Wun Yiu and Tai Po South
Alex Frew McMillan
Tucked into a valley off the Wilson Trail and at the foothills of Tai Mo Shan are a cluster of villages known collectively as Tai Po South. The megatowers of Tai Po can be seen in the distance but, here, the landscape is tranquil and green.
Lead Mine Pass carves a notch into the hills overlooking the valley. Like the pass, the nearby village of Ta Tit Yan, or 'iron- beating cliff', references the region's mining heritage. At the base of the valley, there's Lai Chi Shan, or 'lychee hill', a village named for the fruit trees that were found here.
However, the area is best known for its traditional blue and white porcelain. The industry developed in the twin villages of Sheung Wun Yiu and Ha Wun Yiu ('higher' and 'lower', respectively), during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), but was wiped out by competition from Guangdong kilns in the early 20th century. Production ceased in 1932 and, while fragments of pottery can still be seen scattered about, conservation of what remains of the kilns is half hearted.
Due to land pressure, some of the villages around Wun Yiu have been built on old stream beds. Driver Lam Wing-yick was swept away at Sha Po Chai Tsuen by floodwaters last July. His death was ruled accidental but villagers blamed the Drainage Services Department, which had channel- led natural streams into an ugly concrete watercourse, for causing the flood.
They still contain squatter-style homes and small-scale farming - Tai Po, or 'big field', is known for its produce - but the villages are modernising and expanding due to the demand for village houses. Houses in the New Territories are mostly built to a maximum of three floors and 2,100 square feet.
The modern properties have attracted many 'townies' - such as television chef Maria Cordero - seeking greater space and low-rise living, and it's only a short drive from the shopping malls and wet markets of central Tai Po.
Excavations here have uncovered evidence of quarrying pits, water mills, soaking tanks and animaldriven grinders, all of which were used in pottery production.
Around Tai Po
1 JC Castle
This gated development is named after Jackie Chan and was developed by the film star with entertainment tycoon Albert Yeung Sau-shing. The site is most notorious for a 2009 clash between two Hong Kong photographers and bodyguards hired by Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, who own a home here. Their daughter, Bona, is studying accountancy at City University and is due to graduate this year.
2 Fan Sin Temple
This temple, overlooking the villages of Tai Po South is the only one of its kind in Hong Kong, built to honour Fan Tai Sin Sze, the patron saint of potters. It's not known exactly when it was built but a wooden plaque in the main hall was carved in 1790. Apart from a decorative entrance, the temple is modest and many of its relics were destroyed in a fire in the mid-1970s. The temple was declared a monument in 1999 and is open to the public.
3 Hilltop Garden
This development of about 60 village houses has transformed the tiny village of Pun Shan Chau. It is the brainchild of developer Raymond Ha, an indigenous villager who has been buying up the land and building 2,100 sq ft homes on it. He has found eager buyers among Hongkongers looking for a home in the country and the luxury of a garden.
Average house price HK$10 million for a 2,100 sq ft village house with 1,000 sq ft garden in Hilltop Garden
Average rent HK$27,000 to HK$30,000 for a 2,100 sq ft village house, depending on the size of the garden
Nearest shops A five-minute drive away in Wan Tau Tong Estate, with Uptown Plaza just beyond that
Nearest MTR Tai Po Market, five minutes by minibus
Nearest ATM Several at the MTR station
Nearest restaurants Lai Chi Shan Cafe, a Thai eatery in the eponymous village, plus some in Uptown Plaza