With outbound travel from Hong Kong all but dead due to pandemic restrictions, recent months have seen domestic visitors throng to formerly ignored, out-of-the-way spots. One that has seen a tremendous weekend spike in local tourists – astonishingly, perhaps, to anyone who once knew the place – is Kam Tin. Now easily accessible by MTR, the journey from Hong Kong’s urban areas was in the past a considerable trek, which involved several changes of public transport. At least half a day would be taken up with the return journey over Tai Mo Shan and a desultory look around – and for what, more than a few visitors querulously asked themselves, when they eventually got back to Kowloon. Thirty-odd years ago, I lost track of how many sweaty, bewildered, out-of-towners I encountered as they got off the 51 bus into rackety, unlovely Kam Tin, looking for “the traditional walled village.” Inevitably, they plaintively showed me a Hong Kong Tourist Association pamphlet that bore staggeringly little resemblance to the cheerfully squalid New Territories town where I happily made my home. “Down the road and opposite the Wellcome supermarket is where you’ll find it,” came the unvarying reply, “and remember to hold your noses around the moat!” And off they trudged in search of an “authentic New Territories experience”, which was what they actually got – even if that encounter was significantly different from the misleading images that had inspired their journey in the first place. Outside Kat Hing Wai, a coven of gold-fanged hags crowned with black-fringed Hakka hats clustered and fussed around any visitor, expecting to be photographed in return for payment. Their high-pitched “Dollar! Dollar! Picture! Dollar!” screech changed with the passage of the years and increased costs of living, to “Ten dollar! Ten dollar”. None of these crones were actually Hakka; word had gone out a couple of generations earlier, when the walled village appeared on the tourist trail, that this picturesque headgear got the punters in, and provided otherwise lightly employed old women with a convenient source of pocket money. Why tamper with a winning formula? Kat Hing Wai and surrounding areas became accessible when road access to the newly completed military airfield at Shek Kong was completed in the mid-1930s. Within a few years, Kam Tin’s then-attractive rural countryside featured on most tourist day trips around the New Territories. Various period guidebooks mention it; Ellen Thorbecke’s colourful, charmingly illustrated Hong Kong (1940) contains a photograph of the Kat Hing Wai village gates, then only recently returned from former governor Sir Henry Blake’s country estate in Ireland, whence they had been taken after the brief insurrection in 1899 that followed the British lease on what became the New Territories. Other images show nearby irrigated rice fields – now transformed into ramshackle village developments. Only the Kai Kung Leng massif behind Kam Tin, with bare, grassy slopes rendered treeless by generations of firewood gathering and – more recently – uncontrolled hill fires ignited by careless grave-sweeping ceremonies, indicates the earlier location. What do day trippers come for today? Bright, Instagram-friendly murals dotted around back lanes, bustling weekend craft markets with something for all tastes and purses, small self-pick farms and Taiwan-influenced eateries – the list continues. Sunday in Kam Tin is now seriously happening! And what caused this transformation? No high-powered “Task Force” cobbled together from the usual claque of talking heads devised this one; like so many special aspects of Hong Kong, these innovations took place organically – despite local officialdom and their latest “revitalisation” initiatives, not because of them. Some paint and creative energy, combined with “Can Do” spirit and behold – hundreds of happy urbanites now flock to enjoy a place that, not long ago, they would have dismissed, with some good reason, as having nothing much to warrant the journey.