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Pitch Forks and Burning Torches.

Walking the Tung O Ancient Trail.

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On Wednesday, which just happened to be Saint Andrew's Day, Peter and I met up with our friend Jason. We went to King Ludwig's Beer Hall in Causeway Bay and had a very pleasant catch up over beer, schnitzel, sausages and pretzel. Not very Scottish, I know.

Peter with a pretzel and a beer.

Peter with a pretzel and a beer.

Jason and I.

Jason and I.

Jason and Peter.

Jason and Peter.

Yesterday, I finally got round to walking the Tung O Ancient Trail. This coastal trail goes from Tung Chung all the way to Tai O fishing village. If you start from Tung Chung bus or train station, like I did, this walk is about fifteen kilometres long.

In olden days, the Tung O Ancient Trail was the main way for villagers in Tai O, or in any of the other settlements along this stretch of the North Lantau coastline, to get to Tung Chung.

One of my friends suggested this as a suitable summer hike. I'm glad I did not take her suggestion seriously, as the walk took around five hours and I certainly could not have done it in the heat. Most of the hike is fairly flat, but there are three or four steep slopes on the way. Most of the route is concrete path, but in the last section, near Tai O, the trail becomes a dirt path. It's quite rocky in this part and has a few stairs.

Personally, I found this walk very interesting, as it was a real jumbled mix of rural Hong Kong, urban development, beautiful nature and coastal scenery.

To get to the beginning of the trail from Tung Chung Station: go on to Hing Tung Street, then carry on to Tat Tung Street. From Tat Tung Street go onto Shun Tung Road. There are some pink tourist sign posts indicating the way from around this point. From Shun Tung Road, continue onto Yat Tung Road. You will pass a viewpoint out over the water. Shortly after this, there is a sign leading down a small path to Hau Wong Temple.

View over the water at the start of the trail.

View over the water at the start of the trail.

Some people combine this walk with a visit to Tung Chung Fortress which is on the other side of Yat Tung Road from the temple. I didn't do this as I have been there before very recently.

One of the reasons this trail took me a long time is that I went off on several short diversions to sightsee along the route. I started with a look at Hau Wong Temple. This temple is located in the village of Sha Tsui Tau and is dedicated to a courageous general who tried to protect the last two child emperors of the Song Dynasty. This temple dates from 1765 and has been rated as a grade two historic building since 2010.

Hau Wong Temple.

Hau Wong Temple.

Hau Wong Temple.

Hau Wong Temple.

As well as the temple, the village had several beautiful murals on display. These showed some of the sights of Tung Chung, such as the old fort and also a Dragon Dance.

Dragon Dance,Village mural.

Dragon Dance,Village mural.

Village mural showing high rises and fishing boats and aeroplanes.

Village mural showing high rises and fishing boats and aeroplanes.

Mural showing Tung Chung Fort.

Mural showing Tung Chung Fort.

Mural showing workers by the shore.

Mural showing workers by the shore.

At the end of the village there is a bridge across Tung Chung River. On the far side of the bridge the path continues through mangrove swamps. Apparently this area is quite famous for butterflies. I did see one huge one on route. I think it was dying as it flew down onto the path in front of me and stayed perfectly still, even when I got close to photograph it.

Bridge at the start of the trail.

Bridge at the start of the trail.

Village at the start of the trail.

Village at the start of the trail.

Huge butterfly.

Huge butterfly.

The reason I mentioned the urban nature of this hike earlier, is that at several points on it, especially in the first half of the walk, you walk very close to Chek Lap Kok International Airport. This airport opened in 1998. It was built to replace Kai Tak Airport, which due to its location in the centre of the city, had little room to expand. Chek Lap Kok Airport was built on a small island which was enlarged by land reclamation and levelled so that the airport could be placed there. There were villages on the Island of Chek Lap Kok and the villagers living there were relocated. However, there were also villages on the north coast of Lantau Island, opposite the new airport, and their once sleepy, peaceful existence was largely destroyed by the construction of a huge airport, pretty much in their backyard. The airport brought them noise pollution and sea pollution. Hardly surprisingly they were not too happy about this, but things were going to get even worse. More about that later.

The Airport.

The Airport.

