Backpacking Off the Beaten Path in Hong Kong: Kam Shan Country Park (Monkey Mountain)

Frolicking amidst the fruit trees on a chain of beautiful hills in one of Hong Kong’s so-called New Territories are hundreds of exuberant gray monkeys with pink faces. These are some of around 1800 rhesus macaques that call Kam Shan Country Park, popularly known as Monkey Mountain, home. The hills are a short bus ride away from downtown Kowloon, but the park, apart from the main highway right by the entrance, feels remote and tranquil. In fact, I saw only one other person while I was in the park, an entity dressed in camouflage that under the scorching heat looked like a war refuge from a timeless age.

 

The intense heat and humidity in the middle of the afternoon cast a shimmering glow on the picturesque scene. Time and space felt dense and slow, and though my clothes and feet felt heavy, my heart was light and gay. I have always had a fascination with apes and monkeys, and this is the first time I would be able to observe them in their natural habitat (though that is actually a misnomer, since the monkeys were released in these mountains many years ago). This little expedition felt almost like a dream come true.

 

I was all alone at the park, and after gazing briefly at the clean blue waters of the Tai Po Reservoir located beside it, I hurried to the fruit trees beside the paved road where a colony of monkeys have congregated. They were generally quiet, though some chirring grunt can be heard from time to time. A few sliced fruits, like papaya and jackfruit, were scattered on the ground, no doubt left by their human caretakers. Feeding by visitors is prohibited.

 

Even though I got to within three feet from them, they were utterly relaxed with my company.  Mealtime must have been a high point of the day for them, for the young ones ran to and fro. Infants with puckish wrinkled faces and large brown eyes clutched underneath their mother’s amber-coloured bellies, who are themselves clutching their victuals under swollen nipples. Their spindly arms wrapped around their mother’s shoulders, they swung like pendulum. With their crumpled ancient-looking faces the babies looked rather comical. Their mothers tenderly licked their faces. What a heart-warming sight.

 

Since there were plenty of food, hardly any fights broke out. There they munched, all around me, without care and thought, merely driven by hunger and pleasure. I looked up and was surprised to see many other monkeys hanging by the trees. They were variously grooming, eating, napping and lounging. I counted at least thirty in the tree directly above me. Some hung face-down with their feet and arms draped around the branches. A few little ones swiveled from branch to branch, always with a majestic flourish. Others were looking at me curiously and critically, with clear eyes, as if to say, “Why do you like to look at us? What brought you here? If you have food for us, bring it out.”

Below me monkeys clutched with their human-like hands food items and rapidly shoved them down their mouths. Some crossed very close to me, and displayed their canines with fierce waah-waah barks. There I stood, utterly lost in this wild tableau of feasting and laziness, utterly still and aware, knowing that everything was as it should be. It’s the same feeling I get whenever I experience waterfalls, wild forests, caves and secluded seas. It’s a feeling of reverence, gentleness and peace.

Then I saw streams of urine raining down from one of the trunks. Having been warned by the park bulletin that monkeys can be aggressive, I moved away from the prospect of an impromptu golden shower. The mosquitoes attacking my legs became unbearable. And besides the few remaining voracious ones have already joined their resting companions up in the trees. Only one insatiable monkey remained below, trying his/her best to open a slice of durian. Though I was reluctant to break the spell, I had to leave, pursued by hunger and mosquitoes, until I reached the bus station. There I waited for almost twenty minutes for Bus 81. A one-armed monkey from the mountains on the other side of the road joined my vigil. S/he toppled the trash can then nonchalantly scratched her stomach at the slim pickings. Still I could not help but think that life has not been too harsh for him/her. S/he looked healthy and cheerful, without malice and resentment.

 

Finally I understood what prompted to Walt Whitman these beautiful words about animals:

They do not sweat and whine about their condition.
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins.
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.

 

One of the park bridges provides a good vantage point to view the beautiful Kowloon Reservoir in Tai Po.

 

As soon as I got off bus 81, I saw this park signage in Chinese.

 

Macaques scattered along the main roads and pathways.

 

The main pathway to the park.

 

A one-armed macaque accompanied me while waiting for the bus to go home.

 

 

How to get there:

I am pasting here instructions from a certain Lonely Planet member namedIantyke as this is the exact thing I did going there by commute:

 KMB Bus 81 which starts at Wu Cheung Road Bus Terminus in Jordan (near Kowloon Station and Elements Shopping Mall) goes past Prince Edward MTR Station on Nathan Road (but doesn’t pass Shek Kip Mei MTR Station). Get off on Tai Po Road just after the bus has left the urban area at either the stop for “Shek Lei Pui Reservoir” or the next stop “Kowloon Reservoir”.

From either of these bus stops on the opposite side of the road there are entrances to the country park and if you walk a short distance into the park (particularly from the entrance opposite the Kowloon Reservoir bus stop) you will almost certainly quickly be accompanied by families of macaques (they usually hang around near these entrances).

From the entrance opposite the Shek Lei Pui Reservoir bus stop you can walk to Lion Rock via Eagles Nest and Beacon Hill via the MacLehose Trail.

 From the entrance opposite the Kowloon Reservoirs stop you can walk to Lion Rock via a much easier and quicker route along the water catchment and then via steps and path.
The bus journey takes about 20 mins from the terminus or about 10 mins from Prince Edward MTR Station.

 

Public Transport Options from Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department of Hong Kong:

Public Transport InformationKowloon Reservoir
Take bus no. 72, 81 or a red minibus to Tai Po Road near Piper’s Hill. Walk along Kam Shan Road for about 10 minutes to the park.Smugglers’ Ridge
Take bus no. 72, 81 or a red minibus to Tai Po Road near Piper’s Hill. From Kam Shan Road (Stage 6 of the MacLehose Trail) near Kowloon Reservoir, it is a 1-hour walk to the ridge.Stage 6 of the MacLehose Trail
Take bus no. 72, 81 or a red minibus to Tai Po Road near Piper’s Hill. The starting point is at the junction of Tai Po Road and Kam Shan Road. For your return journey, walk for about 20 minutes from the Shing Mun Reservoir main dam to Pineapple Dam for green minibus no. 82 to Tsuen Wan.Stage 6 of the Wilson Trail
Take bus no. 72, 81 or a red minibus to Tai Po Road and get off at Kowloon Reservoir. For your return journey, walk for about 20 minutes from the Shing Mun Reservoir main dam to Pineapple Dam for green minibus no. 82 to Tsuen Wan.

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