Header image courtesy of @sarahkaman90s (via Instagram)
If your ideal weekend looks like a mix of historical exploration and adventuring through nature, then Lam Tsuen is exactly the spot for your days off. Famed for its resident Wishing Tree that urbanites flock to during Lunar New Year, the locale is more so a collection of 23 villages along the Lam Tsuen Valley rather than a singular tsuen (村; village) commune.
Consisting of five indigenous Punti (本地) villages and 18 Hakka (客家) villages, this geographic union is laden with heritage. A serene yet populated area, there is an estimated over 17,000 residents around the neighbourhood. Nearby lies the Lam Tsuen River, which tapers off into the gorgeous Tai Po Hoi, otherwise known as Tolo Harbour. West of the river, greenery is also plentiful and easily within reach, making for a great chance to get active whilst admiring the work of mother nature.
An annual lunar new year tradition, keen wish-makers flood to this lone-standing banyan tree prosperity, health, happiness, and good luck for the new year. The ritual requires people to write down their names, birth date, and a prayer for what they wish to achieve or acquire on a colourful piece of joss paper called bao die (寶牒, bou2 dip6) fixed to a single orange, which is then tossed towards the branches in the hopes of getting caught amongst the leaves. Sadly, bao dies that drop off represent unfulfilled wishes.
There are many different legends swirling around, adding to the intriguing mysticism of the attraction. Some say that the original worshippers first opened their eyes to the magic of the joss-paper throwing ceremonials when a Tanka woman with a serious illness miraculously cured herself by following the instructions of a deity who came to her in dreams, whilst another legend recounts a man who prayed his way to his son achieving good grades after a lifetime of academic failure. No matter the origin story, this charming tradition still has a strong foothold on ardent devotees.
A living piece of Hong Kong’s heritage, the yearly Well-Wishing Festival is held during the first weeks of the first month in the lunar calendar. The busiest time of the year around the Lam Tsuen cluster, the festivities see plenty of bao die throwing, lotus lanterns, lion dances, as well as food and game stalls used to attract more visitors. The lesser-known Lam Tsuen Da Jiu Festival is also celebrated here once every decade. Lasting for five days and six nights, villagers pray and make offerings to Taoist deities to bestow peace and harmony in their neighbourhood.
No matter the time of year you choose to visit this bustling location, you will find splashes of bright red and orange everywhere. This is due to the preservation efforts and risk-minimizing that have been set as official measures.
After some unfortunate incidents through the years—a purported fire resulting from an overflow of lit candles, heavy branches falling over, and deteriorating tree health—the original two-hundred-year-old banyan has been retired and replaced by a plastic imitation tree. Alternatively, you may also hang your bao die onto the wooden rack that has been set-up nearby to avoid risking another bump on the head.
Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees, Lam Tsuen Heung Kung Sho Road, Lam Tsuen | (+852) 2638 3678
There are quite a few temples around Hong Kong that have been built in honour of Tin Hau, goddess of the sea, this one dating back to the Qing dynasty over three hundred years ago during Emperor Qianlong’s reign. Sectioned off into a two-part main hall, one side is dedicated to its eponymous goddess, while the other stands in honour of the Chinese gods of literature, Man Cheong (文昌), and war, Mo Tai (武帝).
Just opposite the Tin Hau Temple lies the Temple of Justice established in honour of 12 valiant soldiers who fought to protect Lam Tsuen village during a more tumultuous era. In 1981, the construction was officially classed as a Grade II historical building, then later on upgraded to a Grade III historical building in 2010.
Tin Hau Temple, DD 6, Lot No. 43–44, 39 Ting Kok Road, Tai Po Market | (+852) 2665 2784
On the south end of Lam Tsuen you will find Ng Tung Chai, a valley that leads up towards Tai Mo Shan Country Park, with woodlands and the famed Ng Tung Chai four tiered waterfalls along the way to the peak. Located at the start of that path is an old stone carved gate which opens up to a small estate that houses Man Tak Temple.
In blooming season, cherry blossoms explode in colour across the front of the entrance. Russet tiles curve out over tiny circular pavilions providing a roof over statues of Taoist icons, sacred texts are gathered in a modest tripitakan library, whilst joss sticks sit in brass tureens all around. Take your time and meander about the stairs that join together the five main buildings, but be reminded to stay respectful as it is still a place of worship.
