Guide to Hong Kong: Beyond the Walls
A series of stories, recommendations and tips on Hong Kong from people in the know. Explore our city based on the travel experiences that interest you and get itineraries for off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods.
In its earliest days, Hong Kong was a series of small communities subsisting on the land and living inside walled villages, and if you travel up into the New Territories you’ll discover traditional life still exists behind these walls. In fact, you don’t need to move too far away from the heart of downtown Hong Kong to discover a region that will make you feel you’ve ventured back in time to this era, where you’ll still find ancient traditions and a more simple way of life.
The Tang clan first settled in Kam Tin in the early 14th century, and Lo Wai was the first of the five wai—or walled villages—they built. It’s enclosed on all four sides by brick walls, with a gateway and entrance tower, which protect the central ancestral hall and adjacent dwellings. Much of the original village walls and internal layout still exist here: if you follow the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail you can see the protected entranceway and walls, but much is closed to the public to protect the villagers’ privacy.
An ancestral hall is the focal point for any wai villager: it’s a study hall for children, as well as a place for worshipping ancestors, for social gatherings, and for discussing important village issues. Liu Man Shek Tong Ancestral Hall in Sheung Shui Wai is an elaborate example built in 1751 by the prosperous Liu clan, who initially settled from Fujian in the Ming Dynasty. Built in the typical three-hall, two-courtyard style, the decoration of the main building is opulent—you’ll be able to see plaster moldings, intricate wood carvings and significant murals.
Instead of merely surviving off the land to feed themselves, entrepreneurial villagers have branched out to sell their produce—producing a trend across Hong Kong for locally grown, locally sourced ingredients. Po Sang Yuen Bee Farm in Fanling does a great job of protecting the environment in its enterprise, while the trendy IPC Foodlab is a restaurant that advocates eating local farm produce and practices what it preaches. On the fusion menu you’ll find all-organic vegetables picked from its farm in Fanling, with descriptions and the medicinal properties each ingredient can provide.
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Spotlight on: Tai Po
In the northeasterly New Territories, the historic market town of Tai Po is one of Hong Kong’s largest districts, with a population divided between the relatively new town and the area’s 80-plus far-flung villages. While its roots lie with these ancient walled villages, Tai Po has grown into a modern suburb that revolves around its people and its land, whether you’re after delicious local food, curated parks or a slice of walled village culture.
Many of the oldest communities are dotted around the mountainous walled village region of Lam Tsuen, a collection of 26 indigenous and Hakka hamlets including ancient ancestral halls and temples, many of which date back to the 13th century. A big part of the walled village community culture is poon choi, which literally translates as “basin meal”, laden with different layers of meat, seafood and vegetables. Taste this delicious tradition for yourself in Tai Mei Tuk Village, at the renowned Chung Shing Poon Choi restaurant.
A village atmosphere still pervades even in the more modern parts of the town, such as in the Fu Shin Street Traditional Bazaar, which dates back to 1892 and is one of the oldest remaining wet markets. Pick up a hot egg tart as you browse the stalls selling fresh farm produce, as well as myriad dry goods and even Hakka-style hats. The nearby Tai Po Hui Market & Food Complex Centre is great for dining and gifts.
As well as cultural relics, Tai Po boasts an abundance of natural resources and precious reserves. In the valley behind the 300-year-old Hakka village of Fung Yuen sprawls the Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve, a protected site that’s home to more than 200 species of butterflies, including the pretty Common Birdwing and White Dragontail varieties. If you’re after outdoor activities and incredible scenery, Tai Mei Tuk Dam is a hidden gem: the 2km long stretch boasts picture-perfect views of Plover Cover Reservoir.
Head online to www.DiscoverHongKong.com/InsidersGuide to create your personalized itinerary for Tai Po.
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