Walking from Tung Chung to Tai O

Redhead and I woke at 9am and sleepily prodded around the apartment, getting ready for our walk from 東涌 (Tung Chung) to 大澳 (Tai O). It would be a 15 km walk and estimated to take 6 hours. We picked this walk because it seemed relatively easy compared to the other walks.

Along the way to the Central MTR, we stopped at 金島 (Gold Cafe) for breakfast. The cafe served typical Hong Kong type of breakfast. Normally not much of a breakfast person, I decided to eat more today because it was likely that I would not get to eat lunch. So I chose the most hearty breakfast I could find.

I had a set which consisted of a thin beef fillet, sunny side up, thin slice of luncheon meat, some baked beans, buttered toast and a cup of hot milk tea. The food was so-so, nothing out of the ordinary. I left feeling that I had eaten enough to last me for the whole day. Redhead was amazed that I was able to finish up the my breakfast and commented that she had never seen anyone ate steak in the morning. It was definitely uncommon but not impossible.

After breakfast, we took the MTR to Tung Chung Station. Along the way, the train picked up many people who were going to the Hong Kong Disneyland. For part of the journey, the train was packed with parents and children. The children were of course excited. A little girl excitedly told her parents about her plan for the next visit to start at 2am in the morning so that she would have a whole day at the theme park. The Tung Chung Station was at the end of the line so we were able to enjoy some quiet after the Disneyland stop.

Following the instructions found online, we left the station from exit B and tried to look for the Tung Chung Fire Station which was supposed to be only 3 mins away. But there were no fire station nearby and we could only see the Tung Chung Post Office. Luckily I could check Google Maps on my phone and so we figured out where to go. We eventually passed the fire station 10 mins later. It was not visible from the MTR exit and was actually located quite a distance away from the Tung Chung Station.

Passing the fire station, we continue walking. There were very few people and traffic on the streets. Redhead explained that it was mostly residential areas in Tung Chung so unless one lived here, there was little reason to go to this part of Tung Chung. We continued walking until we reached 侯王宫 (Hau Wong Temple). According to the online instructions, the start of the walk was nearby.

First we took a look at Hau Wong Temple. It was a small temple. There was nobody around apart from a man sitting outside and another man nearby cutting the grass. A fluffy dog lay in front of the temple entrance. It glanced once or twice in our direction but lost interest in us quickly.

Peering into the open entrance of the temple, we spotted at least two more dogs lying on the cool stone floor. They seemed more interested in hiding from the heat and barely moved.

Then we backtracked until we came to a fork in the path. The right path led to the Hau Wong Temple while the left path was the trail to leading to Tai O. Several people were walking along this path and from the way they were dressed, we deduced that they were also going to walk to Tai O. So we followed behind them.

The path took us across a river.

After crossing the river, we saw some private dwellings. It seemed like a peaceful place to live in, far from the bustling city life. But I also wondered if the occupants also felt lonely at times as there only seemed to be at most two or three families living there. One would have to be quite self-sufficient as the location was far from the populated areas. There were also fenced up areas so we guessed that the people living there must be farmers but we could not identify the crops. In the background, we could see the Ngong Ping cable cars making their way up the mountain.

On the right of the buildings was a path leading to a village. At the village there was a little shop selling refreshments. We saw many locals hanging out outside the shop. A handwritten sign advertised that bottled water and soft drinks were sold there. As it was just the start of the walk, Redhead and I decided not to stop for a rest. There was also no need to buy bottled water as we still had the bottles of water we bought at the Tung Chung Station.

As we walked through the village, we passed by some abandoned buildings. There was a building of a small school. Since the village was rather small, all the children probably studied together in the same classroom despite the age differences.

Next we passed by a row of old houses. One or two still seemed to be occupied but most of them are empty and we could see plants growing in the interior.

At the edge of the village, we saw some banana plants. The fruits were still green so we moved on. I remembered some old ghost stories about banana trees and quickly walked pass them.

Most of the time, the path was surrounded by trees on both sides so we did not get to see much scenery. Once in a while, we would come upon an open area where we could see the sea.

We also saw big spiders hanging from their webs in the trees. They looked quite scary and we did not want to go too close to them. Due to their size, it looked like their bites would be quite painful even if they were not venomous. Luckily they built their webs quite high up in the trees.

