Hong Kong doesn't seem like an obvious choice to hike or even thru-hike. I've been on a quest since moving to Vietnam to find some trail culture in Asia. Finishing the Pacific Crest Trail in 2022 left a hole in my life which will probably never be replaced (yes sounds dramatic but if you know, you know). I realised in the last year hiking and camping on solo adventures without a guide in Vietnam isn't an option. There is no appetite here for endurance hiking on multi-day camping routes. Trail running has been an easy switch for me to scratch an itch of exploring remote highland regions in a growing community of local runners but that desire to be hiking with the mentality of a thru-hike has not been fulfilled.
I've spent hours internet researching and talking to people trying to find a long distance trail that meets my criteria in neighbouring Asian countries. I settled on The MacLehose Trail a 100km trail around the peaks and coast of Hong Kongs national parks.
Here's 6 reasons why I chose this trail:
1. Easily Accesible
I flew into Hong Kong airport from Ho Chi Minh City and 2 hours later I was on trail. I took a 30 minute bus from the airport to Tuen Mun and made a small resupply before starting. This is actually the end of the trail as most people go east to west but as it would take most the day to get to the true start of the MacLehose Trail on public transport it made a lot of sense going west to east. This did unfortunately mean I had to forego buying gas for my stove as I couldn't find any store ahead of my flight, which is why I chose cold soaking some meals for the first time on this hike.
At the end (or start!) of the trail there is excellent public transport into transit areas back to the main cities. I stayed in Causeway Bay at the end which took less than 2 hours on buses and trains.
I used the Google Maps app to plan my routes which was highly reliable. Trains and buses are very affordable and I could use contactless payment options.
It's also possible to day hike the trail in sections with many transport points throughout but as I was looking for a trail that had permitted camping that became my focus.
2. Plentiful and Free Campsites
There are well placed free AFCD campsite about every 15km on the MacLehose Trail. The campsites varied from busy spots, popular for weekend crowds with car parks and flushing toilets to remote near-abandonded sites with pit toilets and roaming wildlife.
Most of the campsites are on the trail and from the experiences I've had thru-hiking other trails I found these AFCD sites were ideal compared to some spots I've found myself in over the years.
Most campsites require no formal process to use, first come first pitched and following leave no trace principles. Which was great for a non-native speaker that is prone to night hiking and arriving at campsites in the dark.
I'd planned out my route in advance as I had time constraints. Planning ahead is worth doing to check if the campsites have amenities such as water. There are a few that require booking in advance. Check out the official AFCD website.
3. Well Signposted
As much as I enjoy putting my map reading skills to use, it's one more variable to include when orientating yourself in an unfamiliar country. The MacLehose Trail has distance markers every 500meters as well as clear signpost in English. It would be very difficult to get lost.
During my trail research I had found other trails in Asia that would be harder to navigate. I don't feel I'm ready for those yet (watch this space). I've come to associate a well signposted trail with a well maintained trail intended for hiking without a guide. A well used trail and national park is often linked to an outdoor leisure community not just for agricultural subsistence. Which leads me to point 4....
4. Trail Culture
The more I went into the rabbit hole of Hong Kong hiking on the internet it became quite obvious there is a big trail running community alongside an avid camping and hiking culture. Instagram is also great for showing what people are upto in real life to get an impression of the vibe.
Trail culture is as simple as saying hello to a stranger passing by. It's also a more widespread community of like minded people that are welcoming and promote environments that make thru-hiking an accepted and accesible activity. This type of culture is something I've been missing on the hikes that I've had to use a guide. I do however promote the use of guides in areas where it is necessary or to "skill up".
5. Food and Water Supply
What a treat to have drinking water taps next to picnic areas next to waste disposal areas next to public toilets! I filtered water a few times from streams but was never in short supply of water. There are even water vending machines to top up your bottle with premium filtered water using a pre-paid card system called Octopus. I settled for using the free drinking water.
There are a few food kiosks scattered about the trail for a cold can or cooked noodles. They are nothing more than a hole in the wall selling snacks but a welcome break nonetheless. I found opening times and availability of food very limiting so best not to rely on them as a main source of calories. That being said I did hike in the winter
There are few restrictions of bringing food into Hong Kong so I stocked up on instant noodles, chocolate and dried fruit before I left Ho Chi Minh City.
6. Variable Landscape
Mountains, rain forest, jungle, beaches, cityscapes and cultural sites. Across the 4 days there was changing terrain and views, even if I didn't see many of the views due to the misty clouds.
It's motivating to keep hiking when you know around the corner will be something new to see.
As a solo female hiker my safety does need to form part of my assessment when deciding to travel to new places. The information that I had acquired about Hong Kong hiking gave me an indication that my plans would work without putting myself at risk from unwanted attention. Furthermore the trail itself is never to far from a transport hub or main road so I had many bail out points if things didn't work out.
Wildlife is an interesting area to research, I remember being quite scared of bears until I met a few in California. In Hong Kong there are snakes, spiders and other irritating insects but no predators. Actually monkeys turned out to be the biggest threat!
Keep an eye out for my trip report coming soon!