Hokkaido: living Sakura

Hokkaido is the second largest island in Japan. The Tsugaru Strait separates it from the great island of Honshu although they remain united through the Seikan tunnel. The largest city of Hokkaido is Sapporo, its capital.

Hokkaido has several seasons for tourism: winter to enjoy its ski slopes, July to see the fields booming, or as in my case, early May to see the cherry blossom. Hokkaido is not the most popular or desired place to see the Sakura trees but I must admit it was worth it. There were hardly people, low season, pleasant temperature, sunny days, although sometimes the air rose with small rains. But it has been one of my best trips ever made alone along with my camera.
The time needed depends on how you are going to move around and if you are only going to see cities or not. In my case, were 8 days.
The chosen route was: 3 nights in Sapporo, 2 nights in Hakodate, 1 night in Sapporo (transit), 3 nights in Asahikawa. Maybe if you move by car you don’t need so much time, so it depends a lot on transportation
What places to see in Hokkaido no matter is Sakura season or not?

  1. Sapporo
    • Maruyama Park
    • Mount Moiwa
    • Nakajima Park
    • Sapporo TV Tower
  2. Otaru
    • Otaru Canal
    • Fukamizaka
    • Ryugu Shrine
    • Temiya Park 手宮公園
  3. Hakodate
    • Bay Area
    • Motomachi Park
    • Catholic Church Hakodate Motomachi
    • Hakodate Orthodox Church
    • Mount Hakodate
    • Cape Tachimach
    • Goryōkaku Park
  4. Asahikawa
    • Tokiwa Park
    • Asahikawa Forest Park
    • Furano & Biei

Sapporo

1. Walk at Maruyama Park

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/26Qk6gZSdjNipf5X6

Perfect place to walk and see its Shrines and highly recommended if you want to see Sakura trees! Great to spend a couple of hours and relax. To get here take the metro line Tozai to Maruyama Koen Station, exit 1

2. Go up to Mount Moiwa

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Location: https://goo.gl/maps/nbZex9mefAA8wpsw6

If you visited Maruyama Park before, this small mountain is about 40 minutes walking distance or also accessible by tram.
The views from the top are incredible, you can see almost all Sapporo city.
To get here, you must take the tram to Ropeway Iriguchi and follow directions to the cable car to buy the ticket to the cable car. The cable car leads to two different destinations and the price of the ticket varies depending on each one. The first stop is Moiwa Chufuku Station and the second is Moiwa Sancho Station. Sancho Station can also be accessed by walking through a small path at the top of Chufuku Station.
During this season the queue to get the ticket was quite short!

3. Walk in Nakajima Park

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/ECrxgfTwKBwiMm7EA

Another park located in the city center for a walk or boat ride.

You can get to this park by metro Namboku line to Nakajimakoen Station or get off at Susukino Station and walk to enjoy its traditional streets.

Near this park there are hundreds of restaurants. You cannot miss to try the Miso Ramen, typical dish of Sapporo!

So if you are still around and it is time for lunch, this local restaurant is really great and is about 10 minutes walking distance from the park up to the North

Recommendation: https://goo.gl/maps/c7b2zPnD9S6DBuJA8

4. Enjoy the views from the top of Sapporo TV Tower

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/33XnwJCAuJWsAVie8

Famous TV tower built in the 1950s, with an observation deck offering panoramic views of the city.

To get here you can by subway Namboku, Toho or Tozai lines to Ōdōri Station.

Opens every day from 9am to 10pm

Otaru

If you are staying in Sapporo, you can get to Otaru by train JR Hakodate Line departing from Sapporo Station. Cost: ¥740

1. Walk along Otaru Canal

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/H4J48gdA7JmrnZKd8

Perfect for a walk along its canal or boat ride. This canal runs through the entire town until almost reaching the Temiya park surrounded by bars, restaurants and shops.

From the Otaru Station you can reach here by walking

If you are looking for places to eat, there are some alleys near the canal that are quite popular! It is worth taking a look at the risk of queuing to get seated!

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/PYfdcKJMN8tXYPJC8

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2. Visit the popular street of Fukamizaka

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/nEkrmvLV1RYYBh6u9

This street is quite popular for the Love Letter movie. Highly recommended to pass through here in winter with the snowy streets. The rest of the year you don’t see anything in particular

3. Visit Ryugu Shrine

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Location: https://goo.gl/maps/wJBqi5eSdxM5MpP66

This Shrine is found only few meters away from Fukamizaka Street

4. Visit the Temiya Park 手宮公園

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/6tDD2PD2uH9vxB877

Personally, one of the pearls of Otaru and not so popular. The Sakura are incredibly beautiful in this park. To get here you have to walk along the canal and climb a hill. It takes roughly 30 minutes but it is totally worth it. From the top of the park there are views of Otaru and is full of picnic areas. Ideal place to come with family or couple or even for photography!

