Header image courtesy of @hikingzombiee (via Instagram)
Much of Hong Kong’s appeal lies in our interesting dichotomy between modern and historic, urban and rural, eastern and western, and city and nature. There is no place quite like this in the world, where you can go from a soaring metropolis to the peak of a sweeping mountain range in just a couple of hours. The Tung O Ancient Trail, running from Tung Chung to Tai O, epitomises this feeling, so let us bring you on this relaxing hike which affords you a wide range of both city and country views!
As the name implies, the Tung O Ancient Trail takes you from the residential new town of Tung Chung to the sleepy fishing village of Tai O. Also known as the Tung Tai Trail, this used to be the main travelling route between villages back in the day before Tung Chung was urbanised. Surprisingly, there are still some locals who reside in small settlements along the trail who regularly use it to this day.
The Tung O hike may not be the top choice for the gorgeous, unspoilt, scenic shots that so many of our hikes are known for, but we think it’s interesting because of its historical relevance and the opportunity to glimpse old Chinese settlements and an almost bygone era. Of course, there are still lovely coastal views to be had, and the majority of the path is paved with good signage pointing the way, which makes for very easy going. There are also public toilets along the way (truly a godsend), as well as little village stores where you can stock up on drinks and snacks.
The hike itself is pretty flat most of the way, but what doesn’t make it a particularly easy one is that this is a fairly long hike, clocking in at around four and a half hours in total. Some websites will tell you that it is a six-hour journey, but unless you're travelling at the pace of a snail, hiking from Tung Chung to Tai O shouldn’t take that long. That said, you will want to allot some time to explore Tai O before making your way back into town.
Before you leave the house, make sure you’ve timed it so that you can complete the entire hike before it gets dark, because the final section is on unpaved dirt paths, without lights. Navigation can also be a bit treacherous if it has rained recently, with streams and waterfalls known to swell over paths after heavy rainfall.
Distance: 15 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 251 metres
Total time: Four and a half hours approx.
You can start this trail from either Tung Chung or Tai O, but for this guide, we will highlight the route starting in Tung Chung and ending in Tai O, so you can make the most of exploring one of Hong Kong’s last remaining fishermen villages.
This walk to the trailhead will take about half an hour in itself, but you can also choose to hop onto the buses 39M, B6, E21A, or E31 from Yu Tung Court near the fire station, and alight at Mun Tung Estate Mun Wo House, which is near the path leading to the temple. Take a left at the public toilet, and from here, it’s easy enough to simply follow the trail as it winds along the coastline.
The Tung O Ancient Trail will take you past Tung Chung Bay, Hau Kok Wan, Sha Lo Wan, San Shek Wan, and Sham Wat Wan, before arriving at the destination of Tai O. During the beginning of the hike, you will be looking at the Chek Lap Kok Airport across the water, so do expect there to be noise from planes flying overhead. The land reclamation work along the coast of Tung Chung can also be seen along the way, and this expansive urban development is starkly contrasted with the little shanty town settlements that are dotted along the trail.
There is essentially only one road to follow along, so there’s not much danger of getting lost unless you wander off-trail into the woods. The only places where you can branch off onto other paths is the trail to San Tau Pier not too long after the trailhead, and then next at Sha Lo Wan, where a small path to the right takes you down to the beach.
During October last year, there have been reports of Sha Lo Wan villagers installing and locking an iron gate at the entrance of the village, thereby preventing access through to the rest of the Tung O Ancient Trail. A sign was erected next to the gate, announcing that Sha Lo Wan is a private area and those who forcibly access the village “will be treated as a thief.” According to reports, the villagers were fed up with hikers littering around their homes and clogging up the paths with too many people and bicycles. It is unclear whether the issue has been resolved and the path is once again open, but you can call the District Lands Office at (+852) 2852 4265 to check for the latest updates before setting off.
Assuming Sha Lo Wan Village doesn’t pose any issues, eventually the trail brings you past the tiny village of Sham Shek Tsuen, where village houses, shrines, and farm allotments nestle among the greenery, with the Ngong Ping 360 cable car running along the mountain range in the distance. Here, there is also a path that branches off down to the San Shek Wan Pier if you would like a little detour down to the waterfront. Look out for little stalls when passing through villages because there are usually a handful of locals who sell refreshments such as fresh fruit or juices to hikers passing through, and it’s always nice to support small businesses.
Along the way, admire the sights of Hong Kong’s waterfronts, alternating between little beaches, muddy swamps, and marshy mangroves, with the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge framing the background. Further on, after the village at Sham Wat Wan, cross the bridge and take the next path to the right to continue straight on to Tai O with no other branch-offs. There will be dai pai dong-style eateries in the villages, but we recommend holding off until you reach your destination, because there is plenty of good grub to be had in Tai O.
Approximately halfway between Sham Wat and Tai O, the paved concrete path rather abruptly disappears and gives way to a rocky dirt trail instead. We actually think this is the best part of the trail as it is more evocative of an adventure, but even if you prefer the ease of paved roads, take heart because you are near the end! This path meanders close to the shoreline, and once you see what looks like the mouth of a river with two temples—Yeung Hau and Tai Wong—across the water, you’ll know you’ve reached Tai O.
Wander among the stilt houses that make this village famous, and follow Sun Ki Street, eventually crossing the bridge to reach the section of Tai O where most of the stores and restaurants are gathered. Sun Ki Bridge itself is a great photo spot where you can admire the water, the stilt houses on both sides, and the mountains looming behind everything.
There is simply no way you can leave without snacking on the myriad of street foods on offer—you’ve earned it after almost five hours of walking! Hunt down the legendary egg waffles on Shek Tsai Po Street, toasted up over a charcoal fire by an old man simply known as the Egg Waffle Uncle. We also love to gorge on the area’s famous curry fish balls as well as roasted cuttlefish.
As this is one of Hong Kong’s only remaining traditional fishing villages, do consider buying some dried seafood or their renowned sun-dried shrimp paste before saying goodbye to the Venice of Hong Kong. The Tai O bus terminus is across another bridge on Tai O Market Street, right near the promenade, and bus 11 will take you back to Tung Chung Station in roughly half an hour.