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The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to Hong Kong 2020

Updated: Sep 17, 2020


The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking in Hong Kong


Backpacking is one of the best ways to travel eco-friendly in any part of the world. Backpacking or trekking is a way of travel without any transportation but your own foot. It is often associated with the natural environment and outdoor activities. Hong Kong offers you a unique backpacking experience, a "city in nature" characteristics that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world.


Hong Kong, a city in nature, hiking trails are just within walking distances, and most of the hiking trails are interconnected, which you can almost walk your way through Hong Kong. One of the best things about backpacking in Hong Kong is all the campsites within the country park areas are free!! You just have to pay for your food and transportation to and from your starting point.


Yet, there is still a number of questions and issues to answer when planning your backpacking trip in Hong Kong. Good preparation is never wasted. The better you prepare yourself for the trip, the greater the experience. This is an Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Travel in Hong Kong.


Since this is a REALLY LONG post, I've divided the content into Climate, Food, Campsite, Water, Wildlife, and Route Suggestions into different pages. Just to make it easier for you to navigate. You can still read this long post in one, if so, I salute you!


Climate


Rapid Changing Weather at Shek Pik Water Reservoir
Rapid Changing Weather at Shek Pik Water Reservoir

Climate, the weather, is the number one priority when planning any outdoor activities. Especially when you know you will be alone in the wilderness situation. The weather factor will determine your gear, clothing, food, and routes.


Hong Kong is a city within the subtropical region overlapping the temperate zone and tropical zone. The monsoon clearly defines the four seasons, Spring starting from February to April, long Summertime from May to September, Autumn starting from late September to early November, and a short Wintertime from December to January.


SUBTROPICAL CLIMATE

Generally speaking, the climate in the subtropical region is more comparable to a tropical climate rather than the temperate zone. The monsoon is the main factor affecting the weather in the region. Monsoon wind from the South affects the area during Summer, bringing in a lot of tropical depression and rainfall. While the cold air from the northern temperate zone generates strong prevailing wind during the short Winter.



Table of Humidity and Actual Body Sensation
Table of Humidity and Actual Body Sensation

The table showed the actual temperature your body feels like. The readings highlighted in yellow indicate there will be very high chances of having heat exhaustion, heatstroke and dehydration.


HUMIDITY

As Hong Kong is more comparable to the tropical climate, humidity is the key when you look at the weather forecast, to anticipate how the temperature is actually going to be like. The higher the humidity, the higher the density of the air, which makes your body “feels more”. In other words, if the humidity is high during the summertime, your body will feel a lot hotter than the actual temperature, and if the humidity is high during the wintertime, your body will feel a lot colder than the actual temperature. Given that the average humidity is around 85%, most of the time you will feel more than the actual temperature.


DAYTIME SUNLIGHT

As you may have noticed, the long Summertime contributes a lot to the general climate. Another worth to mention is that the daily sunlight can be as long as 13 hours a day during the summertime. This is certainly an advantage when you are out in the wilderness. It gives you more time to set up camp, collect firewoods, or even give you more flexibility when planning your routes.


RAINFALL

On the flip side, Summer brings in tropical depressions, or worse, the Typhoon or Cyclone. We have reports from damages caused by typhoons almost every year. Not to mention the high-speed wind causing the damage, but the rainfall that comes along with the tropical depressions. Mudslides or even landslides are very common, and it happens almost most of the time in country parks. The tremendous amount of water also causes a lot of flooding and overflow in the rivers or streams, and water reservoirs.


Somehow there are good and bad for your considerations when planning your trip. In conclusion, some tips regarding the climate factor for you when planning your trip are:

  • Your gear must be waterproof and highly breathable

  • Your clothing must be dry quickly with sun protection

  • Your food must be insulated and packed airtight

  • Your route planning must be updated with weather conditions




What Season is the Best for Backpacking?


It depends on the activities you are planning to do while backpacking, and it depends on your backpacking style. It would be hell if you are planning for an expedition trip with extensive hiking in summer, while it would be heaven if you are planning for a grill and chill trip in a forest during Autumn.


