The Heritage Hiker's Guide to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am


The Heritage Hiker's Guide to Hong Kong
by Pete Spurrier

For all that tourists and expats complain about the lack of Sunday sights in our densely packed city, there is a world of intriguing heritage when people don't limit themselves to the watering holes of SoHo.

Admittedly, our government doesn't see the need to promote the gorgeous colonial gardens located steps away from the Peak, or the numerous second world war-era tunnels that run throughout the city - but that doesn't mean that dedicated souls aren't willing to pick up the slack.

For years, publisher and outdoor enthusiast Pete Spurrier has been chronicling countryside hideouts in his various hiking books, ranging from 'Leisurely' to 'Serious'. His latest is a revised edition of The Heritage Hiker's Guide to Hong Kong but it doesn't address the flaws of the original, released as recently as 2010. That book kept the trekking fascination firmly in mind, but relocated the proceedings to the city - towards Hong Kong's sense of heritage and history.

Released at the tail-end of 2010, The Heritage Hiker's Guide to Hong Kong was unlike anything available on our city's 'local interest' bookshelves. It offered various 'hikes' throughout the city - in truth, detailed walks that led you from heritage site to heritage site, where journalistic write-ups briefly described the relevance of each location. Unfortunately, for all the content's worth, it was held back by a confusing sense of design: a slapdash mishmash of old and new photos on earthy page tones made it hard to follow passages, while those readers without a precise understanding of city districts were often left confused. 'Is the Pinewood Battery in the Peak? Bowen to Barker? Or Pok Fu Lam? Never mind, I'll check the back index - wait, there isn't one.'

Despite the design issues, for those interested in a first-hand look at our city's many historic and often hidden sights, the book became a well-thumbed bible - which makes this 'revised and updated' version, released just a year-and-a-half after the initial publication, all the more strange.

With a new cover, a few minor rewrites and little else, this is far from a Lonely Planet-scale revision. Spurrier and FormAsia have focused their updating efforts on the few places that both the government and property developers have deemed unworthy of saving in the past 18 months. It's all well and good to tell us that the '60s-era Po Shan Road house where part of Lust, Caution was filmed, is now demolished, it's also the kind of risk one takes when you write a Hong Kong guidebook - especially considering we're now living in an age when heritage and conservationism matter more to Hongkongers than ever.

The most disappointing aspect is the missed opportunity: here was a chance to redo the design scheme - to add an index, change the font to something less tired and reinvigorate the quality writing with equally impressive layouts. FormAsia has an enormous database of classic images; why sully them with poor graphics and cliched stock photos?

Instead, we have a second edition that isn't far from the first - a heritage guide that is unnecessarily updated, and with no initial flaws fixed. For new city trekkers, The Heritage Hiker's Guide to Hong Kong is as enthralling as it was back in 2010, but returning readers will be confused. Casual fans will be hard-pressed to find any changes, while those with a keen interest in additional city walks - such as this reviewer - are left looking elsewhere.