Linking the village of Yuen Long (元朗) and Tseun Wan (荃灣), the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail was once a major route for farmers from Yuen Long to bring out their produces to the market in Tseun Wan. Today, it is a pleasant hiking trail that leads visitors to enjoy the scenery of Tai Lam Country Park (大欖郊野公園), former villages such as Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘) and two of the city’s longest bridges: Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).
Our hike began from Tsuen Wan West Station and passed by Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital to reach the trailhead.
Soon the trail led us up the hill of Ha Fa Shan (下花山). The path was well paved with stones.
The narrow Rambler Channel (藍巴勒海峽) between the island of Tsing Yi (青衣) and Tsuen Wan (荃灣)/ Kwai Chung (葵涌).
Known as one of the world’s busiest port, Hong Kong’s container port is located right at the channel.
Further down the road the trail led us further west where we were treated with great views of Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋), two of the city’s most important bridges connecting the metropolis with its international airport.
Another highlight of the trail came as we arrived at the former village of Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘). The village used to be a 200-year old Hakka village of the Fu clan. Today, most villagers had moved to the new village at Sham Tseng (深井), about 45 minutes form their former home.
In 2002, a family of former villagers returned and set up a farm called Parent Farm (喜香農莊) at Tsing Fai Tong. Many hikers stopped at the farm to enjoy their seasonal flowers and beautiful lily pond.
We came at the perfect moment of the year to enjoy the waterlilies.
While hikers enjoyed the waterlilies, their pets got a chance to have some fun at the farm.
From Tsing Fai Tong, we chose to end our hike at Sham Tseng (深井) right in front of Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).
Under the shadow of the busy highway Tuen Mun Road, the village of Sham Tseng (深井) is a well known village in Hong Kong.
Other than its view of Tsing Ma Bridge, Sham Tseng (深井) has been famous for roast goose for decades.
We couldn’t resist but to end our day with the famous Sham Tseng roast goose for dinner.
The moat, blue brick defense wall and guard towers of the 500-year-old Kat Hing Wai Walled Village (吉慶圍) remind visitors that villagers in the New Territories were once living in the danger of rival clans, bandits and the most important of all, pirates. For self protection, many villages in the Ming and Qing Dynasties constructed defensive walls around their homes. Walled villages mushroomed in the New Territories, creating walled compounds for specific family clans. In the 20th century, many villages demolished their walls or had them partially removed, while most houses have been replaced with modern homes. With a relatively well preserved moat and wall, Kat Hing Wai is actually quite a rarity. Measured roughly 100m x 90m, Kat Hing Wai is one of the better preserved walled villages in Hong Kong. Built during the era of Ming Cheunghua Emperor (1464 – 1487) with the 5m defensive wall constructed in the 17th century, Kat Hing Wai was a close knitted community of the Tang clan.
Outside Kat Hing Wai Walled Village, a small part of the original moat has been preserved.
For security reason, only a small opening serves as the entrance for the walled village.
Most houses in the walled village have been replaced by modern houses.
The central lane leads to the temple hall.
There were a wooden desk and a religious altar in the temple hall.
The altar table contained a built-in incense container.
Antique ritual tools could be found on the altar table.
The temple hall opens directly towards the only entrance of the walled village.
We didn’t see anyone during our brief visit of the walled village.
Almost all buildings have been replaced by modern buildings. The original character of the walled village has been somewhat diminished in the modern era.
Some older houses still had traditional banners on their outer walls. These banners usually advocate good fortune for the entire family.
“Kar”, the Chinese character for family, illustrates the importance of family bonding in a traditional walled village.
When looked closely, traditional touches could still be seen at certain houses in Kat Hing Wai.
In the past, the four cannon towers were the tallest structures in the village.
Today, the defensive structures of the walled village have been undermined by modern buildings. Even the well known Kat Hing Wai Walled Village has no exception. This is the harsh reality of contemporary Hong Kong.
