Hiking from High Island Reservoir East Dam to Sai Wan Beach in Sai Kung is an awesome workout in nature so pristine that you'll wonder how you can still be in Hong Kong. With sweeping views of the High Island Reservoir, the South China Sea, and the hills of Sai Kung's East Country Park, you'll have plenty to admire as you make your way over the sun-drenched trail. Follow my hiking guide for tips on how to have the best day on this beautiful Hong Kong hike!
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About the Hike
The hike from High Island Reservoir East Dam to Sai Wan Beach in Sai Kung is a moderate hike which is roughly 6.6-kilometers (~4 miles) long and takes 2-2.5 hours to complete.
Some sections of the trail are well-maintained, concrete paths and steps. However, other sections are dusty, dirt paths which can be slippery.
PRO TIP: GET AN EARLY START! Getting to the trailhead takes quite a bit of time if you're coming from Central Hong Kong - especially on a weekend or holiday!
Who Should Hike It?
Although I think any level of hiker could complete this hike, beginners might find the dirt sections which have been washed away by storms difficult. I recommend wearing proper hiking footwear to avoid twisting an ankle or slipping.
When to Hike It?
Although you should hike this trail during warm weather since you finish at the beach, the lack of shade on this trail combined with the steep uphill sections make it quite difficult in the summer. Yes, I'm speaking from experience.
It would be more comfortable to hike it in the fall or spring when it's warm, but not oppressively hot!
If you want to hike in Sai Kung during the summer months, the hike from the Sai Wan Pavilion to Ham Tin Beach is a much less heat-exhaustion inducing option.
Items for Your Hike
Getting to High Island Reservoir East Dam
Because the High Island Reservoir East Dam is located on the far southeastern side of Sai Kung East Country Park, getting to it takes quite a bit of effort.
You'll need to use a combination of public transportation and taxi to get to the trailhead. The entire journey from our home on the western side of Hong Kong Island to the High Island Reservoir East Dam trailhead takes a little over 2 hours.
Pro Tip: On a weekend or public holiday, it will be CROWDED in Sai Kung. When we went on a public holiday, the journey from our home to the trailhead took us 3 hours! Be sure to leave early to allow plenty of time for the hike and the beach.
Obviously you could take a taxi the entire way, which would be faster, but would cost significantly more.
Step 1: Getting to Sai Kung
First, you'll need to get to Sai Kung town. If you're coming from Hong Kong Island like we were, this usually involves a combination of MTR and bus/minibus transportation.
New to Hong Kong? Check out this Guide to Public Transportation in Hong Kong.
MTR to Yau Ma Tei Station
One way is to take the MTR to the Yau Ma Tei stop, then leave via exit A2.
Walk north on Nathan Road (or through the alley) for a couple blocks, then turn right on Dundas Street. The Sai Kung red minibus stop is at the southern end of the Ladies Market in front of the refuse collection center. Look for "Sai Kung" on the lit sign on the front of the minibus.
Red Minibus to Sai Kung
Hop on the bus, or wait in line until a new one comes, and pay by Octopus card when you get on. It cost us HK $18 (~US $2.30) per person.
The ride from Yau Ma Tei to Sai Kung takes approximately 40 minutes, depending on traffic. Your stop is the minibus terminus in Sai Kung town.
When it's crowded.... Because it was so crowded the last time we went to Sai Kung on a public holiday, the line for this minibus was LONG. We ended up sharing a taxi with another couple waiting in line for a total cost of HK $160 (~US $20) / HK$80 (US $10) per couple. The ride from Mong Kok to Sai Kung also took 1 hour instead of 40 minutes.
An Alternate MTR/Bus Route to Sai Kung
Another route that we've used is to take the MTR to the Choi Hung Station (exit C1) on the green Kwun Tong line. Make a U-turn after you exit to get to the 1A Green Minibus to Sai Kung Pier.
This route involves a second transfer and more time on the MTR, but the minibus ride is shorter. Plus, if lines are long and you need to take a cab from Choi Hung, it might be slightly cheaper than from Mong Kok.
Step 2: Taxi to High Island Reservoir East Dam
Once you arrive in Sai Kung, you'll still need to get out to the High Island Reservoir East Dam which is the start of the hike. The fastest and easiest way is by taxi.
Green Taxi to High Island Reservoir East Dam
Head across the bus lots to the taxi stand. You'll need to take a green taxi as they are the ones that operate within the New Territories region of Hong Kong.
Tell the driver that you'd like to go to High Island Reservoir East Dam. If he does not understand when you say it in English, you can show him on Google Maps. This strategy usually works no matter where you're going.
The taxi ride took us around 40 minutes and cost HK $133 (~US $17).
