Header images courtesy of Water Supplies Department and Eddie Yip (via Wikimedia Commons)
In a world filled with bountiful geological wonders, one cannot help but marvel at arresting natural sights like Taal Lake, nestled in the caldera of an active Philippine volcano; the prismatic springs of Yellowstone and the majestic redwoods of California; or the stoic cliff faces of the Gran Sabana of Venezuela and the plunging canyons of Wulingyuan in China.
Among these striking natural landscapes, have you ever heard of a reservoir filled with countless islands? Famously known as “Thousand Island Lake,” day-trippers flock to this remote part of Tuen Mun for a glimpse of nature that sprawls afore you like the fantastical panoramas of a James Cameron film. If you want to see this fabled sight of a thousand islands dotting the horizon for yourself, here’s your hiking guide to Tai Lam Chung Reservoir in Hong Kong.
Home to what is locally referred to as the “Thousand Island Lake,” Tai Lam Chung Reservoir (大欖涌水塘) in Tuen Mun is the first reservoir built in Hong Kong after the end of the Second World War. Consisting of four dams that crisscross the valley, the structure took five years to complete construction and is over half a century old.
Its main draws, of course, are the marvellous geological formations in the waters of the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir, where one can gaze in amazement at what appears to be a lake of countless small islands. What you might not have known is that these islands were actually hills in their past lives and their current state is a result of the catchwater flooding the Tai Lam Chung Valley! Its nickname, thus, was derived from the human-made Qiandao Lake (千岛湖), the original “Thousand Island Lake” in Zhejiang Province, China, where 1,078 large islands dot the waters!
Getting to the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir is less of a hike and more of a leisurely uphill walk for the most part. Paved almost the whole way through (until you reach the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir Viewing Point), this hike is suitable for visitors of all ages—and even four-legged friends and fur-babies! Do note that while getting to the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir Viewing Point requires minimal effort, proper footwear is highly recommended should you wish to tackle the more remote viewing points, as the path downhill can be treacherous, filled with sandy and slippery areas.
Distance: 3.5 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 230 metres approx.
Total time: 3 hours approx.
The starting point of the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir hike is at So Kwun Wat Tsuen in Tuen Mun. So Kwun Wat Tsuen is a rural village located a mere stone’s throw away from Hong Kong Gold Coast and is directly accessible via minibus from Tuen Mun Station. You can also take buses 962B from Causeway Bay, 252B from Tsim Sha Tsui, 52X from Mong Kok, and 53 from Tsuen Wan to Hong Kong Gold Coast and walk over to So Kwun Wat Tsuen.
When taking minibuses 43 or 43S from Tuen Mun, it is highly advised to hop on at the first stop at San Hui Market, especially if you are making a visit to Tai Lam Chung Reservoir over the weekend or on public holidays, as the queues for the minibus can be overwhelming on such days!
Commencing the hike from So Kwun Wat Tsuen, your starting point is next to the small Tin Hau temple. To begin your journey, simply follow the paved road to the left, which is signposted as So Kwun Wat Tsuen Area 4. Cars do drive along this narrow lane, so watch out for vehicles as you go along. Shortly after, you will come across a signpost that points towards the Maclehose Trail—you are going in the right direction so just continue along. So far, the road will not be much to look at, but you will have the opportunity to take in a boutique honey farm and a trip of goats.
Eventually, you will arrive at a car park and a trail that leads into the woods beyond it. Cross the barrier right ahead and continue along Section 10 of the Maclehose Trail. This is where the trail into Tai Lam Chung Reservoir officially starts and there’s very little room for error—all you have to do is climb the paved road to the top. While the uphill path is steep, the trail is nevertheless doable and suitable for family-friendly excursions.
Whenever you come across a junction, keep left and continue up the hill. It will be easy to tell that you are going in the right direction as Tai Lam Chung Reservoir is a popular weekend destination and you can simply trail after other hikers also going up to the viewing platform. While there’s not much to stimulate you on the climb (it’s pretty much uphill the entire way), you will be blessed with beautiful views of the dams as the trail winds around the hill.
About two kilometres in, the paved road comes to an end and you will find yourself at a viewing point, with a bright blue portable toilet available for those who need it. Stop here for a quick break but know that the best vantage point is still another kilometre away. When you are ready, hit the dirt road by the portable toilet and simply follow it. You will eventually come across a squat wooden signpost, which has an arrow pointing to the “Reservoir Islands Viewpoint”—follow that and continue up the hill to get to the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir Viewing Point.
For those who are tackling the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir hike on a sunny day, this narrow portion of the climb is thankfully almost completely shaded by groves of tall trees. Continue ascending along this road until you see the illustrated signpost for the Reservoir Islands Viewpoint. Simply scale the rugged steps to reach the top!
And just like that, you have reached the “Thousand Island Lake” of Hong Kong, where sloping valleys open up to a sweeping vista of bobbing landmasses. Depending on the day, you may come across a bit of a wait to capture that epic “overlooking-the-reservoir” shot, as the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir Viewing Point can be quite crowded, especially on weekends and public holidays. As always, exercise caution when taking photos at the cliff edge!
Do note that there are also other, more remote photo-taking spots available other than the well-marked Tai Lam Chung Reservoir Viewing Point, but they tend to lead downhill into slippery territory and we would not encourage inexperienced hikers to tackle them, least of all without proper heavy-duty footwear!
While gazing across the many islands (or should we call them hilltops?) of the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir, it is hard to imagine that only a few decades ago, the Tai Lam Country Park was a barren landscape with minimal vegetation—almost nothing like the lush terrain it boasts today. Fortunately, soon after the construction of the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir was completed, afforestation practices were introduced to the area to protect it from erosion and soil loss.
If you keep an eye out on a quieter day, you may be able to spot all types of animals in the Tai Lam Country Park, including various bird species, the leopard cat, and the elusive Chinese pangolin, as well as an assortment of woodland amphibians like the ornamented pygmy frog and banded bullfrog (also known as the Asian painted frog).
Once you have packed your camera roll full of snaps, it’s time to make your way back. For the most straightforward return trip, simply head back the way you came. Do note that the trail gets dark at night and there is minimal lighting along Section 10 of the Maclehose Trail, so it’s best to reserve enough time for the trek back or bring a torch. When you reach So Kwun Wat Tsuen, hop onto minibuses 43 or 43S for San Hui Market or catch a taxi to Tuen Mun.
Alternatively, you could return to the Viewing Point plaque and continue on Section 10 of the Maclehose Trail to reach the Tai Lam Nature Trail, where you’ll get to marvel at Tai Lam Country Park’s famous sweet gum woods. From there, head along Tai Tong Shan Road to reach Tai Tong Tsuen, where bus K66 to Yuen Long awaits.