Great weekends in Sai Kung and Clearwater Bay.
Hong Kong’s most spectacular beaches comprise four long stretches of pristine silver sand, turquoise rollers and emerald mountains. Surfers ride the waves, feral cows trot along the sand and red-faced hikers blow the froth off a cold beer or two at Hoi Fung Store on Ham Tin beach. Occasionally a helicopter drops off a wealthy urban refugee direct from the roof of the Peninsula. It could be Bali, except our beaches are more beautiful and less crowded.
Catch a cab to the pagoda at the end of Sai Kung Sai Wan Road in the country park and walk (downhill) for 40 minutes to Sai Wan. Catch your breath at the Oriental beachfront restaurant, then follow the trail over the headland to Ham Tin where Hoi Fung Store rents surfboards and tents. Alternatively, take the 94/96R bus from Sai Kung to Wong Shek Pier, then follow the MacLehose Trail to Chek Keng and over the ridge to Tai Wan.
2. Yung Shue O
A lovely, easy 45-minute walk follows the edge of Tolo Harbour from Yung Shue O village to Sham Chung with its streams, ponds and open grassy spaces – perfect for impromptu games of footy or practising the golf swing. There’s a small restaurant for a cold drink or bowl of noodles in Sham Chung and a dai pai dong halfway along the path that specialises in oyster omelettes made with shellfish collected from the shoreline. Look out for weekend warriors from the war-games centre at Yung Shue O (9837 5764, www.ysowargame.com), which has a handy car park. Yung Shue O is also the start point for one of Hong Kong’s few official mountain bike trails. Take the second right turn off Sai Sha Road (from Sai Kung) and follow the winding, single-track road for about 10 minutes.
3. Pak Sha O Village
Pak Sha O Village, is an historical gem hidden in Sai Kung Country Park. It has been voted by Sai Kung Magazine readers as Sai Kung’s best village for several years running. Abandoned when descendants of the founding Ho family left Hong Kong, it’s idyllic charm is well-kept by newcomers, who spent years renovating the traditional Hakka buildings and restoring the village’s ancestral hall.
The village is facing a great challenge, not from pirates this time, but from property developers. Visit while you still can.
How to get to Pak Sha O Village – Take Minibus no.7 from Sai Kung pier to Hoi Ha, get off at Pak Sha O, costs $11 per trip.
4. Tin Hau Temple, Joss House Bay
Every Tin Hau Festival, 50,000 people and hundreds of boats descend on Hong Kong’s oldest Tin Hau Temple, dedicated to the goddess of the sea in 1266. For the devout, it’s a chance to pay their respects and perhaps fumble under the quilt on the Dragon Bed in a side hall for a lucky lotus seed for fertility or lai see packet for wealth. Avoid the 23rd day of the third lunar month (usually in May), however, and this is a tranquil place.
Keen hikers can drop down from the High Junk Peak Trail in Clearwater Bay. The rest of us may prefer to catch green minibus 16 from Po Lam to Po Toi O, alighting at the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club, and walk 10 minutes down the steps near the club gate.
Sai Kung’s rocks are famous, thanks to the Geopark. Among the many interesting coastal features – sea caves, arches, tombolos (sandy spits joining two islands) – perhaps the most accessible is the hexagonal columnar jointing at the East Dam of High Island Reservoir. The dam is pretty impressive too, with 7,000 25-tonne concrete “dolosses” acting as a cofferdam against the roughest seas in Hong Kong. Take bus 94/96R or park at Pak Tam Chung at the Sai Kung Country Park Gate and catch a cab. Alternatively, take a boat tour of the Geopark from Sai Kung waterfront.
6. Tap Mun
Catch a ferry from Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung Country Park (every two hours from 8.30am to 6.30pm) for the relaxing 45-minute trip to Tap Mun, or Grass Island. There’s a small fishing village, a couple of seafood restaurants, a grassy hill with lovely views, a balanced rock, feral cows and an interesting temple to potter about in. But most of all, there’s peace. Bus 94 or 96R runs every 30 minutes from Sai Kung town to Wong Shek. For all the information you need to enjoy a day at Tap Mun read our Guide to Tap Mun Chau
7. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, Sha Tin
This is one of the quirkiest and most interesting monasteries in the territory, not least because of the embalmed body of its founder, Reverend Yuet Kai, that sits in the lotus position, covered in gold leaf, in a glass case in front of the main altar. Labelled “The Diamond Indestructible Body of Yuexi”, it’s a ghoulish (but not terrifying) spectacle. Reverend Yuet was a philosopher, poet, monk and skilled lyre player who founded the monastery in 1949. Eight months after he passed away in 1965, his body was exhumed in line with his wishes and found to be perfectly preserved. The monastery’s other attractions are less gruesome. Reached by 431 steps (starting close to IKEA; signposted from Sha Tin Station) lined with 500 life-sized statues, the monastery has five temples, containing about 13,000 gold ceramic Buddha statues each with a different pose and expression, plus a nine-storey pagoda and various galleries and pavilions.
8. Hoi Ha
As you approach Hoi Ha, your phone is likely to beep with a message welcoming you to China. This is the end of the road, a 25-minute trip on the no.7 minibus to the furthest reaches of Sai Kung Country Park. Part of the 260-hectare Hoi Ha Marine Park, the beach is possibly the most cosseted stretch of sand in Hong Kong. At low tide, when the sea disappears towards the horizon, the exposed seabed bristles with life. The area is famous for its starfish, which bury themselves as the water retreats leaving ghostly outlines in the sand. Thousands of tiny shellfish, hermit crabs and mudskippers scuttle and leap unexpectedly. At one end lie rock pools, at the other slightly spooky mangroves and in between is a maze of freshwater streams and sandbanks, begging to be explored. Fred the boatman rents kayaks and sailing boats, snorkels and sunshades, showers and lockers for daytrippers (2328 2169, 9164 5756, 2328 2181).
We love this spooky ghost town. The atmospheric deserted village looks like a horror-movie set, with three rows of small houses set amid abandoned farmland on a high plateau, near the MacLehose Trail. There’s a Marie Celeste quality about the houses, most of which still contain the decaying furniture, photographs and other personal possessions of the villagers who once lived here. Some of the roofs have fallen in, and trees and creepers are slowly reclaiming the properties, although one remains inhabited. Take a camera. Parking. Top of Chuk Yeung Road, Sai Kung.
10. High Island Reservoir
High Island Reservoir in Sai Kung Country Park is one of Hong Kong’s most gorgeous locations. Stage one of the MacLehose Trail will take you along its west coast from Pak Tam Chung. Alternatively, head to the West Sea Cofferdam, beneath the wall of the West Dam. Check out the Astropark, equipped with Chinese and Western astronomical instruments both ancient and modern, including telescopic binoculars, astrological dials and a star dome with an electronic display of the night sky. Or get wet on the sailboats, kayaks and other activities at the Chong Hing Water Sports Centre next door. Camping available. Take a taxi from the country park gate at Pak Tam Chung to the Chong Hing Water Sports Centre (about $50); turn right after crossing the West Dam. A shuttle bus from Sai Kung town is available for campers. To book, call 2792 6810.