Hakodate

To get to Hakodate from Sapporo, you can take the JR Train from Sapporo Station or take a bus. The journey takes about 4-5 hours and reaches to Hakodate Station. The bus Station is right in front of the Train Station. You can get the train tickets directly from the vending machines or in case want to travel by bus you can book a bus ticket through this website. The buses are more affordable, provides big and comfortable seats and are individual! The seats are all separated from each other.

Once you arrive in Hakodate, is recommended to buy a ticket for 1 or 2 days for the tram. This would save us time and money when using this service, since the tram is quite traditional.

1. Stroll & eat at the Bay Area

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/8GXsE4Z8aTqAMiPY6

Popular place for food, snacking and stroll through the harbor. From here you can walk to the Midori no Shima park to have fantastic views of the Bay.

2. Walk to Motomachi Park

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/kmZQ8WK4DmJiweqKA

Popular place for its picturesque streets and houses/shops

3. Visit the Catholic Church Hakodate Motomachi

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Location: https://goo.gl/maps/ERSWS1PcvH342MZD8

Small, historic Roman Catholic church featuring Gothic architecture & a bell tower.

4. Visit the Hakodate Orthodox Church

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Location: https://goo.gl/maps/5VvmQot8VvaR9QiP9

Right next to the Catholic church is this circa-19th-century Russian Orthodox church with dramatic night lighting & a bell tower.

5. Go up to Mount Hakodate for Stunning Sunset

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Location: https://goo.gl/maps/zEneqoSvFbsXhApJ9

Place that cannot be missed if you visit Hakodate. The views of the city are stunning. Is recommended to go up an hour or even more in advance before the sunset as it is incredibly crowded and barely are free spaces. You can buy tickets from the cable car station

6. Visit Cape Tachimachi for another stunning Sunset

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/zMuLBvUFqFKmfbti6

Very unpopular place among tourists and well known among locals, a hidden pearl! The place is quite remote but easily accessible by tram. To do this, get off at Jujigai Station in case your tram has no destination Yachigashira Station
Once you arrive at Yachigashira Station, walk about 15 minutes to here as shown in the image below.

Likewise, if hunger calls you, there is a Lawson next to Yachigashira station!

Cape

7. Walk in Goryōkaku Park & Go up to its Tower for 360 Views

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/Xt4qtJqqZ1PhXtph7

100% recommended place to enjoy a beautiful day in the park. The sakura trees here are amazing and cover practically the whole park.
It is also recommended to climb the park tower, as it offers fantastic 360º views of the area

To get here, just take the tram to Goryokaku-Koen-Mae Station and walk to the park. There are indications along the way.
And in case hunger calls again, there is a fantastic restaurant right next to the park called AJISAI. Normally it is always full but the queue is quite fast. Shio Ramen is the typical dish of Hakodate! Must try!

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Asahikawa

To get to Asahikawa from Sapporo, it is possible by JR train Lilac-Kamui (express train) at about ¥ 4,810. The journey takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes and the views from the train are amazing.
The final destination is Asahikawa Station, right next to it there is an AEON mall that will be your best friend if you are here for a couple of days.

Right in front of the mall is the busiest and most popular street in the area, full of restaurants, shops, cafes … impossible not to find food here!

This city doesn’t offer many things to visit but it’s a great area to visit Furano & Biei! If you do not have a car, the train is your best transportation and Asahikawa is the best place to stay and move around

1. Relax at Tokiwa Park

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/s7kUsLwrmnRZvD1f6

This spacious, serene park with 2 large ponds, swans & cherry blossoms is a popular place to walk.

2. Walk in Asahikawa Forest Park

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Location: https://goo.gl/maps/1PoQyEbRsh4kpccC6

Ideal to spend a morning if you have no more plans to do. The sakura trees are really amazing at this park!

3. Explore Furano & Biei

If something is really worth seeing, it is Furano & Biei and their incredible fields and flowers. Although during the Sakura season the flower fields have not yet blossomed, the views and landscapes are really amazing.
To visit these two places by train, I would recommend visiting Furano first and not missing Tomita Farm. This farm offers beautiful lavender fields that bloom from June.

