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Tai Po

Tai Po

Inside and outside the walls

“The village has got such a close connection, we collaborate as a team. We work and pull together, and I think this is the spirit of Hong Kong,” says 16th-generation Lam Tsuen villager Pong Cheung.

Located in the northeasterly New Territories, the historic market town of Tai Po is the name of one of Hong Kong’s largest districts, with a population that’s divided between the relatively new town and the area’s 80-plus remote villages. Although Tai Po is now a buzzing modern suburbia, its roots lie with these ancient—and oft crumbling—walled villages: inside you’ll find families who’ve lived here for generations who can give you an insight into the district of old.

Mr. Cheung

Many of the oldest communities are dotted around the mountainous walled village region of Lam Tsuen. This collection of 26 indigenous and Hakka hamlets shelters ancient ancestral halls and temples, many of which date back to the 13th century. Retired accountant Pong Cheung is a 16th-generation Hakka villager living in the hamlet of Tai Om. Everyone here works as a unit, explains Mr. Cheung: “My whole family lives in this village. It’s got such a close connection, we collaborate as a team. We work and pull together, and I think this is the spirit of Hong Kong.” In his village, education is paramount and everyone pitches in: “I studied in the ancestral hall for primary school and graduated from college in 1974. In our village, there were some smart kids who could go to university but their families didn’t have enough money. Finally all the villagers from different families raised money for them, and now there are many successful people in our villages. Everyone likes to help; we are so proud of being villagers of Lam Tsuen.”

A big part of the walled village community is poon choi, which literally translates as “basin meal.” Villagers have been gathering together (traditionally in the central courtyard) for more than 700 years to eat round this large metal basin or clay bowl that’s laden with different layers of meat, seafood and vegetables. Mr. Cheung explained: “We used to have poon choi twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn. The food was quite simple, just some vegetables and pork, but rich families may have had a more attractive feast, with fish, seafood, meat and chicken. Nowadays we seldom cook it by ourselves in my village.” Taste this delicious tradition for yourself in Tai Mei Tuk Village, at the renowned Chung Shing Poon Choi restaurant. What’s different about this spot is that you can get smaller portions for just four people, so it makes it easier for you to try the various bowls—from vegetarian to luxury abalone.

Wo Fung

A village atmosphere still pervades more modern parts of the city, such as in the Fu Shin Street Traditional Bazaar, which dates back to 1892 and is one of the city’s oldest remaining wet markets. Pick up a hot egg tart as you browse the stalls selling fresh farm produce, as well as myriad dry goods and even Hakka-style hats. If you’re looking to cook up some Hong Kong dishes back at home or source a unique gift, then make a beeline for Wo Fung, inside the nearby Tai Po Hui Market & Food Complex Centre. On the first floor, Wo Fung is an old stall selling the specialist ingredients to make Chinese soup—just ask if you’re unsure about what dried ingredients to pair together.

Cafe de Country Art

As well as cultural relics, Tai Po boasts an abundance of natural resources and precious reserves. In the valley behind the 300-year-old Hakka village of Fung Yuen sprawls the Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve, a protected site that’s home to more than 200 species of butterflies, including the pretty Common Birdwing and White Dragontail varieties. If you’re after outdoor activities and incredible scenery, Tai Mei Tuk Dam is a bit of a hidden gem: the 2km long stretch boasts picture perfect views of Plover Cover Reservoir and is an ideal destination for kite flying and cycling. While you’re here, indulge your cultural side and feed your growling stomach with a stop at Cafe de Country Art, a modern bistro run (and decorated) by local artist Kinsan Chung. As well as tucking into some tasty dishes, you can browse the small art gallery and art garden. A perfect way to round off a day in Tai Po’s open air is at Little Egret Restaurant, a grand 19th century Mediterranean-style venue on the waters of Lake Egret. The setting, surrounded by an extensive nature park, is so scenic that it’s often used for firework displays, proposals and weddings.

Although it’s never far from its ancestral ties as a traditional market town, Tai Po has grown into a modern suburb that revolves around its people and its land: whether you’re after delicious local food, curated parks or that slice of walled village culture.

