Time to read: 8 minutes
A Cautionary Tale
In this post, I will detail my experience of the Kowloon Peak Hike and attempting to get to Suicide Cliff in Hong Kong. I would urge anyone considering hiking Kowloon Peak to read this before attempting one of the territory’s most dangerous hikes!
In July 2021 while living in Hong Kong, I set about some of the territory’s many hiking trails. On previous visits I’d hiked part of the McLehose Trail, Sunset Peak on Lantau Island and into the jungle up around Silver Mine Bay.
Earlier that month, I hiked the Dragon’s Back. It was an easy hike with stunning views out over the Stanley Peninsula. I also did the slightly tougher, but no less spectacular hike from Silver Mine Bay to Discovery Bay.
So, with this in mind I considered myself relatively adept at hitting Hong Kong’s hiking trails. Some quick research about Kowloon Peak told me that it was considered a 10/10 in terms of difficulty. Having scaled many mountains in mainland China above 2,000 metres, I thought the 600-metre peak would be a piece of cake and that the rating must have been an exaggeration. How wrong I was!
Boring stuff: I have visited each of the places I recommend and give you my honest opinion, warts and all. All photos are my own unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission. Affiliate links may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.
Kowloon Peak Hike Routes
Kowloon Peak is located in Ma On Shan Country Park about 10km north of downtown Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui.
The nearest MTR station is Choi Hung.
- Northern Route: the longest route starting from Tung Shan and moderate to difficult.
- Eastern Route: this is the easiest and safest route as it is just steps all the way to the top.
- Southern routes: there are several smaller paths leading up from the south. These are moderate to difficult and can be dangerous.
- Western route: the most difficult and dangerous route (and the one I choose).
The trip was doomed from the start. I set off later than I had wanted to, at around midday. By the time I got to the start of the trail near Choi Hung MTR station it was already one o’clock, giving me just five hours of sunlight.
The mountain rises directly behind some apartment blocks by Kingsford Terrace and is steep from the get go. It starts off as concrete steps before reaching a small clearing with a few benches. The path continued upwards to a narrow mountain road, and it was here that things really started to get interesting.
There were several signs warning from going any further:
Danger; this path leads to an area where fatal/serious accidents have occurred. Please do not proceed any furtherHong Kong Marine Parks Authority
The more sensible among us would have heeded the sign. I naively thought it was just overcautious, but now know that not to be the case. At least three hikers died on the same route within months of my hike. You can find the news reports here.
I crossed the small road and made my way up a small embankment and into the dense brush. From here, the path is a lot more rocky, with large boulders, branches and roots protruding.
Although the path was clearly identified on my map (Maps.ME), it obviously wasn’t used a great deal and was quite overgrown. As it got steeper, you needed to use both hands and feet to manoeuvre.
I was ever-present of putting my hand on a rock or branch and feeling the swift stinging bite of a King Cobra or Krait. The forested hills and mountains around Hong Kong are home to nine potentially lethal snakes and this was always in the back of my mind.
Things get Tough
By now the temperature was around 34 degrees Celsius and humidity was over 90%. I had one small 500ml bottle of water and another of lemonade and it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to be anywhere near enough water for such a tough hike in the middle of a Hong Kong summer.
There is a reason few people hike the trails of the territory in summer and I was beginning to learn this the hard way. Each step was getting harder and harder and the sweat mixed with sun screen dripped into my eyes with a stinging sensation.
After two hours or so of exertion, I reached a large rocky outcrop overlooking the city far below. This was not the famed Suicide Rock which is at the top (I was not even halfway by now judging from my map). However, it was large enough to sit on and the views were incredible. I decided here would be a good place for a rest.
I got out my drone and took some footage of the city far below and surrounding mountains (though I didn’t get many good shots).
Things Get REALLY Tough
After a rest of around 30 minutes, I set off again and now what was uncomfortable before, was turning into pain. Every footstep drained me more and I could only manage a few metres before needing to rest again.
This went on for what seemed like an eternity. It was now approaching four o’clock and I only had a couple of hours of sunlight left. If I got stuck up here at night the only option would have been to sit exactly where I was and wait until daybreak, hoping the snakes would leave me alone. Not a great thought.
By now I was just climbing; there was no walking or hiking. I had to pull myself up and over rocky outcrops on an ever-steepening path. One misstep or slip and it would be game over at this point.
I was now almost completely out of water. I thought about turning back, but knowing how difficult the path was, I never would have gotten down before sunset. The top of the mountain was inching ever closer and I knew from my map that there were (I hoped) steps down the other side.
My only option was to push on and pray I was nearing the summit and there were indeed steps on the other side.
My panic grew as my predicament became obvious. I could feel it rising in my gut and had to talk myself down as I could feel my heart racing. By now I could manage only about one metre before needing to rest. I was completely out of liquids and the tropical summer sun was burning into the back of my neck as it started to set.