Furano

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/azbj2VstSSMUX1Va9

To get here, take the train and get off at Lavender-Farm Station or Naka-Furano Station. You can pay directly to the driver or buy tickets at Asahikawa and Furano station.

Biei

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/SmSQGt3J8eAdgFFCA

Once you finish watching Furano, take the train to Biei Station.
In this place there are several places to visit, such as Mild Seven Hills, Zerubu Hills or Hokusei-no-oka Observatory Park. To move around is recommended to rent electric bicycles or motorcycle/car. There is a rental shop right next to the station at this location.
If the night is not coming yet, I would recommend visiting Mild Seven Hills and Zerubu Hills. If you have lack of time as was my case, Mild Seven Hills is the perfect choice.

Along the road on the way to Mild Seven Hills there is a farm where you can taste very popular ice creams!

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Mild Seven Hills offers several points with incredible landscapes. Simply walk or move around and enjoy the nature

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Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a coastal city and capital of Khánh Hòa Province, on the South Central Coast of Vietnam. It is bounded on the north by Ninh Hoà district, on the south by Cam Ranh town and on the west by Diên Khánh District.

If you plan to visit this city, it is not necessary to be more than 3 or 4 days unless your purpose of the trip is scuba diving or just enjoy all day at the beach

What to see here?

1. Cathedral of Christ the King

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/XufeEH5ZNX1iJZQ58

Visit this church founded in 1886 by French missionaries. The best way to get there is by taxi. Highly recommended to download Grab app to move around. Taxi costs in Nha Trang is quite affordable.

Entry fees is about 20.000VND. Women can’t wear “too short” clothes

Opened every day from 7.30am to 11.30am & 2pm to 5pm

2. Long Son Pagoda

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/PNAAFpwRpabNCVDv7

Near the cathedral is Long Son Pagoda. From the top there are views of the city but not so spectacular!

Opened Monday to Saturday from 7.30am to 11.30am & 2pm to 5pm.

3. Alexandre Yersin Museum

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/xonYhbBa7mDZjarR6

Museum not very spectacular. For the price of the ticket doesn’t worth at all unless you have no other plans to do

Entry fees: 20.000VND

Opened every day from 7.30am to 11.30am & 2pm to 5pm

4. Ponagar Tower

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/aAsCYvY6yy3Hh59E9

One of the most popular and highly recommended sites. As I mentioned earlier, the best way to get here and by taxi or Grab

Entry fees: 22.000VND

Opened every day from 8am to 6pm

5. Hike up to Ba Ho Waterfalls

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Location: https://goo.gl/maps/273VdEavCCKBu95X7

One of the most recommended activities and the one I really enjoyed. To get here you can hire a driver through your hotel since is a bit remote. Normally hotels have this kind of services. The price varies depending on the hotel. In my case it was 600,000VND per person. The driver waits for you until the time you negotiate with him previously

The hike can last depending on how far you want to go. There are 3 waterfalls in total, and the last one has a medium-high level of risk, since the path of this hike is basically climbing rocks. It is recommended to wear good shoes if you want to reach the third waterfall. Some rocks may be slippery!

Once you get to the waterfalls by taxi, you have to cross a resort and follow the indications. The rocks have signals to follow so be aware for those dangerous paths not suggested to take by the signs

Opened every day from 8am to 4.30pm

6. Snorkel in Nhat Trang Bay

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Another recommended activity even if the seabed is not the most optimal in Nha Trang, or at least in tourist areas. You can hire this tour through your hotel
Normally there are 3 islands open for tourists, although depending on the hotel or services you can choose among them

7. Relax at the beach or enjoy the night life

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Relax on the immense beach of the city or simply enjoy the nightlife. The atmosphere is not spectacular but it is worth visiting!

My personal vision of Nha Trang is that it is not very spectacular. For 3 or 4 days it is enough as long as good weather accompanies you. There are more activities on the outskirts of the city, but for this you have to hire taxis or drive and mainly these places are a bit neglected and do not attract too much the attention if you have already visited similar places in Thailand!

Yangshuo

Yangshuo, a county and resort town in southern China’s Guangxi region, is known for its dramatic karst mountain landscape and outdoor recreation. The town is set amid pinnacles like Bilian Feng (Green Lotus Peak), which has a hiking trail to the top. Tour boats offer cruises on the Li River past picturesque countryside from the town of Guilin to the north.

