area. Interesting if you wish to know more about the area.

Gapyeong station exhibition
Exhibition of Gapyeong station

 

Transferring to the island

Nami island is… an island! That means, you must transfer there, and you have two choices: either taking a zipline (but that involves leaving behind any heavy bags, so not an option for me as I was carrying camera and drone…) or taking a ferry. Prices are around 38,000 KRW for zipline (inclusive the return by ferry) or 8,000 KRW for the ferry. It was around 0° C that day, so most tourists remained inside the ferry.

 

Nami island zipline tower
If you wish to transfer to Nami island by zipline, you can go up this tower

Nami island

Couple island.
Nami island is also very much a place for couples. Here just before the ferry.

It must be mentioned that the island declared its “cultural independence”, so that they have everywhere flags and “institutions” (a central bank… guards or so-called “police”) of the “Naminara republic”. This is also to collect a “visa fee” from visitors (but it is included in your ferry ticket).

The ferry can get quite crowded with a majority of Asian tourists (due to the influence of K-drama and instagram).

Nami island ferry
On the return the central area was truly covered with people

Upon arrival on the island, i managed to see some locals warming up at an open fire lit to warm themselves.

locals warming at fire Nami Island
Locals warming at an open fire near the ferry pier of Nami island

The crowd makes a difference

Nami island is a very beautiful place, but the crowds of tourists that jam-pack the place do not make it very enjoyable. The best views are out of the beaten tracks.

 

Besides this aspect, Nami island understood very well how to cultivate the XXIst century instagram-fanatic crowds by providing a number of “instagrammesque” spots.

Upon arrival, for example, a frozen fountain…

 

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The real treasure is elsewhere

 

As usual, the real treasures of Nami island are found when you walk away from the crowd. Take the side paths and you can discover really lovely scenes. Like squirrels running around and friendly enough to let you approach very close to shoot their portrait…

Squirrel on Nami Island
Squirrels are pretty friendly on Nami Island, probably because visitors feed them a lot.

Or you can find some truly lovely scenes in autumn, without people in your frame. Like this bucolic autumn scene near a little stream.

Nami Island
Nami island, the place made famous by the K-drama “Winter sonata”.

Or you could fly a done and try to shoot some interesting landscapes… Below, you can see the main alley most people walk through.

Drone shot Nami island
A drone shot on Nami island at a limited altitude of 30m

Again, walking outside of the beaten tracks is the best chance to get different shots from the thousands of visitors. The natural beauty of the island is not appreciated enough outside of all those crowds rushing to the K-drama spots or being sucked in by the tourist honeypots.

Nami island
Nami island: outside of the beaten tracks

In conclusion: an interesting excursion

Nami island is not a “must see”, but it is certainly worth visiting, as long as you a). beat the crowds; b). take a walk outside of touristic tracks; c). look for nature and not for selfie spots.

But then again, if you must visit Korea and have a limited amount of time, this is one place you can give a pass, unless you are a fan of K-drama and “winter sonata” in particular.

Dragon and Tiger pagoda

In my previous post, I mentioned about visting the Eslite bookstore. Thereafter, I decided to visit one of the main landmarks of Kaohsiung, namely the dragon and tiger pagoda. Built with two giant figures of the said animals through the mouth of which you must enter, this pagoda is another must-see in Kaohsiung.

A bit out of the way

To be honest, reaching this pagoda takes some effort as it is located quite some way from any MRT station.

I will provide instructions at the end of the post, but in short, it takes a long walk from the MRT Kaohsiung Arena to reach the pagoda. I was lugging of course, both my camera bag and a tripod. On the way to the pagoda, I came across a railway crossing manned by a guard. Originally, I wanted to shoot the rails extending in the distance with the sunset light, but the guard asked me to pass behind the barrier.

The guard was so kind as to propose me to set up my tripod at his place, as a train was passing. Thanks to him, I managed to get a spectacular shot of a train rushing in the sunset.

Train at a railway crossing in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Kaohsiung: a train rushes at a railway crossing while a guard stands watch

I continued walking on that endless road, and carried on the last bit of the road barefoot, as my feet were truly tired from dragging in my flip-flops. It is strange how my feet got less tired thereafter.

