Chris was invited to a conference in Hong Kong and we were lucky to join him as it coincided with Jerome’s Febuary school holidays. We had decided to stay for the ten days that Jerome was off school to make worthwhile the long flight from London. We had been to Hong Kong once before and stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Causeway Bay. This stay we opted for hotel Indigo in Wan Chai, which was more central than before.
We had chosen Hotel Indigo because of its roof top swimming pool as we assumed to have warm weather and Jerome and Chris would enjoy a swim in the late afternoons after returning from our day trips out. The pool had a glass floor and was overhanging the building on the 24th floor which made it doubly interesting. Our room was spacious and Jerome slept on the sofa, whereas the advantage of the apartment on our previous trip was of course the extra rooms. We enjoyed the view towards one of my favourite buildings in Hong Kong, “Opus”, a luxury apartment block designed by Frank Gehry. On either side, as is common in Hong Kong, we were surrounded by a sea of high-rise buildings. The hotel was a short walk from the Wan Chai metro station, close to many restaurants and Tai Yuen market with its little stalls and shops.
Dinner in Wan Chai
We arrived late afternoon on Saturday and took a short stroll through the immediate area of Wan Chai before dinner at the nearby Agura Ramen restaurant – we felt like an early night to sleep off our jetlag. We always try and minimise the jet lag on longer trips by staying up and eating local time, it is a useful tip. For short trips it is perhaps better to stay on more on home time and routines.
We woke up very early and were among the first guests to have breakfast. It was warm enough to sit outside on the terrace and enjoyed the delicious breakfast buffet. The boys went for western hot food, freshly cooked for them, while I was a bit more adventurous and had Chinese noodle soup instead.
Information and Tips on the Dragon’s Back Hiking Tour
The weather was a grey soup of clouds above the hills and between the towers, initially we were not quite sure whether it was smog or just plain fog. The temperature was a pleasant 23C and we made the decision to go for a walk along the Dragon’s Back instead of exploring the city’s busy streets. The Dragons Back is a popular local hike across the hills behind the city. Those familiar with our travel style will know we often look for local colour and interesting places as much as the main sights.
We took the metro from Wan Chai to Chan Wai, where we jumped into a taxi for the short ride to the entrance of the Dragon’s Back hike. There are several options on where to start the walk, we opted for the entrance at a bus stop half way on Shek O Road. Another option would be to start the walk next to Tei Wan village and either do a round trip or walk as we did to Big Wave Bay Beach and then on to Shek O. A decent walking map and route information can be found here. We had hoped that the fog might be less severe in the area than downtown but it seemed to be hanging everywhere around. We were able to see the sea and some of the surrounding villages and even there were some high-rise condos present. Hong Kong has more high buildings than almost anywhere on the planet.
The Start of the Hike
We entered the thick bamboo, surrounding us like a tunnel and the sandy path. Fairly soon we left the bamboo behind and walked through fields of bushes and thicket. We could see a small group of hikers in front and passed some lonely walkers with their dogs. Every now and then we could see the sea through a gap in the fog but the closer we got to the peak of Shek O the denser it grew, it almost felt like walking through clouds. The damp air did not really bother us much and it had a pleasing effect on the eye. The fine water drops had collected in the many spider webs hidden in the bushes and the blossoms of some pretty pink flowers.
Jerome walked ahead of us, disappearing into the mist and reappearing like a little ghost. It was a pleasant hike, not too strenuous but with a few ascents to make it more interesting. I could imagine on a clear sunny day the views towards Stanley and Kowloon must be breathtakingly beautiful. No surprise, it is considered one of the most popular hikes in Hong Kong and the area. On a fine day you might even be able to see someone flying kites or jumping off the top on their para-gliders.
After walking along the hilly terrain for about an hour and half we left the highest peak of the walk behind and reached a view point at Pottinger Gap. From there we were able to look down onto the densely built up Chai Wan and a vast cemetery. We sat under the roof of a pavilion and enjoyed a drink and some snacks from our backpack.
The Village at Big Wave Bay Beach
From Pottinger’s Gap it was pretty much downhill all the way before we reached the outskirts of the small village that is set behind Big Wave Bay Beach. Despite the proximity of the village to Chai Wan it felt like we were a world away. There were no tall buildings in sight and some of the alleys were too narrow for cars to drive along. The houses were all residential with flowerpots outside on the pavements and left over Chinese New Year’s decorations on the gates and doors. We passed almost no one on our stroll through this sleepy little village until we finally reached the beach.
On the Beach
On either side of the beach we could see the unmanned lifeguard towers and some surfers in the sea. There were a few families out for a picnic on the beach and some children playing in the sand. Jerome had seen one of the other kids with an ice cream and of course he wanted one as well. We sat down on the rocks, watching the surfers trying their luck in the shallow waves. We should have made a little detour to see the prehistoric rock carvings on the other side of the beach but we did not feel like walking up lots of steps to take a look at them at all. The boys played a round of Frisbee and I put my feet into the sea, the water was surprisingly warm, considering the time of year.
Shek O Village
We then walked on to Shek O village, the final stop on the hike. We left Big Wave Bay beach and the village behind. Unfortunately we had to walk stretches on the road but there were barely any cars passing. We saw some golfers with their helpers on the lush green golf course hitting the balls, while their helpers carried the heavy bags laden with golf clubs. Shek O apparently is the last real village on Hong Kong Island and boasts one of the best beaches in the area. We found Shek O to lack in charm compared to the village we had just visited at Big Wave Bay Beach. It had a much more touristy feel and there were lots more shops and restaurants on offer.
Shek O Beach
I was happy to see the lifeguard towers at Shek O Beach, as I had always liked their design and shape. The beach was longer but I could imagine that in the summer it would be hard to find a free spot for a towel but a great beach to visit with kids. We got a table on the terrace overlooking the beach at Cococabana and had some basic pizza and pasta. Jerome had spotted a mini golf course and was keen to play a round but sadly it was closed.
Return to Chai Wan
We then made our way back to the bus station at the entrance of the village and took the next bus back to Chai Wan. Make sure you arrive early at the bus stop as the bus was quite busy and at busy times some people might not be able to board.
We were happy to have walked the Dragon’s Back and taking the detour via Big Wave Bay and Shek O was interesting. It certainly is a doable walk for children of years 5 and over if they enjoy a hike with the prospect of a break by the beach afterwards. However I would not recommend planning the hike in the hotter months of the year. Always make sure you have plenty of water with you, as there is no option to buy anything on route until you reach the village. The walk from the bus stop to Big Wave Bay took us three hours, pus an additional 30 minutes or so for the last stretch to Shek O.
Swim at the Rooftop Pool
Back at the hotel the boys went for a swim in the roof top pool. Jerome was eager to look though the glass floor but was disappointed to discover that he could not see anything! It certainly is a cool pool, not for the faint hearted though, if you imagine you are swimming on the 24th floor into nothingness!