A perfect mix of traditional and modern, Hong Kong is a city that celebrates ancient Chinese festivals in its own style. This article that I wrote for Asian Geographic Passport magazine includes some of the things that go on around this time of year in the metropolis.
It’s often said that Hong Kong is lacking in natural beauty, and is often characterized by its dull, polluted skies and towering skyscrapers. However, anyone who says that, has just been too lazy to get up and explore. Sai Kung boasts two country parks, of which on the east-most coast is Tai Long Wan (TLW).
A set of three white-sand beaches; Tai Wan, Ham Tin and Sai Wan. Tai Wan is the hardest to reach, and therefore is the most unspoilt of them all. Sai Wan is the most frequently visited beach of the area. The one we visited was Ham Tin, a 2-hour trek from Pak Tam Au along the Maclehose Trail No.2. There are endless blogs and posts on HKexpat, describing different ways to reach TLW. Here I’ll tell you the way we went.
Our journey began from Hung Hom. Firstly we caught a red public light bus (minibus) to Mong Kok from Ma Tau Wai Rd. Then from Dundas Street in Mong Kok, we caught a red minibus to Sai Kung. Then at Sai Kung after stocking up on water, we took the KMB double-decker No.94 towards Wong Shek Pier. We got off at the 19th stop, Pak Tam Au. If you sit on the top deck, you can follow the stop announcements on a board at the front. When you get off, if you walk about 10m in the direction the bus was going, you should see some toilets and the beginning of Maclehose Trail 2 (clearly signposted).
The trail is clearly marked all the way to Ham Tin beach. Keep an eye out for unusual wildlife on the way, such as lizards, crabs and snakes. There is a stop on the way to get emergency drinks, which are priced at double the normal price. Also, when you reach Ham Tin beach, there will be a simple cafe, with a friendly owner and a bunch of assorted dogs greeting you. Once you cross the rickety bridge made of splitting planks of wood, you’ll finally reach the solace of Ham Tin beach. Enjoy the waves but do be aware of a hidden undercurrent.
In the Summer of 2009, my travels took me to the hills of Sa Pa in North Vietnam. Unlike the rest of Vietnam’s smoldering Summer heat and pollution, Sa Pa is a refreshing escape, with a cool, fresh breeze and an average temperature of 15 degrees Celsius. Characterized by green rice paddies high up on the mountain-side, a midst the spray of the clouds, its like a heaven on earth.
Sa Pa is predominantly inhabited by the Hmong people, making up around 52 per cent of it population. Outside of Vietnam, the Hmong also have significant populations in China and Laos. Although Hmong society is traditionally rather patriarchal, there seems to have been a shift in female attitude in the mountains of Sa Pa. A possible cause of this change in mindset may be down to the daily interaction of the Hmong girls, who mostly work as tour guides, with Westerners. Not only does their English improve, but they also seem to be changing attitudes about the role of women in society. In the Hmong sisters bar, where many of the girls relax after work, and enjoy the company of foreigners, I played pool with some of them. When they played against male competitors, they seemed to enjoy beating them even more, as they jeered at their male opponents, whilst being more respectful to female ones. Even in Western society, we don’t often see women mocking and challenging men in sports, but the Hmong girls seemed intent on crushing whatever ego the men had. This could be their way of expressing their freedom outside of their home, where they may be expected to act in a more submissive way with men of their own tribe.
Whilst walking with a Hmong girl and two male trekking partners, the female guide expressed that I should not let men treat me in any way disrespectfully. She made it quite clear that she regarded women very highly and that they should be treated with respect. She said she wanted to study and go to university too, showing the ambition of Hmong girls to eventually leave Sa Pa. The level of English of the young Hmong girls was astounding, considering that they had only learnt it from tourists. As a fellow woman, I found my stay in Sa Pa very comfortable. Even male tourists there seemed to enjoy the feisty, energetic personalities of the Hmong girls, as a stark contrast to the stereotypical, quiet, shy Southeast Asian girls. I will leave you with these images of the beautiful landscapes and people of Sa Pa.
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