ACTIVITIES

You can plan various activities within the scope of country parks. Hiking from one spot to another, and camp in between is great, but wouldn’t it be awesome if you could see more and do more during your backpacking trip? Personally, I do recommend some activities in different seasons during your backpacking trips, and a few examples are listed below:


Summer Time

  • Snorkelling

Sounds interesting? It’s not common to include snorkelling activities in backpacking trips in many parts of the world. Yet, it is very common in Hong Kong to include, or some of us will consider snorkelling as the highlight of the trip. There are 7 Marine Parks with 84 species of reef-building corals in Hong Kong, and nearly 1000 fish species from the South-China Sea. Double Haven Marine Park is the top pick!

Sea Urchin in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park
Sea Urchin in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park

Photo was taken in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park. Snorkelling during my backpacking trip in Sai Kung.

  • Beach

For those of you who can stay sun and sand all day! There are over 100 beaches in Hong Kong, and many of those are located in remote islands. But still, there are too many beautiful beaches to mention and introduce. My top picks would be Pak Lap Wan (Sai Kung) and Pui O Beach (Lantau Island).

Maclehose Trail Section 2 overseeing Long Ke Wan Beach
Maclehose Trail Section 2 overseeing Long Ke Wan Beach

Photo was taken at Maclehose Trail Section 2, lookout to Long Ke Beach

  • Kayaking

You might be thinking there will be a lot of gear to carry, right? You get it wrong. You are lucky enough to have kayaking facilities for almost every major spot for kayaking. The facilities or stores are mostly run by villagers, and they will charge you a fixed amount of money with everything included (lifevest, kayak, and paddle). A waterproof bag is all you need.

Kayaking at Pak Lap Wan Beach
Kayaking at Pak Lap Wan

All-Year-Round

  • Fishing

This is my favourite activity while backpacking. Especially when it comes to the moment of catch and cook, that really nailed the trip. One of the great things about fishing is that the activity itself is very challenging and time-consuming. It gives you a vibe of hunting for your own food. With over 450km long of coastline, and different microhabitats within, you have endless hunting grounds for fishing.

My Friend Caught a Tilapia at Lau Shui Heung Reservoir
My Friend Caught a Tilapia at Lau Shui Heung Reservoir

Another great thing about including fishing activities in your backpacking trip is that you have an option for fishing freshwater fishes in most of the water reservoirs. Water reservoirs are all within the scope of country parks. So you have even more options when planning your backpacking route. From my experience, those freshwater fishes living in water reservoirs are generally larger and stronger. That “FISH ON” experience is like fighting a monster in a peaceful environment.


You do need a Fishing License for fishing in the water reservoirs. And there is a fishing period from September to March every year, avoiding the spawning activities.


For more information, click here.

https://www.wsd.gov.hk/en/customer-services/other-customer-services/fishing-in-reservoirs/application-for-fishing-licence/index.html


  • Sunrise / Sunset

Seriously? Sunrise and sunset every day, do I really have to plan for this? Well, yes, I’m very serious about this. There are several factors that affect your chances of getting the best sunrise or sunset.


First, the time for sunset and sunrise is different for every season, so you should keep your backpacking plan updated. You might want to adjust and prepare yourself more buffer time to “wait and see” for the best sunset or sunrise you can get.


Second, the paths of the sun are different throughout the year. Which means the location of the campsites or any selected spots will have different results of seeing sunset and sunrise.


Sunset during wintertime at lantau south
Winter Sunset at Lantau South

Photo was taken at Tsin Yue Wan Campsite during sunset


Check out another post for “The Best Spots for Watching Sunrise and Sunset”.


  • Visit Natural Attractions near Campsites

With more than 40% of the lands are included in country parks, and hundreds of years of Chinese and British Colonial history, there are so many spots to see and explore around or nearby. You should check out other posts for more natural attractions:


"The Iconic Water Reservoirs in Hong Kong"

"Top 5 Heritage & Monuments in Hong Kong Country Parts"


BACKPACKING STYLE

There are so many things to talk about when it comes to style, regardless of the planned activities. Whether you want to pack light or ultra-light, or considering comfortability is the priority, how you pack your gear should adjust according to 5 Weather Warning Signals, so to make every season perfect for your backpacking trip.


