Hong Kong's countryside offers some amazing adventures if you can drag yourself away from the restaurants and malls for a day. Or two. Or even more. Hiking, biking, boating, or exploring the ancient culture still intact in rural villages - these are just some of the outings available. One of the beauties of Hong Kong is you don't have to go far to get away. More than 70 per cent of Hong Kong consists of mountains and sprawling country parks and the fact that Hong Kong was a British colony during the worst excesses of China's Cultural Revolution means local temples, customs and traditions have remained undisturbed since the Qing Dynasty.
I grew up in Hong Kong and as children we hiked on Lantau Island, camped in the New Territories and climbed Hong Kong's highest mountain, Tai Mo Shan (it's only 957m high) in the winter months. In recent years we have done our fair share of outward bound excursions including trekking across Po Toi island off Hong Kong's southern coast. I have surfed at Big Wave Bay (yes, there is a surfing scene) and on the Sai Kung Peninsula in Hong Kong's east where there are no roads, only well marked walking tracks and vistas of the craggy coastline. The New Territories beyond Kowloon is dotted with rural villages where clan life goes on much as it always has in some respects. Recently we experienced the Ping Shan Heritage Trail, a fascinating glimpse into traditional Chinese culture.
Our day trip into the New Territories began with a train ride from downtown Kowloon to the town of Sha Tin. Our guide for the day, local man Koko Law (assigned to us by the Tourism Board) hired us bicycles and together we rode 7km to the market town of Tai Po. There's a great walking and cycle path along the waterfront here and we followed the shore of Tolo Harbour to Tai Po where we lunched at a local food court after bypassing restaurants where the speciality was turtle and snake. Maybe next time.
For a quick transition to our next stop we took a taxi to Yuen Long to walk the Ping Shan Heritage Trail, a meandering 1km walk through three old but lively and partially walled villages. The trail boasts 12 well-restored historical buildings and a museum at Ping Shan dedicated to the powerful Tang clan. There are impressive ancestral halls here, shrines, and the stunning Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda which was built in 1486.
There are two ancestral halls on this walk. The Tang one was built in 1273 and is in remarkably good condition while the Yu Kiu Ancestral Hall dates to the 16th century.
Another day trip worth taking is to majestic Lantau Island where you can visit the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. Take a bus from Mui Wo (ferries run here from Central) to Ngong Ping plateau where a 34m-high Buddha surveys the landscape. The bus trip is a little hair-raising but the views across the South China Sea make it all worthwhile. You can also ride the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car from Tung Chung if you are braver than me.
A day at the beach is always good too and there are some great outlying beaches although our favourite is Shek O - a gorgeous stretch of sand adjacent to a sleepy seaside village. Take the MTR to Shau Kei Wan station on Hong Kong island, go upstairs to the bus terminus and get on the number 9 bus to Shek O. Sit upstairs at the front and get the most amazing views en route. When you get to Shek O there may even be a little surf running. Cool.
QANTAS flies Brisbane-Hong Kong daily, from $895 return, qantas.com. For more information on Hong Kong, see discoverhongkong.com/au
travel ... with Phil Brown
Arts Editor - The Courier-Mail, Deputy Editor - CANVAS, News Queensland
Copyright © Phil Brown