Hong Kong Asia's World City

Beyond the Walls

Beyond the Walls

Visiting old walled villages

In this lightning-paced cosmopolitan that is Hong Kong, it can be easy to overlook the city’s rural roots. Back before the city’s financial institutions dominated downtown, before industry reimagined the city, Hong Kong was a series of markets, of small communities subsisting on the land, living inside walled villages. If you travel up into the New Territories you’ll discover that traditional life still exists behind these walls. Below you’ll find an introduction to the oldest of Hong Kong’s architecture and an insight into this very distinct culture. You can also get out and about in Tai Po, to see how this ancient market town has evolved beyond the walls.

You don’t need to travel far away from the heart of downtown Hong Kong to discover a part of the region that will make you feel as if you’ve ventured back in time, to an era when communities lived inside walled villages, where life revolved around an ancestral hall and when family decisions were made by the collective. Life inside a walled village had a very separate feel that you can still find in some of the region’s northerly pockets, such as Fanling, Sheung Shui and Yuen Long. These communities are by no means frozen in time, but you’ll find ancient traditions and a more modest way of life still exist behind these old walls.

Lo Wai

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the walled village has its origins in China: as territory became overrun by war and battles, numerous Chinese clans sought refuge further south, in what is now the north of Hong Kong. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), piracy and clan wars were rampant and so communities started to build brick walls around their villages to protect themselves. The Tang clan first settled in Kam Tin in the early 14th century, and Lo Wai was the first of the five wai—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. A well inside provides water in case of a sudden attack. 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.

One of Hong Kong’s largest preserved walled villages, Kat Hing Wai , was also built by the Tang clan, in around 1465-1487, although its four walls were not erected until the late 1600s. The wai is of an almost-square, symmetrical design of green brick, covering some 8,500 square meters, with four watchtowers posted at each corner and a surrounding moat. Small houses are attached to the walls and then fill the square in six neat rows. Although many of the old village houses have since been modernized, the entrance gate, shrine and watchtowers still have their stories to tell—and the villagers are very welcoming to visitors.

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 that was 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.

Poon Choi

Although life has moved away from walled villages somewhat, with members often leaving to find work elsewhere, ancestors still gather together to celebrate Hong Kong’s traditional festivals and special events, often sharing poon choi, a “basin meal”—a big bowl of meat, seafood and vegetables. The emphasis here is on fresh, seasonal food that is locally grown, and this tradition of living on and off the land is still very much in evidence around these northernmost districts.

Now instead of merely surviving off the land to feed themselves, entrepreneurial villagers have branched out to sell their produce to support their livelihoods—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:: as Hong Kong’s first apiary, it’s been producing honey and bee products for more than 90 years, having set up in Guangzhou in 1923 before moving to Hong Kong in the late 50s. It’s set up much like a park, so you are free to roam around and explore, with experts on hand to teach you about the bees, as well as how to make use of the vital fresh produce—honey. Be sure to stop by the small tea shop by the entrance for a fresh honey drink and to stock up on jars of the sweet stuff to take home.

Walled village culture has an important place, not only in Hong Kong’s history but also in today’s society, where we’re seeing village customs being passed down through generations and adapted to a more modern way of life. Spend some time in an old village and you’ll see just what we mean!

Get Going

  • Lo Wai
    Lo Wai
    One of the five wai, or walled villages, built by the Chinese Tang clan in Kam Tin in the early 14th century.
    Address:
    Lung Yeuk Tau, Fanling, New Territories
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    MTR Fanling Station, Exit C. Take minibus 54K to Lung Yeuk Tau, or minibus 56K to Luk Keng. It’s about a 30-minute journey.
  • Kat Hing Wai Walled Village
    Kat Hing Wai Walled Village
    Built by the Tang clan in the mid-1400s, this is one of the best living examples of a walled village in Hong Kong.
    Address:
    Kam Tin, Yuen Long, New Territories
    How to Get There:
    MTR Kam Sheung Road Station, Exit B. Walk to Kam Po Road through footbridge and then turn to Kam Sheung Road. It takes around 20 minutes from Kam Po Road to Kat Hing Wai.
  • Liu Man Shek Tong Ancestral Hall
    Liu Man Shek Tong Ancestral Hall
    Built in the typical three-hall two-courtyard style by the prosperous Liu clan in 1751, this is an elaborate ancestral hall.
    Address:
    Mun Hau Tsuen, Sheung Shui, New Territories
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    MTR Shueng Shui Station, Exit D1. Turn left on San Fung Avenue and left again on Po Wan Road. Cross Po Shek Wu Road, continuing along Po Wan Road until you meet San Po Street. Turn right and follow this lane for 5 minutes to Liu Man Shek Tong. It’s about a 15-minute walk. Or it’s a 5-minute taxi ride.
  • Po Sang Yuen Bee Farm
    Po Sang Yuen Bee Farm
    As Hong Kong’s first apiary, the Po Sang Yuen Bee Farm has been producing honey and bee products for over 90 years.
    Address:
    8 Wu Tip Shan Road, Fanling, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2669 5840
    How to Get There:
    MTR Fanling Station, Exit A2. Take the pedestrian tunnel to Chi Fuk Circuit and follow the road left to Pak Wo Road. Take the walkway over to Wu Tip Shan Road. It’s about a 10-minute walk.

Beyond the Walls 'Musts'

  • Red Brick House
    Go bargain hunting
    Red Brick House
    Kam Tin Red Brick House is housed in an old candle factory that’s been renovated into a flea market. Inside you’ll find more than 50 independent homeware and craft shops that each sell one-of-a-kind gifts at bargain prices. Browse for homemade wooden furniture, colorful cute candles, leather bags and antique cameras, as well as wine. You’ll also find cute little cafés to punctuate your day.
    Address:
    390-400 Tsz Tong Tsuen, Kam Sheung Road, Kam Tin, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2482 2188
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    MTR Kam Sheung Road Station, Exit B. Cross the pedestrian bridge over the river and follow the path to Kam Sheung Road. Turn right and Red Brick House is on your left. It’s about a 5-minute walk.
  • Tasty Bean Tofu Garden
    Sample home-made tofu
    Tasty Bean Tofu Garden
    While you’re in the New Territories, you must sample some of the fresh soy milk and puddings from Tasty Bean Tofu Garden. The restaurant makes its own soy milk every day, which it turns into deliciously sweet tofu fa—tofu pudding. What’s more, you can eat as much of the tofu fa as you like, in original or black sesame flavor, for just $12. You can also pick up typical Hong Kong snacks such as fishballs.
    Address:
    1049 Ho Sheung Heung, Sheung Shui, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2639 2132
    How to Get There:
    MTR Sheung Shui Station, Exit A4. Take minibus 51K outside the Metropolis Plaza and get off at the last stop, Ma Tso Lung Road. Continue by foot along Ho Sheung Heung Road. It’s about a 40-minute journey.

This guide was produced by HK Magazine Media Group from 2014-2015.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board disclaims any liability as to the quality or fitness for purpose of third party products and services; and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, adequacy or reliability of any information contained herein.

Information in this guide is subject to changes without advance notice. Please contact the relevant product or service providers for enquiries.

While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this guide, the Hong Kong Tourism Board and HK Magazine accept no responsibility for any obsolescence, errors or omissions contained herein.

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