Man Tak Yuen, 46 Ng Tung Chai Road, Lam Tsuen | (+852) 2656 8040
A cycling trail that is mostly flat land, with mostly empty neighbouring bike lanes must sound too good to be true, but that is exactly what the Lam Tsuen riverside is like. Ride along the ten-kilometre lengthways without your focus being snapped away from your flow of pedalling by hordes of bell-clinking racers or constant stopping to make way for big families tugging along their little ones on training wheels. Pass by Kwong Fuk Bridge, built in the mock ancient architectural style of emerald tiled roofing over red beams. Sunset and sunrise are our recommended hours.
Spread across almost 150 hectares (148 to be precise) of land across northern mountainous peaks to encompass a running stream wedged between deep-set valleys, forests, themed gardens, vegetable plots, and hiking trails, this conservation facility is the crown jewel of Hong Kong’s botanic offerings. Working together to form the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association in 1951, the Kadoorie brothers, Norman Wright, and Woo Ting Sang had planted the first seeds of a highly ambitious project which laid the foundations for the farm that we know today.
It has been said that the conception of the site was inspired by Sir Horace Kadoorie’s discovery of a single-standing tangerine tree on the higher slopes of Tai Mo Shan, disproving the common belief that it was impossible for citrus to grow in such conditions. First established during post-war times as a social initiative to “help people help themselves,” the aim was to help hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese civil war refugees to get back on their feet. Agricultural inputs were offered alongside training in managing livestock and crop production.
In 1995, the government passed an ordinance that transformed Kadoorie Farm into a centre of conservation and education. Emphasizing a holistic experience that allows visitors to integrate sustainability into their daily practice, there are many resources around each attraction as well as frequent educational tours and events. Get close—but not too close—to some critters by checking out the various animal exhibits that feature everything from adorable monkeys to shelled crawlies, alongside Pui Pui the crocodile, who is a bit of a celebrity around these ends. Walk along a trail of your choice, and take a pitstop at one of the many beautiful pavilions. There is so much to explore along the way! Please remember to be respectful of your surroundings, taking only photos, and leaving only footsteps.
Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden, Lam Kam Road, Tai Po | (+852) 2483 7200
Reaching up to 550 metres above sea level in height, north of Tai Mo Shan, lies Kwun Yam Shan. A particularly steep hill, it rewards hikers with stunning views of the New Territories which stretch out to show the fringes of Shenzhen and Shekou. This upwards-winding, nine-kilometre-long trail used to be frequented by farmers centuries ago, who flocked to seek blessings and pray for bountiful harvests from Kwun Yum (觀音, gun1 jam1), the Chinese goddess of mercy and compassion, as represented by the statue at the tiny terrace on the summit.
During colder months, tiny cracks in the mountain outlets named Hot Pots can be seen releasing steam, condensing into swirling “dragon’s breath” with its visibility being measured and represented by the aptly named Dragon’s Breath Index. Do be warned, this is a rather physically intensive hike that is suited to more advanced hikers.
Though not as well known or popular amongst touring visitors as its counterparts in the district, it is the first nunnery and one of the oldest temples to have opened in Hong Kong. This secluded temple was built during the Ming dynasty by Tang Hung-yee of Kam Tin, the son of a prominent family in the area, as a place for his mother to practice Buddhism.
Several constructions were made in 1911 by a mage named Miao Tsan, who was responsible for the temple gates, surrounding walls, worship hall, and bell tower. The lily pond out front was the final piece de resistance, which was finished in 1924. Find your inner peace and enjoy the sweet calm that has filled the air for centuries.
Ling Wan Monastery, Kwan Yam Shan, Pat Heung | (+853) 2488 5423
An outdoor paradise for the tots, this campground is filled with fun activities for kids of all varieties for them to exert their pent-up energy. From rope courses to plant pressed arts and crafts, little urbanites can fully experience the joy of treehouses and open spaces. Team building exercises are also offered, helping eager children to become acquainted with physical activity whilst forging new friendships. Though the stacked beams of the big treehouse reach up to nine-metres, rest assured that the safety of these structures is doubly ensured with the watchful eyes of expert coaches.
Tree Top Cottage, 26A2/26A, 2 San Tong Ha Village, Lam Tsuen | (+852) 2658 2618
A section of the Razor Hill Ridge hike that runs all the way towards Fanling, this mountain features a ten-kilometre path that presents you with amazing views of Kai Kung Leung, Pat Sin Leng, and Ma On Shan. Nicknamed the “Dragon’s Back of New Territories,” observe how the bouldering shapes roll off into the tail of a grand mystical creature. Follow along the undulated contours of the hill, as the trail forms a “knife blade” shape that gradually becomes narrow along rock-lined ridges. It is a moderately challenging journey that peaks at 556 metres and finishes a few hours later at Fanling.
