Hong Kong is not known to most people as a place where you can go for a hike across some beautiful mountaintops, and enjoy lookouts that will give you goosebumps. This is exactly what you will find though on the Dragon’s Back Hiking Trail, once described as the “‘Best Urban Hiking Trail in Asia” by Time Magazine. It’s just some seven kilometers away from Central’s busy business area but it feels like worlds apart. If you have the stamina to do it, the Dragon’s Back Hiking Trail will not fail to surprise you.
The Dragon’s Back is one of many hiking trails in Hong Kong but very different from the others. It’s going across a couple of high mountains and is giving a great lookout at the sea on both sides of the track. It’s called the Dragon’s Back Hiking Trail because some parts of the pathway resemble the look of dragon scales. Its hilly nature makes it feel like walking on top of a dragon, if that makes sense.
The total trail covers about 8.5 kilometers in length. The outlines of the trail can be seen in the picture below and a more detailed map can be found here.
The ascent starts at Shek O Road and is easy to get to by taking bus 9 from Shau Kei Wan MTR station and getting off at the To Tei Wan stop. From here, the entrance to the trail can’t be missed. It will take about 2.5 hours to complete it but I spend a little bit longer because of some stops I made along the way.
The first section of the trail is the toughest with very steep parts and there is practically no shade here. With temperatures going up to 35 degrees here in the summer, it can be a demanding climb. Some people take the Dragon’s Back Hiking Trail in the opposite direction but this puts the hardest part in the end, which seems like a bad idea to me.
View 1: Tai Tam Bay
It doesn’t take long to get to the first viewpoint and you’ll be rewarded with a lookout over the Tai Tam Bay. This part of the trail has some professionally made stairways that are comfortable, but steep to climb. It’s recommended to bring food, and more importantly, a lot of water when doing the trail. I brought 2.5 litres of water with me and needed every drop of it.
After going up the mountain some more, you will soon realize that the view is now going in two directions. The next viewpoint looks out all the way over Shek O Village, on the south eastern part of Hong Kong Island. There are not so many places to hide from the sun here anymore on this part of the trail. This is making it harder to do the climbing but the views make you forget about this. The only shade you could find here is below a couple of bushes, but you will have to share it with about 10 other people. That’s what I had to do, anyway. Maybe bringing an umbrella would have been a good idea.
View 2: Shek O Village
In the above picture, Shek O Village can be seen with its beach. This is a 200 years old quiet little seaside town. Tai Tau Chau Island is to the left, and Ng Fan Chau Island is to the right of Shek O. From this lookout point it’s also possible to overlook the west side of Hong Kong Island.
View 3: Red Hill Peninsula and Stanley
In the middle of this picture, Red Hill Peninsula can be seen. There is a private housing estate on this peninsula. Behind it is the Stanley Peninsula which has a couple of houses, a prison, a military base and a satellite earth station build on it. In the far background lies Lamma Island but it was too foggy today to be able to see it.
View 4: Shek O Country Club
This is where it becomes very heavy to go on and you have to force yourself to make pictures. It feels like being cooked alive up these unshaded mountaintops. All the other hikers seemed to struggle with it just the same though, covering the Dragon’s Back with a trail of sweat.
The Shek O Country Club can be seen from the trail, in the picture above. It is an 18-hole golf course and is located in a beautiful surrounding, between the sea and the mountains. It must be a great location to play some golf at.
View 5: Tathong Channel
The Tathong Channel can be viewed from the last part of the trail. This part of the trail feels like a breeze compared to the first few kilometers. It’s going mostly across some woods and you can walk in the shade almost the entire way. The uphill part is also done now and it’s mostly flat from here on forward with some descends here and there. The path is a bit rocky so you still have to watch your steps.
At the last section of the trail, the waves can be heard crashing on the beach, and it becomes louder with every step you take. This makes it very motivating to walk on and enjoy a well deserved rest at the seashore. First you will have to cross a pathway going through the village but you can already hear people enjoying themselves at the beach, and smell the salty sea.
It was pretty crowded when I reached the beach because it was a Sunday. This is probably the most crowded day of the week but there was still some place left for me in the shades. I drank the little amount of water that I had left and was quite happy to have completed the entire Dragon’s Back Hiking Trail.
The beach area has many cheap restaurants to enjoy and there’s even a barbecue spot that’s open for public use. I saw some people throwing a complete chicken on the barbecue with its head still on. This was a bit weird to see but it’s normal in Asia.
At the end, it was good to finally be in an air conditioned bus and enjoy a drive back along the mountain ridge. Looking out the bus, I spotted a guy getting very angry with someone for bumping into him, which broke his sunglasses. He was really having a bad day it seemed and it was an interesting spectacle to watch. After a very heated argument, this guy walked into the bus and he turned out to be the driver. It was too late for me now to get out so I was in for a wild and aggressive ride.
Most of these drivers already drive very fast, and on the edge of what’s still safe, but this guy took it a bit further. He was tailgating at close range during the whole ride. It’s hard to relax with all of this going on while the bus was driving on the edge of a very steep mountain. It brings an appropriate end to an already exciting day, I guess.
The Dragon’s Back Hiking Trail is very fun and satisfying to complete but can be very exhausting on hot days. An option could be to just do a part of it though, as its divided into several segments. It can be very well combined with a day at the beach but don’t forget to bring sun lotion when going here on a summer’s day. Also be sure to bring a lot of food and drinks with you because you will need it and there are no shops along the way.