Weather Warning Signals in Hong Kong
Weather Warning Signals in Hong Kong

Thunderstorm Warning

It is anticipating a probability of flashes of lightning and claps of thunder within the area of Hong Kong. It may be the signs of an arriving cloud of a storm, or in between the period of tropical depressions. You should seek shelter and avoid getting close to any tall or metallic objects.


Cold and Very Hot Weather Warning

The signals are the calculations of sunlight, wind speed, temperature, and humidity, to conclude a state of weather may be harmful to our health and people with special conditions. Summer in particular, Very Hot Weather Warning, is a signal indicating there will be very high chances for heatstroke or dehydration.


Strong Monsoon Signal

The prevailing wind of monsoon comes from Northeast, and the signal in place when the monsoon wind is expected to exceed 40km/hour. If you are planning your route over several exposed peaks, the monsoon wind may exceed 70km/hour, The wind chill is no joke.


Fire Danger Warnings

As a responsible camper, you should be aware of the signal when you are thinking of starting a fire. The signal is in place mostly during the wintertime, it indicates the humidity is extremely low, and nature’s surroundings may easily catch fire. We have fire reports every year, all of them are human mistakes. So please be mindful when starting a fire.


The warning signals are required precautionary measures and decisions to prevent or avoid unpleasant or even deadly accidents. It is your responsibility to check and understand the meaning of other warning signals. For instance, if the Red Rainstorm Warning Signal is in place, all outdoor activities should be stopped and stay in a safe shelter. For more weather warning signals information, please visit: The Details of Weather Warning Signals. https://www.hko.gov.hk/en/wservice/warning/details.htm


What Will You Expect From Different Seasons, and What Clothing and Tent Should I Prepare?


Most of the tourists from the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere consider the winter in Hong Kong as “WARM”. Well, think about the average temperature from the northern hemisphere in many countries, Hong Kong is “WARM”, I mean, at least for them. And some of my friends just moved to Hong Kong, they found summer is like “HELL” if they are walking on the streets with tall buildings. It’s like a sauna on the street.


SO, the question is, what clothing and tent should I prepare for the trips?


SUMMER

Clothing: Quick-Dry is the priority. I can guarantee you, you will sweat a lot! If your clothing can dry quickly, you can wash them at night and will be dry the next day. Second, sun protection, wear long sleeves if you don’t like putting sunscreen on. My tip is to bring more spare underwear. Trust me, you will need them for a comfy night.


Tent: Grab a tent with separate rainfly, in case you stand the heat during the night, you can take off the rainfly, let the wind get through. But don’t forget the rainfly, it saves a lot of souls when it rains so hard, you will be grateful when you have a waterproof shelter. A tent with a mosquito net is a must! The mosquito net is not only against the mosquitos, and many other small and large creeping crawlings. I will address more about the wildlife in Hong Kong in a later part.


WINTER

Clothing: Waterproof and highly breathable. You may wonder why? The reason is simple, the humidity is high most of the time, and when it gets cold, the humidity will make you feel even colder. For those of you who are not from the northern hemisphere, following the 3 layers clothing approach should get you through the long cold night.


Tent: Pick a tent with a high function of ventilation. Again, it’s about the humidity, the moist or condensation will start to form once you get inside the tent. As the temperature drops, the inside of the tent gets colder and colder. Another accessory for the tent will be a footprint. It helps insulate from the ground and reduce the moist formed underneath your tent, which will cause a wet floor inside the tent.


How Seasons Change Affect Planning a Backpacking Trip?


I have mentioned a lot about summer and winter, what’s likely to happen and what to prepare. What about Spring and Autumn? Even though the two seasons are comparatively short, just account for around 4 months. Since the two seasons is the transition time for summer and winter, when there is a change in seasons, there will be some form of weather aggression.


