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Hidden Hong Kong: 7 traditional New Territories villages to explore

By Ngai Yeung 18 August 2020

Header image courtesy of @chacobaobao (Instagram)

It may be hard to picture Hong Kong without its signature skyline and high-rise apartments, but even this bustling metropolis was once a barren lump of land. Before the British arrived, the first indigenous settlers of Hong Kong built and lived in walled villages that sheltered them from pirates, bandits, and wild beasts. The tight-knit villagers were immigrants from southern China and often hailed from the same clan, having moved to Hong Kong centuries ago.

Unfortunately—but perhaps inevitably—these historical communities have since dwindled greatly, destroyed to make way for the city’s rapid urbanisation. Only a handful remain today. Seize the chance to look past Hong Kong as we know it and gaze into the far past by visiting the greatest remaining villages in the New Territories today.

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Photo credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board
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Sam Tung Uk Museum

Before you head off into the great unknown of the New Territories, check out the Sam Tung Uk Museum in Tsuen Wan for fuller historical immersion. Built in the 1700s and aptly repurposed to serve as a museum, you’ll get a chance to experience the rural life of settlers before the arrival of the British at this Hakka walled village. Walking through its walls, you can almost imagine yourself in another era as you roam around the well-preserved original houses and fiddle with the everyday objects the villagers used in this highly interactive exhibition.

Sam Tung Uk Museum, 2 Kwu Uk Lane, Tsuen Wan | (+852) 2411 2001

How to get there
  1. Take the Tsuen Wan line to Tsuen Wan Station (Exit B3).
  2. Walk along Sai Lau Kok Road for three minutes before taking a turn at Kwu Uk Lane.

Note: Sam Tung Uk Museum may be temporarily closed because of COVID-19. Please check their opening times.

Photo credit: Peter Lam Photography
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Kat Hing Wai

Hong Kong’s most renowned traditional village is probably Kat Hing Wai in Kam Tin, just a short drive away from the bustling Yuen Long neighbourhood. Established during the Ming dynasty, the ancient landmark has served as the Tang clan’s family stronghold for more than 500 years, and now, you too can visit it.

The walled-off enclave has a single entrance, where visitors make a $3 donation before passing through its front gates. Even though its original stone houses have since been replaced by modern buildings like most other villages, the ancestral shrine with all its intricate engravings is a rugged beauty to behold. Haven’t had your fill of anachronism? Both Tai Hong Wai village and the Wing Lung Wai village are just minutes away.

How to get there
  1. Take the West Rail line to Kam Sheung Road Station (Exit A).
  2. Cross Kam Po Road on a small bridge to a lane and walk forward until you read Kam Sheung Road.
  3. Cross over to the next road, Kam Tin Road.
Yi Tai Study Hall. Photo credit: Jujie Zheng
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Shui Tau Tsuen

On the other side of Kam Tin is another Tang family stronghold, known for its cluster of historical buildings with ornate carvings. Keep an eye out for the dragons, carps, and other mythical creatures that line the rooftops and see if you can piece together the stories they tell.

On the way to the village, you’ll pass by the Yi Tai Study Hall, but don’t be deceived by its unassuming white exterior—the former village school used to host prominent scholars from around the region. Inside the village is the Tang Kwong U Ancestral Hall, a declared monument and an archetypal piece of Qing architecture complete with a central courtyard. When you’re done wandering through Shui Tau Tsuen, check out the nearby Shui Mei Tsuen to see the legendary Kam Tin Treehouse.

How to get there
  1. Take the West Rail line to Kam Sheung Road Station (Exit A).
  2. Walk along Kam Ho Road until you reach the roundabout where Kam Tin Road is.
  3. Follow the signs to Shui Tau Tsuen and go through the pedestrian tunnel below the Kam Tin Bypass.
  4. Cross over the river to Chi Ho Road, then go over the small bridge above a stream.
  5. Turn right and then left to enter the village—you’ll pass by the Yi Tai Study Hall right before you enter.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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Fanling Wai

Up at the northern tip of Hong Kong is the Pang clan fortress Fanling Wai, a group of stout, blocky houses that form the backdrop to its tranquil pond. The Pang clan moved to this area in the 1100s and set up the village some four centuries later during the Ming dynasty. At one point, the pond at the entrance of the village was filled with fish to pacify a phoenix; other defensive measures that remain today include watchtowers and a trio of cannons that double as a popular photo spot.

How to get there
  1. Take the East Rail line to Fanling Station (Exit C).
  2. Walk along San Wan Road and turn right at Fanling Way.
  3. Walk along Fanling Way until you see a pond—that’s the Fanling Wai pond.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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Tsang Tai Uk

The Chinese are a practical lot, and it shows in names like Tsang Tai Uk (曾大屋), which literally means “Tsang’s Big House” in Cantonese. You guessed it—this Hakka village is a property of the Tsang clan, though having been built in the 1800s means it’s relatively new compared to all the other ancient giants on this list.

Tsang Tai Uk was fortunately spared during Sha Tin’s massive new town revamp, and even today, you can still see the original construction materials of brick, timber, and granite in the walls. Prince Charles himself paid a visit in 1979 to have a nosey around, having studied archaeology and history at Cambridge; follow in his footsteps and tour Tsang Tai Uk’s antiquated courtyards and ancestral halls.

How to get there
  1. Take the Tuen Ma line to Che Kung Temple Station (Exit F).
  2. Head towards Che Kung Miu Road and cross over to the Tsang Tai Uk Playground the via the underpass.
  3. Cut through the playground to reach Tsang Tai Uk on the other end.
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Lai Chi Wo

This Hakka village in Sha Tau Kok is a bit harder to get to, but its rich natural habitat and pristine houses are well worth the day trip. The 300-year-old community is ensconced in the Plover Cove Country Park, replete with rare geological formations, plant, and animal species such as the elusive Chinese pangolin.

Saunter along the smooth Lai Chi Wo Nature Trail to soak in the undisturbed natural beauty. You’ll arrive at the protective feng shui forest that surrounds all 200 houses of the village—quite a substantial settlement in its heyday. Although barely anyone still lives here nowadays, remember to be respectful as you explore the stone mills, wells, and monasteries left behind by the villagers.

How to get there
  1. Take the East Rail line to University Station (Exit B).
  2. Walk along Chak Cheung Street for 15 minutes to reach Ma Liu Shui Landing Steps No. 3.
  3. Board the ferry to Kat O and Ap Chau (a two-hour journey).

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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Sheung Shui Wai

Another larger site to explore, Sheung Shui Wai actually consists of not just one, not two, but nine traditional villages. They were established by the Liu clan—one of the five great clans of the New Territories—who arrived in Hong Kong during the Yuan dynasty. Their first village, Wai Loi Tsuen, wasn’t built until the 1500s, and it is also one of the few existing villages that preserved its original moat over the centuries.

As you thread your way through the string of connected villages, you’ll run into ancient wells, ancestral halls, and even chess tables and stone daises from bygone eras. A contrasting sight from a more recent era would be the colonial-style Old Sheung Shui Police Station in Po Sheung Tsuen, setting up Sheung Shui Wai as a representation of Hong Kong’s hybrid past.

How to get there
  1. Take the East Rail line to Sheung Shui Station (Exit A3).
  2. Walk along San Fung Avenue until you almost reach the end.
  3. Turn left to Po Shek Wu Road, cross the roundabout using the subway.
  4. Emerge where there’s a Seventh Day Adventist Church.
  5. Walk straight along the path until the end.
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Ngai was born and raised in Hong Kong and is currently studying at university in the United States. You can find her wandering around the city, experimenting with egg recipes and nerding out about the news.

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