Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hiking the Hong Kong Trail with Hansen's Hikes - The Peak and Dumpling Tour

Sometimes you really should leave well enough alone.  This thought came to me as I was inching my way down the steep stone steps along Mount Austin aka The Peak in Hong Kong. There were no guardrails to stop me from hurtling myself off into the wide blue yonder and the steady drizzle was making the steps extremely slick and slippery.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.

On this trip to Hong Kong, I yearned to do something out of the usual -- the usual being shopping and eating and shopping some more.  Since I love to walk, albeit along urban paths and usually on flat surfaces, I thought I would look for an experience that would take me out of my comfort zone -- I would go hiking! I would walk on the road less travelled!  
Googling hikes and adventures yielded a company called Hansen's Hikes that was based in Hong Kong and had a whole array of hikes and rides to choose from.  
I was particularly struck by a hike called "Fantastic Panoramas and Fabulous Dumplings"  -- great, I thought!  I had always wanted to explore more of Victoria Peak, beyond the tram and the souvenir shops -- and the dumpling portion spoke to my inner hog.

Hansen's Hikes is owned by Michael Hansen, a Dane who has been living in Hong Kong for the past 19 years.  He picked me up at my hotel bright and early on a Friday morning.  
Getting off the MTR, we walked through Pacific Place  (the first and last mall I would see for the morning, Michael promised me), Hong Kong Park (which I had never seen before)  and took the Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak to begin our hike.  We started our walk along Lugard Road, which is just around the bend from the tram station.  

True to its name, the walk yielded fantastic panoramas and breathtaking views of Hong Kong, all the way across the bay to the Kowloon side.  Michael pointed out notable skyscrapers and buildings of architectural and historic interest.

The path we would take would be part of the Hong Kong Trail, a 50 kilometre hike that Michael said he had done, not in one go but in various stages.  Our hike this morning would take us through the first segment, a 7 kilometre walk from the Peak down to the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir.  Since it was quite a wet and rainy morning, we didn't see too many hikers along the trail save for some expats power-walking their dogs.

All too soon, we reached the end of this wide and comfortable road and came upon this rest area which would lead us further down the mountain.  Can you see the towers in the distance?  That is where our hike originally started.  I was feeling quite proud of myself for having walked so far.

There was enough time to rest a bit and see the view before us.  The buildings seemed much closer since we were almost midway down the Peak at this point.

This stone walkway leads to the steps I had mentioned at the start of this post.  From here on in, it would be a series of narrow steep steps leading down and down and down.  
I hate walking downhill  as I find it much harder than walking uphill.  
The steps were wet with rain and as I gingerly and slowly made my way down, supporting myself on the umbrella that Michael thankfully lent me, I could hear my son's words when he heard that I was doing a hike along the Peak ... "Don't fall off a cliff, ma!"  

Thankfully there would be intervals in between the steps where we hiked through rough and muddy trails.  My toes could relax from clenching on the steps with all their might and muddy as they were, these trails were infinitely more comfortable to walk on.

Michael and I kept up a continuous and constant flow of patter and chatter as we hiked.  It certainly kept my mind from wandering and wondering if throwing myself off the Peak would be the easiest way down.
One of the topics which we discussed lengthily was the type of dangerous animals that Michael had encountered on the trail.  A king cobra was just one species that had personally crossed his path.  That piece of information was much more comforting for me than knowing that more steps were to come from this point in the trail.

Lest you think that "well you chose this bed, so lie in it!"... I was actually having a tremendously good time!  This was a side of Hong Kong that I had never seen, a hike of this kind was something I had not yet experienced and I was actually revelling in the fact that I was doing moderately well on this (for me) difficult hike.  
Michael said that on his difficulty scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most tough, this hike merited a 3 but  I was still pretty happy with myself and my progress.  
The views and the vistas were indeed fantastic and really showed off the beauty and grandeur of Hong Kong.  And not the least, I was with a very experienced and engaging tour guide.

We started off at Lugard Road, at the start of the trail just before 9 a.m. and it was a little past 11 when we reached Pok Fu Lam Reservoir, the end point for this first leg of the Hong Kong trail.  
This  reservoir still provides some of Hong Kong Island's drinking water, which Michael assured me is very potable and safe.
It was now time to decide if I wanted to walk on for another hour, all the way to our final destination in Aberdeen or end the hike now.   
While I may be adventurous, I am also not stupid.  
It was time to rely on public transportation.  We walked a few hundred meters more out of the reservoir and onto the road to catch the bus to Aberdeen.

This is Shanghai Tian Lung Lau on Old Main Street in Aberdeen. It's a family owned restaurant that has been in the same spot for years.  This is where Michael takes guests who opt to have a meal after the hike.  This is why the hike is called "fantastic panoramas AND fabulous dumplings".
Very local, no english menus, no english name or signage, no english spoken -- just my kind of place.

After huffing and puffing up and down the Peak, nothing can be better than cold, cold Tsingtao Beer!
Here is Michael doing the honors on our first bottle.  And yes, we had another one after this.

The specialty of the restaurant was dumplings. We ordered Xiao long bao which is wontons with soup inside and wo tip dumplings,  also known as pot stickers, which are dumplings that are quickly pan fried.    Both were freshly made and very savoury and flavourful.

The wo tip dumplings were just a teensy-weensy bit more yummy than the xiao long bao -- so yummy we had to have another order!

Since Michael speaks some Cantonese and since he was a regular in this restaurant, we were able to ask  the smiling waitress to take a souvenir photo.  
Mm goi sai, Michael!  
I had a terrific time, thanks to his excellent tour guide and hiking skills.
I have proven to myself that I can do a rugged nature hike and look forward to trying out the next segment of the Hong Kong trail with Hansen's Hikes the next time I visit!

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