Looking across Tung Chung Bay and the cable car.

Looking across Tung Chung Bay and the cable car.

Viewpoint for looking over the airport.

Viewpoint for looking over the airport.

Bridge and Airport.

Bridge and Airport.

After walking for a while, I came to the little village of San Tau. I noticed a sign pointing towards its pier and although that was a detour off my route, I went to take a look.

San Tau Village.

San Tau Village.

On the way I passed some lovely organic gardens and then came to the pier that juts out into Tung Chung Bay with views towards the airport. I had the place entirely to myself at first, then suddenly, out of nowhere, a large group of people appeared and began searching the shores. As they seemed to be quite young, I wonder if they were students and if they were looking for mudskippers, a kind of amphibious fish that skips across the mudflats at low tide. Apparently, San Tau has quite a lot of these.

Little farms.

Little farms.

Little farms.

Little farms.

Little farms.

Little farms.

Banana flower.

Banana flower.

San Tau Pier.

San Tau Pier.

Where did all these people come from?

Where did all these people come from?

I returned to the village of San Tau and got back on my trail. There was a mixture of houses all around. Some were traditional village houses, some were more modern, comfortable looking abodes and some had largely been abandoned and left to crumble. There was, of course, a little temple. Then, to my surprise, I saw a row of traditional looking houses, but in pristine condition and all beautifully painted. I began to take photos. There was an old Chinese man standing outside and he indicated to me that I could go in. I was surprised, but I went in and discovered the houses had been converted into a museum about traditional rural life on Lantau. I've read so many descriptions of this trail, but none of them mentioned this museum. I have no idea why not. I have been to several such museums and this, in my view, was one of the best, as it had so much in it. I really liked it.

Some buildings are in ruins.

Some buildings are in ruins.

Temple building in San Tau.

Temple building in San Tau.

Inside the temple building in San Tau.

Inside the temple building in San Tau.

Houses converted into a museum.

Houses converted into a museum.

Houses converted into a museum.

Houses converted into a museum.

A room inside the museum.

A room inside the museum.

Kitchen inside the museum.

Kitchen inside the museum.

Bedroom inside the museum.

Bedroom inside the museum.

Displays inside the museum.

Displays inside the museum.

Displays inside the museum.

Displays inside the museum.

Inside the museum.

Inside the museum.

Displays inside the museum.

Displays inside the museum.

After this village, I began to have a think about the other urban part of my walk. That was the fifty-five kilometre long Hong Kong-Zuhai-Macau Bridge(HZMB), which was just off shore from where I was walking.This bridge is the longest sea crossing in the world and consists of three cable-stayed bridges, an undersea tunnel and four artificial islands. It should be brimming over with traffic, connecting Hong Kong to Macau and China, but because of COVID, it isn't. In fact, walking along the edge of it for hours, I saw only the occasional lorry pass by. However, again the noise and pollution caused by the construction of this bridge caused grief for the villagers along this shore. That brings me on to my next village. The one that inspired my title 'pitch forks and burning torches.' That village is Sha Lo Wan.

Hong Kong Zuhai Macau Bridge.

Hong Kong Zuhai Macau Bridge.

HMZB.

HMZB.

When I want to do a walk, I always look for blogs and videos online to let me know what it is like. Looking up this walk, I encountered a big problem. The village I was about to enter, Sha Lo Wan, was not a happy place.

Sha Lo Wan has a long history and has been associated with incense production, fishing and farming. At times during its long history it has been invaded and occupied by pirates. In the 1950's tungsten was discovered here and the population shot up, as people came to mine it, but when that industry went into decline, the population decreased once again.

Sha Lo Wan has suffered a lot from the building of the airport opposite it and the building of the long sea bridge that bi-passes it. While it suffers the effects of development, it does not benefit from them. Sha Lo Wan can only be reached on foot or by ferry. It has no vehicular transport. At one point the government decided to build a road here which would link the village with Tai O and Tung Chung, but the plans never materialised and the village population began to decrease even more. The villagers felt slighted and angry and they decided to fight back. They began to shut off access to the village, so hikers sometimes set out to do the walk I was doing, only to find the halfway point shut off with a barrier at Sha Lo Wan. The barrier was not only locked, it was often manned by angry villagers, shouting at hikers and trying to make them go away. Squabbles broke out and often the police were called in to solve them. Nowadays, it is a matter of luck whether this village is open or not. When they reach the barrier, some hikers get into confrontations with the angry villagers, others turn round and go back. One group even tried to make their way round through the surrounding overgrown hillside and had to be airlifted to safety when they got stuck. I won't lie, although I do feel a lot of sympathy towards the villagers, I was nervous about trying to get through Sha Lo Wan, but I decided to try.

