Tai Mo Shan is the highest mountain in Hong Kong, culminating at 957 m. Despite being in Hong Kong for two years already, I had not visited Tai Mo Shan until recently. It must be said that it is a bit out of my way, and I already have the famous suicide cliff near to my place. I even went back there recently, but that will be the object of another post.
A photography meetup
I went up Tai Mo Shan with the members of a photography meetup, the PASM meetup. We went the day before the Typhoon Mangkhut hit the city, because prior to the typhoon, there is always some marvelous atmospheric effects in the sky.
Having missed the bus to Tai Mo Shan, we caught an Uber to be on the safe side. The side benefit of taking an uber was that the driver took us up about halfway up.
A windy start
Being on the side facing Yuen Long, we faced strong headwinds. An attempt to take off with my drone ended in a crash-landing that created some damage to the gimbal, although that damage was not immediately apparent.
Despite the wind, we managed to take some pictures on a rocky outcropping.
Although we had come halfway up on Tai Mo Shan, we still had halfway to walk, and so, we started climbing. Along the way, there is a viewpoint over the town of Tsuen Wan. While it is just the habitual cityscape of Hong Kong with high rises and some view of the sea (read: unremarkable), it was interesting to play with the drone around that area.
Of course, since the scene was there, I did take a dronie… Barefoot of course, as I was hiking the whole mountain barefoot.
The most fun was when another Mavic Pilot came down the mountain with his own drone, while he was actually riding a scooter. We then exchanged dronies capturing each other with our respective drones.
The sunset over the mountain
Finally, after having climbed even higher, we came to an ideal position to see the setting sun. We were blessed with some angel lights shining through the clouds which made the sunset quite spectacular. Despite the proximity of the typhoon, and despite being on the exposed side of the mountain (again), there were no gusts, so the drone managed to be quite pliable.
Despite the lower dynamic range of the Mavic Pro, the picture is quite similar to the picture shot with the Nikon D 750.
The reason for the absence of reddish sky is due to the wind which dispersed the pollutants which habitually diffract the blue part of the solar light. Habitually, Hong Kong and Bangkok are gifted with quite spectacular sunsets due to the high presence of pollutants in the sky. An approaching typhoon, obviously disperses these pollutants.
Once the sunset over, we started going down, also to get home on time to shelter from the typhoon. Nevertheless, that is when the sky started showing some spectacular hues.
It was the occasion for me to shoot a pic of Bailey who, after a lot of prodding, finally decided to take off his shoes and start barefooting down the mountain.
Obviously, I took it to the next level, when I decided to jog down the mountain with my heavy backpack, still barefoot… But that is how a barefoot hike can be as much fun as a barefoot run!
Getting to Tai Mo Shan
We took it the easy way, as we hired an uber which took us up to halfway the mountain. Nevertheless, if you wish to climb Tai Mo Shan more “classically”, you must first head to the Tsuen Wan West MTR station. From there, you grab bus n° 50 and alight near the mountain. From there, it is impossible to get lost, as the path to the top is straight and paved until the end.
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 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.
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.
A view by drone provides even a better context as it allows to capture both, the devil’s peak and the view behind.:
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.
The panorama is quite gorgeous from up there.
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.
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.
At any rate, here is the sunset with my Nikon:
And to end this, a 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.
The first hotel in which I was was the Best Western Sands. As it name indicates, it is very close to English Bay, a “beach in the city” within Vancouver.
A last minute choice based on its proximity to the beach, this Best Western was more akin to a motel. In the end, a wrong choice for every possible reason. Indeed, I soon discovered that hygiene was an approximation in that hotel, as the toilet bowl sitting cover was covered in drops of urine that had never been cleaned. To make it worst, the reception never sent someone to clean, nor did they provide the disinfecting wipes I had asked for. It was a rather bad experience to start my stay in Vancouver, but I did not let that deter me. I went out immediately with my gear, to capture the snowstorm that was buffeting the city.