 

Do-it-Yourself

Morning
  • Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve
    Be a butterfly expert
    Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve
    Situated in the valley behind the 300-year-old Hakka village of Fung Yuen sprawls the Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve, a protected site that’s home to more than 200 species of butterflies, including the pretty Common Birdwing and White Dragontail varieties. As well as rare breeds of butterflies, you may also spot some unusual breeds of terns (seabirds). Visit on the last Sunday of each month for the Butterfly Festival—a selection of exhibitions and guided tours.
    Address:
    150 Fung Yuen Road, Tai Po, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 3111 7344
    How to Get There:
    MTR Tai Po Market Station, take minibus 20A and alight at Fung Yuen Village Office. The journey takes about 1 hour.
Afternoon
  • Tai Mei Tuk Dam
    Go for a hike
    Tai Mei Tuk Dam
    Devote the afternoon to outdoor activities at Plover Cove. Stretch your legs with a walk across Tai Mei Tuk Dam: it’s 2 kilometers long and offers incredible views over the reservoir and beyond. You’ll find locals come here to fly kites and cycle. Alternatively check out one of the water sports on offer at the Tei Mei Tuk Water Sports Centre—hiring a boat is a perfect afternoon adventure.
    Address:
    Main Dam, Plover Cove Reservoir, Tai Mei Tuk Road, Tai Po, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2665 3591
    How to Get There:
    MTR Tai Po Market Station, Exit A1, take bus 75K to Tai Mei Tuk terminus. It’s about a 40-minute journey.
Evening
  • Chung Shing Traditional Food Limited
    Try a traditional village meal
    Chung Shing Traditional Food Limited
    For more than 700 years, villagers have been sitting down to share poon choi—which literally translates as “basin meal”. Into a large metal basin or clay bowl go different layers of delicately-flavored meat, seafood and vegetables. Usually you have to be in a large group to eat, but Chung Shing Poon Choi accepts a minimum of four for its offerings which also include vegetarian and abalone-themed basins.
    Address:
    G/F, 36B Tai Mei Tuk Village, Tai Po, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2662 6162
Morning
  • Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees
    Explore walled villages
    Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees
    To really understand Tai Po’s cultural heritage, it’s worth spending the best part of a day exploring its walled villages. Many of Lam Tsuen’s hamlets are within walking distance from each other, off Lam Kam Road, so you can venture out on foot or hop on and off a bus if you so choose. Don’t miss the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees and Tin Hau temple in Fong Ma Po Village.
    Address:
    Lam Tsuen, Tai Po, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2638 3678
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    • Bus 64K or 64P at MTR Tai Po Market Station, get off at Fong Ma Po Station.
    • Minibus 25K and get off at Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees.
    • MTR Tai Wo Station and take a taxi.
Afternoon
  • Fu Shin Street Traditional Bazaar
    Browse the market stalls
    Fu Shin Street Traditional Bazaar
    Step into one of the oldest wet markets in Hong Kong: the Fu Shin Street Traditional Bazaar, formerly the Tai Wo market. It was set up in 1892 to serve the northern half of the district, Tai Wo, and distinguish it from a market run by a rival clan in southern Tai Po. Today it’s a hub for locals, so pick up a hot egg tart and browse the stalls selling fresh farm produce, dry goods and even Hakka-style hats.
    Address:
    Fu Shin Street, Tai Po, New Territories
    How to Get There:
    MTR Tai Wo Station, Exit A. Walk south along Po Nga Road and cross Tai Wo Bridge. Turn left along Pak Sing Street, take a right into Yan Hing Street you will see Fu Shin Street on the left. It’s about an 8-minute walk.
  • Wo Fung
    Get your Chinese soup
    Wo Fung
    If you’re looking to cook up some Hong Kong dishes back at home or source a unique gift, then make a beeline for Wo Fung, inside the nearby Tai Po Hui Market & Food Complex Centre. On the first floor of this modern complex, Wo Fung is an old stall selling the specialist ingredients to make Chinese soup—just ask if you’re unsure about what dried ingredients to pair together. You will also see that locals purchase their traditional Chinese medicines here.
    Address:
    Shop D70, 1/F, Tai Po Complex, 8 Heung Sze Wui Street, Tai Po, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 9087 7389
    How to Get There:
    MTR Tai Po Market Station, Exit A1. Follow the footpath to Wan Tau Street and turn left onto Heung Sze Wui Street. It’s about an 8-minute walk.
Evening
  • Little Egret Restaurant
    Share a romantic meal
    Little Egret Restaurant
    The grand 19th century Little Egret Restaurant is the perfect romantic end to your day. Start with a walk round Lake Egret Nature Park before snagging a lake-side table at sunset. The menu offers Mediterranean fare to match the décor, with French appetizers such as snails and Middle Eastern lamb rack among the favorites. It’s also a popular spot for proposals here, if you’re so minded.
    Address:
    Kerry Lake Egret Nature Park, 2 Hung Lam Drive, Tai Po, New Territories
    Tel:
    +852 2657 6628
    How to Get There:
    MTR Tai Po Market Station. Take bus 72, 72A, 73A or 74A and alight at Savanna Garden on Tai Po Road. Walk for around 5 minutes along Hung Lam Drive. It’s about a 30-minute journey.

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

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