Last month I saw a meetup activity for a walk through some abandoned villages in Plover Cove Country Park, North East New Territories, but it was cancelled due to lack of interest that day. So, I researched the route online and decided to see if my parents were up for it. I sold it to them as a gentle, flat 3 hour walk mostly along a coastal path across from the Shenzhen border, occasionally dipping into forest to explore the villages, and then we’d finish with a 1.5 hour boat ride to see some incredible rock formations on the islands we pass heading home. They were keen.
It started so well. Weather was forecast cloudy, but warm, with perhaps a few showers in the evening, when we’d back back indoors. We met 9:45am at Fanling Station (exit C) to catch the 56K minibus to Luk Keng. First mistake.. should have met at 8:45am
The queue was long, so we took a taxi (HK$80) to Luk Keng, dropped off at ‘BB Happy Store.’ We walked on down Bride’s Pool Road past a surprisingly large number of expensive fast racing cars (though the Police presence and speed camera checks on our way now made sense) and as my parent’s spotted an Orange Lotus I found out they’d had a second hand one (that wouldn’t go in the rain) in their earlier married life… !
About five minutes up the road it forked, and we took the left trail towards ‘Kuk Po.’ Stopping frequently to look at the Egrets, to spot mudskippers in the mangroves, to marvel at the vast quantity of oyster shells on the banks, or just to look across the water, admiring the contrasting natural beauty of the Starling Inlet around us with the high rise and shipping containers over in Shenzhen, as well as a stop in Fung Hang it took us perhaps double the time to reach our first destination. Mistake number two… don’t stop every three minutes..
Just before turning off into Kuk Po there is a small dessert cafe selling tea cakes, glutinous dumplings and a ‘famous’ tofu dessert freshly made with local stream water. Before we veered off the coast into the abandoned village of Kuk Po I tried the silky, cold, ginger scented pudding that I felt would have been a great dish to sooth a sore throat. Four hours later, I met a man on a hilltop saying he was on his way to try the tofu dessert, so yes, the claim to fame was somewhat true.
Kuk Po is said to have existed as a farming village for approximately three centuries, housing seven Hakka clans with approximately 160 people. Generally each clan stayed in their smaller sub-village; Lo Wai, San Uk Ha, Yat (one) To, Yi (two) To, Sam (three) To, Sze (four) To and Ng (five) To. We only wandered through three of them, which looking back, I am so thankful for given our then unrealised time constraints.
There is something so beautiful about seeing nature take over human architecture. Many of the buildings in Kuk Po seemed in fairly good condition, shut and locked with heavy duty padlocks, the one exception we saw being a temple with functioning electricity. Water also still runs to the village; the outdoor taps tried and tested by us.
The majority of inhabitants starting leaving in the 50’s after rapid industrialization, with another surge or migration in the 1970s after a plummet in profits in the farming industry. A large number moved overseas under the 1949 law that allowed Hong Kong citizens (and those from other British territories) to apply for British residency.
Most kept ownership of their properties, some returning occasionally for religious and ancestral worship, but generally the HK Government has been unable to locate them. With the close of the school in the late 1990’s, the village became void of all inhabitants, minus one.
After a wander around the buildings and alongside glorious clear water streams, we decided to head on, not before we lost a stand off when faced with a heavily pregnant Mama cow and one of her calves. We passed a lively restaurant and contemplated lunch, but thought we needed to make up some time and could eat at the final destination.
Correct decision #1
If you want an easy, slow paced day out, I’d suggest spending more time exploring the Kuk Po villages, eating lunch here, and then heading back to Luk Keng.
We then walked on wards and upwards (so sorry Mum) towards Yung Shue Au on a trail through a gorgeous, vibrant green forest, admiring Hong Kong’s incredible trees, their huge, twisty roots, the branches that grow vertically, the branches that hang down looking like lengths of rope , the Jurassic park-esque ferns and even blue bamboo! At least ten different types of butterfly fluttered past us, and aside from the tweets and calls of birds and some noisy crickets, it was wonderfully peaceful.
Yung Shue Au (Banyan Pass)
Exactly what you want from an abandoned village in the middle of a forest! Decrepit buildings with broken, crumbly walls, no doubt their demise intensified by Hong Kong typhoons. Plants crawling over, through and out of the cracks. The roots overtaking the buildings reminded me muchly of Angkor Wat.
Unlike Kuk Po these buildings looked nonreturnable to, and there were no personal belongings as far as we could see, but we didn’t explore as much as I would have liked.
As well as previously being a local Hakka village some of its last inhabitants were Border Patrol guards as this area used to be a ‘Frontier Closed Area’. Initially set up to stop gun smuggling during the Korean War, and then to stop immigrants crossing the borders, especially during the 1960’s.
