Saturday, May 14, 2011

Camping at Pui O

Just the idea of camping in Hong Kong seems to be a contradiction in term but, oddly, it is not. To fulfill my longstanding desire to camp on the beach here, we recently left the urban jungle for the real jungle. With the kids’ adventurous godmother in tow, we all camped on Lantau Island’s Pui O Beach. We managed to squeeze in a weekend before Hong Kong’ rainy season and before the extreme heat and humidity. We had fun but it really is a jungle out there.

To get away from it all, we really had to work at it. We drove to the central piers and then took a one hour ferry from Hong Kong Island to Lantau. From there, we took a bus from Mui O, through Lantau South Country Park to the small village of Pui O. We got off the bus and started walking in the only direction other people were walking. Following a short dirt road, we passed through fields with wild buffalo roaming throughout. Apparently years ago when farmers left Lantau they abandoned their buffalo. These buffalos, close to 300 in total, wander around docilely,evoking a bygone era.

We camped on a public holiday in Hong Kong. We have long ago learned to just stay home on public holidays as everything gets too crowded. Somehow we forgot this adage and found ourselves in a rollicking party down at the public campgrounds (room for at least 52 tents) at Pui O. We booked a campsite, complete with tent and grill, just off the beach and were thus slightly removed from the main party. Our campsite was managed by the Oh La La Restaurant, owned by Hong Kong born Canadians. We ate our meals at the restaurant, using our grill only for smores. In the morning, once we had drank all the instant coffee we had brought with us, we and the other dad camping with his kids, sat just outside the restaurant, waiting desperately for them to open their espresso bar. A little sad but true.
Pui O Beach itself is nice though not extremely picturesque. The beach runs the length of the village and has rolling green hills on either side. The beach includes a wetland, where a river from the hills flows into the South China Sea. A Tin Hau Temple, built during the Ming Dynasty in 1798, is at one end of the beach. As we walked along on morning with early rising children, the Temple began a celebration with a parade and fireworks. We think it was Tin Hau’s birthday but never got clarification on that. One end of the beach has white sand though the other had black sand and lots of sea weed. The kids ran and played while all other local beach goers gathered sea weed and searched for clams. The kids climbed through the mangroves growing near the shore and constructed “forts” out of whatever they could find.
Through the camping trip, we were close to many nice moments though pollution and overcrowding got the better of these moments many times. While on the beach, we saw what looked like a small hot air balloon go up. We asked around and found out these were wish balloons, on which one could write a wish and then launch. We quickly bought three at the beach side stand that sold them. The launch itself was a little harder, getting the lump of wax to ignite and then create enough hot air for takeoff. But once, in flight, it was magical. Though concerned about trash from the balloon once is falls, we went with it. Somehow the balloon episode captured the camping trip exactly; the intermingling of the beautiful and the trashy. It might even epitomize more than that but we need not get enough sleep to say for sure.


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