Why is camping so exciting? Because it's in tents.. geddit?! Also when it's at the foot of the second highest peak in Hong Kong. In search of a campsite without ludicrous prices, we set off in search of our nearest government allotted free campsite - Ngong Ping.
In a vein attempt to pack light, we didn't bring a stove, pans, plates or cutlery. We didn't bring any towels (there are no showers), pillows, music, snacks or enough sleeping bags. TripAdvisor would have rated our set-up 1* with a health warning. The site is a 25 minute haul from the cable car terminal. Rather aptly, you have to turn off before the Wisdom Trail. We saw groups choosing to camp in 'non-designated' areas, and in about 5 minutes, we were to find out why.
Walking past the fragrant Ngong Ping Campsite toilet, it was another 3 minutes before you get to the actual camp. I'd have loved to have been in on the planning meeting for that one...
"Yes Sir, the campsite is located here - a long, dark and snake infested walk from the toilets." "Excellent, go ahead." The site is small, aimed more at the thru-hiker than the weekend reveller. There are 6-7 flattened out pitches fitted with a picnic bench and BBQ pit. The middle of the site, for reasons unfathomable, has been left rock-pitted and almost unusable. This, of course, was where we slept the night. The word 'slept' is carrying an awful lot of weight here.
Pitching the tent was a struggle. Imagine assembling an IKEA wardrobe on the north face of Mt. Eiger. For kicks, we'd put the kids at the top of the campsite and watch them tumble back down to the bottom like a giggly avalanche. This wasn't so much a campsite as a test of balance.
Ngong Ping village is a strange place. It's an entirely fake shopping street built over the remains of a once vibrant and entirely real village. That community still exists, but only to run the side shops selling oversized incense sticks and badly translated fridge magnets. I deplore the retail choices Ngong Ping 360 has chosen to occupy this Disney high street to enlightenment. Last time I checked, Buddhism was about the absence of stuff - The quest for inner meaning through the abandonment of self. Ngong Ping has a Subway, a Starbucks and a shop called The Wisdom Trail Souvenir Shop. The Monks must find it hard to be at peace.
Ngong Ping 360 high street revolves around the cable car times. The restaurants and the entire 'village' over a P.A system, offer stern warning to anyone looking for a table past 5.15pm as the last cable car leaves at 6pm sharp. If you're not on it, you risk a two and a half hour walk down the hill or a ride on the vomit comet, A.K.A. the number 11 bus. I've ridden a tiny ferry through the Irish sea during a violent storm and not felt as queasy as I did on the number 11 bus. Be mindful if you're using these restaurants for food that they all close at 6pm. Everything closes at 6pm, even the Enlightened one, the Big Buddha himself.
After dinner we headed back to the tent. More people had decided to take the plunge and pitch up on Mt. Eiger. They had pitched so close to our tent we could hear them tying their shoe laces. These new folk were the envy of the campsite. I'm not sure how they managed it, but they had made the trip with tripod lights, a full Dolby 5.1 sound system and projector, Gordon Ramsey's kitchen set-up and, strangely, the smallest tents I've ever seen. It was like pitching your tent next to a drive in cinema.
Wearing everything we own and having enjoyed half a box of Park 'N' Shop's finest box wine (the wife and I, not the kids), we nestled down under the 0.75 sleeping bags we had. Due to a technical error (I left a sleeping bag back in the UK on my last trip) we only had three between the four of us. Being the man of the family and incredibly brave, I insisted we share them and open them up like duvets, huddling together in a manner akin to the Waltons. Within half an hour I was handed the leaking air bed and the sleeping bags were a no-show. Cold and literally deflated, I donned my 20 year old hoodie and lay down for a cold and orthopaedic night's sleep in the manner of Nosferatu tucking into a coffin.
Remember I mentioned the toilet block was a 3 minute walk away... Well, it started raining.
If you too fancy a night at Lantau's worst campsite, Google Ngong Ping Campsite and may God be with you and your family.