On day 2, after seeing Vancouver under the snow, I changed my hotel (more on that story at the end). I dropped at the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa a wonderful old England style hotel in the center of Vancouver. I may write more about the stay at that hotel, but this post is not the place for it.
An epic snowstorm
Reading the news afterwards, I realized better how the storm hit the city. The snow had disrupted significantly the city, with up to 20 cm in places. This provided a magnificent backdrop for photos, so, the evening of my arrival, I went out to shoot.
In some places, the view of the snowy English Bay was wonderfully enchanting, not unlike Finland. Bear in mind that these pictures were shot on tripod in the midst of a snowstorm.
The best part was probably seeing kids and adults trying to sled down the icy slopes of English bay. Others built a quite complete snowman.
All in all, the very special setting of English bay made it a lovely place to shoot the snowstorm and the locals enjoying it.
English Bay under the snow by day
Of course, seeing the marvelous setting of English bay under the snow by day, just gave me the desire to come back. So, the next afternoon, I went back and got the chance of seeing a wonderful winter sky which gave a special tone to the place.
People were out in numbers to enjoy the snow on English Bay, given that the place is so scenic. Couples, among others took a seat watching the sea and the snowy landscape.
Further away, it could be seen that many locals came to try either sledding on the snow, or even trying some cross-country skiing!
The most Asian of Canadian cities
Vancouver could be dubbed “the most Asian of Canadian cities”. Indeed, during my stay, I had the occasion of seeing quite a large part of the population being Asian. To be even more precise, I came across some retirees speaking Cantonese somewhere near main street. But Chinese and HongKongese are not the only ones here. I also heard a lot of Japanese, either families living in Vancouver, or tourists. Koreans were also well represented. This ethnic composition makes Vancouver quite a rich community.
It is thus no mystery that I came across a group of Asian students on English bay, celebrating (a graduation or a birthday). They were kind enough to pose for me when they saw me pointing my lens towards them.
Another sign of Asian influence was spotting these stone piles in English bay. For some reason, they always appear wherever Chinese visit (I saw them also in French beach, on Vancouver island).
The typical Canada geese were around, flying in their typical “V” formation and providing a lovely view for the beach.
When flying above the structures of English bay, this became a typical scene of Canada. Somehow, it proves that with some patience and open eyes, even birds flying around can become a good subject for photography (my previous example being on Haeundae beach, in Korea).
How to get there?
If you have a car, it is quite easy to get there, otherwise, you can take a metro straight from the airport to the station Waterfront or Burrard and then switch for the Trolleybus n° 6 which will take you quite nearby.
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.
This project started when I was living in Bangkok, in the posh area of Thonglor at soi 17. Just next door to my condo, in 2013, they started destroying an old house to make way for a new construction. As I had an unparalleled view from above, I decided to follow the progress of the construction. The original was to make it a sort of timelapse of the changes on the construction site, but with time, the real interest focused on the workers. Then it became the story of how a mall was built, namely “the Commons” mall in Bangkok. And more largely, a documentation of the working conditions on Thai construction sites and the workers along with the quirks and peculiarities of work in Thailand.
The hidden actors of Bangkok’s rise
Thus, the project moved towards telling the story of those workers who have made possible the fast rise of Bangkok. In a way, it is also an ethnological study of a micro-society.
It all starts with destroying
In Bangkok, in prime locations, new projects often start with destroying old buildings. The construction site of the Commons was no exception, as they destroyed an old restaurant that occupied two stories in the back of the land. Probably an inefficient use of space for such valuable land.
Of course, here most of the work was done by hand by workers with barely any protection against the hazards (no safety shoes, no helmets, if you notice the picture).
A picture of the context and the general idea of the location:
Laying the foundations
Once the old house was torn apart and the rubble taken away, started the extensive work of laying the foundations. As a reminder, Bangkok is built on a former swamp, and the land is foundering by an average of 6 cms a year (huge by geological standards!). Hence, before building the main structure, the construction company kept on driving into the ground huge cement stilts to ensure the stability of the final construction.
The machine used to thump into the ground those huge cement rods. This alone took upwards of 4 months.
