Entry restrictions on six villages near the border were lifted yesterday as the government moves ahead with its policy to open an area once sealed as a bulwark against the mainland.
But villagers are hoping the area doesn't change too much, aside from gaining better infrastructure, and that it remains tranquil. Accessibility remains limited due to the lack of public transport for some villages, which residents said showed poor planning on the government's part.
"The government should have had facilities prepared earlier when they first planned to open up the area," said Fung Hing-chau, 61, village chief of Liu Pok, one of the six villages. "We have been fighting for it in the past few years."
The other villages in the area are Tak Yuet Lau, Lutheran New Village, Ma Tso Lung, Lok Ma Chau and Ha Wan.
Many residents have already moved out or gone overseas. Many of the area's 700 or so inhabitants are either retirees, elderly or émigrés who have returned home.
More than 710 hectares of land between the Lok Ma Chau Control Point and Ng Tung River were opened up in this second stage of reducing the closed area. It is mainly uncultivated fields and fish ponds.
Fung, a 22nd generation resident, hopes to convert the fields into organic farms, but without basic transport facilities, he can't take his planning very far. He has been discussing with the government the possibility of extending the minibus route from Sheung Shui past its neighbouring Ma Tso Lung village to his own village. The bus runs five times a day. Currently, villagers who do not drive must walk 10 to 30 minutes to the Lo Wu MTR station.
Wong Woon-chuen, 52, the village chief for Ma Tso Lung south, said pavements and a cycling trail could be built by a creek in the village, which could become an attractive sitting-out spot for day-trippers.
Lam Kam-fok, 66, who owns the sole store in Lutheran New Village, is taking a wait-and-see approach to any tourist boom. The store has a single old refrigerator stocked with a few dozen cans of soft drinks and he has no plans to expand.
He showed off a magazine which featured his nephew, who plays in the German Bundesliga. His family moved to Germany more than 40 years ago and he came back with his wife in 2001.
The restricted zone was established in 1951 amid political tension when many mainlanders fled to Hong Kong.
In 2008, the government announced the plan to reduce the restricted zone from about 2,800 hectares to about 400 hectares in three stages.
Remnants of the area's past role are still clearly visible. Hikers yesterday were seen visiting one of the MacIntosh Forts, a grade two historic building which was once an observation post.
Alan Leung Sze-lun, terrestrial conservation manager for WWF (Hong Kong), said parts of the fish pond were ecologically valuable and might deserve protection.