For a full guide on how to navigate Razor’s Edge Ridge, click here.
An eye-catching sight in the midst of pastoral Lam Tsuen, the bright purple walls of An Coffee is an underrated spot to spruce up your next Instagram story. A pet-friendly café that offers up refreshing floral iced tonics that are as delicious as they are cute to look at. Delight in a slice of matcha burnt cheese cake ($28) or black sesame mousse cotton cake ($28) with a cup of steaming hot blood orange fruit tea ($48).
An Coffee (安•珈琲), 41A Hang Ha Po, Lam Tsuen
A little nature-themed coffee house and restaurant shrouded amongst green shrubbery and shadowy trees, you will find Forest Café through a small opening off the side of the main road. Sip on a pour-over filter coffee ($44) while soaking in the Little House on the Prairie vibes. Decorated with a variety of knick-knacks, with a shelf full of vintage cameras, the adorable décor makes for a great backdrop for Instagram snaps as well. Enjoy their speciality burgers (starting from $70) and salads, or go for a slice of lychee and mango cheesecake ($35) to complement your rich coffee.
Forest Café (森林), DD19 Lam Kam Road, Tai Po | (+852) 9869 0173
An old-school, no frills stall stocked with classic Chinese snacks for a quick refuel nearby the wishing tree. You will find a variety of authentic Hakka pastries, tanghulu (a northern Chinese snack of skewered candied hawthorns), and tofu pudding. Strut down and cross Lam Tsuen Hung Kung Sho Road, and you will find a pair of yellow parasols stamped with an iced lemon tea logo where their friendly owner will warmly greet you.
For an authentic taste of Hakka cuisine, look no further than the treasure trove that awaits you in this eatery that is only a couple of steps away from the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree. Known for its umami saltiness, thick sauces, and high protein meats, Hakkanese food may have a rather unspectacular presentation but will warm up your belly in the most satisfying way. Ask for a steaming dish of Hakka salted chicken rice ($37) to get all the full flavours! The must-try item that is raved about by travellers and locals alike is the homemade silky sweet tofu pudding ($15), the perfect way to send off your wishes on a sweet note.
Wish House Hakka Chinese Restaurant (許願樓客家菜館), 20 Lam Tsuen Ham Kung Sho Road | (+852) 2668 1928
A secret oasis with up to two hundred open-air seats, this garden terrace is a pet-friendly and photo-friendly restaurant filled full of great vibes. From the makeshift bamboo pavilion adorned with faux cherry blossoms to the mini iron wrought bridge over a miniature pond, there are a plethora of scenes for you to stage some weekend snaps in front of.
Never would you think of encountering baked Alaska ($168) and roasted Angust tenderloin with goose liver ($390) in the depths of Sam Tsuen’s villages, but Lotus Courtyard Restaurant gives you just that. Prepared to be blown away by indulging in their classy range of prototypical Western cooking—simple but done right—amongst the chilled-out air of the neighbourhood.
Lotus Courtyard Restaurant, G/F, 43 Fong Ma Po, Lam Tsuen Valley | (+852) 2653 1313
Those who are seeking a heartier boost can head to this humble half alfresco restaurant that features a menu of satiating cha chaan teng fare like soup noodles with satay beef ($45), tack on a can of refreshing cola for an additional two dollars and you have your afternoon tea-time sorted. What the place is known for, however, is their open grill option. Grab plates of M5 Wagyu beef, pork chops, as well as chicken wings, and tuck into some juicy sizzling bites.
Niu Ji Dim Sum Restaurant, 6 Heung Kung Sho Road | (+852) 9196 9998
Though Lam Tsuen doesn’t exactly fit into the picture of Hong Kong as a shopper’s paradise, the one thing that you will find plenty of here is fresh flowers. Aside from vegetable farms and herb gardens, there are plenty of plots of lands dedicated to gorgeous flora all around. A popular destination during Lunar New Year for magenta cherry blossom pots and purple orchids, in addition to crimson Christmas poinsettias. Scout for the next addition to your at-home oasis at the Biophilia glass house while walking through the display of delicate displays during festival periods. If you don’t want to commit to a new plant-baby, have a look at Botanic Union, a spot where many savvy Instagrammers like to have blooming photoshoots in front of an array of beautiful arrangements.
Botanic Union, 65 Ka Liu Ha, Lam Tsuen | (+852) 5222 3314
Biophilia, San Tong, Lam Kam Road, Lam Tsuen, Tai Po | (+852) 9088 6302