Starting in a few hours, I am going to be trekking through the Annapurna Sanctuary with Gecko’s Adventures and Adventure Center on a press trip arranged via MatadorU. It’s important to be in good physical shape for these treks due to the combination of the high altitude and the potentially, long, strenuous days on the trail. While everyone who undertakes these treks undoubtedly puts various degrees of preparation into getting in shape for their journey, I wanted to go about getting in my last minute level of fitness in a way not typical for an Annapurna excursion.
That’s why, en route from San Francisco to Nepal (19 hours in the air), I decided I was going to take the day to climb the highest mountain in Hong Kong.
If you ever have more than 4 hours that you need to kill at the Hong Kong airport, I suggest you do the same. There is no visa for visiting Hong Kong, and for visitors who depart the country on the same day as their arrival, there is also no departure tax. So really there is no excuse. A $23 roundtrip ticket on the ultra-fast Airport expresss train will rocket you into central station on Hong Kong island, and from there you step out into the chaos of one of the most densely populated places on the planet.
Since you’re on a layover and you really don’t have that much time, take the train into somewhere in the city and get off and just start walking. For me, the best part of new, foreign cities is just aimlessly wandering the streets with no plan and taking in the energy and the atmosphere of the city breathing all around me. When you’ve perused enough markets and gotten a general idea for your bearings, take a load off and hole up at a roadside food stall or outdoor cafe, order something you normally wouldn’t and take in the scene as it’s happening all around you. While this may not sound like excitement to many, for me, it is the best way to experience a new city.
That being said, you can only wander aimlessly and people watch for so long, so if you want to stretch your legs before the next flight I highly suggest taking the hour-long hike that leads to the top of Victoria Peak, which at just over 1800 ft. is the tallest peak on Hong Kong island. If walking up steep streets and endless flights of stairs isn’t your thing, there is also a tram or local minibuses that can shuttle you to the top for unarguably the best view of Victoria Harbor found anywhere in Hong Kong. As you might expect, the top is graced with a massive shopping mall and is a model for consumerism, but after all, this is Hong Kong, and I heard that shopping is sort of the thing around here. For those who are looking for an enjoyable urban hike, however, as well as to walk off the 14 hour flight you just took to get here, simply keep following the staircases and steep sidestreets until there is no place left to go but up. Eventually, signs begin reading towards Old Peak Road and pointing towards the Peak hiking trail itself. The entire journey from Central Station to the peak should take somewhere around an hour.
If you do take the tram to the top, at least do yourself a favor and walk the way back down on the surprisingly green hiking path that leads back to the mid-levels and city center. Tucked beneath a canopy of ferns and vines, it’s easy to forget that you’re still in the center of downtown Hong Kong, most populous island on the planet. Reverse your steps, hop back on the train, and climb aboard your next flight with a solid hike under your belt and fit enough to climb the Himalayas. Well, it’s a start at least.