Non-Ferry Bike Day – Out to the Tolo Channel and Pak Sha Tau Island

Without a ferry in sight, the MTR delivered me to Tai Wai Station, Sha Tin, to try out a bike route recommended by the hotel, a few Hong Kong websites, and my cousin Robert! It runs for about fourteen miles right around Tolo Harbour, completely on cycle lanes, ending on an island in the Plover Cove Reservoir, reached by the wall of the dam.

  • Today’s distance (bike): 35.3 miles
  • Time in saddle: 3h 45
  • Time on ferries: 0!
  • Max temp (in sun): 38°
  • Climb (feet): 1,490
  • Calories used: 1,701
  • Beaches: 0
  • Beach/cafe time: 2h 18

I dragged my 12 kilo bag of bicycle across to Hung Hom station from the hotel and took the MTR train north. It’s an overground rail route and passes first through the never-ending apartment buildings, before going right underneath the mountains that give the area its name Kow-loon (9 hills). Once on the other side you emerge straight into the next city, Sha Tin.

The start point is just outside the station, where bike hire companies will rent you a bike which you can drop off at various hire places along the way. I unfolded my Dahon, to their disappointment (the rain meant it was a very quiet morning) and was ready to go in a few minutes. The rain was coming and going as I set off, but when it rained, it really rained. After a weekend of dodging the downpours wearing normal clothes, it was such a pleasure to ride in rain not minding about that. I’ve got wet many times on a bicycle, but rarely stayed as warm as I did this morning.

After following the Shing Mun River for a few miles, in the company of several rowing crews out training in the rain, the path went over a bike-only bridge (a first for me here) and came out in the bay that leads to the Tolo Channel. I passed a ferry pier that I’ve been researching, to find that, sure enough, no service runs to Tung Ping Chau Island except at weekends. Three seconds in front of the display board, for info that took me ages to find on the internet.

I haven’t really spent much time with other cyclists on this trip, let alone on such a superb cycle path as this one, but today, especially as the weather cleared and it turned into a steaming sauna of a day, there were loads of people riding back and forth on the cycle lanes. Every type, from serious racers to grannies with the daily shop. I have been very struck by something about the bikes most people use here – by far the majority are folding bikes. Having thought my vintage Dahon might be a bit of an oddity, in fact I’ve felt completely at home. I’m assuming that their popularity isn’t because of how easy they are to take to work (like in the UK), but because they take up hardly any space in the tiny apartments that most people are forced to live in here. The rents are absolutely outrageous, with the unenviable achievement of having the “world’s most unaffordable housing market” for eight years in a row, which means that these massive tower blocks that seem to cover every inch of available space house far more people than the same building at home would. If you find all of this really shocking, given that minimum wage here is just HK$37.5 (under £4, or just over CA$6)… …and the cost of living so high, then you might be interested in a superb short film about ‘Cage Apartment’ life, and the real reason that rents are so high. Spoiler alert: it’s not just that land is so short, as so many people have told me…

I watched two young lads on mountain bikes ahead of me, and was marvelling at the way they seemd to somehow manage to ride along pretty quickly whilst looking at their mobile phones, one hand on the bars, their front wheels wobbling from side to side with each pedal stroke in that ‘wavy’ style that seems popular here, and chatting. I thought, how come they stay upright? Just at that moment, the lad on the right rode over a particularly juicy bit of banana-leaf foliage on the wet ground, skidded, lost his front wheel, fell over hard on the ground, taking out his buddy with his trailing rear wheel, who cried out in alarm and collapsed with his bike hard on top of the first lad. I stopped to see if they were okay, but had the feeling that I was a slightly embarrassing witness for them and that they didn’t really want my help. As I left I could hear a mixture of an angry exchange of words between them, interspersed with low groans.

From this point I could see the whole bay, and my planned route around it, despite the downpours that kept soaking me. The rain of the last few days had taken its toll on a couple of boat rental places I passed. At one, where the sun had finally come out and I’d become instantly desperate for a cold drink……every boat in the harbour had become semi-submerged. There was no one bailing them out, but no one to rent them either (later in the day I saw one with the same livery being used for fishing miles away, by the reservoir, so perhaps there was some demand).After spending a bit of time in a new country, you can create the impression for yourself that you’ve started to get a feel for the place, the people, and to be a bit less surprised at seeing some new, unfamiliar behaviour. And then you see a man, wading across the shallow waters of Tolo Harbour, dragging a floating polystyrene cooler behind him on a rope, whilst whacking the sea on either side of him with a big long stick. Now I know that there is probably a reason for doing this, and that fishermen have no doubt been perfecting this highly effective fishing method for centuries, but from where I was standing it seemed to be scaring the fish off:

I’m going to call this video clip: Never Go Fishing When You’re Angry

From some way off I had caught sight of a very strange white shape, in amongst the forested hills above the bay, and still a few miles away:It really looked like a human form, but I couldn’t be sure. As I got closer and closer, the view between trees and buildings showed it to be a gigantic, white statue, looking benevolently down upon us all from amongst the wisps of cloud:I decided to look out for a turning that might take me up to it. A sign appeared to the Tsz Shan Buddhist Monastery and the Avalokitesvara (Guan Ying Statue), so I left the lovely level path and started to climb. You can see from the stats that I had 1,490 feet of climbing today, and pretty much all of it was riding up the steep road to the monastery. I managed most of it going in a straight line with my legs straining on the pedals, but covered the last stretch weaving back and forth across the road. Once I had got my breath back I spoke to the guards at the very grand gates, who said that I was welcome to visit, but only with a prior appointment (and perhaps a bit less sweaty?). So, with their permission, I had to satisfy myself with just a photo of the incredibly beautiful head of Guan Ying, with the rest of her body concealed by the monastery buildings:As you know, I always like to get just enough background on places I visit here on Incidents Of Travel for you, dear readers, to perhaps go away with a new thought or two rattling around in your heads for the day, like I do. The unmistakeable air of kindness and gentleness that this statue exudes is not a whim of the artist, but the whole point of the sculpture: she is the Goddess of Mercy, with a name in Chinese that translates as The One Who Perceives The Sounds of the World. That sounds like a terrible responsibility to me, as well as a miraculous gift, but she is known as “the most widely beloved Buddhist Divinity” and revered the world over.

I passed through a forest of bicycles beside the path in Ting Kok Village, a place popular for dropping off bikes before getting a cab back to Sha Tin, and well supplied with restaurants too. I watched another classic bike incident, as a woman, adding just one more bike to her long row ready for hire, accidentally clipped the stand of one and sent the whole lot down like a line of dominoes, but in slow motion. She watched on with patience, muttering something that sounded to me a bit like saying “Not again!”, whilst her colleague, calmly eating soup, didn’t even look up.

I made a mental note to stop for lunch along here on my way back, then cycled up the only hill on the official cycle route, complete with a sign warning all cyclists to dismount and push their bikes up this ‘dangerous’ incline. I’m guessing that this was more for the covered four-seater rickshaw bikes than anyone else. The last stretch was along the top of the Plover Cove Reservoir dam wall, which took me all the way to the island of Pak Sha Tau (so I really did get to one more island, after all), with huge banks of clouds and torrential downpours making it feel, once again, a bit like being in the Scottish Highlands, if it wasn’t for the heat. I filmed this on the way back:

(This clip begins with a near-bike accident of my own, as I hit a speed bump, and you’ll see the benign Goddess again in the distance as we see on the left the whole of the day’s route around Tolo Harbour)

Back at the village I considered the long line of eateries, but noticed that the most noise was coming from a Thai place called Pataya, even though it appeared to be in darkness inside. Intrigued, I propped up my bike and swung the door open, to find it heaving with people, cooled by aircon and every bit as dimly-lit as it had looked from the road. I ordered a spicy chicken lunch special, served with a can of 7-Up that had either salted or pickled limes wedged at the bottom of the glass, giving it an irresistible salty/citrus tang.Back on the road I retraced my route right back around the bay, seeking out the shady parts of the path wherever I could, despite annoying the oncoming traffic. Just before reaching the MTR station again (where I bought and drank an iced milk bubble tea, jumbo size, in seconds), I came upon one last, lovely sight:

(I think that this is possibly the happiest creature on a bicycle that I’ve seen all month)

One last thing that caught my eye today – this slightly John Lennon-esque Rolls Royce was hidden under an overhanging tree at the entrance to an ‘exclusive’ club by the river:

6 thoughts on “Non-Ferry Bike Day – Out to the Tolo Channel and Pak Sha Tau Island

  1. Morning Ben! (And Susie💖too!)
    Was blown away by the Kowloon docu! Literally dumbstruck while watching it! Dystopian mangled world -beyond!! Watched it with the Chismeister and Ambs last night. Thanks for sharing. 🙏🏼
    Been boiling here for a couple of days (!!) so we’ve felt your pain!!!
    Hugs and sloppies to you both from us here including of course, the Rolls 🤩..👉🏻🐶👈🏻closest emoji likeness I could find for a Lab!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kowloon Walled City – It still staggers me every time I think about it. I suppose it shows why we’re such an adaptable species. Lovely to get your message Miranda!! Send our love to all and see you very soon I hope – we’re slightly concerned about getting to the airport with demos planned Bxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hope that dog wasn’t on the way to a restaurant….

    Can’t find a slot for replies on your final blog so just to say here I will miss it, have learned so much, devastated by flagpole loss though maybe fitting in a way. Safe travel home, looking forward to hearing morexxxx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi mum! I’ve updated the comments section again so it should be ok now. 🤞. I think you might be right about a fitting end for the flags. Two were hanging on for dear life, and the others were almost illegible with grime. It’s the signal that’s important, more than the flags! Still miss it tho. See you soon! Bxx

      Liked by 1 person

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