Before reaching the village, I came to the sign post that told me Sha Lo Wan was just five minutes ahead. All around me there were signs saying 'Sha Lo Wan is private property', 'Keep Quiet', 'Keep your mask on', 'Sha Lo Wan does not want visitors'. It wasn't exactly a warm welcome.

Signs around Sha Lo Wan. Enter and we will regard you as a thief.

Signs around Sha Lo Wan. Enter and we will regard you as a thief.

Signs abound in Sha Lo Wan.

Signs abound in Sha Lo Wan.

Sha Lo Wan does not welcome visitors. We know.

Sha Lo Wan does not welcome visitors. We know.

There was also another sign pointing out that there was a temple in the opposite direction from Sha Lo Wan. This temple was called Pa Kong Temple and was supposed to be one of the best sights on this trail. I thought to myself: "I'll visit the temple, then see if I can get through the village." So I set off on a diversion to the temple. It was well signposted, which made me sure it was an official government sight, but when I got to the path leading to the temple, it was padlocked shut and there was a sign on the gate saying 'Any non-Sha Lo Wan resident who tries to enter this area will be regarded as a thief and will be arrested by the police'.

Now I have watched videos where the residents of Sha Lo Wan state their grievances and, to an extent, I can sympathize with them, but having walked for two hours to be met with a dead end, when I felt sure this was actually a public right away, really annoyed me. I had a look around. There didn't seem to be anyone around. I could not see a single irate resident, brandishing a pitch fork or waving a burning torch. I decided to chance it. I climbed around the barrier, which was incredibly easy to do, quietly tiptoed past a couple of houses and arrived at the temple. In fact there is more than one temple. The temples are in pristine condition and are beautifully maintained.

I had to tiptoe past this house.

I had to tiptoe past this house.

The first of the temples is Pa Kong Temple. This was built in 1774 and is dedicated to Hung Shing. Next to it, there is a Tin Hau Temple dating from 1919. As I said, both temples were beautiful and very well maintained. I have seen some photos of a statue of a sea dragon in the water here, but for some reason, it is no longer here. Maybe it was just temporary, or its been washed away in a storm, or perhaps it wasn't a resident of Sha Lo Wan and was arrested as a thief. I really don't know.

In front of the temples, Sha Lo Wan.

In front of the temples, Sha Lo Wan.

Sha Lo Wan Temples are side by side.

Sha Lo Wan Temples are side by side.

Pa Kong Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Pa Kong Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Inside the Pa Kong Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Inside the Pa Kong Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Shrine in Pa Kong Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Shrine in Pa Kong Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

The entrance to Tin Hau Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

The entrance to Tin Hau Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Entrance to Tin Hau Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Entrance to Tin Hau Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Inside the Tin Hau Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Inside the Tin Hau Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Boat in the Tin Hau Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

Boat in the Tin Hau Temple, Sha Lo Wan.

I left the temples nervously, wondering if a posse of angry villagers would have assembled outside ready to lynch me. Fortunately, there was still noone around. I rushed back to the gate and beat a hasty retreat in the direction of Sha Lo Wan Pier. A ferry calls in at this pier several times a day, but it's not very frequent, so I can see why the villagers feel isolated and want a road. It's not an easy place to get in or out of, and as most of the population is elderly, it can't be easy for them to get around.

Pavilion on the way to Sha Lo Wan Pier.

Pavilion on the way to Sha Lo Wan Pier.

Old incinerator on the way to the pier, Sha Lo Wan.

Old incinerator on the way to the pier, Sha Lo Wan.

View across Sha Lo Wan Bay towards its temples.

View across Sha Lo Wan Bay towards its temples.

Looking across Sha Lo Wan Bay.

Looking across Sha Lo Wan Bay.

