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: North District
Many residents of the North District, which sits right up on the border with mainland China in the New Territories, can trace their origins back to China, when families moved south to escape war and unrest. These clans set up villages—some surrounded by walls—and lived off the land. The area is still mostly rural, populated by farmers who pursue their ancient traditions and follow a more modest way of life.
To learn more about ancient village life in Hong Kong, visit Fanling Wai, one of the area’s best preserved walled villages. It was thought to have been built by the Pang clan between the 12th and 13th centuries, and inside you’ll see fine examples of Ming and Tsing dynasty architecture through its temples, ancestral halls, school, watchtowers and cannons. Also worth a stop is Tsung Pak Long, a Hakka walled village established in the 19th century by five different clans. The village of Ma Shi Po in Fanling is a prime example of urban encroachment onto farmland.
Much of the North District is still made up of farmland and beautiful natural resources. The eight majestic peaks of Pat Sin Leng Country Park, known as the “eight fairies”, dominate the territory’s skyline and are surrounded by emerald lakes, with many walking trails which start and end at the Lau Shui Heung Reservoir, taking in pavilions, a camp site and barbeque and picnic spots. The protected wetland of Long Valley is also a birdwatchers’ paradise, being home to more than 200 different species of birds, many rare.
To sample locally farmed food, make a stop at the Wun Chuen Vegetarian Centre. At the entrance to the 70-year-old Taoist Wun Chuen Sin Koon temple, surrounded by gardens, lotus ponds and bridges, the restaurant offers healthy and delicious dishes made to resemble their meaty counterparts. For a little bit of heritage with your dinner, also check out Kwan Kee Beef Balls & Pork Knuckles—a Guangdong establishment that’s one of Fanling’s oldest and most popular food joints.
Head online to www.DiscoverHongKong.com/InsidersGuide to create your personalized itinerary for North District.
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