Yuen Long is a large district in the northwest section of the territory. It was one of the largest town centres in the New Territories outside of the urban core of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. I had been meaning to visit this part of Hong Kong on many occasions. I actually got there this time with my sister, parents, and mother-in-law in tow.
First off, you should know about the special day pass for the Yuen Long and Tuen Mun areas of Hong Kong. This pass is not very well advertised on the MTR website. There are only two stations from which you can buy such passes – Nam Cheong and Mei Foo. The pass allows for unlimited travel on the West Rail, the Yuen Long/Tuen Mun LRT, and MTR-run buses in the area.
This was also the first time I ever rode the West Rail. This line was the last of all the Hong Kong rail lines for me to travel upon. I could finally check it off my list.
We took the West Rail all the way to Tin Shui Wai Station. Our goal today was to walk the Ping Shan Heritage Trail that starts right next to the Tin Shui Wai Station. The Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda marks the start of the trail. It is roughly 3 stories tall. It is Hong Kong’s only ancient pagoda according to my Wiki sources and is more than 600 years old. That’s way back when Hong Kong was a backwater place in Imperial China.
My mom got chatting with the ladies managing the tower and she reminisced about what village life was like in Hong Kong about a half-century ago. Places like Ping Shan are some of the last places where one can find what pre-modern Hong Kong life was like. At least some of the old structures are still standing here; whereas in other parts of Hong Kong, such buildings have long since disappeared.
We set out upon the trail and came upon the beautiful Sheung Cheung Wai walled village. Walled villages were common in South China, especially along the coast, because the danger of pillaging pirates was very real. Obviously this wall has been updated with the conveniences of modern life, like air conditioning. However, I love the varied colour and texture of this wall. I also loved that we chanced upon the mailman and his bicycle delivery! How is that for a throwback?
The next stop along the trail was the Old Well and the Yeung Hau Temple. The Old Well was nothing write home about. The 200 year old well is covered with wire mesh to prevent mischievous children from falling in. Yeung Hau Temple was an extremely small and open air temple. In other words, there is no door or entrance to the place. It was divided into 3 sections with what seemed to be 3 different Chinese deities.
Further down the trail are probably the centrepieces of the Ping Shan Heritage Trail and a very important landmark for the locals. These centrepieces are the Tang Ancestral Hall and the almost twin-like Yi Kiu Ancestral Hall. They are right next to each other.
The Tang clan is one of the oldest clans in Hong Kong. This hall is said to be 700 years. I believe it is so well preserved because the members of the Tang clan still use this hall for festivities and worship. The hall is in absolutely great condition. Next door, the Yi Kiu Ancestral Hall was also built by members of the Tang clan. It is also used for worship and festivities. At one time, it was also a place of education for the young Tang munchkins.
The Tang clan during the Qing Dynasty was also very scholarly. They set up the Kun Ting Study Hall to prepare local students for the imperial civil service examination. If somebody were to do very well in these exams, he would attain a high position in the imperial government and bring face and pride to his family and village. These exams were a very big deal in Imperial China.
Right next door to the study hall is Chung Shu Hin, a guest house for students while they were visiting the study hall. The guest house had many beautiful decorations inside as well. It was very beautiful place to be in, especially the open air courtyard.
My mom got very excited about showing my sister and I the bathroom and the kitchen in Ching Shu Hin. She said it was very similar to what she had grown up with in 1940’s and 50’s. The bathing area was a very small dark room. My mom pointed out the tiny trough that was laid in the stone. That was for the water to flow out through a tiny hole in the wall. In those days, people would likely squat or sit on a small stool. They would pour water over themselves, soap up, and rinse.
Then there was the stove. The front of the stove had 3 large holes on which a cook would lay giant Chinese woks. Below these holes would be flames. The flames could be stoked from behind the stove by a worker. They would throw wood or other tinder to get the fire going. The stack behind the giant holes would then channel the smoke out of the kitchen via a chimney. Pretty ingenious.
Our last stop on the Ping Shan Heritage Trail was the Hung Shing Temple. It’s not a very huge temple like Yeung Hau Temple, but this one had a definite entrance. Also, just outside the temple is where the Tang clan erected tablets commemorating all the Tang students who passed the imperial civil service examination with top honours. Alongside these tablets for the Qing Dynasty scholars is a tablet with a modern twist. This tablet celebrates a member of Tang clan who graduated from the medical program at Harvard!
After our long walk, we hopped onto the bus and headed to the centre of Yuen Long’s township. It was so busy along the Main Road in Yuen Long. It felt like any other downtown with the crush of people. Especially with the LRT right down the middle of the street, it felt very tight and narrow to try and move past people. After grabbing some famous Yuen Long winter melon pastries, we hopped on the LRT back to the West Rail station. It was a long day in Yuen Long full of history and heritage mixed with classic hectic Hong Kong at the end.