Header image courtesy of @photo.sam.ma.99 (via Instagram)
For those living in the buzzing urban centres of Hong Kong amid neon-lit skyscrapers and roaring traffic, it can be hard to imagine that the same city is home to a considerable number of desolate ghost villages stretched across rural pockets of the city and on outlying islands.
Once largely occupied by the Hakka clans who immigrated to Hong Kong during the early Qing dynasty, these historical hamlets started dwindling in population after Hong Kong’s industrial boom in the 1950s, when waves of rural inhabitants moved out to the city’s fast-growing urban hubs in search of higher-paying jobs and a metropolitan lifestyle. Slowly but surely, these remote settlements turned into ghost villages left empty and overgrown. If you are a die-hard history buff or are craving a spooky adventure, here are some of the most captivating ghost villages in Hong Kong to explore!
Nestled between Tsing Yi Island and Lantau Island, Ma Wan Village once boasted a thriving fishing community of thousands of settlers—that is until long-term tenants were evicted as recently as 2011 to make way for new luxury property development that never came to full fruition. Only vacated less than a decade ago, remnants of the quaint town, like stilt houses, an old school, and former seafood restaurants remain mostly intact. But don’t think this makes Ma Wan Village any less spooky than its more ancient counterparts—in fact, you would be startled by how the visible traces of life and modernity set against the backdrop of a deserted space evoke a profound sense of disorientation and uncanniness.
This relic-strewn island offers both fascinating glimpses into Hakka cultural heritage and a fair share of creepy uninhabited buildings for thrill-seeking explorers. Just 15 minutes offshore of Sai Kung Town, Yim Tin Tsai Village was first settled by the Hakka Chan clan in the eighteenth century and was inhabited by over a thousand villagers at its peak. Carving out a laid-back life, their primary means of livelihood were farming, fishing, and salt-making. This was what gave the island its Chinese name “Little Salt Farm” (鹽田仔).
After villagers evacuated the island in the 1990s and all was left abandoned, the village was on the brink of fizzling out of existence. Yet, by some stroke of luck, descendants of the original Hakka villagers decided to revitalise parts of the island in recent years. Long-forgotten buildings were suddenly brought to life, including the former primary school-turned-heritage exhibition centre now standing adjacent to the Grade III-listed St Joseph Chapel. At the same time, a slew of dilapidated old residences remains untouched to serve a stark and surreal reminder of the village’s colourful past.
Save a few remaining elderly residents and old villagers who stop by the local temple to pray for and worship their ancestors on special occasions, this cluster of Hakka dwellings tucked away in the northeastern border of the New Territories has been largely forsaken and left to go to rack and ruin since the 1960s when the change in UK immigration policy prompted indigenous inhabitants to move abroad. However, as eerie as the battered, unkempt buildings and quiet surroundings might be, this sequestered village is also hauntingly beautiful. Juxtaposed against idyllic green lawns, serene patty fields, and clear fishponds, Luk Keng Chan Uk makes for an alluring getaway that’s scenically stunning and just unsettling enough to keep you on your toes.
Countless spine-chilling legends and gruesome tales have arisen from this derelict village that lurks within the lush, thick forest of Plover Cove Country Park. It's widely rumoured that compasses are unreliable in the area—thus explaining the name of the village, which literally means “locked compass” in Chinese. As to the village’s sudden abandonment, some claim that during the dark period of the Japanese occupation, a massacre was conducted that killed all the villagers in one single night, while others say that it was the outbreak of an epidemic that abruptly transformed So Lo Pun into a ghost village. Regardless of whether these stories have any accuracy to them—one thing for certain is that this place is not for the faint of heart. With moss-covered stone walls, broken windows, and rotting floor, this crumbling village looks the part of a haunted site taken straight out of horror movies. But if you’re brave enough to visit, you are in for a gripping adventure that takes you back to the bygone past. And if you’re lucky, you might just unravel some secrets of one of the city’s most elusive historical site.
Dating back to the mid-seventeenth century, Wong Chuk Yeung was once a living and breathing community built amid the serene mountain landscapes of the Sai Kung Peninsula and vast swathes of fresh green pastures. For over three centuries, inhabitants of this tranquil village thrived off agriculture. Unfortunately, when iron mines opened in the Ma On Shan Country Park in the 1950s, the land was no longer suitable for farming and inhabitants of this ill-fated village were forced to move out, leaving a hollowed-out ghost village in its wake. At present day, the strip of ramshackle stone houses that lie right along the stage four of MacLehose Trail is much frequented not by villagers but hiking enthusiasts and curious explorers. Not much of a hiker? No worries—Wong Chuk Yeung is one of the few abandoned villages that still have road access!
Over an hour’s walk away from Luk Keng minibus station, Kuk Po is a bit out of the way, but the enchanting historical and architectural character of its buildings make the trek worth it. Despite having been largely deserted for decades, you can still make out the pastel-coloured doors and vibrant red bricks accenting the square Hakka compounds. Another main attraction is the Kai Choi School which was erected in the village nearly a century ago. Showcasing European-style arches and elegant balcony balusters, the relic encapsulates an unparalleled sense of eerie beauty and old-timey grandiosity.