Thursday, December 4, 2008
Running in Hong Kong, part I
When we planned our trip to Hong Kong, my first though wasn’t “awesome! We can go hiking and trail running!”
It was more, “oh my god, that flight is long!”
And I was right, it was long. But Hong Kong isn’t really what I expected. Or at least, what I expected – an insanely busy city filled with Chinese people – is only part of Hong Kong.
It helps to realize that Hong Kong is a region, not a city. And in that region, there are three main parts – Hong Kong Island (the most famous part, and the commercial center); Kowloon (where Helen’s parents live); and the New Territories, which make up the most area in Hong Kong, and where there are still some very remote sections.
Of these three, only Kowloon is mostly flat and inhabited. Even on Hong Kong Island, huge sections are mountainous, with either no habitation or relatively sparse habitation. Don’t get me wrong – the parts that are inhabited are super-densely inhabited, with block after block of 30-40 story apartment buildings. But there are also some really nice roads up in the mountains, where you can either run relatively flat routes parallel to the ridge, or really really steep routes up and down the mountain. (To give some sense of the pitch, near Helen’s uncle’s apartment there is an office building where the front doors are on the first and third floors, but the back door is on the seventeenth).
On Hong Kong Island, we had one nice run and one nice walk. The walk was fairly traditional tourist stuff – we took the ‘peak tram’ up to top of the ridge and walked up to the high point on the ridge. It’s ‘sparsely populated’ there, which really means than many of the people who can afford to live up there can afford to have major land around their mansion as well.
We also went running on Bowen Road, which seems to be the main running road in HK. It’s a 4-km stretch of road, not completely closed to traffic but so narrow, out-of-the-way, and filled with speed bumps, that no one really drives there. The nicest part, though, is the views that you get from the road. It looks down onto HK’s city-scape, not quite as high as our walk on the Peak but far more accommodating to runners. Given the number of other runners we saw there, it seems to be HK’s equivalent to running in Central Park or on the Drives. Not nearly as long, but with a far better view. We figured that, if we lived on Hong Kong Island, we’d probably get tired of it. But for a one-time run it was spectacular.
Running near Helen’s parents’ apartment was more of a challenge. One morning we even did the unthinkable, and ran on the treadmills! There are options around the apartment – on three other days, we managed to go for short runs in Kowloon – but they’re limited. Most of the sidewalks in Kowloon are insanely crowded; the ones right by where we were staying had the benefit of being relatively empty, and providing loops of maybe 1/3 of a mile without traffic lights. Ok, as things go – but it was surprising to see that these routes actually got a decent amount of Jogging traffic, despite their hard sidewalks and limited options. Things might improve in the future, as we did go on one run around a mile away, where they're putting in a little park with a running route along the waterfront. We're curious to see how that develops.
Overall, though, running in Kowloon is interesting but difficult. Running on Hong Kong Island was more interesting, although the non-mountain running options seemed limited. I'm curious to see just how much trail running there is on Hong Kong Island – possibly quite a bit, but I'm not sure how much of what they call their trails is actually paved. Some clearly aren't – when we were up on the Peak we had a view of what looked like an awesome dirt trail a bit further down. With one day set aside for a long trail run, we thought a lot about going and exploring that trail, or else other trails on the island. Finally, though, we chose to do a portion of the Maclehose trail – a 100 km trail in the New Territories, home of some of the most spectacular views in the region, as well as some of the most surprising wildlife I've seen anywhere.