After walking for an hour from Tung Chung, we reached the first rest spot. It was right opposite Hong Kong International Airport. There were stone benches available and everybody stopped at this spot for a while to enjoy the view. Redhead and I rested here and watched the planes take off. Then Redhead reminded me that we should get a move on as there was still a long way to go before we reached our destination. It was already 1pm and we were advised to finish the walk before the sun sets.

About 20 mins later, I spotted some houses in the distance. I was quite glad that we would arrive at a village soon. It was a hot day and I had almost finished my bottle of water. I hoped that we would be able to buy more water in the village but we were not able to find anyone selling refreshments. We did not meet anybody while walking through the village. It seemed that the villagers were either not at home or taking their afternoon siesta.

We continued on without buying any water. I tried to make what’s left of my water last but soon it was gone. Redhead offered to share some of her bottled water with me. For some reason, she did not perspire as much as me so she still had plenty of water left. Perhaps she was used to Hong Kong’s weather.

I tried not to take up Redhead’s offer because I thought that one person being dehydrated was better than two persons being dehydrated. But the going got tougher after the village. There was a steep uphill climb and the tall trees covering the path made the air felt hot and stuffy. Meanwhile, I was imagining myself being air freighted out of this wilderness and the newspaper headlines would be something like “Stupid Singaporean faints while attempting to walk on Hong Kong’s hottest day”.

Redhead, who was much fitter than me, walked in front and would often shout back encouraging news like “Reaching the top soon” or “It’s level ground from here onwards”. I couldn’t tell you how much it helped to have someone encouraging me to continue walking and telling me that the terrible uphill climb would end soon. I had to stop and rest a few times because I was so exhausted that I could have blacked out. Redhead passed me her bottle of water and I gratefully took a few sips of it. She commented that my face had turned red.

One hour later we reached 深石村 (Sham Shek Village). As usual, Redhead had gone on ahead while I sat and rest on a stone step. She returned to tell me that there were refreshments just up ahead and many other fellow walkers were also taking a break in the village. So I clenched my teeth and forced my feet to move, left, right, left, right, until we reached the shop.

The eating area was right across the road from the shop and thankfully in shaded by trees. There wasn’t much of a view but to me, this place felt like a little bit of heaven. There was a place to sit, some breeze and cold water to drink.

Redhead placed orders for cold drinks and cold desserts. The desserts were both cold and sweet. The bowl on the right was sweet potato in syrup. I found the syrup a bit too sweet and thick and the sweet potato quite starchy. On another occasion I might have enjoyed it but right now I just wanted to replenish the liquids in me.

That’s why I preferred the green bean soup which had orange peel and seaweed added. It was quite unlike the green bean soups I had at home.  The soup was light and refreshing and I enjoyed it very much.

After resting for a while, during which Redhead claimed that she had gotten 25 bites on her right leg and 8 bites on her left leg, we continued our journey. I bought a cold bottle of home-brewed 洛神花茶 (roselle tea) before leaving Sham Shek Village. The shop owner said she grew the roselle herself. The roselle tea was sweet and tangy which made it quite refreshing.

The journey from the village was also uphill but not as steep as the one before. I felt refreshed from the cold drink and dessert and was able to walk further before needing to stop for a rest. Finally at almost 4pm, we came out of the forest and was standing at the top of the mountain. As there was no longer any shade, I could feel every bit of the scorching sun, but in return, there was a breeze every now and then which helped to cool me down.

Looking back, we realized that we have come a long way. The airport, which was at the start of our walk, was now far away on the horizon. This made me feel proud of what I had accomplished even though I would not finish the journey with the same amount of flair as the fitter ones. By now, we had around 1/4 of the journey left to go and I finally felt hopeful that I could finish it. I was amazed that despite my slow pace and frequent stops, we actually seemed to be more or less on schedule.

Soon we could see Tai O in the distance and I gave a victory pose. Redhead laughed because I suddenly had so much energy. The path from here on was downwards but it was rocky and uneven. I could see why we were advised to finish this stretch before dark. In my excitement about the journey’s end, I forgot that things are further in reality than they looked. Just because one could see the destination, does not mean that it is near.

We met some mountain bikers coming from Tai O and I thought that they were either very skillful or brave. The path was rocky and narrow, it was tough walking it on two legs, much less on two wheels. By now my legs felt like it was going to detach itself from my hip socket.

