Walled villages & farmlands; biking the NE New Territories

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After entering my first walled village whilst exploring Tai Po Market, I was really keen to seek out some more. I knew there were a few near the Chinese border in the areas of Sheung Shui, Fan Ling and Sha Tau Kok, so when I saw a cycle meet up around these areas I had to join. Even though they weren’t mentioned on the route guide I was optimistic, and rightly so..
Meeting at 10am I then rented a bike from ‘Bike Store HK’ located in the Sheung Shui cycling hub, 3 mins walk from the station (Exit A3); $80 for the day. To many Hong Kongers, especially Islanders Sheung Shui is FAR away. But really, it’s not. From my little studio in Tin Hau it took 40 mins door to door. 10 minutes bus through the cross harbour tunnel to Hung Hom, then the East Kowloon line for 10 stops.

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About 30 minutes later our group of 20 set off, ultimately towards Luk Keng (where my parents and I started the abandoned Hakka villages hike.) The ride didn’t start off so great for me, passing by Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse, screams stabbing an imaginary blade through my heart, but I took a few deep breaths and turned my attention instead to the hills around me.

 

Our first stop? San Wai walled village, wai means walled. Also known as Kun Lung Wai, it was built in 1744 and of a typical design, consisting of grey brick walls with peepholes (actually called ‘loopholes’) a watchtower and narrow lanes (not really seen above!)

I only managed to pop my head in quickly before being hurried on and mistakenly thought ‘alright.. today is about the cycling!’ Over the next few hours we had stopped off at almost all the sights on the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail. Named after the Lung Yeuk Ling mountains nearby (Mountain of the Leaping Dragon) this area was home to the Tang Clan, one of the five largest in the New Territories. They moved to this area in the 13th Century, and over the next few hundred years built 11 villages, five of them walled, protecting against pirates and bandits.

 

Next stop was Lo Wai, the first walled village built by the Tang clan, the outer walls restored in 1999 with funds from the HK Jockey Club (who else!) Lo Wai is not accessible to the public, but I was told I must have a photo outside, otherwise it’s bad luck. The wonky, cut off, badly framed one you see above is the best of the bunch…

We then pedalled on to the still functioning Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall, built in the early 16th Century as a memorial to Tang Chung Ling, and holds the title of the oldest and largest ancestral hall in Hong Kong.

 

The cycling flitted between narrow paths and lanes, often through lush green farmland, and sharing large roads with  equally large trucks and way too fast public transport vehicles. The latter probably sounds more dangerous but it was in the greenery that one of our group cycled off the path into a ditch of person depth…

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We stopped for snacks a few times, (probably a few times too many for my personal preference) but sampling fresh local lychees are seeing my first real life lychee tree was pretty cool, and damn tasty. Lunch for me, the vegan, was a simple but decent plate of plain rice & vegetables at a local restaurant just outside Sheung Shui.

 

Our half way point (distance, not time wise) was Luk Keng, where we stopped to admire the gorgeous view of Starling Inlet (and over to Mainland China) and took a moment for some group meditation…  (which really consisted of sitting in the lotus position and trying to look serious!)

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Most of the group happily chowed down on daufufa, a tofu pudding, that sadly, given its vegan and widely available it is is a little uninspiring and bland for my taste buds!

 

 

On the way back we picked up the pace and the mileage simultaneously, and I finally hit that meditative cycling state, just happy in the moment, taking in my surroundings, breathing a little heavier! Pedalling on fairly winding paths through lush farmland we passed Shek Lo, peeking out from the greenery. A beautiful private residence built in 1936, mixing Western and Chinese architectural styles. You can’t go in, and no one else seems to noticed it – but I was happy with my spot!

 

One of our group thankfully requested a toilet stop, which ended up being opposite the opening to Ma Wat Wai. Built in the mid-18th Century it has one entrance, a thick plated wrought iron gate, with a gun platform over the top. I went in and had a quick walk through the narrow allies and up to the communal alter at the other end. I realised in my post pedal fact checking that this Wai isn’t open to the public. Sorry inhabitants :/

 

Our last piece of history was Tsung Kyam Church, first built in 1926, but finished in its present state in 1951. The photo was taken whilst riding past, again no mention or seeming interest from the group generally, but I loved it.  The dirty exterior, the materials and shape of the building encapsulated old Hong Kong to me.

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One thing I love about this city, which I know I’ve gone on about, is the contrasts and contradictions; the old still slotting in with the new, the urban modern life set in a rural, luscious green raw hilly backdrop. But I’d be lying if I said the endless construction of the 50 storey apartment blocks didn’t sadden me. The harbour continuously closing in, and whilst looking at the iconic skyline wondering how long it will be before it’s no longer recognisable, but just a long line of tall shiny non-descript buildings.

My parents moved here in the late 1970s and I love hearing their descriptions of driving on the one lane dirt road to Sha Tin, or how Aberdeen really was just a small fishing village back then. Wondering how they got about, given the MTR hadn’t opened yet when they arrived!

People always ask me if HK has changed since my childhood. But it never stopped, it was always changing – shanty towns cleared, new skyscrapers going up. At one point I thought they were cracking down on small unlicensed sellers, but it seems people still sell whatever, wherever. Streets are cleaner (still dusty of course), street signs and maps are now commonplace, and public toilets stopped being rotting cesspits.

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I absolutely love being out in the New Territories, and with only a 5 minute cycle, or even just a turn down a small path, you can find yourself surrounded only by greenery and small two story buildings. But this countryside is changing quickly and increasingly I feel the presence of huge complexes towering over me.

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Overall we clocked up 45km, but 2/3rds of that were in the last hour or so. Most of the cycle was flat with a few very steep, but equally short inclines. I know there are a few more sites and villages we didn’t get too – and with a little bit of pre planning I figure it will be an easy enough to cycle around with no guide (and the GPS on my phone of course…) Never being too far away from a village or a main road as long as long I think this area is easy enough for an exploratory cycle. The trails aren’t signposted like heading up to Tai Mei Tuk or as easy to follow as the loop around Yuen Luen/Nam Sang Wai but now that I’ve done a few off main track cycles in the New Territories I’m keen to rent a bike and just go for a pedal!

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