Tai Mo Shan: How to tackle Hong Kong’s highest peak

CNN  — 

“The first time I saw a sea of clouds over the city atop Tai Mo Shan in April 2012, I was stunned,” says Hong Kong photographer Will Cho.

Towering over the city at 957 meters (3,140 feet), centrally located Tai Mo Shan is Hong Kong’s highest peak.

Thanks to high humidity levels – it’s the wettest destination in Hong Kong – Tai Mo Shan is famous for offering rare views of the city shrouded in clouds and fog. In other words, it’s a photographer’s dream destination.

Though known more for its skyscrapers, densely packed Hong Kong has a surprisingly high number of mountains and hiking trails. Some 40% of its land is dedicated to country parks and nature reserves, including the Tai Mo Shan Country Park, where Tai Mo Shan lies.

When to visit Tai Mo Shan

Since quitting his job at a coffee shop in 2012, Cho has focused on the things that interest him most: hiking and photography.

He now spends around four to five hours on the mountain each day if weather permits.

“Spring is the best time to see a sea of clouds on the mountain,” says Cho. “Especially during days of high humidity and mild wind speed.

“Among all the factors in photography, I focus most on the composition. Even when you think you have the best angle in mind, you should always film from various angles. You may be surprised.”

(The above video features a selection of some of Cho’s stunning timelapse footage.)

How to hike Tai Mo Shan

There are multiple travel options for those wanting to hike Tai Mo Shan.

For a complete view of the mountain, hike along the trimmed and maintained MacLehose Trail Stage 8.

The 9.7-kilometer trail stretches from Lead Mine Pass campsite near Tai Po on the eastern side of the hill to Route Twisk in Tsuen Wan on the west.

A mostly ridge-top walk, the five-hour hike offers views of almost all parts of Hong Kong on a clear day.

hk beauty dragons back 04
Hong Kong's best hikes
00:59 - Source: CNN

An easier option involves taking a taxi or minibus from Tsuen Wan then getting dropped off at Chuen Lung, a historic rural village at the foothills of Tai Mo Shan.

From there, it’s about an hour’s hike from Tai Mo Shan Lookout via the Rotary Club Park Nature Trail and a two-hour hike from the highest point of the mountain – Tai Mo Shan Weather Radar Station, commonly known as the “White Ball.”

“From Tai Mo Shan Lookout, you can see Kam Tin and Yuen Long,” says Cho, referring to two residential areas in the western New Territories in Hong Kong.

“It’s a good place to see the sunset.

“If you want to see the sunrise, you can hike up to the Weather Radar Station – you can see the eastern side of town from there.”

Tai Mo Shan’s unofficial spokesperson

Kong Fo Lin (right), the owner of the Tai Mo Shan Kiosk, is the unofficial spokesperson of the mountain.

The mountain is dotted with a few old villages, waterfalls and barbecue sites.

But the most iconic stop is a small, unassuming kiosk not far from the Tai Mo Shan Visitor Center.

The owner running the Tai Mo Shan Kiosk is Kong Fo Lin, or affectionately called Sister Lin.

Running the only kiosk in the area, Kong has become an endearing representative of Tai Mo Shan and a mother-like figure to the area’s many frequent hikers and cyclists.

Sister Lin counts Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat as one of her “supporters.”

hk beauty dragons back 04
Hong Kong's best hikes
00:59 - Source: CNN

The kiosk stocks everything from drinks and energy bars to simple hot food.

It even has a Facebook fan page.

“More than just a place for business, this kiosk is like a big family,” says Lin, wearing a padded jacket to protect herself against the elements.

Tai Mo Shan is the coldest place in Hong Kong. During our recent visit temperatures hovered from -1 to 4 C (30 to 39 F).

A cyclist stops by and greets her. He says he decided to cycle up the mountain on this cold day to pay Sister Lin a visit and make sure she is alright.

“He’s one of my godchildren,” says Lin by way of introduction, wearing her signature smile. “All these frequent hikers and cyclists have become my godchildren.”

Where to eat on Tai Mo Shan

Another popular hangout for visitors before or after a hike is Chuen Lung Village, which dates back to the 1400s and appears stuck in a wonderful time warp.

There are two tea houses near the entrance of the village – Choi Lung and Duen Kee.

These traditional tea houses are beloved for their hearty and rustic dim sum as well as fresh vegetables harvested in the farms in the village.

They’re both cafeteria-style restaurants, meaning diners grab their own tea, utensils and dim sum from the counters.

Meanwhile, Chuen Lung Village will be the location of an artist-in-residence program from March to July. It’s offered by the Art Promotion Office and MAD Asia, a non-profit organization.

About a dozen local artists will work with the villagers and create artworks and installations to revitalize Chuen Lung Village.

The old disused school building in the village will be transformed into an exhibition space.

There will also be a different workshop for the public each month.

Duen Kee Chinese Restaurant, 57-58 Chuen Lung Estate, Route Twisk, Tsuen Wan; +852 2490 5246

Choi Lung Restaurant, 2 Chuen Lung Estate, Route Twisk, Tsuen Wan; +852 2414 3086