Soon we came to a fork in the path. Straight ahead was a narrow dirt path pointing towards Tai O while to the left were some concrete steps leading upwards. A sign with the intimidating words “At Your Own Risk”, advised people to take the steps as the dirt path was eroded and no longer maintained. After some deliberation, we decided to take the dirt path as it had not rained for a while so it should be safe to walk. I’m glad we took the dirt path because the concrete steps turned out to be a big detour which would have taken more time and energy.

We finally reached the Tai O village an hour later at 5pm. The evening sun was just as scorching and I felt like I was encased in a cocoon of hot air. We entered the village on the residential side where there were many metal houses built on stilts. I bought a bottle of Pocari from the first shop we found. While I sat and drank half a bottle and mopped my sweating red face, Redhead chatted with the owner. Redhead asked about getting back to Tung Chung and was told that we could take a bus. Taking the ferry was not an option as the last ferry would have left at around 4pm.

Click on the photo for the wallpaper version.

We followed the shop owner’s directions to the bus terminal and soon reached the town center.

We saw many fish hanging out in the open to dry. Redhead explained that the residents were mostly fishermen so there was a lot of seafood. Besides dried fish, we also saw many other dried or salted seafood being sold at the stalls. Redhead seemed fascinated by all the seafood and kept asking me whether I wanted to buy any.

Besides the seafood stores, there were some interesting little shops selling artisan products and clothing. There seemed to be a budding artist community and it was interesting see modern shops located among the traditional ones. We wandered around for a while.

We stopped at an interesting looking coffee shop called 蘇廬 (Solo) because the coffee smelled good. We walked past rows of fish tanks on the wall containing little fishes and shrimps, to the seating area at the back of the shop. The sitting area was a balcony next to the river that ran through Tai O. From that vantage point, we could see tour boats ferrying tourists up and down the river.

The owner recommended the ice drip coffee which he said was smooth and velvety. So Redhead ordered it but it turned out to be a very tiny cup. There was a strong coffee fragrance but it tasted rather bland and mild.

I had 7up with salted plum, salted lemon and some orange syrup. It was quite sweet but refreshing. Redhead said that it tasted better than the coffee.

We passed by 關帝古廟 (Kwan Tai Temple) which was a small temple with an intricately decorated roof. This was a grade 2 historic building which meant “buildings of special merit; efforts should be made to selectively preserve”.

Here’s a closer view of the roof.

On a bridge connecting the other side of the town center, some old women sat under a faded sign which said “Welcome to Tai O”. They called out offers for boat excursions to tourists who walked by. They were not aggressive sellers, which was a good thing, and seemed more eager to continue their conversation after you left.

The sun started to set at 6:30pm while we were crossing the bridge.

Click on the photo for the wallpaper version.

10 mins later, the sun had already dropped behind the mountains, but there was still enough light in the sky to paint it orange and pink.

Determined to try some fresh seafood, Redhead decided to buy a cup of cuttlefish from a nearby stall. The stall also sold huge fishballs, both normal and curry.

The cuttlefish had been cooking in a pot of sauce for a while. The meat was very thick; I had never eaten cuttlefish with such thick meat before. It was firm and a little chewy.

We took the cuttlefish and sat on the colorful painted wall along the coast. It took some effort for me to get on it because my legs were aching and I could not lift them very high. We sat and ate the cuttlefish until the light disappeared from the sky.

We decided to eat dinner at Tai O before going back to Tung Chung. But most places had closed. We found a seafood restaurant near the bus terminal which was still open. I forgot the name of the restaurant but it should be easy to recognize as it had pictures of the famous Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat on the door.

I wasn’t hungry; long hot walks tended to make me lose my appetite. The problem with Chinese seafood restaurants is that the dishes are usually meant for sharing. There wasn’t much dishes meant for one person. Finally Redhead ordered a cuttlefish beehoon. The dish that arrived at our table looked sad and unappetizing. Redhead confirmed that it wasn’t tasty.

After dinner, we caught the bus back to Tung Chung. It was a 45 min journey and I fell asleep on the ride. Near the Tung Chung MTR station was the location for a huge factory outlet shopping mall. Redhead and I visited a few factory outlets in shopping mall before taking the train home. I was so tired that I could hardly climb up the stairs to Redhead’s apartment.

Places we ate today

金島 (Gold Cafe)
Address: G/F, 3 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan
Tel: +852-28689893
Nearest MTR station: Sheung Wan

蘇廬 (Solo)
Address: G/F, 86 Kat Hing St, Tai O
Tel: +852-91537453
Opening hours: 11am – 6pm (Mon – Sat)


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