Sai Kung is known as the backyard of Hong Kong and it is remarkable for its sweeping green views, pristine beaches, volcanic rock columns and the floating fishing village that feeds all the busy seafood restaurants along the main pier. During my last visit to Hong Kong I spent a perfect day tackling the notoriously difficult MacLehose hiking trail along the Sai Kung peninsula. My efforts were rewarded with a fresh cooked seafood dinner on the harbour although the price tag was extraordinary.
Getting to Sai Kung
There are multiple ways to visit Sai Kung from Hong Kong. I have always found the most convenient route is to take the MTR to Choi Hung, take exit C2 and catch the A1 bus to Sai Kung town. Buses arrive frequently at least once every ten minutes. Alternatively, you can also take a mini bus from Mong Kong or Hang Hau MTR stations.
Hiking the Sai Kung Peninsula
Preparing for the Hike
If you are visiting Sai Kung for hiking, avoid the rainy season and visit between October and February. During the summer months of January and February it gets really hot so use sunscreen and wear a hat and light long sleeved shirt. Also pack plenty of water and light snacks to avoid dehydration and stay nourished as it is a 7+ hour walking trail. I learned the hard way and did not prepare properly for the hike, which caused me to get severely sun burnt and I had to drink bad tasting tap water.
I recommend starting your day with a hearty breakfast at Little Cove Espresso, which is a cosy cafe on 34 See Cheung Street. I loaded up on caffeine and sourdough with smashed avocado and feta before the hike.
MacLehose Trail 1 & 2
The Sai Kung Peninsula Hike follows routes 1 & 2 of the MacLehose trail, which is one of the most difficult but also most rewarding hikes in Sai Kung. The hike curves around the High Island Reservoir and has a combination of paved walkways and rocky ascents and descents. It is a difficult walk suited to experienced hikers.
I did the walk backwards, taking a local taxi from the main Sai Kung bus depot to Sai Wan Pavilion. The local taxis are green and they only service the new territories, as opposed to the red taxis that service the entire Hong Kong and tend to be less familiar with the Sai Kung district. Be wary that the drivers do not speak English so have your destination written in Chinese characters to show them.
From the Sai Wan Pavilion we took the dirt trail left and continued at a steady upward pace until we reached the first rest point at Chui Tung Au. From then on the path became incredibly difficult with sharp ascents, rocky walkways and muddy puddles. We caught the first glimpse of the High Island Reservoir that was built in 1978 and which holds 273 million cubic metres of water. The reservoir is a dazzling aquamarine blue and was definitely Instagram worthy.
We jumped down some massive steps toward the next resting point at Sai Wan Shan, which offers the best vantage point for viewing the reservoir, Long Ke beach and the South China Sea. Hong Kong is the last place in the world I expected to find stunning beaches but Long Ke is beautiful. The beach is nestled within a cosy bay possessing crystal clear water and smooth white sand. There is a small campsite with just a few tents on the grassy patch by the sand, but otherwise the beach is unspoilt and free from pollution and infrastructure. The beach can only be accessed by walking trail and we were regretful we didn’t have our bathing suits!
We cut across the beach and then did some serious walking up hill. This was the toughest part of the hike because it was extremely hot and the path ascended steeply for over 3 kilometres. By the time we got to the top we had run out of water and needed to stop at the public toilets to fill up our bottles with vile tasting tap water. There is a taxi rank here, with cars dropping off passengers for Long Ke and it was very tempting to give up our hike and head back to the village. We had walked 3 hours by this time and were already becoming weary, however we resisted temptation and kept going.
The High Island Reservoir was originally built to solve for Hong Kong’s water shortage problem and an East Dam and West Dam were constructed, connecting the reservoir with Sai Kung. Next on our journey we passed the East Dam, which protects Sai Kung’s coast from the relentless South China Sea. Along the coast of the East Dam are beautiful hexagonal volcanic columns, which were formed over 140 million years ago by a volcanic eruption. These natural wonders have made the East Dam of High Island Reservoir a key site in Hong Kong’s UNESCO Global Geopark.
We crossed the paved road to the West Dam next. It is less iconic than the East Dam however equally startling with the continuing bright blue water and architectural structures. From here on out the hike became easy as the walkway is entirely paved and flat. The next few hours were spent walking along the reservoir with little shade and we passed a few free roaming cows along the way.
As we continued our hike around the Sai Kung peninsula we became desperate for a shop selling drinks. We passed the Ching Hing water sports centre but it was not until we reached Pak Tam Chong and were closer to Sai Kung village that we found a canteen – the first shop selling cold beverages after 7 hours of walking. We guzzled down cold lemonade here and walked for a further one hour before jumping on a bus back to the main village. The hike was incredible and we witnessed beautiful scenes that we did not expect to see in a busy city like Hong Kong. However we wished we had prepared better for the hot weather as we felt exhausted!
Floating Fishing Village
Most visitors to Sai Kung come for the fresh seafood and our incredible hiking efforts were rewarded with a delicious dinner. The main pier of Sai Kung is populated with fishing boats. You can watch them sorting the seafood they have caught and selling it to both restaurants and individuals. All sorts of interesting seafood is for sale from fish, prawns and lobster to small clams and sea urchins. Individuals can purchase freshly caught seafood to take home or cook at one of the local restaurant. Most of the fisherman do not speak English so you will need to just point and buy. If you plan to dine in Sai Kung it is cheaper to purchase the seafood from the boats however the prices are higher than you would expect. Lobster costs over S$100 as do many large whole fish.
There are also a number of other stalls along the pier selling dried fish, herbs and spices, ice cream and marine-inspired souvenirs. Local artists play Chinese music which adds to the vibe. The buzz of activity makes it a lively place from early in the morning until well after the sun goes down and whilst there are a lot of tourists I should mention the majority of them come from Hong Kong city or China. Western tourists are few and far between.
If you venture into the old town of Sai Kung, which is only a couple of blocks behind the pier, there is the famous wet market. The market is entirely covered but here you can find everything from butchers dicing up pork and beef to makeshift tanks of live seafood as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. You can also purchase fresh seafood here to bring to any of the local restaurants to cook for you. I prefer purchasing seafood here than at the pier because it is easier to see the full variety of what is available and prices are displayed.
The most popular restaurants are those that line the pier. The majority of them have their own tanks of live seafood for customers to chose from, although they all will allow you to bring your own seafood for cooking as well. If you chose to bring your own, make sure you write down your preferred cooking method in Chinese to pass to the waiters who may not speak English. The most noteworthy restaurant is Chuen Kee Seafood Restaurant, which also has a Michelin star. Despite being so close to the fishing village, all of the restaurants are extraordinarily expensive and expect to pay more than S$100 per person for a meal without alcohol. The restaurants that do not have menus in English will charge extra if they notice you are a non-Chinese speaking tourist.
A visit to Sai Kung is essential if you are visiting Hong Kong. It is a rare opportunity to see the backyard of this great country and experience unspoilt natural beauty and eat deliciously fresh seafood. However be wary that the price for the experience does not come cheap.