One thing truly amazing about Hong Kong is the proximity of untouched nature from its bustling commercial downtown and the ease of access by means of public transportation. At the northeast of Hong Kong, the lush green hills, turquoise water and sandy beaches of Sai Kung is popular for hikers, beachgoers, bikers, kayakers, and all kinds of nature lovers. The tallest of the three steepest peaks in Sai Kung, Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖, literally translates to Python Snake Peak in Chinese) is often considered the Holy Grail for hikers in Hong Kong. At 468m, Sharp Peak is not the highest peak in the city, but its steep slopes, prominent existence in the area, and the fantastic views of East Sai Kung’s subtropical coastline from the peak makes it a unique hiking destination. During weekends, the area can get a little crowded, including the trail that heads up the Sharp Peak. Though the scenic views from the peak and the reward of chilling out on the pristine beaches below make all the efforts of scrambling up the steep rocky slope of Sharp Peak among groups after groups of fellow hikers more than worthwhile.
Bus 94 from Sai Kung City to Wong Shek Pier dropped us off at the trailhead at Pak Tam Au (北潭凹).
After about an hour on the MacLehose Trail, we passed by the tranquil village of Chek Keng (赤徑) and deviated from the main trail at Tai Long Au (大浪坳), we reached the small trail heading towards Nam She Au (蚺蛇坳), where the ascend of the Sharp Peak officially began. A few signs were erected between Tai Long Au and Nam She Au to warn against anyone who wished to reach the summit of Sharp Peak due to the treacherous conditions of the mountain trail.
Along the way we could see traces of rain erosion due to recent downpours.
Soon we were on our way walking up the first steep section of the ascend.
The trail was exposed with hardly any shade. Despite its difficulty and relatively remoteness, the trail up the Sharp Peak was far from peaceful because of the crowds.
It was exciting to see that the summit was get closer.
Looking back down the route we came up, views of the beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) were quite amazing despite the haze.
There were several sections of the trail that we needed to scramble up the slope using our hands.
After about two and a half hours from the trailhead, we finally reached the summit of the Sharp Peak. The small summit area was filled with hikers of all sort.
From the summit of Sharp Peak, the view of Nam She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣) below, and the Peninsula of Ko Lau Wan Tsui (高流灣咀) and Grass Island (塔門) beyond was incredible despite the haze.
Looking east to the four beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) from left to right: Tung Wan (東灣), Tai Wan (大灣), Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), and Sai Wan (西灣).
Some hikers prefer to climb the north ridge of Sharp Peak from She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣). The north ridge is well known for its steepness, especially the last part of the trail where grabbing onto the metal ribbon was essential.
The descend down towards Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) is not a walk in the park either, especially when one is already tired from the ascend.
The route of Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) was slippery at parts due to loose gravel.
Tung Wan (東灣) appeared much closer when we reached Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂).
The summit of Sharp Peak already appeared like distant memory.
Ahead of us was Tung Wan Shan (東灣山), a saddle shape hill overlooking Tung Wan.
After about an hour of descend we were approaching the pristine beach of Tung Wan.
The four beaches of Tai Long Wan, literally means Big Wave Bay, are famous for their turquoise water and fine sand.
Due to its remoteness, there are no lifeguards and shower facilities at Tung Wan.
There were hardly anyone on the beach too except hikers.
Swimmers who make the effort to Tung Wan (by hiking or private yacht) may enjoy the beautiful water of South China Sea without the crowds commonly found in other beaches in Hong Kong.
The second beach Tai Wan (大灣) is the biggest of the four beaches.
Few more visitors showed up on Tai Wan (大灣).
At Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), we finally had a chance to sit down at a beach eatery and washed down a plate of fried rice with beer.
Lying lazily on the sand of Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) and looking back at the majestic Sharp Peak, it was hard to imagine that we were standing on the summit just a few hours prior.
Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) is the beach in Sai Kung that we visit the most. The beach is accessed via a narrow wooden bridge.
In the evening, we were too lazy to walk another hour over to Sai Wan for the village bus. We decided to jump onto a motor boat for an exciting but bumpy 45-minutes journey back to Sai Kung city.
