Hong Kong was founded in 1841, but that is not the beginning of its story. North District’s remarkable Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail, in Fanling offers visitors a glimpse into pre-colonial Hong Kong, when agriculture ruled daily rhythms, and villagers built stone walls and watchtowers to protect themselves from roving bands of brigands.
The Tang trace their lineage to the Song Dynasty (960-1279); ancestor Tang Wai-kap was married to a Song imperial princess. The soul tablets, or reliquaries, of that long-ago princess and her husband have pride of place in the massive Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall, the trail’s magnificent centrepiece.
A few minutes further along is the first walled survivor: Ma Wat Wai, built by the Tang Clan in the 1700s. The inscription in old Chinese seal script on the lintel over the gate reads Wat Chung or 'Green Onion', which was once the area’s most abundant bounty. Inside, the village maintains the traditional layout structure: houses old and recent huddle cheek-by-jowl, in narrow grid-like rows.
Recently renovated heritage site Lo Wai walled village has the most beautiful and intact walls; while it is not open to the public, you can step inside its entry tower and see the high portals where watchmen and cannon carried out village defense.
Passing Lo Wai, Hong Kong’s modern era begins to intrude on the ancient idyll. Clusters of new three-storey houses built by local villagers have sprouted outside the old stone walls. As you exit to Sha Tau Kok Road, in the distance you can see not only mountains, but high-rise luxury residential towers.
Truly off the beaten path, Lai Chi Wo (lychee tree) is probably the most untouched traditional Hakka village in Hong Kong. Its remoteness has played a role in preserving the more than 300-year-old community with its three ancestral halls and 210 houses. Getting here involves either a two-hour hike or hopping on a ferry that operates only on Sundays and public holidays, but it is worth the effort. Lai Chi Wo is a magical place of living history, nestled in the circle of a specially planted feng shui protective forest, surrounded by fragrant lychee and mandarin trees.
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