Header image courtesy of @bobbyccjojo (via Instagram)
Planning a day trip to Nam Sang Wai? If you have oftentimes found yourself desiring to revel in the quainter sides of Hong Kong, this 177-hectare wetland will hardly need an introduction.
Nam Sang Wai has been beloved amongst city dwellers looking for a breath of fresh air and a change of scenery. So accustomed to asphyxiating narrow roads and towering buildings, Nam Sang Wai and its vast, lowland features can seem out of place, but it is routinely the place to go for just that, and much more.
A day spent at the wetland just north of Yuen Long can look like many things, depending on which type of naturalist you are, making this the perfect family outing spot with an activity for every person. You could opt for the cycling route or bring a pair of binoculars to begin your vocation as a bird-watcher. With so much to do, here’s the Localiiz field guide to brush up on ahead of your expedition to Nam Sang Wai.
Both Yuen Long and Nam Sang Wai were once native mangrove swamps, but the agricultural boom of the early twentieth century, wherein paddy fields and gei wai fishpond (基圍魚塘; gei1 wai4 jyu4 tong4) were farmed, led to the loss of the area’s biodiversity, eventually forming the large wetland it is now.
In more recent years, Nam Sang Wai has had a particularly tumultuous history plagued by hill fires and development disputes. An important stopover site for migrating birds, this wetland has great ecological value, but revenue-minded developers are racing to place property building before protection.
For this reason, conservationists and developers have long been in a battle over Nam Sang Wai, the former petitioning to keep it as a leisure space to be enjoyed by the public and the latter wanting to give way to golf courses, shopping complexes, and commercial fishing ponds.
Fights over Nam Sang Wai erupted in 2018 when four back-to-back fires broke out, raising suspicion that these fires were deliberately orchestrated to lower the ecological value of the conservation site. Beyond being one of Hong Kong’s wonders of nature, Nam Sang Wai and its surrounding regions are also the home of several indigenous villages and have therefore been a buffer territory. However, by 2018, residents were told to evacuate to make room for government public housing plans.
It’s clear that places like the wetland can be incredibly important. No doubt, it’s the reason that even in our vacation-deprived times, Hong Kong is still able to offer wanderlust that parallels international travel.
You can reach Nam Sang Wai by foot, bus, taxi, and even by bicycle, if you’re in the market for some exercise—there are a few different options on how to get there, depending on your preference. No matter which part of Hong Kong you are coming from, you will need to reach Yuen Long first, the closest major transportation hub.
Also known as Wedding Pier, this is Hong Kong’s last river-crossing ferry route. It’s hard to imagine a time when Hong Kong had no expansive transit system and relied heavily on these man-powered boats for travel. Crossing the minuscule Shan Pui River, the ferry ride takes only around five minutes, giving you just enough time to admire the scenic surroundings and snap a few photos. Make sure to bring enough exact change for the ride!
Nam Sang Wai is one of two Important Bird Areas (IBA) in Hong Kong, so to set your eyes on rare species of birds, there really is no better place to visit. Bird-watching may sound a little old-fashioned, but the need to connect with nature has never been more prevalent, especially as the survival of a number of species that reside at Nam Sang Wai, like the Dalmatian pelican, Chinese egret, spotted eagle, is under threat.
To start birding, bring along a pair of binoculars, your camera, and a field guide. It could also be useful to join a birding society to learn the ropes. Like most hobbies, it’s always better to share the fun with friends. WWF provides a handy guide to the type of birds you might encounter in Nam Sang Wai—check it out here.
As mentioned, the ecosystem of Nam Sang Wai is incredibly diverse. Not only is it home to birds, but our gilled friends, too. Its name refers to “gei wai,” the traditional fish farming method used in the 1940s.
You can visit Mr Fok’s Fishpond Education Kiosk to learn about how impactful fishing culture has been to Nam Sang Wai. He arranges volunteer efforts to teach visitors about fishpond ecology, after which you can browse the available exhibits and make use of the telescopes, which are free of charge for public use.
You’ll have to check the weather in advance, as the kiosk may sometimes be closed on less-than-sunny days, but when you get the chance, it’s definitely worth the visit to experience a side of Hong Kong rarely seen.
If you’ve noticed something of a matrimonial trend, it’s because Nam Sang Wai, with its golden grass fields and romantic landscapes, not only attracts a seasonal flock of birds each year, but has also become a bridal haven of sorts. Beyond Wedding Bridge, the wetland boasts of many other sceneries like the river red gum trees, which have also become a favoured spot for film and television shoots. Sure, if you’re missioning out to get away from all the screens and selfies, this may defeat the purpose but hey, you may spot the odd celebrity.
Nam Sang Wai has a large field where you can engage in all sorts of rambunctious activities, from flying kites and running around with your pets to setting up a tent and laying out a picnic spread. If you’re looking for a place to relax after walking through the length of the wetlands, this is the place to do it. Just remember to plan ahead and bring enough food and drinks, as there are no shops nearby to stock up on amenities.
Alternatively, you could fuel up at Nam Sang Wai Store or Sing Kei Store nearby—they offer local cha chaan teng fare for a quick and casual meal—before heading to ultimate relaxation in the heart of Nam Sang Wai.
You could explore Nam Sang Wai on foot, but one of the faster ways to get around the wetlands is actually by bike! Suitable for all levels, Nam Sang Wai is the perfect choice for a fun pedalling excursion, where you’ll get to whizz past picturesque landscapes and pastoral woodland paths.
Best of all, the trail is shaped like a loop and takes under two hours to complete, and you’ll get to pass through a corridor of river red gum, a species of trees that are famous for their scent. Rent a bike at either Happy Bicycle or Tin Fung Bicycle (天豐單車) to get started—the shopkeepers can point you in the right direction.