Need a break from the city? Without a single apartment block or gleaming office tower in sight, the valley of Kam Tin in the northern plains of the New Territories is worlds apart from the frantic city atmosphere that Hong Kong is known for. Diving deep into the most rural parts of the area, join us on a mysterious journey into the walled villages of Kam Tin.
With high brick walls and defence towers, the first indigenous settlers of Hong Kong built and lived in walled villages (known in Cantonese as wai chuen; 圍村) that protected them from roaming bandits, pirates, and wild animals. Within these walls, rural life moves at a decidedly slower and more relaxed pace, where densely-packed brick houses with narrow alleys are able to form tight-knit communities like no other.
While most of these settlements have disappeared as a result of rapid urbanisation and redevelopment, the handful of villages that still remain in Hong Kong are mostly scattered throughout the New Territories, with some still retaining their original architecture and traditions, whilst others have been subject to new development or are partially demolished.
In Kam Tin, there are three such villages in close proximity to each other, all built around the same time some five centuries ago. Well off the beaten path for casual tourists (and even local city dwellers), these are definitely worth a visit for a taste of Hong Kong’s colourful past.
Kat Hing Wai village is the most well-known and best-preserved walled settlement in the area. Home to around 400 descendants of the Tang clan, one of the original settlers of Hong Kong, the protective 18-inch thick walls have watchtowers on each corner and completely surround the village. There is a single entrance to the enclave, and the remains of a moat can still be seen. You can enter by making a $3 donation to the village fund at the front gate.
Inside, the main path leads directly to the village ancestral shrine, with narrow alleys branching off to further parts of the village. Many of the old stone buildings have been replaced by more modern structures, such as multi-storey houses with balconies and rooftop terraces. Some parts of the surrounding wall have also been built over with housing extensions.
About a five-minute walk from Kat Hing Wai, the village of Tai Hong Wai is another walled settlement that was built around the same time. Except for the front entrance façade, which has been rebuilt and updated, there is no indication of an outer wall or towers. The walls have presumably been replaced with an outer row of buildings, so if it wasn’t for the front gate, you probably wouldn’t even know this was a walled village.
Inside, you will find a handful of remaining brickwork from the village’s original houses, while most others have already been replaced by newer buildings. Some have even been abandoned and are in very dilapidated condition.
Wing Lung Wai village is the smallest of the three walled villages in the area and hides in plain sight on Kam Tin Road. It’s very easy to miss the main entrance gate as it is recessed in the back of a mundane parking lot and flanked by modern-looking buildings. There is a sign in front stating that the village is for residents only, but if you are discrete and respectful of the villagers’ privacy, you can probably sneak in for a few quick photos.
Also founded by the Tang clansmen, this village seems to be the most liveable out of the three Kam Tin settlements, as most of the old brick houses have been replaced by updated ones. Open courtyards and wider lanes also contribute to a less claustrophobic feel, and everything seems neat and tidy with few signs of neglect.
If you'd like to venture out to Kam Tin and see these walled villages yourself, then click here to follow a simple map where each village location is indicated, as well as other restaurants and facilities in the area.