One of the reasons it took us so long to get there is because the roads are really only wide enough for 1.5 cars, but it's a two-way road. So we spent some time in traffic as the taxis maneuvered around each other. On a less-crowded day, the taxi ride might be faster.
Why are there red taxis? You may notice red taxis along the drive to the reservoir, but they (should) have picked up their riders outside of New Territories - in Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. On the day we visited, our taxi driver was grumbling about all the red taxis as they were far less confident on the tight, windy roads than the green taxi drivers.
Overview of the Hike to Sai Wan Beach from High Island Reservoir East Dam
Once you've arrived at the High Island Reservoir East Dam, you can either begin your hike to Sai Wan Beach or explore the rock formations around the East Dam.
This hike begins on the last part of the Maclehose Trail Sec. 1, and switches to Sec. 2 shortly into the hike. Along the way, you'll pass Long Ke Wan Beach and Campsite, then ascend steeply up to Sai Wan Shan.
Once you've reached the top of the peak, you'll descend gradually for the remainder of the hike until you reach Sai Wan Beach. Although I'll stop this hike at Sai Wan Beach, you could continue on to one of the other beaches in Tai Long Wan Bay, such as Ham Tin Beach.
Toilet Tip: There are a couple flush and portable toilets at the High Island Reservoir East Dam (in the picture above). If you're looking for something slightly nicer, use the public restrooms in Sai Kung after getting off the minibus.
Prefer a hike on Hong Kong Island? Check out my post on The Twins Hike!
Starting at High Island Reservoir East Dam
The East Dam of the High Island Reservoir is a sight to see in itself. Located inside the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, it's a wonderful place to see the hexagonal rock columns up close.
These rock formations were formed roughly 140 million years by volcanic eruptions and are a stunning geological sight.
Because we arrived so late to the dam, we were unable to explore the trails around the dam, but saw some of the rock formations as we began our hike.
Pro Tip: If you take the speedboat back to Sai Kung from the beach before it gets dark, the boat will slow down near the rock formations so you can see them. Be sure to snag a seat on the right side of the boat for the best views.
High Island Reservoir East Dam to Long Ke Wan
Once you're ready to begin the hike, head towards the northern part of the East Dam to start up the hill.
The trail from the East Dam to Long Ke Beach is ~1.4 km (~0.9 mi) and fairly easy. It's a gradual uphill and then a steeper climb with a lot of stairs down into Long Ke Wan.
After ~30 minutes, you'll reach Long Ke Beach. It's a beautiful place to stop and rest or maybe cool off in the water.
In retrospect, I sort of wish I'd jumped in fully clothed and had wet clothing on for the next part of the hike!
Steep Climb to Sai Wan Shan
The next leg of the hike is the most difficult. It's a sunny, steep climb up to Sai Wan Shan (peak).
From Long Ke Beach, you'll climb ~120 meters (~400 ft) in 1 km (0.6 mi) to the first pavilion - Long Ke Wan Pavilion. Don't be hesitant about stopping to catch your breath in the shade and remember to hydrate!
Once you're ready, continue upwards. Over the next kilometer (0.6 mi), you'll climb another 180 m (~600 ft) until you reach the Sai Wan Shan Pavilion at the crest of the mountain.
Although there are a couple shady spots along the way, they're few and far between! And most of the time occupied with other hikers!
However, this means you'll have unobstructed views throughout the hike to admire... if you're not too busy dying of heat exhaustion like I was!
The section of the trail from Long Ke Beach to the Sai Wan Shan Pavilion took us an hour to complete.
Despite drinking copious amounts of water, the intense sun combined with the 30ºC (87ºF) temperature and 70% humidity made this climb DIFFICULT for me. I quickly discovered that hiking during a Hong Kong summer makes any hike that much harder.
At the Top of Sai Wan Shan
Once we reached the top, I retreated into the Sai Wan Shan Pavilion for some much-needed shade. My face was so red that an older man gave up his seat for me! Pretty embarrassing, but I took it for a couple minutes until the next exhausted-looking person came along.
Of course, the plus side of this clear and gorgeous day was the views!
From the top of Sai Wan Shan, many of the hills and islands dotting the South China Sea in Sai Kung are visible. You can also see glimpses of the High Island Reservoir.
For another Hong Kong beach and hike adventure - try Mui Wo to Pui O Beach on Lantau!
Descending along the High Island Reservoir
After enjoying a shady respite, we continued on. Thankfully the remainder of the trail was a steady downhill. Plus, the incredible views continued!
Although much of the trail is in good condition, some areas must get washed out regularly. As we headed towards Sai Wan Tseun, we encountered some concrete stairs that were demolished and places where the trail looked more like a riverbed.
Due to these unexpected trail washouts, it's always a good idea to wear hiking shoes or sneakers just in case.