What to see in Yangshuo? Endless activities. These are the ones that I have been able to enjoy so far

Before starting it should be clarified that to get here there are two train stations and can be somewhat confusing:
-Guilin train station
Xingping train station (known as Yangshuo station)
If you arrive at Guilin, you would have to take a bus to Yangshuo and it would take approximately 2 hours.
If you arrive at Xingping, just take a taxi to Yangshuo as it is 30 minutes away. The advantage of getting to Xingping is that once you arrive, you can take advantage of it and go to Li River for a bamboo ride, climb to Laozhaishan peak for an incredible view of the area and visit the old town. If you carrying a lot of stuffs, a taxi to Yangshuo is approximately 80 yuan

1. Li River boat ride

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Li River is located in Xingping on the outskirts of Yangshuo.
The boat ride is one of the most popular tourist attractions. To get a ticket it is possible from the ticket window just at the entrance of the river or in an office located in the town near the selected area in the image below. Xingping also offers countless hikes along the river

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2. Hike up to Laozhaishan

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Also located in Xingping, Laozhaishan is located next to the entrance to the river. Just go through the market on the left side facing the river to get there (follow the toilet direction but once you find the crossing, turn left).

The top of the mountain offers stunning views of Xingping
The climb is slightly hard in several sections but its duration is about 35-40 minutes

3. Stroll at Yangshuo town

Visit Yangshuo town is another of the most recommended activities. For shopping, food or just to see its old town transformed into a tourist attraction

4. Nighlife at Yangshuo town

Being increasingly popular, the nightlife in Yangshuo calls the attention in some of its bars. Nothing else to say…

5. Hike up to the TV Tower

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This is not one of the most popular hikes but it is worth its 45 minute climb. This mountain is located just at the entrance of the town about 15 minutes away walking from the old town and offers stunning views of Yangshuo. To get here is a bit confusing since there are no updated maps of this area. The entrance is right in one of the alleys that I mark in the image below (as reference, you could see the TV Tower right in front of the alley up to the mountain peak). Then just follow the streets up. As soon as you enter the alley, turn left and keep going up all the streets, always going up.

mapyangshuo

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You will have to continue walking up through the streets until you see the entrance to the hike as shows the image below

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Highly recommended to climb during sunset

6. Hike up to the Moon Hill

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This mountain is located on the outskirts of Yangshuo, at the South. To get here you have to take a taxi / didi or rent a motorcycle/bicycle. Didi/Taxi here is quite affordable and let us save a lot of time. The address here in chinese is 月亮山景区 or if using Didi english version, just type Moon Hill
Once arrived, there are two routes: Moon Palace and Dresser
-Direction to Moon Palace reaches up to the hill
-Direction Dresser reaches to a kind of picnic area that personally has better views of the hill than from any other place around, being perfect for photographs

Moon Palace

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Dresser

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If you visit the Moon Palace area, don’t forget to help the locals by buying them a drink. They hike up here daily to make a living

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There are hundreds of activities to do here. Countless hikes, bike routes, towns to see, … but it takes a lot of time to do them all!

Ma On Shan: a world away

Ma On Shan 馬鞍山 is a saddle-shaped peak in east of Tolo Harbour in the New Territories of Hong Kong. With a height of 702 metres, it stands among the ten highest mountains in Hong Kong. The mountain borders Sha Tin and Tai Po districts.

This hike is one of the most challenging and reach to the peak has a great reward: AMAZING landscapes. But actually, no need to reach to the top of the mountain to really enjoy of these panoramic views. All the trail offers stunning views of the area: Ma On, Sai Kung, Sharp Island,…so all the effort on this hike will be rewarded with different panoramic views, breathtaking panoramic views…

Recommended for this hike a comfortable shoes with good grip, sun block, a lot of water and long pants.

HOW TO GET THERE

To get there take MTR to Ma On Shan Station exit B. The fastest way is to take a taxi from there to the BBQ site. Walk up to the BBQ site from MTR will take more than an hour and is all way up. Save energy for this hike would be essential.

HIKING AROUND

From the BBQ site find the indications to the Family Walk. Below is the route chosen for this hike:mapa

Family Walk > Tiu Shau Ngam > 馬鞍山(馬鞍頭) > MacLehose Trail sec. 4 > Ngong Ping viewpoint > Ma On Shan Country trail > Tai Shui Tseng > Walk to Sai Kung Pier & take a bus back.

