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.
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.
At the northeast extent of the New Territories where Mainland China is just a stone throw away, vacant houses and abandoned farmlands reveal a forgotten past of the rural communities situate at what is now known as the Plover Cove Country Park (船灣郊野公園) and Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園). One of the largest villages in the area is Lai Chi Wo (荔枝窩), a famous Hakka village dated back to 400 years ago. At its peak, Lai Chi Wo had more than 200 houses and over a thousand inhabitants. As the city rapidly urbanized, most residents of Lai Chi Wo either moved to urban areas, or overseas. Today many houses in the village had been vacant for years. Behind the rusty gates, broken windows and crumbling walls, rotting furniture and old housewares lay on the dusty floor. Yet in recent year or two, some people from the city turned to farming. They move to Lai Chi Wo and re-cultivate some of the abandoned farmlands.
Despite situated far from the city at the northeast border of Hong Kong, we didn’t particularly start our hike early. By the time we reached Wu Kau Tang Village (烏蛟騰), it was already early afternoon. From Wu Kau Tang, there were a number of hiking trails heading into Plover Cove Country Park. We headed east to another village, Sam A Village (三椏村), right by the coast of Yan Chau Tong or Double Haven Marine Park. Like most villages in the area, Sam A has passed its prime long ago. Today, only a few villagers return to Sam A during weekends to run their restaurants and shops serving hikers and tourists. At Sam A, we stopped by Yuan Hing Restaurant (源興食店) for lunch. Only open in weekends, Yuan Hing serves good Hakka dishes and tofu dessert. The restaurant was fully packed, and a number of dishes were already sold out when we got there.
Along the way, we passed by stone beaches and mangrove groves of the Yan Chau Tong Marine Park. Famed for its tranquil scenery and interesting rock formations, the coastal landscape of Yan Chau Tong were created by a series of prehistoric volcanic eruptions. Protected from the open sea by several islands at the outer edge of the bay, the water of Yan Chau Tong is often calm. We reached the village of Lai Chi Woo at around 4pm. Old trees, dense mangroves and giant vines greeted our arrival. At the main plaza, a huge banyan tree stood like a large umbrella. A few elderly villagers were cleaning up a vending stall in front of a former primary school building. After most tourists left with the 3:30pm boat, Lai Chi Woo returned to its half-abandoned state of serenity. We wandered for a while, and asked around for the way going to Luk Keng (鹿頸), where we could take a minibus getting back to the city. It was getting dark and we still had another 2.5 hour of hiking ahead.
We quickly confirmed the route with a villager and headed out of Lai Chi Woo. Along the way to Luk Keng, we passed by a few more ghost villages until we reached a fork path where the water of Starling Inlet separated Hong Kong and Shenzhen of China. A dessert and snack vendor was about to close his stall Old San Tofu Dessert. We ordered a bowl of dessert tofu and sat by the waterfront to finish it. From then on, it was about 45 minute walk along the waterfront to the village of Luk Keng. As it grew darker, the buildings and port across the water in Shenzhen looked bright and busy. We finally reached Luk Keng before 7pm. In the dark, we were surprised seeing a very long queue at the micro-bus station. We ended up waiting for over an hour to board the last bus of the night heading to Fanling Station.
The village of Wu Kau Tang (烏蛟騰) served as a trail-head for a number of hiking routes.
Mangrove sprouted from cracks at the coast of Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).
Interesting coastal rocks at Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).
We reached Sam A Village (三椏村) where we sat down for lunch at Yuan Hing Restaurant (源興食店) .
Mangrove groves at Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).
Ancient trees greeted our arrival at Lai Chi Woo (荔枝窩).
The old giant vines were fenced off from the main path.
The former primary school at Lai Chi Woo.
The prominent banyan tree at the main village plaza of Lai Chi Woo.
Traditional lanterns were hung on the branches of the old banyan tree.
Illustration of Lai Chi Woo with its rows of houses backed by a fungshui forest. A fengshui forest was believed to be a natural protection from outer harms.
Some of the abandoned houses are now occupied once again.
Farming returned to Lai Chi Woo once again.
We left Lai Chi Woo through the west gate.
Abandoned houses were common sights on our way to Luk Keng.
The delicious tofu dessert at Old San vendor.
Across Starling Inlet the skyline of East Shenzhen was clearly visible.
At last we arrived at Luk Keng at almost 7pm.
We almost forgot Hong Kong still has a considerable amount of arable land suitable for farming until we visited Ma Po Po (馬寶寶), the community farm at Ma Shi Po Village (馬屎埔) in Fanling (粉嶺). In recent months, the government’s proposal to develop rural areas and farming villages into high dense residential communities in Northeast North Territories has became a controversial topic in the city.
Hanging on the metal gate of Ma Po Po Community Farmer’s Market is a handmade signage. Ma Po Po literally means “Baby Horse”. The founders of the farmer’s market hope that everyone would treat the gradually disappearing farmland with care and love as if their baby.
Developing the north region of New Territories is a controversial topic in recent months. Many farmers, including the villagers at Ma Po Po, are facing a real risk of eviction. The Hong Kong government favors urban development over agriculture, and doesn’t seem to bother finding a balanced solution that encourages the coexistence of farming and urban development.
Wall mural depicting the snacks that once sold at this village’s grocery store. The elderly shop owner is still living in this house, but his tiny shop couldn’t stand the contest with the chain supermarkets outside the village.
Simple wall murals are common in Ma Shi Po depicting original farming scenes. Since the residential towers were built across the street from the village, sunlight exposure to certain farmlands is greatly affected. Some owners switch to growing fruit trees instead.
Raising poultry was once part of the village life. However, we were told that in recent years the government has imposed heavy restrictions on raising poultry. Today, free range chickens and ducks can only be seen on wall murals captured by the young artists.
The guide presented a bucket of soy pulp collected from a tofu shops nearby. Many types of organic waste are being collected from restaurants and markets in nearby neighborhoods to support organic farming. Ma Po Po aims to demonstrate a perfect cycle of co-existence among organic farmers, restaurants and the local communities. Not only does their collection/compost/farming cycle create some of the best produce in the city, it also indicates a strategy that partially alleviates the burden of organic waste.
The last part of the tour was to demonstrate about how the collected organic waste is turned into organic fertilizer. Removing the plastic wrap, our guide showed us a compost mount, in which dry leaves and branches were mixed with small amount of organic waste such as fish bones.
Many original farmlands and houses have been vacant or sold to large developers. Large developers then come and fence off the properties under their control. After months of neglect these lands would soon turn into overgrown wastelands. Some people have proposed to rent the abandoned farmlands from the developers while the land was left idling. Their proposals were rejected by the developers.
While exiting Ma Shi Po, we could clearly see the overwhelming residential development just across the street. Without character, memories, and living traditions, these highrise developments are efficient machines to house a population made up mainly with people from elsewhere in the city.
We brought back lots of fresh vegetables from Ma Po Po. They were definitely the sweetest vegetables we’ve ever had in recent months. Now, a visit to Ma Po Po Farmer’s Market has become our weekly ritual. People who live in the Fanling area are lucky to live so close to this terrific organic farm. We believe in balanced development. The coexistence of Ma Po Po and the surrounding neighborhoods shows us a good example of what a sustainable future may look like for generations to come.