SPRING

From relatively dry and cold weather, it turns into a warm and extremely humid condition. The average humidity in Spring is ranging from 90-95%. The monsoon wind from the South-China Sea is bringing in warm air with a lot of moistures. A foggy day with very low visibility, sometimes you wouldn’t see your buddy just a few meters away. Drizzling rain throughout the day and night, it makes everything damped, and difficult to get a fire started. It will be cool or even cold during the dawn and the night, but it’s going to be very stuffy and humid during the day.

A Typical Foggy Day in Spring at Pat Sin Leng
A Typical Foggy Day in Spring at Pat Sin Leng

It doesn’t sound very ideal for going out, right? Let’s look at the bright side, especially when the weather beats you so badly. Spring is the blossom time for most of the plants, even just a window of sunlight, it dresses up nature’s surroundings like you are the Alice In The Wonderland. And the average temperature is around 18-degree celsius, which is a very ideal condition for outdoor activities.


AUTUMN

Summer’s average temperature is around 33-degree celsius. It only takes less than 3 weeks to reach 20-degree celsius, the average temperature for Autumn. The sudden temperature drops make the weather even more unpredictable. Cold rains and strong winds, extra precaution need to be taken when going on an expedition trip. Generally speaking, the temperate and the humidity is reaching the equilibrium for body comfortability.

A Comparatively Hot Autumn in 2019 on Sunset Peak
A Comparatively Hot Autumn in 2019 on Sunset Peak

The residual heat will gradually release, you will find a hot tent in the middle of the night. For most of the campers and hikers, Autumn is the best time to go outdoors and do their loves. Unfortunately, Autumn is changing over the years. It has become less noticeable in recent decades. The transition time from summer to winter is shorter, and the average temperature for autumn and winter is getting closer to each other.


Food


Toasts and Nachos with Cream Spinach Dipping
Toasts and Nachos with Cream Spinach Dipping

Where to Source Your Camping Food?


It is tricky when you are sourcing the “RIGHT” food outside of your familiar environment. Food is essential to your body, yet, it is cultural to the mind. When you have your comfort food with you on the mountain, you feel like your trip is completed. In this section, I will be addressing the different needs of food sourcing in Hong Kong.


EAT LIKE A LOCAL

Have you ever had a thought crossed your mind, telling you should have some sort of local food when it comes to travel? There is local food, or it’s better to put it this way, the local practice when selecting and preparing their food for backpacking.


Hong Kong is an international city, where you can get pretty much everything from anywhere in the world. If you go check on the supermarket or wet market near the neighbourhood, you should be able to find the food or snacks from your country.


So, what is the local practice? Given the fact that the country parks are highly accessible, and the facilities are very well equipped for some of the campsites. For most of the family trips or overnight trips, people tend to bring a lot of fresh food and cooking tools. And Majority of the campers are doing overnight trips or base camp multiple trips. So base weight and loads are never the concern for those people. You may see them carrying a little trolley with them to the campsites.


In other words, there aren't many people planning backpacking trips in Hong Kong, rather camping and cooking outdoors in the wild. For many local campers, cooking a meal is the biggest thing. I’ve seen people cutting a cracker tin to make an oven, for roasting a chicken in whole. By the time you get to Hong Kong, you will see more examples.


SHOP LIKE A PRO

There are numbers of shops that provide hiking or backpacking food. For those of you, who are not a big fan of cooking and taking care of the mess afterwards and cleaning the utensils, you got it covered.


You wouldn’t expect a lot of selection and choices will be made available in Hong Kong. Since local practice for meal preparation is pretty much bringing a small kitchen to the campsite. So the choice of dehydrated meals is very limited.


Check out the link below, this is a very comprehensive shop for outdoor activities. To the best of my knowledge, not every shop offers the dehydrated meal. You better call them and check before your visit.

http://www.overlander.com.hk/en/branch


SPARE YOUR LOADS, EAT AND GO

Country parks are formed and established after the British Colonial time. But then, many villages are still living within the areas. Quite a number of campsites have access to villages, and most of them have stores or small canteens for you to pick up some food and supplies.


There are too many to mention. And the situation is different from one to another. I will explain more in detail in later chapters regarding Route Planning, give you more ideas for utilizing the resources around you within the country parks.