It was here that it started to rain, and we got a little nervous of the time. Originally I had thought that the ferry out at 3:30pm would be the best, nicest option.. but it dawned on me that in fact, that seemed like our only option. According to my route we still had enough time, but I hadn’t counted on the fact much of it was uphill, and the rains making the ground muddy and the rock-steps slippery meant each step needed more care, attention, and time.
I had no worries for Dad, who in recent years hiked the Dolomites and up to Everest base camp, but my heart sank thinking of having to hurry on Mum, fit, but a fan of flat, easy walking…
We passed many hikers on the way, some that had overtaken us earlier and were heading back to Luk Keng. I tried not to let this freak me out, and we agreed to go forward rather than back, even after talking to some hikers that seemed genuinely concerned for us, because we ‘definitely would not make the ferry.’ I tried to keep the images in my head of us sleeping wet and cold on a concrete floor in an abandoned Hakka house, only to trek back the following morning at bay, or to console myself thinking Mum and I have tonnes of snacks and I had a lot of water, so all will be fine…. Or maybe we could get a helicopter? How much would that cost anyway?
Each time we passed a signpost less time had elapsed than what they predicted, so I tried to keep myself in hopeful spirits… but these were knocked down whenever we reached an incline and our pace slowed greatly.
So Lo Pun
Our next stop was due to be So Lo Pun, translating as ‘compass is locked.’ Apparently compasses stop functioning properly here but I of course forgot to bring one. Another village abandoned in similar circumstances due to economic change and urban migration, it was utterly beautiful. The decaying buildings adorned with red Chinese New Year banners, and also, what seemed to be protest banners. I later found out these were against Government plans to list the area as a conservation site.
We passed through quickly, enjoying the relief that the fairly flat terrain and tree canopy cover brought us, hoping to make up time. I took a couple of quick photos, either to check out later, or for others to see the route we had come after our inevitable demise.. (yes, some of my thoughts were a little melodramatic.)
The next signpost brought hope. Unspoken hope, but we all felt it.
Lai Chi Wo, 2km, 1 1/4 hours.
It was 2:30pm, 1 hour until the ferry.
We could see that there was a hill blocking the way. I hoped it was just one big up and one big down. I hurried to the top as quickly as possible, feeling horrible for what I was making my parents climb up, but standing at the peak, I caught my breathe, and looked around at the absolutely stunning, misty views around me.
After a few minutes a group of hikers joined from the other direction telling me it was all downhill from here, and only 30 mins to Lai Chi Wo. It was 3pm. Time was not on our side, but it wasn’t over yet! After chatting to them about mine and my parents links to Hong Kong and how great my Mum had been powering on the ‘pleasant walk’ I had promised her, they greeted my parents with cheers and claps! Smiles and some rejuvenating pineapple later, the three of us started down the final descent.
At 3.21pm we saw it; the Ferry. It was in reaching distance. My Dad started to run. I started to run, then realised I shouldn’t leave my Mum, but… I looked behind, and Mum had started to run! What a SuperMum. We made it on to the ferry at 3.23pm.
Due to the rain and mist we couldn’t see the rocks, but we had made it. We were on the ferry. We were going home. We were not sleeping in abandoned villages, or trekking further into the country park hoping to find a road, or calling for a helicopter from an emergency phone. WE WERE ON THE FERRY!
The hike, had we not had to rush, though harder than expected is still only of moderate difficulty and is a very manageable one, unless you have issues with going up and down steep steps. Many areas are not concreted (which is lovely) but with rain, the ground and rocks are very slippery, so please check weather conditions (and note prior days weather) or bring a walking stick! Our main problem was suddenly realising our time constraints and not really knowing how long it would take, or what the terrain would be like. I willgo back, to spend some time at Lai Chi Wo, and to fully explore Luk Keng and the other villages I hastily walked through.
We had planned to visit Lai Chi Wo, which in it’s heyday was a prosperous Hakka walled village with between 400 – 500 inhabitants, but by the 1960’s was fully empty. In 2005 it opened as a Hong Kong Heritage Geocentre (website here) to promote research, conservation and local history. It is open ONLY on Sundays and Public Holidays. As far as I can gather you can stroll through an informative woodland walk and around the old Hakka Village seeing temples, an ancestral hall, a monastery, impressive entry gates and more general living accommodations. More info here
Note – the boat ONLY runs on Sundays and public holidays. One option, so you aren’t so time constrained might be to take the 9am boat from Ma Liu Shui (nearest MTR: University on the light blue East Rail lin, Exit B and then a 10-15min walk), spend a bit of time in Lai Chi Wo, then head the other way. From Luk Keng you can then take the 56K to Fanling. I read online that the last bus is at 7:30pm, though remember it may be busy – so aim to be earlier. And check yourself before you go. Times change!
Dinner that night involved a lot of laughter at our accidentally adrenaline filled adventure…. Thankfully, as we made the ferry, my parents had a really good day out and I did not feel like the worst daughter in the world… Had we not… I don’t want to think about!