By LUXE City Guides; images by Calvin Sit
Summit to Sea
The second-largest area in Hong Kong in terms of landmass, Sai Kung is dubbed the “back garden of Hong Kong”, known for its fishing villages, beautiful scenery, hiking trails, beaches and islands, geological formations and low-key lifestyle. Most of the action is concentrated in Sai Kung Town Centre, where fishermen sell fresh catches from their boats just off the pier, diners feast on finger-licking seafood dishes, and locals go about their day-to-day lives. In summer, expect to see groups gathered at the pier waiting to board boats for a quintessential Hong Kong experience — a junk trip.
To truly know Sai Kung, however, you need to get out of its urban zone and hit its nature trails. Most of the area is covered in country parks, from the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark to Sai Kung Country Park East and West. These verdant green spaces are a large reason why Sai Kung has remained unspoiled by urbanisation — the parks are reserved for nature conservation. There’s also Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park , which is protected by law, and the start of the renowned 100-kilometre MacLehose Trail is found in Sai Kung, too.
Just as its seafood restaurants serve up a variety of dishes that’ll satisfy all seafood lovers, the hiking in the area is accessible to beginners and experts alike: stroll along the High Island Reservoir, or attempt the towering Sharp Peak. And at only 30 to 60 minutes away from the city centre via bus or taxi, spending a day or two discovering one of the region's most striking green areas is much easier than you think.
Hike along the remote Cheung Tsui peninsula in Sai Kung Country Park.
Feast on Michelin-starred delights from the deep on and around Sai Kung’s Seafood Street.
Hire a junk and get whisked away to one of the district’s many beautiful beaches.
Check out Sai Kung’s floating seafood market where fishermen sell fresh catches of the day.
Challenge yourself with a run along MacLehose Trail’s steep Stage 4.
Take a dip in a freshwater pool at Sai Wan Beach.
A short, 15-minute boat ride away from Sai Kung is Yim Tin Tsai island. Originally the home of salt farmers, the island’s village was abandoned during the 1990s when the industry began to decline. Although Yim Tin Tsai’s residents have departed, they have left behind their fish ponds and village houses, most of them still filled with personal belongings. A path runs around the island, making exploring easy. Meanwhile, St Joseph’s Chapel — a beautiful, Romanesque building that is listed as a Grade III historic building — offers a picturesque photo opportunity.
Sai Kung, New Territories (View on Map)
This 150-square-kilometre area is home to some of Hong Kong's most stunning geological features. Many sites are spread out over two distinct regions: the sedimentary rock region in the northeast New Territories, and the volcanic rock region in Sai Kung, which is home to unique honeycomb-shaped acidic volcanic rock columns, formed by volcanic eruptions some 140 million years ago. There is also a multitude of beaches, islands, sea caves and even tombolos to explore.
Locals and visitors alike agree that if you are going to Sai Kung, then a meal at One-Thirtyone restaurant should be high on your list. Contemporary French and Mediterranean fare is served in an elegant yet cosy three-storey village house tucked into Three Fathoms Cove, with intimate surrounds indoors and a lawn and terrace with gorgeous sea views outside. The delicious four- or six-course set menu changes monthly and much of it is created from ingredients picked directly from the restaurant garden.
Originally a Hakka village built in the 19th century, the Sheung Yiu Folk Museum was opened as a museum in 1984. The 500-square-metre declared monument is situated in Sai Kung Country Park along the scenic Pak Tam Chung Country Trail, and is filled with architecture typical of Hakka clans living during that time, including whitewashed homes, lime kilns and a watchtower to look out for pirates. There are typical Hakka furnishings, farming implements and clothing to look at, as well.
Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail, Sai Kung, New Territories (View on Map)
+852 2792 6365
This hole-in-the-wall cafe might not look like much, but it dishes an array of local snacks and baked goods fresh out of the oven. Situated right on the waterfront, it’s also an excellent place to rest and refuel after a walk along the pier. Their Portuguese egg tarts and pineapple buns (a soft, sweet bun topped with a crunchy, sugary crust) are some of the best in town, and go perfectly with Hong Kong-style milk tea. Savoury fare such as macaroni soup is also available.
6-7 Kam Po Court, 2 Hoi Pong Square, Sai Kung, New Territories (View on Map)
+852 2792 3861
For adventure, nature, outdoors, photography
With one of the highest population densities in the world, and one that keeps growing, Hong Kong is subject to constant construction and development, even in rural areas. Sai Kung, however, has largely been spared the excesses of urban sprawl, and consists mostly of country parks and remote, pristine beaches. Sai Kung’s town centre only makes up a modicum of the area — go beyond that and you’ll discover the beginning of the renowned 100-kilometre MacLehose Trail; the Sai Kung section of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, where volcanic rocks create a stunning landscape; and the secluded Sai Wan Beach, where its two waterfalls and natural freshwater pools are tucked between two steep hills. Most of this natural beauty is only accessible on foot, making Sai Kung a paradise for hikers and runners.
Hong Kong Hiking’s MeetUp.com group, the largest organised hiking group in Hong Kong, is testament to how popular hiking is here. Founded 13 years ago, the group comprises over 21,000 members, 130 of whom are hike leaders who organise about 1,700 hikes per year, catering to all fitness levels. SK Shum, the group’s founder, says: “Sai Kung has a great variety of well-maintained hiking trails, whether an easy paved path along the High Island Reservoir, or tough mountain hikes.”