Hong Kong has over 200 outlying islands, and only a handful are inhabited. North of Sai Kung Peninsula (西貢), at the intersection of Mirs Bay (大鵬灣) and Long Harbour (大灘海), the small Grass Island or Tap Mun (塔門) lies across the South Channel from Ko Lau Wan (高流灣) Village in northeast Sai Kung. At its peak, about 2000 inhabitants lived on the Grass Island. They were mainly farmers or fishermen. Today, only about 100 residents stay on the Grass Island, mainly as shopper or restaurant keepers to serve the influx of tourists during weekends and holiday, when the island would turn into a large camp ground for leisure seekers from all around the city. Simple seafood eateries, a ferry pier, a Tin Hau Temple, an abandoned school, unique rock formations, old village homes, and a few stores catered for weekend tourists, Grass Island is a getaway destination for anyone who is willing to venture this far out from the city.
From Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung, we took a local ferry out to the Long Harbour (赤徑海) heading towards Grass Island.
Other than a newer cluster of buildings built in 1964 with a charity aid from New Zealand, most village homes on the Grass Island are located near the pier.
Near the pier, we stopped by a simple eatery for lunch. The local squid is really fresh and delicious.
Sea urchin fried rice is a popular dish in many fishing villages in Hong Kong.
We also ordered the fresh catch-of-the-day: two small sea bream caught in the morning.
A few dragon boats were lying around a small waterfront area.
During Tuen Ng Festival, there would be a dragon boat race at the Grass Island.
A small trail off the main street of the Grass Island led us to a popular open area above the eastern shore of the island. The space is crowded with camping tents, kite-playing visitors and feral cattle.
The sloped open lawn seemed had endured heavy foot traffic throughout the years. The silhouette of the iconic Sharp Peak on the Sai Kung mainland provided the best backdrop for Grass Island. In a clear day, the water should have been blue and Sharp Peak lush green.
From the hilltop overlooking the open lawn, we followed a off the beaten trail that winded through dense woods for half an hour and eventually arrived at the rocky beach of Che Wan (車灣). This was probably the most difficult hike on the island. Our aim was to seek for a seaside rock called the Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋).
The Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋) is one of Grass Island most famous natural feature. It is frequented by hikers as well as visitors who come for fishing.
Back to the top of the lawn, we followed another footpath down the east coast of the island. Along the path, some visitors set up tents and picnic areas, some went for fishing at the rock beaches, some braved the cliffs for rock climbing, some continued to fly their kites on the windy slopes. The Grass Island is truly a small leisure paradise for all.
Another well known rock feature was the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石). Two similar stone cubes, one sitting on top of the other, resemble the Chinese character of the surname “Lui”.
Looking at the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石) from afar, it was hard to imagine how the stacking rocks were formed in the first place.
The entire day was cool and grey while we were on the Grass Island. The wind was a little strong, and so as the waves.
Ko Lau Wan(高流灣) at Sai Kung Peninsula seemed pretty close from the southern tip of the Grass Island. The sea was a little rough in between, in the 400m wide channel of Tap Mun Mouth (塔門口).
The utilitarian New Village of Tap Mun was erected in 1964 by a charity from New Zealand. The houses are still occupied today.
After the New Village, we were getting close to the pier again.
We could see the incoming ferry while on our way walking to the pier.
As we boarded the ferry, the sea and the fish farming areas seemed calm and relaxing.
After half a day on the small and remote Grass Island, it was time for us to return to Wong Shek Ferry Pier in Sai Kung.
On the northern slope of Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) at a place called Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) in the area of Lam Tsuen (林村), 148 hectare of organic farms, botanical gardens and mature forests terracing up to the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) reveal over half a century of efforts by the Kadoorie Farm (嘉道理農場). Established in 1956, Kadoorie Farm has always stood at the forefront of Hong Kong’s agriculture, experimenting on new techniques and providing agricultural aid to farmers in need of support. In 1951, the Kadoorie brothers (Horace and Lawrence) established the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA) in an attempt to help the sudden influx of Mainland farmers into Hong Kong during the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940’s. They picked Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) near Lam Tsuen (林村) to establish an agricultural facility engaging in experiments on profitable and effecting farming and animal breeding, and training the new farmers with their developed techniques. Today, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (嘉道理農場暨植物園) diversifies their effort to promote organic farming, sustainable living, nature conservation and education. They also run extensive rehabilitation program for wild animals in Hong Kong.
