Beating the School Break Blues

18.jpg
19.JPG
22.jpg

A trip to South Lantau is the ideal antidote for slothful teenagers and their hassled parents over the long summer vacation


The kids have been looking forward to it for the past few weeks. In fact they’ve been going on incessantly about how they can’t wait to get out of school and into their summer holidays. And so, now they’re off… and have absolutely no idea what to do with themselves – or at least, no idea other than to traipse through Hong Kong’s air-conditioned and eye-wateringly expensive luxury malls, slurping iced drinks in overpriced restaurants.

Summer holidays can be frustrating times for hassled and hard-working parents who often end up tearing their hair out in despair over what to do with slouching teenagers. So here’s a Magnificent Seven ideas for the young, free of heart and light of wallet from 17-year-old Ella, the much-nagged wannabe couch potato daughter of AmCham’s head of content Ben Richardson.

Cool off in a river...

Hong Kong beaches can be crowded and filthy, and the sea like sinking into a bowl of warm soup – complete with unidentified lumpy bits. If you take the effort to climb up into the hills a little way, you can stumble across some beautiful rock pools, waterfalls or even the odd man-made water catchment pond. Some are deep enough to jump from the rocky surrounds, but at the very least they offer a wonderfully refreshing dip in pristine clean water. We often spend hours lounging around and cooling off, picnicking and nattering. The rivers are also full of small fish and crayfish that love to nibble your dead skin – a free pedicure. But try to avoid low-level pools: my dad once found a big buffalo leech in his shorts after an hour messing around in a Pui O river.

WHERE: There are well known pools above Mui Wo, between Mui Wo and Pui O, above San Shek Wan and at Shui Lo Cho in Tai O. There are many others to be discovered and some that, sorry, we’re keeping secret. But if we found them, so can you.

WARNING: Be careful not to swim in village gathering grounds – you can typically tell from the pipeworks that collect the water. Be careful of floods higher up the mountain: a sudden downpour at the top of the mountain can lead to a flash flood lower downstream, even while you’re still basking in sunshine.


Living in Hong Kong: a comprehensive guide book for newcomers and expatriates in HK


Scrambling time…

Don’t let the end of the beach be the end of your fun: there’s great adventure to be had scrambling along the rocks and cliff-faces that separate Lantau’s beautiful sandy beaches. Some will lead you to river mouths that then present another challenge. You can follow some river beds up the mountain to the very top. Three or four hours should get you to the top of Sunset Peak, where you can rest up and cool off in the breeze on the roof of one of the stone and concrete missionary huts, before a 90-minute jaunt back down to civilization.

WHERE: For beach scrambles, follow the coastal path from Mui Wo to Shap Long, and from the end of Pui O beach heading towards San Shek Wan. Also, junior versions can be found at Cheung Sha and Fong Fuk. Riverbed scrambles are more strenuous and dangerous, but a good starting point is from San Shek Wan to Sunset Peak – there are plenty of “escape routes” along the way.

WARNING: Aside from those flash floods, don’t make risky climbing moves. Always tell someone where you’re heading and keep a fully charged phone in a waterproof bag. Take trail-mix, energy bars or other supplies… just in case. And watch out for snakes, which love to hang out in dry riverbeds.

Cheap eats

Think about it: for the price of a muffin and chocolate chip frappuccino in a Central coffee shop, you can pig out on a giant bowl of Hong Kong’s staple egg and spam noodle soup and a drink. Yummmm. (I’m vegetarian, so I go for double egg and hold the ham.) It’s so much better than a McDonald’s and the beauty is, you can usually find a shop willing to knock up this dish more or less anywhere on Lantau – from the isolated village of Sham Wat an hour’s walk from the Big Buddha at Ngong Ping, to the posh beach of Cheung Sha to the Big City sprawl of Mui Wo. And when we really want to splash out, we try the Thai restaurant behind the BEA branch in Mui Wo – a big dish and drink will cost just $45. The Pad Thai is so big we often end up sharing. For the sweet toothed, another favorite is tau fu fa – silky beancurd in a light syrup and sprinkled with delicious orange palm sugar. YUMMMMM.

WHERE: Cheap Thai in Mui Wo, cheap Indian in Tung Fuk and cheap egg and spam noodle just about everywhere. Our favorite spot for tau fu fa is up in Ngong Ping.

Horse shoe crabs…

Let’s face it, searching for hermit crabs is OK for young kids. Spending hours watching some little brown warbler through binoculars might be OK for the grownups. And my dad’s obsession with bees and wasps is OK for, well, him. But if there’s one Lantau nature experience that takes the biscuit and is undeniably too cool for school, it’s spotting baby horse shoe crabs down at Shui Hau. My uncle who was visiting from England said Lantau was like being in a David Attenborough documentary: mud skippers, fiddler crabs, buffaloes and horse shoe crabs, praying mantises and thousands of beautiful butterflies and dragonflies. Then again, he did come eye-to-eye with a massive king cobra on a Friday evening out jogging with our dog Daisy, only to have to wrestle a 14-foot python off her on the Sunday. Sometimes, Lantau has a little too much nature.

Pick your own lychees...

Summer is the season for lychees, and you’ve no doubt delighted in how juicy a bunch bought from the local wet market can be. Well did you know that as those lychees are sitting in farmyards, being trucked to the stalls and then laid out waiting to be bought that all those juices are evaporating? We hadn’t thought about it either until we got chatting to a farmer in Sham Wat and he invited us to pick our own from his fruit trees. We filled up a big basket with beautiful, plump and rosy lychees straight from the tree, with a few pounds of wong pei (a common fruit found all in villages all over Hong Kong that has a citrus tang) thrown on top – all for the princely sum of HK$100. And the lychees? Unbelievable. Incredible. My dad ate at least three kilos on the way home.

Camping…

The ultimate sleepover. And no adults. There are campsites dotted all over lantau that are a great way to get together with your mates for a low cost adventure. Some demand a strenuous trek, but for the natural couch potatoes among you, just take the bus from Mui Wo to Pui O and pitch up at the public camp site. There you have showers (only cold, but in the summer that’s a blessing), washing facilities,  BBQ sites and a shop selling drinks and snacks. And in the nearby village there are a bunch of cheap eateries including our favorite Cantonese restaurant, the Mau Kee. Nearby hikes include the easy one-hour jaunt up Louh Yahn Shan, while there are surfboards, paddle boards and canoes for hire from Treasure Island Group.

Urban exploring…

Mui Wo isn’t everyone’s idea of an urban landscape, but it has its highlights. Mostly, that involves a plethora of abandoned buildings that offer the adventurous the opportunity to brush up on climbing moves, chill out on hidden rooftops or poke around in Cultural Revolution-era Communist Party offices. And it’s not just Mui Wo – there are dozens of abandoned farmhouses, pig pens and shacks dotted along country trails and in mountainous valleys across Lantau. They offer not just a glimpse into Lantau’s fascinating history, but also into the tough life of Hong Kong’s farmers and fishermen over the years. Also, the changing nature of Hong Kong itself – check out the observatory dome at the top of the abandoned school in Mui Wo, or the abandoned prison in Shap Long, complete with its own sewage treatment plant, helipad and officers’ mess. Chi Ma Wan peninsular has dozens of empty buildings with their own ferry pier that could house hundreds of Hong Kong homeless people. They’re now just left to the mold and rats.