Cover Visit these traditional villages before they disappear (Photo: @oldtimesincolour/Instagram)

Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Hong Kong and explore the traditional villages to see another side of the city—before they disappear completely

When you think of Hong Kong, you would probably conjure images of the vibrant neon lights, the incredible architecture, and the impressive skyscrapers. But this bustling metropolis has a hidden gem that you may have yet to explore: traditional villages.

These historical communities have seen a massive decline over the centuries in exchange for urbanisation. But the good news is that some of them still stand today––and while some are abandoned, they are still mostly preserved. Travel back in time and see these villages, before they disappear completely.

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1. Kat Hing Wai

Kat Hing Wai is possibly the most well-known traditional village in Hong Kong. Located just a short drive away from Yuen Long, this village was built during the Ming Dynasty. Today, it is home to about 400 Tang clan descendants, one of the “Five Great Clans” on the territory who arrived from China during the Song dynasty.

Notably, the Tang clan are Punti people who are descended from Southern China, they were also the first to settle in Hong Kong. The residents speak the Weitou dialect, a dialect of Yue Chinese which is mostly spoken by the older generation in Luohu and Futian in Shenzhen and parts of the New Territories.

Part of the reason that Kat Hing, also known locally as Kam Tin, is well-known is because of its reputation as both an architectural and historical site to be studied—the iron gates were destroyed during the Six-Day War in 1899 between the British Empire and Punti clans of New Territories.

The gates were then shipped to London for exhibition but the Tang Clan demanded its return in 1925. In celebration, the tablet is displayed by the entrance. The village itself has protected the Tang clan as a family stronghold well throughout the centuries from bandits, rival clans, and wild tigers.

How to get there: Take the West Rain line to Kam Sheung Road Station (Exit A). Cross Kam Po Road on the small bridge to a lane, walk until you see the Kam Sheung Road sign. Cross over to Kam Tin Road.

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2. Fanling Wai

Fanling Wai is another recognisable village in Hong Kong because of the distinctive pond and layout that feature cannons and watchtowers which serve as a popular photo spot today. The village is home to the Pang clan, who arrived in Hong Kong during the Southern Song dynasty and then settled in 1190. Its entrance is located at the central part of the village while houses were connected to the walls with seven rows on both ends.

On the facade wall of the entrance are three circular gun holes with three painted white circles, built for feng shui reasons. The village itself has a few other features besides the houses including the Pang Ancestral Hall, the Tsz Tak Study Hall to provide education for the village children, and the Sam Shing Temple.

The scenic view is better seen from afar with the tranquil pond reflecting the walled village. The pond was filled with fish in the past, in order to tame a phoenix, according to local beliefs. The iconic watchtowers and cannons are part of the defensive measures of the village in the past.

How to get there: Take the East Rail Line to Fanling Station (Exit C). Walk along San Wan Road, turn right at Fanling Way and walk forward until you see the Fanling Wai pond.

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3. Kuk Po

Kuk Po might be deserted but it’s still worth a visit. At one point, this Hakka village had a population of about 1,000 people, mostly farming corps and selling them in neighbouring Sha Tau Kok. In the 1960s, the numbers dwindled as residents move to the UK. By the 1980s, most of the remaining villagers were the elderly.

Accounts by villagers indicate that the village was home to the Cheung clan. But over time also had other residents including the Sung, Lee, Ho, Tsang, Cheng, Ng, and Yeung clans probably because smaller villages surround the entire Kuk Po area.

The village’s inaccessible location is also a factor in the decline in population. In order to reach Kuk Po, a permit is required to pass through the Shek Chung O border or take a ferry boat journey to reach Kuk Po Hoi Ha. The route via Plover Cove Country Park is accessible for mountain trail trekkers.

One of the highlights of the village is the rural schoolhouse which was built in 1928. It drew inspiration from the Guangzhou Military Academy School. Most of its residents were Hakka speakers and those who studied in the area are bilingual Hakka and Cantonese speakers.

How to get there: Take the East Rail Line to Fanling Station. Then take minibus 56K and get off at Luk Keng. From there, it’s a two-hour hike to Kuk Po.

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4. Tsang Tai Uk

Tsang Tai Uk is one of the best-preserved villages in Hong Kong. Its name, literally translated to “Big House of the Tsangs” is exactly that—it’s the Tsang clan’s stronghold. The Hakka village began in 1847 under the direction of a stonemason and merchant, Tsang Koon-man to serve as the home for the Tsang clan. Compared to other villages in this list, Tsang Tai Uk is relatively newer which is why it’s also preserved well.

Thankfully, the village was spared during Sha Tin’s massive new town redevelopment primarily due to its historical significance. Today, the original materials brick, timber, and granite flaunt the walls.

Notably, Prince Charles paid a visit in 1979 during a royal tour, perhaps because he studied archaeology and history at Cambridge and was inspired to see the village's picturesque courtyards and ancestral halls.

How to get there: Take the Tuen Ma Line to Che Kung Temple Station (Exit F). Walk towards Che Kung Miu Road and cross over to Tsang Tai Uk Playground using the underpass. Cut through the playground and you'll arrive at Tsang Tai Uk on the other end.

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5. Lai Chi Wo

Nestled inside the Plover Cove Country Park and Yan Chau Tong Marine Park, this 400-year-old Hakka village was once a thriving walled village. During its peak, around 500–600 residents from the Tsang and Wong Hakka clans lived there. But it wasn’t always that way.

In its early beginnings, the village was struggling financially. It changed when a feng shui master suggested building three feng shui walls to banish evil spirits, eventually keeping the village safe. Upon completion of the three walls, the village became prosperous.

Like most of the villages on this list, the majority of the remaining residents today are the elderly. However, many of the original residents still visit from time to time especially during celebrations like the Tai Ping Ching Chiu festival.

Lai Chi Wo is a mid-way station for hikers so many local tours have developed their route to include the area. The village houses many cultural sites including an ancestral hall, Hip Tin Temple, and Hok Shan Monastery. Numerous rare geological formations, plans, and animal species are also around the area.

How to get there: Take the East Rain Line to University Station (Exit B). Walk along Chak Cheung Street for about 15 minutes until you reach Ma Liu Shui Landing Steps No. 3. Take the two-hour ferry journey to Kat O and Ap Chau.

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6. Yim Tin Tsai

Getting to Yim Tin Tsai is not impossible but definitely hard. The only way you can reach this offshore island in Sai Kung is by a 15-minute boat ride, available on the weekends and holidays. This is probably why the village is almost abandoned. But that calls for an adventure.

Despite barely anyone living there, the village has been revitalised especially after its iconic St. Joseph’s Chapel received UNESCO recognition—the preservation process soon followed. This revived the tradition, heritage, and culture of its people. There are now artworks surrounding the area, co-created by local artists and villagers during the Yim Tin Tsai Festival in 2019, serving as an open museum to celebrate the culture of the island.

Settlers of the village island were the Chan Hakka clan. During its heyday, there were about 500–1,200 residents who mostly depended on farming, fishing, and salt-making. The island have Catholic significance as the locals developed a strong relationship with visiting missionaries. All villagers were baptised in 1875. Then the Romanesque-style, St. Joseph’s Chapel was built in 1980.

The island’s salt fields also saw a resurgence as salt-making is the island's main industry. Part of the old Ching Po School was also redeveloped as a heritage exhibition centre displaying artefacts and showcasing the village's history.

How to get there: Take the small ferry (kaito) from Sai Kung Public Pier, available during Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

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This article was originally published on August 31, 2020 and was updated on November 15, 2021.



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