After 2.3 km (~1.5 mi) and descending about 220 m (720 ft), you'll join up with the trail that connects the Sai Wan Pavilion to Sai Wan Tseun. It's well-maintained and a lot more crowded.
From this point, you'll only have about a kilometer to go to reach Sai Wan Beach!
Getting to Sai Wan Beach
After turning right onto the other trail, you'll begin a steep descent towards Sai Wan Tsuen. As you look off into the distance, you'll be able to see the beach.
Looking for another lovely Hong Kong hike? Try Dragon's Back to Big Wave Bay Beach!
Entering Sai Wan Tseun, you'll see an Agriculture Land Rehabilitation project on your left as you walk through the valley. Last time we walked through, they were growing corn!
Then, you'll arrive in Sai Wan Tsuen! The small village has several houses, restaurants, as well as two beaches.
Although this particular hike stops at Sai Wan Beach, you could decide to keep going on to Ham Tin Beach. I was too exhausted to do much more than plop myself on the beach for the remainder of the day!
If you're interested in the next part of the hike, check out my guide for hiking to Ham Tin Beach from the Sai Wan Pavilion.
Things to Do in Sai Wan Beach
Once you arrive in Sai Wan Beach, the relaxation begins! You can choose between two beaches. The first one is convenient to the restaurants and public toilets, but the second is generally less crowded.
Tip: If you don't want to carry all your beach equipment with you, you can rent umbrellas and towels at the shops by the beach.
Lunch in Sai Wan Beach
When Jeremy and I finished our hike, it was already getting late but we were famished. So we feasted on a large plate of noodles before heading out to the beach.
You can't beat the view from this restaurant, but the food did take quite a while since it was so crowded.
Need more ideas? Check out these 16 Incredible Things to Do in Hong Kong!
Camping on Sai Wan Beach
As you've seen, it takes a lot of effort to get out to Sai Kung East Country Park. So if you don't want to turn around and go all the way home, you could stay overnight.
Both Sai Wan Beach and Ham Tin Beach allow camping on the beach. If you don't have your own supplies, you can rent tents and camping equipment from one of the shops in the village.
Returning to Sai Kung
Since Sai Wan Beach is only accessible by hiking trails or boat, we usually return to Sai Kung by speedboat.
Boats depart roughly every hour and the ride back takes ~50 minutes. Tickets cost HK $130 per person on the public holiday when we visited last.
The last time we visited Sai Kung, we caught the 6:00 pm boat. Since it's summer, it was still light during the whole trip. As a result, the boat driver took us over and showed us the rock formations by the High Island Reservoir's East Dam - back where we started the hike!
Know Before You Go: The seas around Sai Kung can be rough so the boat ride can be quiet adventure. It's a relatively small boat which fits ~20 people. As it speeds over the waves, it's a BUMPY ride and at times, you're airborne. I find it exhilarating.
But I realized on a recent ride as a young boy was freaking out in the seat in front of me, clinging to his mother that some might find it terrifying... or get seasick. It also kind of reminds me of those amusement park rides where they tell you not to ride if you have a bad back.
Sai Kung Getaway
If you're not quite ready to head home, why not stay the night or plan a weekend getaway in Sai Kung? This charming seaside town has so many great restaurants, cute shops, and plenty of beautiful hikes nearby.
Places to Stay in Sai Kung
Sai Kung is a residential area so you won't find many hotels. So if you'd like to stay in Sai Kung, it's also a good idea to check out vacation rental sites like Airbnb or VRBO for accommodation options.
Though I haven't stayed in these accommodations, I've found a couple places that I would consider booking if I were planning a weekend getaway in Sai Kung.
This stylish and cozy 2-bedroom apartment in the heart of Sai Kung town would be perfect for a family or a couple to stay. Steps away from shops, restaurants, as well as the beach in Sai Kung - it's incredibly convenient for a Hong Kong weekend retreat.
Plus, it's pet-friendly so you can bring your favorite hiking companion along with you!
The Pier Hotel is located just south of Sai Kung town in Hebe Haven, or Pak Sha Wan - a tranquil harbor which is home to several yacht clubs. Its spot right on the waterfront provides beautiful views from the chic and modern guest rooms. This hotel is a great jumping off point for exploring Sai Kung's many excellent restaurants, local hikes, and beautiful beaches.
If you're looking to relax at the hotel, the rooftop pool (summer only) and on-site fitness center are excellent amenities to enhance your stay.
Other Hikes in Sai Kung You Might Enjoy
Sai Kung's incredible scenery make it one of my favorite places for a Hong Kong day trip. It feels like I've traveled outside of Hong Kong to a secluded paradise. This hike from High Island Reservoir East Dam to Sai Wan Beach offers you spectacular views of this natural beauty and a chance to relax at an incredible beach at the end.
Would you like to try this hike? How about the boat ride?! Leave me a comment and let me know!