Header image courtesy of @dan.theowl (via Instagram)
If you like hiking but are tired of stomping around mountains that have concrete paths set in—not to mention how taxing they are on the feet—then perhaps you would like to take on an ancient trail or two of Hong Kong.
As implied, these are old walking paths laid down in the past that have since lost use or relevance and fallen mostly into the realm of vague memories. There are a surprising number of these ancient trails hidden in our mountains, but they are not protected or actively maintained; in fact, some of them don’t even count as part of Hong Kong’s country parks.
Nevertheless, this is exactly what brings these paths a sense of nostalgic adventure as you search for their unlikely trailheads and trot along the boulder- or stone-laid trails handmade by local villagers in the past. Here are six of the best ancient trails in Hong Kong.
As the name suggests, this trail brings you from Tung Chung to Tai O—a particularly interesting journey because of the juxtaposition between sprawling urban residences and quaint fishing village that you’ll both get to see. Also known as the Tung Tai Trail, this was the main travel route between the villages back in the day before Tung Chung was urbanised into a new town. Surprisingly, there are still some locals living in small settlements along the trail, such as San Shek Wan, who use the trail to this day.
Only the last section is actually a mountain trail, so the majority of this journey should be classed as a walk instead of a hike, hugging the coastline as it winds past Tung Chung Bay, Hau Kok Wan, Sha Lo Wan, and Sham Wat Wan. Don’t forget to also explore the village of Tai O when you arrive, and perhaps buy some of their famous shrimp paste before you hop onto bus 11 back to Tung Chung MTR station. Click here for a more detailed guide to the Tung O Ancient Trail.
This old footpath links Yuen Long to Tsuen Wan, established for the convenience of traders travelling between these locations. Of course, with the completion of Castle Peak Road and modern transportation, this route has long been rendered obsolete, but it’s still a nice walk with views over Tsuen Wan, Kwai Chung, the Rambler Channel, and the Tsing Ma Bridge.
We recommend beginning this hike from Tsuen Wan, going through Tai Lam Country Park and down to Tai Tong. Take Exit E2 at Tsuen Wan West Station, and hop onto minibus 95 at the terminus, and alight at the Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital.
Look out for a small path on the left-hand side a short ways into Tsuen King Circuit Road, where you will turn up to join the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail. Most of the path is well-paved and easy to follow, then shortly after the pavilion on Shek Lung Kung—the highest point along this hike—the paved trail cuts into bush-whacking territory.
Soon, the trail joins Tai Lam Wooded Road, which takes you through a section of bamboo forest and across Tin Tsing Bridge. After passing the Tin Fu Tsai Campsite, you can choose to branch off via Tsing Fai Tong village to Sham Tseng—our choice because what better way to end the exercise than with some roast goose? If you’d rather go all the way to the end, then simply follow the trail until it traces Tai Tong Shan Road downhill, leading on to Kiu Hing Road where you can catch public transport into Yuen Long town centre.
Though the little hamlets between Sha Tin and Sai Kung are by now mostly uninhabited, the old stone-paved path between the villages of Mui Tsz Lam and Mau Ping is still intact. The forested ravine that these villages are located in is home to specially fragrant trees that are used to make the incense so central to Chinese religious worship—some say these are Hong Kong’s namesake, as our city’s name literally means “fragrant harbour,” but these trees are growing increasingly scarce with mainland Chinese smugglers crossing the border to illegally fell this precious wood.
From Tai Shui Hang MTR station, come out of Exit B and down Hang Tat Street, then following a trail which deviates left off the road and across a bridge. Signs nearby point the way to Mui Tsz Lam, where you can find the Mau Ping Ancient Trail cutting through the deep valley. The moss-covered rocks and remnants of old stone buildings along the trail are slightly reminiscent of the beginning of the animated film Spirited Away. Upon reaching the open grassland of Mau Ping, which was the location of the old village school, you’ll find a path at a crossing that leads down to Hiram’s Highway via Pak Kong Road.
Another path between Sha Tin and Sai Kung, the Shek Lung Chai Ancient Trail is a relatively wild and therefore slightly more treacherous hike. From the left side of the entrance to Mui Tsz Lam Tsuen village, you can find and follow the marker ribbons left by previous hikers to go up the mountain. Running roughly parallel to the Mau Ping Ancient Trail, this will bring you to the old ancestral hall of the Wu clan.
It is said that the Shek Lung Chai area is so named for the several natural stone holes, crevices, and cave-like formations nearby, the deepest of which go up to approximately 60 feet. Apparently, some of these were used by guerilla fighters to hide from Japanese troops during the war!
Lying along the western slopes of Tai Mo Shan, Kap Lung Ancient Trail was originally built for farmers to travel from Shek Kong and Pat Heung to Tsuen Wan Market, where they would sell their produce. Villagers began building it for their ease of travel and it was later picked up by the government. It’s an easy walk downhill through wooded areas and over streams that is suitable for beginners.
From Tsuen Wan West MTR station, come out of Exit A and take bus 51 to the Country Park stop. The trail is clearly marked throughout and it’s an easy matter to follow it into the hills until you reach an intersection, where it overlaps with the Kap Lung Forest Trail.
The paved path eventually gives way to large rocks embedded in soil, which was the original way the trail was constructed. In rainy weather, these do tend to get slippery with moss, so watch your footing! If you enjoy picnicking it might be a good idea to pack a lunch as you’ll pass by little streams and waterfalls.
At the picnic site, turn right to make the loop back to Shek Kong Camp where you started. From the end of the trail, simply make your way back to the main thoroughfare and take bus 51 back to Tsuen Wan or catch a minibus to Yuen Long or Kam Sheung Road. Click here for a slightly more detailed guide to the Kap Lung Ancient Trail.
Literally translated as “Big Brain,” this trail runs from Ho Chung, through the mountain past Kai Ham and Tai No, to Wong Nai Tau in Sha Tin. Not specifically marked on maps, the village of Tai No has long since been derelict, but as you walk along the rough stone path, you’ll come across several stone huts, most of which have been reclaimed by trees and vegetation. The one remaining building which still stands intact is the ancestral hall of the Tsang clan, which was refurbished in the 1980s and is evidently still tended to by the clan descendants.
But the most interesting thing to look out for along this trail is the pair of old stone mills. Though thoroughly covered with moss at this point, these were used by the villagers to make cane sugar and is a rare piece of historical relic that likely dates back a hundred years. It’s fascinating to imagine inhabitants in the past standing at that very mill, using it to press sugar cane stalks. After leaving the abandoned village, the Tai No Ancient Trail connects back to section four of the MacLehose Trail, which you can take to hike elsewhere or to the next exit point.