Linked by 9 km of roads and 8 km of trails, various highlights of the Kadoorie Farm spread over the slope of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山).
One of the big highlights at the lower section of Kadoorie Farm is the “Eco Garden” (生機園), exhibiting different types of self sufficient and compact farming in a community scale.
The garden presents natural and organic ways to maintain soil’s nutrients and insect control, and the best combination of vegetables for each season.
Other than its freshness and taste, the organic vegetables such as the purple cabbages are also beautiful.
Spherical bird scarers are hung over a cluster of rainbow chards in the Eco Garden.
A wavy fence separates the Eco Garden with the other terraced farms and botanic gardens.
Other than organic farming, more innovative planting techniques are also examined at the Eco Garden. Some farming techniques that requires less space or soil may suit urban living well.
At the Piers Jacobs Wildlife Sanctuary, native mammals such as a Barking Deer or Muntjac (麂) have been rescued as an orphan and raised in the sanctuary.
The wild boar is also another rescued orphan at the sanctuary. Both wild boars and barking deer can be found in the forests in and around Kadoorie Farm.
In the old days, pig breeding was an important work at the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA). Today a few Da Hua Bai Pigs (大花白豬) are kept at the farm for educational purposes.
Amphibians and reptiles are both vulnerable groups of wildlife in Hong Kong due to habitat loss. Kadoorie Farm has a few of the native species at the Amphibian and Reptile House and Reptile Garden.
Interesting pavilions and artworks are all over the farm, including a dragon boat pigeon house.
And also the fish mosaic at the Cascade Garden near the Chicken House.
As the farm terraces up the hillside of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), the view to the surrounding landscape becomes more spectacular.
The Butterfly Path winds up the hill through dense forests and open terraces, following part of an old trail which led the locals up the hill of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) for a religious blessing.
In order to preserve the natural feel, there is minimal modern safety infrastructure provided at the Butterfly Path.
9 km of roads circulate up and down the Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), going through some densely forested areas, the habitat for some native species in Hong Kong, such as the barking deer.
… and the wild boar.
At 550m above sea level, the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is the highest point in Kadoorie Farm. For centuries, farmers came up to the summit to seek blessings from the goddess of Kwun Yum.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) allows visitors to have fine view of the New Territories and even Shenzhen on a fine and clear day.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is at 1812 ft, or 550 m.
Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is sandwiched between Tai To Yan (大刀屻) to the north and Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) to the south.
Heading downhill, visitors can either take a shuttle bus or walk down a winding road.
Along the downhill road, sounds of monkeys can often be heard. Occasionally visitors may spot monkeys jumping from one tree to another.
Known as the “backyard” of Hong Kong, Nam Sang Wai (南生圍) is an area of tranquil wetlands north of Yuen Long (元朗). The “Wai” in “Nam Sang Wai” refers to “gei wai” (基圍), an old method mainly for shrimp culture introduced to Hong Kong in the 1940’s. Bounded by man made embankments, gei wai is a shallow pool in a mangrove wetland with 10 to 30 cm of water collected from the Deep Bay (后海灣). The shrimp farmer would use a water gate to control the amount of incoming water from Deep Bay. The sea water would also bring in juvenile fish and shrimps. The shrimps would then feed on the organic matters from the mangroves. Gei wai shrimps (基圍蝦), usually steamed, has became a local delicacy throughout the years. The gei wai method has been mostly phased out nowadays. The former gei wai pools and fish ponds of Nam Sang Wai have became a semi-manmade wetland where visitors enjoy the serene waterways, reed clusters and pockets of grasslands, and learn more the wetland ecosystem. It also offers a network of pleasant footpaths winding through waterways and pools, providing the perfect venue for an afternoon stroll, wedding photos, and even filming set for movies, TV shows and music videos.
The passenger boat at Shan Pui River (山貝河) is the last public passenger boat service in Hong Kong operated entirely by hand.
The first impression of Nam Sang Wai for most visitors is its overwhelming serenity of water networks.
The footpaths at Nam Sang Wai are lined with beautiful Red Gum Trees (赤桉樹).
Some old houses in Nam Sang Wai are abandoned, and are sometimes used for filming local movies.