Top 5 Camping Meals in Hong Kong


Whether it's going to be a big meal or a convenient meal, some sort of preparation is needed. The top 5 camping meals are the most commonly seen in Hong Kong and loved by most of the campers. Depending on the storage and preparations, the top 5 meals all require some sort of cooking, and some of them even require extensive cleaning.


The 5 camping meals written down below is according to their level of cooking, preparation efforts and storage requirements. Starting from the most difficult to prepare to the quick and easy.


ENGLISH BREAKFAST

Breakfast, the most important meal for starting your day. I personally don’t really enjoy it so much when it comes to a full and heavy breakfast in the morning. Nevertheless, most of the campers in Hong Kong, they do enjoy it a lot. I think they do enjoy preparing it more than having it.


A full English breakfast consists of bacon, fried egg, sausage, mushrooms, baked beans, toast, grilled tomatoes, etc. It could be more or less depending on personal preferences. But look at the list, there is so much to prepare and to bring. Cooking them is easy at home, but doing it in the wilderness certainly requires a lot of tools and skills.


STEAM RICE & STIR FRY

I am a Chinese guy, and I love Jasmine Rice. I have rice for my backpacking trips all the time. Many of the campers prefer to have some rice on the side, to go along with anything from the frying pan. The storage and preparation for rice and stir fry are not difficult, but cleaning the mess afterwards will be a headache.

Stir Fry, Steam Rice, and Grilled Pork Chop After an Extensive HIke
Stir Fry, Steam Rice, and Grilled Pork Chop After an Extensive HIke

Especially when it comes to some sort of sauce and oil to prepare the stir fry or for the rice. You do need a proper sink for kitchen waste, not to mention it requires a large amount of water and some kind of detergent to clean it thoroughly.


BARBECUE

Yes, you heard me right! Barbecue! Impressive right? Fresh meats and vegetables, barbecue utensils, packs of charcoal, and the list go on… depending on your favourite and preferences. Some of them will bring a small fridge or some kind of cooling device, just to make sure they got the drinks well-chilled. Commonly seen for family trips or friend’s gathering trips, mostly overnight trips.

HOT POT

No idea of what it is? Hot Pot is cooking and eating at the same time. The keys for preparing Hot Pot are, first, the soup, and the second, your choice of ingredients. You basically cook and eat the food from the pot of soup. The key is having a large pot for a great volume of soup, and a certain amount of space to allow cooking the ingredients inside the pot.


The ingredients may range from fresh meats, vegetables, noodles, seafood, rice, etc. The list goes on depending on your personal preferences. Bring the soup to a boil, and start cooking and eating the ingredients.


SOUP RAMEN W/ CANNED FOOD

This is my personal favourite when it comes to the choice of meal. This is certainly my comfort food when it comes to winter in particular. Storage-wise, easy to pack and it will never go rotten. But the downside is that canned food is heavy and bulky, it takes up space in my pack.


Just like any other countries in Asia, we have so much to offer when it comes to instant soup ramen. Plus the variety of canned food, it could be fish, vegetables, or meats. The combinations are endless. The best part is, it is easy to clean.


Food Storage & Precautions


In the previous section, I have mentioned about the storage of a few. Considering the weather in Hong Kong is mostly warm or even hot with high humidity. You have to store it right or pick something which is not perishable when selecting your backpacking food. If you love the food you picked, I believe there will be other animals who will feel the same. So some precautions of storing your food in the wilderness are needed.


PACK IT TIGHT, HANG IT RIGHT

The animals I am talking about are not limited to insects, small mammals, birds, and large mammals. Their ability to search for food is far greater than our imagination. Most of the campsites have hanging posts, which you can use for hanging food. Before you hang the food bag, ensure the food bag is sealed air-tight. And there is no residual food trace or food waste outside of the bag.


NEVER PLACE YOUR FOOD INSIDE YOUR TENT!


A couple of scenarios will explain why. Ants, a group of small, never settled intruders with mighty mandibles. They will go wherever the food smell leads them to, and they will cut through pretty much everything in their way. A friend of mine experienced hundreds of ants inside her tent because some of the food residuals left inside the tent. The ants smelled it and cut their way through from the groundsheet to the inner tent.