Boats on the shore at Sha Lo Wan Bay.

Boats on the shore at Sha Lo Wan Bay.

House on the way to Sha Lo Wan Pier.

House on the way to Sha Lo Wan Pier.

Sha Lo Wan Pier.

Sha Lo Wan Pier.

Sha Lo Wan Pier.

Sha Lo Wan Pier.

Boat passing Sha Lo Wan Pier.

Boat passing Sha Lo Wan Pier.

Looking at the Hong Kong Zuhai Macau Bridge, Sha Lo Wan.

Looking at the Hong Kong Zuhai Macau Bridge, Sha Lo Wan.

After visiting the pier, I returned towards the main village of Sha Lo Wan and wondered if I would be able to get through. There were even more signs everywhere telling me to shut up, mask up and not even think about deviating from the path and entering the village. I knew the village had ancestral halls that would be interesting to see, but I decided to behave. After all I had chanced my luck once. It seemed best not to push it.

Sha Lo Wan Village.

Sha Lo Wan Village.

Looking at but not entering Sha Lo Wan Village.

Looking at but not entering Sha Lo Wan Village.

Sha Lo Wan Village.

Sha Lo Wan Village.

Although Sha Lo Wan looked pretty, the signs telling me that visitors were not welcome here began to take effect. I couldn't wait to get through the village and out the other side. When I made it, I gave a little cheer and put my mask down so I could breathe. It's now permissable to take your mask off outside to exercise and I think hiking counts as exercise. However, having said that, I guess the population of places like Sha Lo Wan are elderly and it may not be easy for them to get to a vaccination centre, due to their lack of transport, so maybe they have every right to insist anyone visiting wears a mask. On the video I watched about Sha Lo Wan, one elderly resident complained that she had had to wait for around five hours for an ambulance when she had suddenly been taken ill. That sort of thing is why the villagers really want a road.

After Sha Lo Wan there were some other villages, another little temple, a house with a lovely garden and several ruined buildings. The countryside all around was beautiful with the occasional river, the odd bridge, green fields, a bamboo grove, lots of trees. It was all very quiet and peaceful and calm. The danger of pitch fork wielding villagers was far behind me. I could relax once more.

Village buildings.

Village buildings.

Village house.

Village house.

Ruined building.

Ruined building.

Abandoned houses.

Abandoned houses.

Village shack.

Village shack.

Parking spot.

Parking spot.

Little village temple.

Little village temple.

Inside the little village temple.

Inside the little village temple.

I guess this must be a monastery.

I guess this must be a monastery.

Gates to nowhere were everywhere.

Gates to nowhere were everywhere.

Bridge across a river.

Bridge across a river.

Countryside scene.

Countryside scene.

River.

River.

Green fields.

Green fields.

Selfie with bamboo.

Selfie with bamboo.

Not sure what these people are gathering.

Not sure what these people are gathering.

After a while, I arrived at, what I think, was the village of Sham Wat Wan. This had a pier, a rocky beach and several restaurants. I was quite hungry by this stage but kept going, nonetheless.

Beach near the restaurants.

Beach near the restaurants.

Restaurant.

Restaurant.

Restaurant.

Restaurant.

There was a sign at the end of the village indicating the way to Tai O. I had read some accounts of people having problems with village dogs on the Tung O Ancient Trail. I had been lucky so far. As I entered the narrow path here, there was a large black dog coming straight towards me at speed. I froze and looked at it. It froze and looked at me. It hadn't growled or anything and was standing completely still. Nervously, I began moving towards it. As soon as I did, it began nervously moving towards me. I stopped again. It stopped again. We looked at each other. It still hadn't growled, so I decided to try and convince myself it was harmless and continue on my way, passing round it. As soon as I did, it continued on its way, passing round me. I was very relieved to have got past it and turned round to take one last look at it. It had also stopped and was looking back at me. I'm pretty sure it was thinking: "Thank God, I got past that human. I thought she was going to attack me there at one point."

From this point the path has several sets of stairs and every now and then there are beautiful coastal views. At some point the concrete path disappears and is replaced by a rocky, dirt track. Some stretches of the path are quite tricky to walk on as it's so bumpy due to all the rocks. There were very good views of the Hong Kong Zuhai Macau Bridge from this area. At one point I spotted a seat and decided I had earned a short rest. I was getting tired.