A pagoda built pretty recently

The pagoda’s colors come across as extremely gorgeous during the day as well as at night. This is probably due to the Pagoda not being very old, as it was built in 1976.

At night, the effect is quite stunning, especially if you take the time of using a long exposure. The lights and the color take a special golden hue which makes it look quite special.

Dragon and tiger pagoda
The magnificent dragon and tiger pagoda in Kaohsiung

Other sights

The dragon and tiger pagoda is not the only point of interest to see around the lake where it is located. A bit further is another pagoda, called the “Spring and Autumn pavillons”, which was built in 1953. It thus predates the dragon and tiger pagodas, but it is still the same gorgeous style.

Near the Tiger and dragon pagoda, the spring and autumn pavillons
Near the Tiger and dragon pagoda, the spring and autumn pavillons rise.

This is not the only sight. If you just turn your back to the dragon and tiger pagoda, then you can play on patterns and lines as in this picture.

Patterns near the Tiger and dragon pagoda
On the gangway to the dragon and tiger pagoda, you can see these decorations which make for a nice pattern.

Again, from a technical point of view, the best results are obtained with a tripod and long exposure, which may run counter to the expectation of some people of “traveling light”.

An old temple.

In the same area, you can also see an older temple, the Tzu Chi temple, the facade of which is heavily ornated.

Tzu Chi temple
Just opposite the Dragon and Tiger Pagoda, stands the Tzu Chi temple.

Tzu Chi is one of the four major Buddhist sects in Taiwan, hence not astonishing that they have a temple in such a prominent position. In this very syncretic typical aspect of Asian Buddhism, the temple hosts Chinese gods as well…

But after coming to this place for shooting the pagoda, I was not going to linger. Up on my list was the Ruifeng night market. So, to save time (and also because I was tired!), I caught a marauding taxi to that place. But that’s the subject of a next post…

Barefoot hike on Suicide cliff

I mentioned that possibility in a previous post, and I finally did it: A barefoot hike on suicide cliff! Originally, I wanted to test myself with a barefoot hike on a less steep terrain, such as the Dragon’s Back hike. Seeing how packed that hike can be on weekends, I decided instead to do the suicide cliff. I am probably the first (maybe will remain the only!) to pull off this feat. Disclaimer: this post does not mean to incite you to replicate the fact without proper preparation/training.


For the record, this is a trail I covered five or six times this year with trail running shoes or hiking boots each time, so I knew the terrain and the risks beforehand. I also took it slow and easy and did not seek for thrills.

Going light!

Lightness was the key to going barefoot. As most of the previous times, I had packed around 15 kgs of photographic gear (and a tripod), this time, with bare feet, lightness was a must, otherwise, the impact when descending might have been increased with the weight supported (not to mention balance would be off by a degree). Originally, I wanted to take a hiking pole, but then decided against it as most of the uphill route involves using your hands to push on rocks.

I just packed a camera, 1.5 l. water and some change of clothes.

Lovely temperatures

In winter, at least, the temperature is far from that sweltering heat of the summer, but it is still a hike that demands some work as it is a continuous climb from the start to the top. However, I would say that we are in the golden season for this hike, as temperatures are moderate and ground is dry.

Still, despite this, I sweated quite a bit due to the effort. But let’s get to the nitty-gritty of this hike: how did I make it barefoot?

Midway to suicide cliff barefoot
The vertiginous view midway to suicide cliff

Why doing the hike barefoot?

I explained before when relating my hike on Kowloon Peak, I started running barefoot a month ago. This allowed me to strengthen immensely my feet and my overall form. The other point was that I got really fed up with the hiking meetups to which I participated. Half or three quarters of the participants were doing more of a trail running than real hiking. In a very Hongkongese manner, hiking is something to be completed asap and almost “business-like”. And otherwise, you will pollute the whole atmosphere with music boxes because you are “bored”. The concept of admiring or communing with nature is totally unheard of.