Not to freak you out, another story from the friends of my brother. Place the food inside the tent, and think that it will be safer. In the middle of the night, a wild boar sniffed it and used its sharp tusk to tear the tent apart. Luckily, the people inside managed to get out safely, but the tent was totally ruined. A hard lesson learned.

KEEP YOUR PERISHABLE DRY

Perishable such as vegetables, keeping them dry is the key to preserve them. Anything gets wet won’t last long in such weather conditions. Even if it is wintertime, any fresh food without refrigeration won’t last for more than a day. If you’d love to have some fresh food on your backpacking trip, I have some advice in later chapters.

TAKE AWAY YOUR OWN FOOD WASTE

No matter how many times we tell people, either tourists or locals, it just never stresses the point enough. This is basically a Leave No Trace principle. The reason why you must bring the food waste with you, just like I mentioned, whatever food that you love, the other animals will love too. The food we have is not like food from a natural environment.


They are technically not part of the decomposing system of the natural world. The food we bring in is the surplus for the environment. If there are more food sources, the animals will have a higher ability to reproduce; then they will come back to the same location and look for more, the more disturbance from other animals while camping will occur.


Campsite


Ngong Ping Campsite at Lantau Peak
Ngong Ping Campsite at Lantau Peak

Having a thorough understanding of the campsites gives you a better planning idea ahead. You will know where to stop or re-supply, what to bring for your activities along the trails. Since there is no “standard” for campsites in Hong Kong, the thing you expect might vary from one and another.


There are 41 official campsites managed by the government. And each of them is slightly different in terms of configuration, elevation, facilities, accessibility, and the nature’s attractions around them. Some of them are barely equipped with anything, some of them are too remote to reach, some of them are too close to the main road, and some of them are too popular to fight for a camping space.

Campsite Facilities

All the campsites are managed by the Agriculture, Fishing and Conservation Department (AFCD). The campsites are equipped with a certain level of facilities, including hanging posts, fire pit, table and chairs, toilet, cesspit, washing sink, and shower room.


HANGING POSTS

Hanging Post in Campsite
Hanging Post in Campsite

Two wires linked on two iron poles. The purpose of hanging posts is said for drying your clothing, but the real usage of the hanging post is far more versatile than drying clothes. We hang our backpack whenever the floor is wet or with a lot of creepy-crawlies, or hang our food bags, used as the anchor pole for our tarp, etc.


FIRE PIT

The shape and size vary, most of them are built up with concrete blocks and iron bars on top. The fire pits were originally designed for burning charcoal for some family barbecue. And big blocks of concrete are built around the fire pit as chairs. You have to pick up some rocks to modify a bit if you are aiming for some bushcraft and campfire activities.

Common Setting for Campsites in Hong Kong
Common Setting for Campsites in Hong Kong

TABLE & CHAIRS

Tables and chairs are not equipped in some campsites, and having tables and chairs in some areas with a lot of disturbance from insects will be nice. And after a long day of hiking, somewhere you can sit properly will be a luxurious thing.


TOILETS

Toilet, a sign of civilization!! You don’t have to dig a cat hole or carry the human waste with you when backpacking in Hong Kong. All the campsites equipped with toilets of two kinds: Dry Toilet Pit and Flush Toilet.

Dry Toilet Pit Commonly Found in Campsites
Dry Toilet Pit Commonly Found in Campsites

Dry Toilet Pit is an enlarged cat hole with a platform elevated from the ground and a concealed shelter overhead. It doesn’t have any water supply or flushing system. It simply lets nature do its job, decomposing human waste naturally.


Flush Toilet, TaDa!! This is the best you can get when backpacking. Water supply and flushing system are available. And most of them are equipped with other cleaning or hygiene facilities. A spot which can solve a lot of problems, and you should have it marked on the map.


CESSPIT

A cesspit is a hole for sewage. The cesspit is located somewhere near the firepit. The main purpose of the cesspit is for liquid kitchen waste, NOT FOR HUMAN WASTE. I am not sure about the reason why AFCD provides the cesspit, but it is just not logical to dispose of any waste within the camping area.