Header image courtesy of @kylauf (via Instagram)
Other than hiking, there is perhaps nothing that Hongkongers love more than nostalgic or historical things—so why not combine them on a hike that treks past a monument or two? From war relics to ancient Chinese villages and ornate mansions, here are our favourite historic monuments that you can spot on various hikes around Hong Kong.
From the dozens of centuries-old traditional Hakka villages in the New Territories, Lai Chi Wo is perhaps our favourite to visit, thanks to its pristine natural surroundings and well-kept structures. Though it is largely uninhabited these days, Lai Chi Wo’s 200-odd houses, mills, and monasteries are still intact—which is rather impressive, considering the village has been around since the seventeenth century.
Encircled by a feng shui forest that acts as a protective physical barrier against natural disasters, Lai Chi Wo is also home to incredible biodiversity—including the ever-elusive Chinese pangolin—and some of Hong Kong’s most impressive mangrove stands. To get there, you can catch a ferry from Ma Liu Shui or hike from Wu Kau Tang, with a stop at Double Haven along the way.
Residents living in Mid-Levels will know the Bowen Road Fitness Trail like the back of their hand; the flat, largely shaded hike is favoured by joggers, dog-walkers, and families alike. In recent months, a few crafty folks have even hidden adorable “fairy doors” along the trail for children to discover, adding to its family-friendly factor.
However, what you may not know is that a stunning historical mansion can be found just a short walk away from where the Bowen Road Fitness Trail ends on Stubbs Road—just continue uphill and look for the driveway marked by a green-roofed gate, situated opposite Bradbury School.
With its red bricks and resplendent green-tiled roof, King Yin Lei looks like it could have come out of an imperial period drama, but it was actually built in 1937—and designed by a non-Chinese architect, no less! The stately compound comprises a grand three-storey courtyard house, annexe, car park, pavilion, swimming pool, and more. The residence—which marries traditional Chinese architectural aesthetics with Western methods, materials, and structure—is considered to be a prime example of Chinese renaissance architecture.
Formerly a private property, King Yin Lei was declared an official monument by the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) in 2008 after a planned demolition was halted due to public outcry. Access is restricted most of the year, but the government does hold free open days at the house annually, so keep an eye out for those dates if you want to explore the palatial grounds and snap a picture in the pink-tiled bathroom!
If you were impressed by the centuries-old Hakka villages, your mind will be blown when you discover Hong Kong’s ancient rock carvings, some of which are estimated to be over 3,000 years old. The mysterious geometric and curved squiggles have been theorised to represent a variety of beasts, both real and mythological, and the carvings’ positioning by the sea have led historians to posit that they were made by our ancient predecessors to ward off rough seas and hope for safe journeys.
The rock carvings at Big Wave Bay, Tung Lung Chau, Cheung Chau, and Po Toi are all relatively easy to reach on a hike, and—wouldn’t you know it!—we have a full guide to these beauties right here.
Hong Kong’s history as a British colony is evident in many ways, from cultural signifiers like food and language to the tangible everyday reminders—three-pin plugs, street names, and wartime relics, to name a few. Apart from the artillery shells that seem to crop up every few years, the most evocative holdovers of Hong Kong’s wartime history are the physical bunkers, batteries, and tunnels left behind by the British.
Unlike the underground bunkers and tunnels, batteries are particularly favoured by hikers because their locations on hills and promontories—chosen strategically to spot enemies from a distance—are now prized for their expansive vistas. Some of the most commonly visited batteries include Pinewood Battery, Cape Collinson Battery, and Gough Battery, all of which can be accessed easily on foot.
If you do want to check out a tunnel or two, the Shing Mun War Relics Trail should prove to be more than satisfactory. Head into Shing Mun Country Park for the Gin Drinkers Line, 18 kilometres of trenches, pillboxes, bunkers, and underground tunnels built to defend Hong Kong against the Japanese army in the late 1930s.
To deter and confuse the Japanese, the British army gave the line’s entrances, passages, and exits names lifted straight from a map of London—i.e. Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly, and Shaftesbury Avenue—while the headquarters were dubbed Strand Palace Hotel. This attempt at obfuscation was not much help when the 30 Royal Scots soldiers stationed at the line were attacked and outnumbered by Japanese troops, with the fortification—which took two years to build—being surrendered in a mere two days.
Visitors are not officially allowed to enter the tunnel and war relics, but you can easily hike there from Shing Mun Reservoir as part of the Pineapple Dam trail. While much of it has fallen into disrepair, you can see a recreation of Gin Drinkers Lane as it was during the Second World War at the Shing Mun Country Park Visitor Centre.
While minerals and precious metals are no longer mined in Hong Kong, remnants of this formerly thriving industry still remain in Silvermine Bay, Lei Yue Mun, and Lin Ma Hang. Some locales, like Shek Tong Tsui (a.k.a. “Stone Pond Mouth”) and Quarry Bay, are barely recognisable as former mining towns, but the ruins of mines can still be discovered in Silvermine Bay, Lei Yue Mun, and Lin Ma Hang.
The most intact of all the aforementioned mines can be found in Lin Ma Hang, a village on the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The area, which was inaccessible to non-permit holders until 2016, features sprawling caves, abandoned surveillance points, and warning signs to remind you of its relatively recent history.
Given that the village’s population is largely comprised of elderly residents—and you know, we’re living in a pandemic—we do not advise passing through the village itself to check out the mines. There is a slightly more circuitous loop route that begins and ends at Robin’s Nest, which you can find the directions to here. To conserve your energy, we advise getting a cab to Robin’s Nest if you intend on hiking to the mines.
Prior to industrialisation, the processing of cloth, grain, and sugar was done by mills of various kinds—from flour mills like the one that gave Tseung Kwan O its original name to the textile mills that are now showcased in Tsuen Wan. Before Hong Kong’s first sugar refinery was built in modern-day Causeway Bay, Hongkongers had to press sugar cane stalks in stone mills to process them into cane sugar.
Two sugar cane mills can still be found on the Tai No (a.k.a. “Big Brain”) Ancient Trail, which runs from Ho Chung on the Sai Kung Peninsula to Wong Nai Tau in Sha Tin. The mills, which date back at least a hundred years, have long been covered in a layer of moss from disuse, but remain in surprisingly good nick.
In an age when everyday staples like sugar and flour are taken for granted, seeing tangible proof of the labour required to produce such commodities is a reminder of how much Hong Kong has changed in the last century or so. Click here to read more about Tai No Ancient Trail, or to discover other ancient trails in Hong Kong.