Preparing the construction itself
In a second stage, the workers started preparing the infrastructure for the construction work properly said. This involved mounting a crane. On that occasion, I had the utter surprise of seeing workers climbing up in the branches of a crane without any safety gear. But this was only the start of an incredible few years witnessing how the Thai construction workers got their job done.
Once the foundations were laid, and a central cemented base was solidified, the central crane was used to lift all the heavy materials on the additional stories as they were being built.
The building process
The building process involves laying layers of reinforced concrete, building support columns with more reinforced concrete, then building another floor above, often all at the same time. A fascinating work but done with a happy-go-lucky stance and total disregard for safety. As in this picture, you can see how many workers wear a helmet…
Strangely for a construction site, a lot of ladies worked there. And despite the dust and the hard work, they never failed to try to be coquettish even on the construction site.
This did not mean that the work was not hard, for ladies more than anyone.
Ladies had to carry metal rods like anyone else, sometimes better, sometimes worst than men…
Often, this construction site offered quite quirky moments. From a lady taking a rest in a hammock hung on the scaffolding… to guys playing in flip flops on a construction site.
Probably the most striking was the total lack of regard for safety. The workers often came working with flip flops, almost never wore a helmet and played in a very relaxed manner around other workers. Like in this case.
Safety : Thai-style approach
Probably, the most concerning part of the whole work was the fact that workers seemed to be completely ignorant of elementary safety rules on a construction site. Furthermore, most of them wandered on the working place either in flip-flops or without any safety gear such as helmets or protective shoes.
In some cases, a worker can be holding a metal rod with his flip-flops while another worker hammers it into place…
The issue of electric shocks and elementary safety precautions, such as wearing shoes when climbing on tight surfaces seemed totally lost on these workers. A soldering iron was used, for example, with the wire hanging partly in water in the picture below.
Then, let us not forget about the acrobat climbing metal rods in flip-flops…
An incredible pace
Thanks to the breakneck pace and the extended hours (7 AM to 10 PM), the construction site moved very quickly, and as can be seen in this picture, where three different floors are being built simultaneously. Sometimes, this breakneck pace ends tragically, when structural issues cause a collapse of the construction.
Despite the difficult working conditions and the heat, most of these workers had a good-natured disposition, having fun when they could and often joking among them. And at the core, it had to be a teamwork.
The final stages
Towards the end of the building, the main crane was dismounted in favor of a small roof-mounted crane. In order to pour cement, the crane carried a worker who had to action the lever allowing the cement to flow.
This was the occasion for some spectacular pictures of the worker on the sunset.
Of course, even construction workers have smartphones, so these guys dismounting the crane did not miss taking some pics of the scenery.
As the construction neared its end, it was time for a nostalgic picture closing the story. Here, the building was basically completed and the roof was already installed.
The end result
Of course, we are in Thailand, so an important part of the buildup was… installing a spirit house on the roof!
I visited the Commons immediately after it was opened, and it was really remarkable to contrast the finished product with the years of work that preceded. Today, the Commons is a very posh mall and open-air restaurant. Nobody has any idea how this mall was built, nor of the efforts of the workers in building it. It is highly likely that any of the workers of the construction site will never be able to experience this mall, given its steep prices.
If this project interested you, please leave your comments and/or feel free to share it.
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.
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…
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.
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).
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.
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.
I took several pics, but chose to focus on a general view of Kowloon and this other picture, which focuses on Kowloon Bay.
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.
There is no other way to apprehend why Hong Kong is often called “the vertical city” than to climb upon a mountain and to look down on the city. The pictures in this post are taken in Kowloon.
Kowloon is one of the most densly populated areas of Hong Kong and also cumulates a number of the poorest areas such as Sham Shui Po or Yau Ma Tei.
The human density on this part of the city led to a profusion of high-rise buildings erected as far as the eye can see. In some way, this both answers to and replicates the human density with an architectural density.
In a previous post, I wrote about “architectural compression” in Hong Kong when talking about Montane Mansion. Here, we are talking about a different “compression”.
