Hiking the MacLehose Trail in Hong Kong

by Michael

As regular readers know, we like hiking. Leave us somewhere too long and we find the trails. One of the draws that led us to visit Hong Kong was the allure of lots of easy to access hiking trails and we had looked into the 100 kilometer MacLehose Trail but figured it would was too long for us to do without our full camping gear. The trail runs east-west across the Kowloon Peninsula, with view of islands, ports and cities.

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The trail is officially divided into 10 stages, although not all stages are created equal. We initially set out to only hike stages 1 and 2, and maybe stage 3. While on the first stage, we talked about our schedule and decided that it would work for us to take four days and hike the whole trail. Not having a tent, we would spend all nights in our hotel room(s) in Kowloon, near the Jordan Road MTR station — the downtown-ish area with the cheapest rooms in Hong Kong. We managed to piece together the full trail using transit (and one taxi) to shuttle us back and forth.

Hiking is a great way to see Hong Kong for what it is — dense city and beautiful countryside, with mountains and valleys, islands and coves. The MacLehose Trail makes you work by gaining and dropping a lot of elevation, but it rewards hikers with a variety of superb views.

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Hong Kong City

by Michael

Our “Go South for warmth” plan worked the moment we landed in Hong Kong. After weeks of cold, we could walk around in shorts and t-shirts. At times we may have felt underdressed, but that was about formality, not temperature.

We originally planned to make our visit to Hong Kong a quick stopover before heading to Southern China’s Yunnan province. What was intended to be a 2 or 3 day visit ended up being a full week! This post covers our visits to sights in the urbanized parts of Hong Kong. We also spent four days hiking the MacLehose Trail, a 100 kilometer (62 mile) trail across the “New Territories.” The hike is described in a separate post.

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China: Our Food Paradise (and Mystery Allergy)

by Elizabeth

I have a confession to make: I’m a sucker for street food.  A common conversation between Michael and I while traveling goes something like this…

Me: Ohh… what’s that? (pointing to random street food/drink)

Michael: I dunno.

Me: I’m going to buy it.

When we first emerged from the subway stop near our hostel in Beijing, all that I could think about was how much amazing-looking street food I was seeing.  It’s been awhile since we’ve had street food of any kind and we quickly made up for lost time.

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Caramelized crab apples on a stick (~$.60-$1.50 depending on type/vendor).  Yum!  I remembered these fondly from my first visit to China.

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A Busy Week in Beijing

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by Elizabeth

We arrived in Beijing after our 28 hour train ride from Ulaanbaatar.  We had reserved three nights in a private room at a popular hostel and had only a vague idea of what we would do with our time in Beijing.  Seven nights later (yep, we extended our stay multiple times) we were finally on our way out of Beijing — exhausted, but quite pleased with our visit.  I’m sure that some would cover the same ground that we did in fewer days, but we’ve come to accept that we are content seeing fewer sights in order to linger longer at (and between) each one.  For me, our visit to Beijing was especially interesting because I previously visited the city with my family on a guided tour back in December 1998.  My memory of many of the details of the trip is somewhat fuzzy (so many temples…), but I was excited to see how well the modern-day city matched up with my memories.

Our highlights included:

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The Fake Apple Stores of Xian

by Michael

We’re working on getting our posts ready about our visits to Beijing and Xian, China, but in the meantime I thought I’d post about an interesting phenomenon I noticed walking around Xian (otherwise famous as the home of the terracota warriors).

Before visiting China, I was aware that there are a number of the counterfeit Apple Stores in the country. If you are not familiar, these are not stores with counterfeit goods. The whole store is a fake, made to look like an Apple Store. Allegedly the products in the store are Apple products, though by some accounts the products are illegally imported from Hong Kong. There is a great short video about it here.

The existence of these stores became big news when blogger A Bird Abroad (now blogging as This Woman’s Work) posted about them. Her original post concerned the Apple stores in Kunming (Southern China, near Laos and Myanmar). Her story was picked up by the New York Times, and received feedback and did an updated post about stores all over, including a big one in Xian.

This was all in 2011. According to Apple’s website, there are still no real Apple stores in Xian:

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See! No “Apple Store” in Xian.

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Trans Siberian Railway Success: Arrival in Beijing

by Michael

In my last account of train travel, we were stuck in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, trying to get a visa for China. We could fly from Mongolia to other destinations, but we wanted to finish the journey by train.

As Elizabeth explained, we managed to obtain Chinese visas.

Anyway, our desired train from UB to Beijing was the same train that we took from Ulan Ude to UB, but two weeks later. We knew that tickets would not become available until the day before it departs (and it departs at 7:30 a.m.). We figured this meant anytime the day before, so we went to the train station in the morning.  Unfortunately, that’s when we learned that the rule is that onward tickets from UB to Beijing are not sold until 6:00 p.m. the day before the train departs. I think this is because the train is subject to Russian jurisdiction until that time, after which the Russians give ticketing authority to Mongolia.  For travelers, it means leaving everything to the last minute.  Which is sort of right up our alley at this point.

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Chinese Visa Struggles in Ulaanbaatar

by Elizabeth

One of the challenges of long-term travel is getting visas while abroad.  In order to complete our journey along the Trans Siberian Railway, we needed a visa to enter China.  Ideally, we would have applied for our Chinese visa in the US.  However, I had heard that the Chinese consulates in the US won’t issue tourist visas nine months out (before we left on our trip) and we didn’t have enough time during our stop in New York to apply for both Russian and Chinese visas.  I didn’t this that this would be a big issue because I’d read a bunch of reports of people easily getting their Chinese visas in Ulaanbaatar (“UB”), Mongolia.  Problem solved.  Or so we thought…

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Waiting outside the Chinese embassy in Ulaanbaatar.

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Climbing Mt. Huashan — The World’s Most Dangerous Trail

[We’re a couple weeks behind on our blog posts right now.  We’ll update soon about the rest of our time in Mongolia and our visits to Beijing and Xi’an.  Today was such an amazing day though that we didn’t want to wait to post about it!]

Wow, what a day!  A perfect example of the best laid plans going awry.  Which is saying something for us since we don’t tend to do any planning and things generally work out more or less as expected.

When I first read about China’s Mt. Huashan, I knew that I had to climb it.  A simple Google search (using my VPN since Google is blocked in China) turns up numerous hits on how the trail is the “most dangerous trail in the world.”  (See this HuffPo piece.)  Why it’s deemed so dangerous is showcased by the first several hits on the google image search, which feature the mountain’s crazy plank walk.  Situated thousands of feet up the sheer cliff, hikers scoot their way along the cliff-face on a wooden plank.  Oh, and it’s two-way traffic.  Now, before you judge me as having completely lost it or having a death wish, I should point out that you are required to rent a harness.  So in theory it should be perfectly safe… right? 

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Image credit to Ondřej Žváček/Wikipedia.

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