I seriously considered calling mountain rescue at that point. My body was getting shaky from the exertion, heat and lack of water. It would now be quite easy to stumble, and doing so would have been instantly fatal, as the path descended near-vertically below me.
However, my stubbornness (or more likely my Englishness) prevented me from doing so. If anything, I knew that if they sent a helicopter out it wouldn’t be cheap, not to mention the embarrassment, so decided to push on.
It was another hour before I reached the pass at the top. Again, I considered calling the emergency services, but again pushed on.
There was a much more obvious path when I reached the crest and some sort of electricity sub-station. I wondered if I might find someone there to get some water from, but alas, all was locked up and empty.
To the left, the larger trail stretched off into the distance over rolling hills, and to the right it led to the actual peak and then down to Suicide Rock. To the front of me was the beautiful sight of some wooden steps disappearing down into a shaded looking plantation of some kind.
I was utterly spent. Should I try and get to the summit and then down to Suicide Cliff? I’m here to tell the tell, so obviously I made straight for the steps.
My elation at having a clear and easy path down soon turned to worry again. I was shaking so much that I was stumbling every step and just didn’t have the energy to continue, even downhill under relatively easy going.
I sat down, and for the third time considered calling mountain rescue. How the hell was I going to get down? It was now dusk with less than one hour of useable light left.
The Apple of my Eye
It was whilst sitting on one of the steps staring idly at my bag that a thought suddenly flashed through my head. Along with my paltry two bottles of liquids and trail bars, I also bought an apple that morning. I fished around at the bottom of my bag and to my sheer delight, felt the shiny skin of a juicy, life-giving granny smith apple.
I couldn’t believe my luck. The explosion of energy-restoring juices upon taking that first bite was a feeling I will never forget. I savoured every bite, crushing each mouthful to extract as much juice as possible. I could feel my energy returning and my spirits were well and truly lifted.
After standing up, the light-headedness which normally followed each rest stop was gone. My legs were not shaking as much so I slowly descended each step, picking up my pace a little.
The sun had now gone down behind the mountain and it was almost dark, but the path was easy to navigate. It wasn’t long before I started seeing signs of life (well, actually it was a graveyard and shrine, so I guess you could say signs of death). Ten minutes later I exited the trail into a country road, ducking a giant, shiny black Golden Orb Weaver spider sitting in its web across the path.
From here, I had a two-kilometre walk to what looked like a small settlement and bus stop. I wasn’t bothered at all. The flat surface of the paved road was a dream to walk on and I could have gone another couple of hours. As I reached the settlement there was some sort of booth connected to the country park.
I knocked on the window and asked the smiling, bespectacled Hong Konger if there was a convenience store nearby. I think he could tell I needed water and offered to refill my bottle from his own two-litre bottle. With a wave, he pointed me in the direction of a bus stop that would take me back t the MTR and I set off, refreshed anew after gulping down mouthfuls of cold, delicious water.
Final Thoughts on the Kowloon Peak Hike
I am convinced that apple saved me from serious injury. Falling face-first down those steps probably wouldn’t have been fatal, unlike falling on the trail behind me, however a fall wouldn’t have ended well. If I hadn’t found that apple, I’m not sure what would have happened.
Had I had enough water, set off early and been more prepared, it still would have been the toughest and most dangerous hike I had ever done, and I still would have struggled. A lot. Would I try the same route again under different circumstances? Absolutely not. Reading about the many deaths on this trail has been a sobering experience. It wouldn’t have taken much to join them.
So, after all that I didn’t even make it to the true summit, or Suicide Cliff. The only positives to come out of the experience were the shots and aerial footage I managed to get in between bouts of intense suffering. Well, that and not dying.
So, if you are considering the Kowloon Peak Hike and going to Suicide Cliff in Hong Kong, I would seriously recommend taking the steps up and down. Only the fittest and most prepared of hikers should attempt the direct route, and even then, it is not recommended. Even experienced hikers have perished on those trails, so think twice!
Lessons to Take Away:
If something is advertised as 10/10 or very difficult, lose the bravado and accept that it might be above my ability.
Don’t try and climb a mountain/attempt a tough hike in the tropics in the middle of August.
Always bring more water.
Hong Kong Accommodation
- Hong Kong Hostel, Hong Kong Island
- The Cove Hostel, Lantau Island
- Sea Ranch, Lantau Island
- Chunking Mansions, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
- West Hotel, Jordan, Kowloon
- Hotel Pravo, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Thank you for reading. If you want to know more about what Hong Kong has to offer, check out my other articles below:
About the author:
Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has traveled to over 60 countries, lived in Armenia, China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.
Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of the world by train, bus and boat. He has been interviewed multiple times by the BBC and recently featured in the documentary Scariest Places in the World. See the About page for more info.
Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