Compression takes place in height, rather than in space. With the limited space available, logically, most buildings are erected upwards.
View from a mountain
All of the pictures featured in this post were shot from a mountain, namely Shatin’s pass, between Kowloon Peak and Wong Tai Sin. It is a lovely hiking route, with almost no danger (excepted the cars attempting to replicate a mountain rallye race). In addition to the lovely route, Shatin’s pass affords some exceptional viewpoints when the sky is clear.
In this case, there was some haze (treated partly under Lightroom), so not the ideal situation.
Ok, I forgot to tell you how to get there… Two routes. Either you get down to Wong Tai Sin MTR and walk up to Shatin’s Pass, or you take the thougher route which is to climb the whole Jat’s Incline after alighting at Choi Hung MTR. Either way, be prepared for some tough climbing even if it will be on perfectly paved roads.
When there is no clouds, haze or fog, Hong Kong can provide some spectacular sunsets, just like the one featured in this post.
Somehow, a previous post of mine with the same title garnered some attention, but I believe it was more because of an understanding about the title referring to the political and economic situation. So, let us try to do the perilous exercise of combining a photographic post with some political and economic analysis and look at what announces sunsets over Hong Kong.
The 2014 turnaround
The consensus in 2014 was that, while Hong Kong grew more dependent of the mainland capital inflows, its economy fared pretty good for the situation.
Some special tax statuses such as the offshore status did a lot to attract capitals, not to mention the general view of the city as the doorway to mainland China.
But the influx of mainland capitals had as side effect of making everything more expensive for the locals, in particular cost of housing. As mainlanders grabbed everything for sale in HK, hongkongers were left with no option but to pay increasingly higher rent. For some categories, like the cardboard ladies, this precipitated the fall into poverty.
A constriction of the future
At the same time, wages and perspectives for future did not follow for the locals. The increasingly self-centered education system of HK, became more and more a hindrance, as its products came out of school with maybe a good academic training, but severely lacking in language mastery, both in English and in Mandarin. Only Cantonese survived, but was increasingly relegated to a useless role, as mandarin or putonghua is becoming the business language, and obviously, foreigners expected English in a former English colony.
The accumulation of these factors resulted in a constriction of the foreseeable future for the local HongKongese. While costs increased, wages did not follow suit and neither did the perspectives for future. Once able to move easily from country to country in the English-speaking world, the Hongkongese are increasingly locked down in their city. T
hey are part of China, but China imposes upon Hongkongese the same restrictions that they impose on foreigners. At the same time, Hongkongese are not terribly excited to go and live in what is for them (and many foreigners) a lawless and arbitrary land.
Umbrella movement: an economic as well as political protest
The issue of democracy was not the only one worrying the 2014 protesters. They wanted also to have the guarantee that the city would look out for their economic interests and invest into its population, not only facilitate the Chinese takeover of the economy. This side was pretty much occulted both by Western medias and by China.
Similarly to Thailand, as long as the economy would have been handled in a fair manner, and they would have felt being protected and invested into, I believe the population would not care much about democracy. The Legislative Council was always a game among few leaders. The powerful conjunction of political and economic unsatisfaction gave rise to the umbrella movement… Before it fell again into oblivion thanks to its leaders.
Nevertheless, China’s reaction to the movement was blunt and to some extent dumb. They have an opportunity with Carrie Lam to regain hearts and minds, but only to the extent a real social politics is implemented in HK.
The real sunset: becoming part of China
Hongkongese might have been able to accept becoming part of China if they were guaranteed their freedom and their unique character would be preserved. Unfortunately, the Chinese reaction went right to the opposite of protecting the unique nature of Hong Kong. Beijing is going to tear away its last embers of independence and focus innovation and investments on other cities, like Shanghai.
From that point of view, the increasing opening of the Chinese economy to foreign capitals may finally be the last blow to Hong Kong. With no foreign capitals, a housing market out of control and no hopes for social mobility or evolution, hongkongese might resort to the last possible exit strategy: immigrating before they become fully Chinese.
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.