The beginning:

A tough section up to the first peaks before the highest. All the hike up has a steep slope and only the last part of the section is sheltered. Narrow trail full of branches and trees. A section with a climbing part & a rope attached to the rocks (easy, no need the rope unless is wet with slippery slope)

Views up to the first little peak. From here can see Ma On Shan town, the Plover Cove Reservoir (right side), Pat Sin Leng Country Park (just in front), Tai Mo  Shan (left side)

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Continuing to the highest peak:

Leaving behind these amazing views, the highest peak is visible after. There is a shortcut and the next peak can be bypassed through a bushy trail on the right side. I didn’t notice of this bypass, just once I saw other hikers taking it instead of climbing up. But worth to climb all the peaks for stunning views like these and the most important reason, we are hikers not tourists

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The highest peak:

The highest peak is not so tough as the first peaks. The views of Sai Kung on the left side encourage you to the summit.

Views ahead from the top:

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The way down is through MacLehose Trail sec. 4. The views along the trail are simply gorgeous.

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Reaching to the Ngong Ping viewpoint

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From this point to Tai Shui Tseng is all way down and just need to follow the indications.

 

Plover Cove Reservoir: A well-deserved Victory

ENGLISH & ESPAÑOL

Plover Cove Reservoir is located within Plover Cove Country Park in the northeastern New Territories. It’s the largest reservoir in Hong Kong in terms of area, and the second-largest in terms of volume.

Plover Cove Reservoir is a natural fish pond that supports a diverse wildlife, including many freshwater fish species. Tai Mei Tuk at the northwestern end of the main dam is a popular BBQ site in Hong Kong.

Within this reservoir there is a hiking trail that starts at Wu Kau Tang Village next to Bride’s Pool Nature Trail and ends at Tai Mei Tuk village. There are several sections within Wu Kau Tang but the longest trail is thru Ma Tau Fund > Tai Tung > Luk Wu Tung > Tai Mei with a total duration of 7-8 hours and 18km though uphills & downhills. The last 5km are on road and takes about 2 hours, so basically are 13km of uphills and downhills.

So far this is the tougher trail I have completed in Hong Kong.

For this trail is recommended a good pair of shoes with good grip. There are slippery sections along the trail. Lot of water, cap if sunny day since this hike is unsheltered, your own food, mosquitoes repellent and a nice camera

HOW TO GET THERE

Take metro to Tai Po Market and exit B to Tai Po Market Station Public Minibus Terminus. Take minibus 20R for around 20 minutes to Bride’s Pool Nature Trail on Bride’s Pool Road. It is the last stop
Also from Tai Po Market Station Bus Terminus, take 275R to Bride’s Pool Bus Terminus on Sunday and public holidays.

Return: In Tai Mei Tuk can take the minibus 20C or bus 75K to Tai Po Market

1

HIKING AROUND

From Wu Kau Tang village walk towards the trail to Ma Tau Fung. Have to pass through the village but is easy to get to the trail by following the indications.

Once in the trail, follow the distance posts as reference

The first section from the village to Ma Tau Fung is full of rocky steps but once on the top, the views are amazing

From Ma Tau Fung to Tai Tung there will be stunning views of almost the whole reservoir. This part of the trail is really beautiful

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On the right side there are views of the reservoir while on the left side views of Double & Crescent Islands. The trail look almost the same for the whole journey but at the end perhaps the trail gets harder and with steeper slopes

From Tai Tung to Luk Wu Tung there will be along the trail views of the whole reservoir. Personally the most beautiful section for views

The way from Luk Wu Tung to the Reservoir Sub Dam was personally the tougher since there is a certain sense of weariness. Uphills & downhills were here steeper, yet you can see a long way ahead full of hills.

 

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However the views are amazing. Sai Kung on the left side and the path done & Tai Mei Tuk on the right side

As told, the trail is not easy on this section for its steepy hills where the breaks were more often here. This section also was full of mosquitoes, thousands of them for almost 1.5h hours of journey.

Arrived to the Reservoir Sub Dam will offer views of Sai Kung and Mao On Shan.

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From this point to Tai Mei Tuk there will be about 4-5km and 2 hours of journey ahead. Walking through the dam there is a hill with stairs right in front. To continue the journey you may bypass these hills by the road on the left side. The road takes to Tai Mei directly

Once crossed the longest ever bridge in the world, will reach to Tai Mei. The port is really beautiful and there are some restaurants on the area.

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Walking towards the Bus Terminus there is a BBQ site and was really amazing. Bring your own food and cook it right there!

DETAILS

  • Location: Plover Cove Reservoir @ Plover Cove Park, Hong Kong
  • Transportation: MRT to Tai Po Market exit B & bus 20R to Bride’s Pool Nature Trail // Return: bus 20C or 75K from Tai Mei Tuk
  • Time spent: 7.5 hours – 18km
  • Weather conditions: cloudy
  • Season: Mid of March
  • Score: 9/10