The boardwalk by the old fish ponds are popular spots for photos.
The large lawn at Nam Sang Wai is equally popular for couples, families and pets to hang out.
Nam Sang Wai is a hotspot for both migrating birds and local waterfowls.
Beyond Shan Pui River (山貝河), the urban and industrial developments of Yuan Long seem like they may one day encroach into the wetland territories.
The peaceful water of Nam Sang Wai remains like a flawless mirror.
As a natural system to purify the surface runoff of the city, wetlands are essential in the entire water cycle of the city.
As villagers move out of the rural areas, some old stores and houses in Nam Sang Wai are gradually crumbling into ruins.
A handful of occupied houses remain in Nam Sang Wai.
Though most of them are in need of restoration.
Like pets in other rural areas of Hong Kong, the cats and dogs in Nam Sang Wai also lead peaceful lives.
A number of village homes built on stilts can be founded along Shan Pui River (山貝河).
Such serene and picturesque setting are great for photography and sketches.
After a long and relaxing stroll in Nam Sang Wai, the small man-powered boat at Nam Sang Wai Pier is always around to bring visitors back to the city’s side.
Ma Shi Chau (馬屎洲), which literally means “horse excrement island”, is a tidal island off a traditional fishing village Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) at the northeastern New Territories near Tai Po (大埔). Facing the Tolo Channel opposite from the dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖), Ma Shi Chau belongs to the UNESCO Geopark network in Hong Kong. The remote tidal island is famous for its unique rock formation and outcropped strata dated back to the Permian Period (280 million years ago).
Ma Shi Chau is accessible via Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡). A short hike on known as Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail will bring visitors to walk along the southeast coast of the island. Along the coastal areas, unique and colourful rock formations are visible everywhere. Millions of years ago, Ma Shi Chau was a basin in which surrounding waters continuously to deposit sediments such as sand and gravel. Over the years as water level changed and so as the kinds of sediments accumulated. Sedimentary rocks were formed after the process of lithification. Vaults and folds are also visible on Ma Shi Chau as tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities transformed the rock surface. Like many parts of Hong Kong, granite is also present at Ma Shi Chau as a result of magma intrusion during the Jurassic Period. Other than rocks, views of the Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) to the north, and the new town of Ma On Shan to the southeast across the Tolo Harbour (吐露港) are equally impressive.
Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) is a small fishing village inhabited mainly by former boat people (fishermen families who lived on their boats in typhoon shelter).
From Sam Mun Tsai, a short walk brought me up to a hill dotted with graves. On the high point, fish farming nets in the waters of Plover Cove.
The trail continued to wind through the ridge of a hill dotted with graves.
The trail then went downhill to the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡), a natural sand bar that originally would be submerged in water during during high tide. Over the years, villagers put boulders and sediments on the sand bar, so that it would be exposed above water even during high tide.
Today, the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is a convenient venue for a leisure stroll and water activities such as sea kayaking.
The Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is also the gateway to the Ma Shi Chau Special Area, part of the Hong Kong Geopark.
On Ma Shi Chau Island, there is a short trail called Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail (馬屎洲自然教育徑) bringing visitors to a number of coastal woods and rock beaches. Giant Golden Orb Weaver, one of the largest kinds of spiders in the world, are quite common in the woods. Some of these are about the size of a human palm.
Visitors are usually fascinated by the rock formations when arriving at the first open coastal area.
Vaults and folds are visible at Ma Shi Chau due to prehistoric tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities.
Many of the outcropped strata and rock formations are colourful and eye catching.
Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.
Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.
Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.
To the northeast of Ma Shi Chau across the Plover Cove (船灣海), the 2km dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖) is only a few hundred metres away.
To the southeast across Tolo Harbour (吐露港), the new residential developments below Ma On Shan (馬鞍山) look like a bunch of toy blocks.
Construction of the new town of Ma On Shan began in 1980s, including private residential developments and public housing estates.
Fishermen may still test their luck in the Tolo Harbour.
In late afternoon, Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) north of Ma Shi Chau looks gorgeous.
Under the shadow of Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺), the tiny island of Yeung Chau and the fish farms in the Plover Cove (船灣海) look like a peaceful picture.