It never ceases to amaze me how, after almost 2 years of living in Hong Kong and hiking most weekends, it still has the ability to present exciting new trails which I’ve never heard of before. I found this particular trail simply whilst browsing on Google Maps and noticing a hiking route crossing through Tai Lam Country park in the north-west of Hong Kong. This chance encounter led me to embark on one of the most rewarding hikes I’ve done in Hong Kong. It’s very typical that it comes just after I made 2 posts on my top hikes in the region, so I decided the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail warranted a post of its own.
Back in’t day, this trail was used as a trading link between Kowloon and Yuen Long in the very north of Hong Kong. Even today, we stumbled across tiny houses and villages with people living a million miles away from the Hong Kong everyone else knows. Despite a few settlements, the trail is now primarily used by eager hikers. A controversial paving of the first section several years ago makes it more accessible than ever. It’s also pretty easy to get to. From Kowloon (Nathan Road), we hopped on the 30X bus and took it until the Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital. The trail starts here and is well signposted.
The first part of the trail is, as I say, paved, but is a bit of an arduous climb up. The trouble is you want to go on a clear day to make the most of the dazzling views, but most clear days in Hong Kong are also blisteringly hot. The first time I did this trail it was roasting. There’s a noticeably larger slope than the rest and my friend and I ended up huddled underneath a sign to get shade whilst eating our sustenance courtesy of our local bakery. The second time I did it was apparently the hottest day of the year so far in Hong Kong but it was also more overcast so didn’t seem as bad. I feel we were perhaps delusional the first time because of the blaring sun – the ascent isn’t too bad. Besides, the view at the top is so stunning that you almost forget the fact your legs feel like jelly and you look like you’ve just walked through a power wash.
The best view comes less than an hour into the hike. It’s odd to reach the peak so early on but after that steep climb, it makes it more than worth it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much of Hong Kong in one go. I was literally on top of the entire region and had a panoramic view from the furthest reaches of Lantau Island all the way around to the Eastern New Territories. The pictures hardly do such a incredible panorama justice but I was utterly spellbound by the view in real life.
The actual peak is further up from the paved peak but it involves quite a scramble up and down and due to my distinct lack of any form of co-ordination, I felt it would be best to stay put and chill out on the lush hills at the not-quite-the-peak-peak. I was reliably informed the view at the top gives you an even better panorama though so if you’re not as incompetent as me, it’s probably worth a go.
What I loved most about the view was how completely different it was from all the other Hong Kong panoramas I’ve seen. Of course the harbour view is spectacular but it seems almost every Hong Kong viewpoint centres around the the harbour. Here, the iconic harbour was a backdrop and it was the shipyards, Tsing Yi island and Tsing Ma bridge (giving the viewpoint a touch of California about it) that hogged the limelight. I love an underdog so it was great to be on a hike that gave these underrated places the wow factor they deserve. The bridge especially is incredible.
But this is the hike that keeps on giving and whilst most hikes would struggle to maintain interest after a view so good, Yuen Tsuen mixes it up completely. It’s a 3.5-4 hour hike which manages to stay exciting even well past the peak. After an easy descent (much to my relief), I suddenly found myself in dense jungle. It actually felt like a rainforest. At this stage, if you head over the little bridge and go down along the stream, you’re met with your very own jungle trek. Given I first tackled this hike about a week before I headed to Borneo, it whetted my appetite very nicely.
Mere minutes after admiring the cityscape, I was now surrounded by thick trees, a gushing stream and the sounds of the forest. Midway into this jungle walk, we stumbled across a very photogenic pool, littered with orange leaves and a stunning reflection from the top of the forest. I say this a lot about Hong Kong hikes but my friend and I had to keep reminding ourselves where we were. The South American rainforest? Or a hike a mere 45 minutes away from the most densely populated area on the planet? It was bonkers.
After this we got back in the open but we were still a million miles away from civillisation, now surrounded by mountainous green lush trees which gave a feeling of being somewhere in Africa before heading through a tiny Chinese village. I’d travelled to three or more continents within the space of a hike. It was staggering to get my head around.
Of course, all good things come to an end and we ended our hike by following the sign for Tsing Fai Tong village and then Sham Tseng which sits on Hong Kong’s Gold Coast. I should add that we diverted away from the main trail and didn’t complete it. It’s possible to complete the full 12km all the way up to Yuen Long and that definitely something I intend to do. For today, we were satisfied and a cold drink from 7-11 was calling. We hopped on the 52x bus to Mong Kok and began excitedly recounting to our friends how we’d just done ‘the best hike EVAHH!’.
Were we still delirious? Perhaps. There’s only one way to find out – get to the Yuen Tsuen Trail and give it a go. I’d be shocked if you regretted it.