There’s Tai Cham Koi, for instance, which overlooks the reservoir and is known as a spot where pretty pink Chinese New Year flowers grow. Serious hikers can attempt Sharp Peak, which at 468-metres-tall, is challenging more for its steepness than height, especially its upper reaches, and boasts spectacular 360° views once you conquer the top.
Steve Pheby, director of Hong Kong Hikers, an adventure tour operator that leads a variety of treks throughout Hong Kong, recommends hiking the Cheung Tsui peninsula in the far eastern corner of Sai Kung Country Park, known for its stark remoteness, sea views, high cliffs and open land.
The most popular hiking trail bar none, however, is Stage 2 of the MacLehose Trail, which runs through Sai Kung Country Park and continues across the New Territories. “Mac 2 is one of the most scenic hiking trails in Hong Kong, facing several raw beaches,” explains SK Shum. “It also presents a challenge with hilly ups and downs, steep slopes, and loose sand and stones.”
Steve Pheby adds: “The views when you come over the hill and look out at the three lonely beaches is the polar opposite of what people outside Hong Kong expect.” Should you prefer running over hiking, Pheby favours Stage 4 of the trail, a challenging route with steep climbs and the occasional glimpse of paragliders, who take off from nearby Ngong Ping plateau (not to be confused with the Ngong Ping on Lantau Island).
Stage 2 of MacLehose is a 13.5-kilometre journey, beginning among the rolling hills near Long Ke beach, before ascending towards Sai Wan Shan, where striking views of the coastline begin to emerge. The hike continues to Sharp Peak, before heading downhill, passing beaches and inlets. The section cumulates at Pak Tam Au village, where buses take hikers back to Sai Kung Town Centre.
The easy accessibility of these scenic spots means some trails can be busy at peak times, such as on weekends, but that is part of its appeal. “Sai Kung has what I call convenient hiking,” says Pheby. “It is there on your doorstep. No need to drive for miles, find a car parking spot, then plan your route accordingly. It’s all within a couple of hours of downtown via public transport.”
The best bit, however, is the sheer variety of different landscapes that can pique the curiosity of outdoor buffs and hiking newbies alike. “From ridge lines and mountain tops to rock pools and forests, there really is something for everyone,” says Pheby.
For family, food
Disembark from the ferry at Sai Kung Public Pier and stroll along the waterfront promenade nicknamed Seafood Street, and if the name hasn’t given it away already, you will soon see what is on the menu. Restaurant after restaurant features tanks brimming with fish, crabs, shrimps, shellfish and probably a few mystery creatures you have never seen before, while fishermen hawk their catches directly from their boats that float close by.
Fishermen have lived in Sai Kung since the 14th century, first on vessels bobbing in sheltered inlets, and then in villages on the shore. While the district has urbanised since then, the area’s affinity for quality seafood remains strong. Some of the restaurants boast Michelin stars, and Seafood Street is a popular source of fresh seafood for many dining establishments throughout the rest of Hong Kong.
Chef Choy Chi-man, of Cantonese and hot pot restaurant Congeodle in Kowloon City, regularly makes the journey to Sai Kung to source seafood. “My team and I purchase from the fishermen at Seafood Street directly,” he says. “I also like the floating seafood market along the street, where you can bargain and choose your own live seafood from the boats. You can find all kinds of seafood in Sai Kung, and we select the best depending on the season.” Mantis shrimp, clams, and garoupa are only a few of the ingredients on offer.
Of course, the best way to enjoy Sai Kung’s seafood is in one of its many restaurants — preferably alfresco and overlooking the shimmering sea. In addition to picking your meal from the restaurants’ tanks, you can also bring in your own catch of the day, or purchases from the market and the chefs will happily cook them for you, either as you wish, or suggesting a dish. It costs a little more, but the difference is usually small – Sing Kee Seafood Restaurant (see below) charges HK$120 to cook your fish for you. It’s also recommended to pre-order if there’s a dish on the menu you absolutely must have, as signature items can sell out quickly, and remember to take advantage of seasonal specials, too.
The bright crimson and gold facade of this three-storey, Michelin-starred establishment quickly catches the eye, but it’s the perfectly braised fish, sautéed clams and wide assortment of abalone that you will stay for. If you’re after a quieter meal, book a seat at its hidden alfresco area. Private dining rooms are also available.
With its plain entrance, there is little to distinguish Loaf On from its competitors, but Sai Kung’s first Michelin-starred restaurant serves up impressive fare sourced straight from the fishing boats moored nearby. The staff is well-versed in more than 20 fish species. “Chefs at Loaf On will recommend dishes based on your preference,” says Choy Chi-man from Congeodle, who recommends the restaurant as a personal favourite. “The seafood is fresh, the cuisine is impeccable, and the service is fabulous.” Try the deep-fried abalone, squid and mantis shrimp, or flower crab.
Look for the giant fish sign hanging over the street and you will find Chuen Kee, a Michelin-recommended establishment that is a little calmer than its counterparts. A table on the balcony is perfect for watching the rest of the town go by while avoiding the crowds yourself. Order the salt and pepper mantis shrimp or steamed fish topped with sweet soy sauce, ginger and spring onion. Chuen Kee is also known for its sheer multitude of choice; you’ll be able to find much larger specimens here, from king crabs to massive razor clams.
Hung Kee Seafood Restaurant’s main drawcard is arguably its huge terrace on the pedestrianised waterfront promenade. Its massive tanks of seafood are an attraction too, and it rakes in customers hungry for its lobster and noodles with cheese sauce, black bean with scallops, and fried rice in crab shell. The restaurant’s dim sum offering is also popular.
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