Residents of border villages opened up to visitors after six decades of isolation have accused the government of poor planning after their homes were swamped by thousands of curious visitors in the name of ecotourism. Up to 3,000 people a day have descended on Sha Tau Kok since the government removed restrictions on access to border territory in February. But they have found a lack of proper car parks, signage, public toilets and restaurants. Sha Tau Kok's reopening was part of the government's plan to release more border land for development, reducing the total prohibited area by 85 per cent. The restricted zone was established by the colonial government in 1951 amid political tension after the Communist Party seized power on the mainland. Non-residents previously had to apply for a permit to enter the zone. The South China Morning Post revisited the area during the Easter holiday and found plenty to suggest that Shau Tau Kok is far from ready to become the ecotourism destination the government has earmarked it as. There are no proper car parks, no information signs for tourists or specific lanes for cyclists, and only one public toilet in each of the six reopened villages. The one conveniently located restaurant is still under construction. A large-scale organic farm is now open inside the border area, but visits have already been heavily booked by tour groups and individuals, so casual visitors may struggle to get in. One individual visitor said he - and his kindergarten child - felt they had been cheated into taking a long bus ride to visit the border area. 'There are no signs and we don't know where to go here,' Ken Cheung said. But local residents insist there is plenty to see in the 550 hectares of reopened land. 'There are actually a lot of historic buildings for sightseeing,' said Benjamin Lee Koon-hung, chairman of the Sha Tau Kok Rural Committee. 'There are also the remains of trenches used against the Japanese troops during the second world war. 'The government is to blame because it doesn't do much publicity for us,' Lee said. He joked that another big draw for visitors was the range of local snacks served up by enterprising locals, who have set up stalls offering local desserts such as cha-kwo (a Hakka delicacy made of rice flour, peanuts and indigenous herbal leaves) and tofu pudding. And it's as well that someone is offering them food: with work continuing on the new restaurant, the visitors might otherwise go hungry. Restaurateur Wan Tin-fuk said he had invested HK$2 million in the venture, next to the main public-transport drop-off point at Tam Shui Hang. 'But I'm confident the business will prosper ... at least during weekends,' he said. Another concern is the increased road traffic. The newly opened border area is about a 25-minute drive from Fanling MTR station along Sha Tau Kok Road. As the road nears the mainland it narrows from two lanes to one in each direction. In the past, the most frequent vehicles were cross-border buses and container trucks. 'Buses now have to brake abruptly as bus drivers have to give way to holiday cyclists,' district councillor Simon Wong Yun-keung said. 'There are no cycling lanes.' Villagers, meanwhile, say they struggle to get public transport, particularly during weekends when they have to compete with visitors. But the opening up has pleased some people. 'It's the fourth consecutive weekend I've come here,' said Milly Yau, who was leading a local tour group. 'Tourists regret not having come here before.' Tsang Yuk-on, who heads a trade association in Sha Tau Kok, estimates that between 1,000 and 3,000 visitors arrive each day on weekends. He has urged the government to look again at the possibility of opening up Sha Tau Kok Hui, which is still a restricted area, as a way to divert tourists from residential villages. The hui - meaning bazaar - consists of supermarkets and restaurants, but its proximity to Shenzhen means access has to remain limited, director of planning Jimmy Leung Cheuk-fai told local district councillors last week. A resident of the hui said she dared not imagine what it would be like if her neighbourhood was opened up after seeing the conditions elsewhere. 'I don't want to forfeit the serenity I've long enjoyed,' Ho Wing-ling said. The rural committee's Lee said: 'About 20 per cent of those living in the six reopened villages are still unaccustomed to the current situation, most of them being elderly. 'It's not hard to imagine how shocked they must have been ... In the past 60 years, they met only one or two people in a whole day.' The Development Bureau had no comment at the time of going to press.