Slowing down

Doing a barefoot hike on suicide cliff is a way of opening your mind to everything that surrounds you and to the sensations of your body (you better listen to your feet!). It is also a very nice tactile feel. And finally, it was an achievement I wanted to realize after climbing so often on suicide cliff.

And last but not least, you are obliged to take it slow and deliberately and look where you place your feet. Despite all this, I kept ahead of two other shod hikers who started about five minutes after me.

In tight terrain, bare feet do a good job

If you have not yet done this hike, then let me give you a tip: most of the climb is made of small nooks in which you must place your feet. I did this hike with hiking boots, with trail running shoes and barefoot. Of all these times, it was the easiest when I climbed with trail running shoes and barefoot. In fact, the feet and its plant, in particular, do a good job of nestling into the limited space left in the rock. Hiking boots and their rigid sole make it much more difficult to climb. Furthermore, on delicate passages, where you might lose balance because your shoe is in equilibrium, the bare foot does claw around the rock to keep you stable.



 

Caution and care

Obviously, you will never hike barefoot if you are focused on completing a trail fast. You must be careful where you place your feet. You cannot kick or throw your feet anyhow, unless you wish to hurt them. Because of this, hiking barefoot is a form of hiking that has less impact on the environment. My feet left a minimum impact on the trail (which is worryingly suffering some heavy erosion with the huge number of hikers).

I hiked alone, but this was not much of a danger on a week-end, given the number of hikers taking this trail (sometimes, there is a real queue for getting to the suicide cliff).

Some delicate passages

A delicate passage is the sandy (and eroded!) path near suicide cliff itself. You must hold yourself with hands and/or a hiking pole, because, obviously, the sand is quite slippery. Another important point is never to jump or land heavily. I would say that the barefoot hiking style would be akin to a puma progressing in the mountain (your steps and progression must be smooth and feline).

I must however point out that the way down (via the stairs to Fei Ngo shan road) is otherwise more demanding when barefoot. As a number of wooden stairs have been worn out on the trail, all that is left in some places are protruding metal bars (there is  metal also on the existing stairs, but as they just appear as bolts, the feet just adapt around). Those metal bars when uncovered could easily injure someone absent-minded or tired (but so could a heavy landing on rocks). So, I would recommend wearing shoes in any case to go down (even if I did not follow that advice!).

Resting feet on grass
Resting on the grass on Kowloon peak after the barefoot hike on suicide cliff

The look of others

Again, as previously exposed, reactions vary. Generally, surprise and admiration are superior to the people taking you for a madman. A girl asked me if this was a challenge. Another group admired the feat, with one lady commenting that it must be very painful. I answered that it was not as I run barefoot.

But as I also mentioned earlier, you must have the strength of will to withstand criticism and be confident even without shoes.

Training for hiking barefoot

On the point of pain, if you are not accustomed to run barefoot, if you have tender untouched feet, do not try this at all. You must be accustomed to bearing your weight on reflexology stones touching your feet (many paths available in HK’s parks). You should be able to walk on one without wincing or being obliged to move to avoid the pain. Why is that? Simply because on the mountain, you might land on stones. When accustomed, your feet will shift the weight around that protruding intruder. It may be a sort of pressure induced on your feet, but if unaccustomed, it might feel a lot like pain. As such, when unprepared, you might be thrown off balance and lose your footing.

Silver grass on the hike

Silver grass on Kowloon peak
Silver grass line the stairs to the radio tower on Kowloon Peak

Right now is the ideal season for seeing “silver grass” on the mountain. From what I could see, a number of hikers were happy to take selfies on background of the silver grass. But this should not be the only reason for climbing up there. You should also think about the magnificent views up there, such as the view on Sai Kung.

Sai Kung and foggy mountains
On the first plane, you can see the city of Sai Kung, with, in background, a number of mountains enshrouded in fog.

I was lucky enough to arrive early, when the morning fog did not yet clear from the mountains. This gave that famous vapory look so typical of Chinese woodblocks.

All in all, a wonderful hike, and you are never disappointed by the sights of Hong Kong from Kowloon Peak. However, the heavy circulation also means you encounter 50% of hikers who are unable to hike without a music box.

Suicide cliff viewpoint
The real view from the edge of Suicide cliff