A hiker takes in the view from Lantau Peak outside of Hong Kong's city center.
Brined in sweat and covered in Hong Kong’s humidity, I pushed myself to amble up a dirt path. Finally, there was a bus stop—and next to it, a cow, waiting.
I’d just spent the day hiking in wilderness, and I don’t mean the concrete jungle of skyscrapers for which the 7 million-strong metropolis is famous. I was surprised to learn that, despite its stratospheric real estate prices, the majority of residents live crammed in the city center, leaving most of Hong Kong’s landmass and hundreds of islands sparsely populated and protected from urbanization.
In the peninsula of Sai Kung at the eastern tip of Hong Kong, miles and miles of trails unfurl on the sinewy hills. Volcanic peaks covered in subtropical foliage rise from intricate inlets lined with sandy beaches. Between thigh-burning summits, I plunged into emerald coves and cooled down in glass-clear saltwater—a world away from the crowded city I’d just left behind.
I relished burning off all the dumplings, egg-yolk pastries and fried noodles I’d eaten all week. But as the sun began its descent, I was beginning to worry that I might not make it back to my hotel. Where would I spend the night?
Then I happened upon a small abandoned village. Long before Hong Kong became a roaring financial hub, it was a series of sleepy fishing and farming villages. While elderly folks still tend to their gardens and fishing boats in some of these communities, many young people have left for the city in search of jobs. In some cases, whole towns have been abandoned, nature quietly reclaiming vacant houses and schools. With doors open and roofs caved in, these buildings still harbor remnants such as wooden furniture and even photographs on the walls. I don’t know about you, but sleeping alone in such a ghostly little hamlet isn’t my idea of fun.
Luckily, another hour’s walk brought me to the bus stop. The cow and I waited, and eventually a double-decker bus arrived. Even though I loved Hong Kong’s pastoral side, I decided I was better cut out for the city center.