Stairs on the last part of the trail.

Stairs on the last part of the trail.

Country path.

Country path.

Rocky path and coastline.

Rocky path and coastline.

Bridge and coastline.

Bridge and coastline.

Never-ending bridge.

Never-ending bridge.

Coastal scenery on the approach to Tai O.

Coastal scenery on the approach to Tai O.

Me with the bridge and coastline.

Me with the bridge and coastline.

When I was almost at Tai O, I spotted a sign for Lantau North Obelisk. I decided to go and take a look. This involved climbing lots of stairs.There are actually two obelisks. I was visiting the North Lantau one, but there's also a South Lantau one in another location.

The obelisks were erected by the British navy in 1902. The writing on the obelisks is worn and faded, but apparently it says that a “Convention Respecting an Extension of the Hong Kong Territory was signed between the British Government and the Qing Government in 1898, under which the New Territories including Lantau would be leased to Great Britain."

Sign for the obelisk.

Sign for the obelisk.

The obelisk.

The obelisk.

Looking back at the obelisk.

Looking back at the obelisk.

I decided not to go back down the way I had come up. Instead, I proceeded on to a viewpoint with great views over Tai O and along the coast and towards one of Tai O's most famous temples - Yeung Hau Temple. From there, when I had finished enjoying the view, I took a set of stairs back down to my path.

Looking over Tai O from near the obelisk.

Looking over Tai O from near the obelisk.

View over Tai O from near the obelisk.

View over Tai O from near the obelisk.

View over Tai O from near the obelisk.

View over Tai O from near the obelisk.

Looking over Yeung Hau Temple.

Looking over Yeung Hau Temple.

It wasn't much further until I entered Tai O. I could see the Yeung Hau Temple across the bay from me. I've visited there before. The area I was standing in was incredibly windy and really very cold.

Yeung Hau Temple, Tai O.

Yeung Hau Temple, Tai O.

Small rocky beach on the way to Tai O.

Small rocky beach on the way to Tai O.

I personally, like Tai O. It's a fishing village, but it has lots of character. There are lovely restaurants here, as well as beautiful temples and traditional houses standing on stilts. I crossed over one of Tai O's best known bridges.

Path into Tai O.

Path into Tai O.

Arriving in Tai O.

Arriving in Tai O.

Stilt houses, Tai O.

Stilt houses, Tai O.

Houses and boats, Tai O.

Houses and boats, Tai O.

Houses and boats, Tai O.

Houses and boats, Tai O.

Typical scenery, Tai O.

Typical scenery, Tai O.

Typical scenery, Tai O.

Typical scenery, Tai O.

Typical scenery,Tai O.

Typical scenery,Tai O.

Street art in Tai O.

Street art in Tai O.

One of Tai O's famous bridges.

One of Tai O's famous bridges.

Village cat, Tai O.

Village cat, Tai O.

I was quite hungry and I had read that Tai O Bakery was famous for egg waffles. I wondered if I should stop and buy a snack. However, there was a massive queue at the bakery. It made me wonder where all these people had come from.

Tai O Bakery is a popular place.

Tai O Bakery is a popular place.

I continued on to a beautiful temple on one of Tai O's main squares - Kwan Tai Temple. This is the oldest temple on Lantau and dates from the fifteenth century. It is dedicated to Kwan Tai, the god of war. There was great art work around, too. I also took a wander around some streets filled with stalls selling dried seafood and other goods.

The temple, Tai O.

The temple, Tai O.

Inside the temple, Tai O.

Inside the temple, Tai O.

Inside the temple, Tai O.

Inside the temple, Tai O.

Inside the temple, Tai O.

Inside the temple, Tai O.

Colourful square Tai O.

Colourful square Tai O.

Shop in Tai O.

Shop in Tai O.

Shop, Tai O.

Shop, Tai O.

Shops in Tai O.

Shops in Tai O.

Dried sea food store, Tai O.

Dried sea food store, Tai O.

Puffer fish in glasses.

Puffer fish in glasses.

As I was making my way to the bus stop, I crossed another beautiful bridge. I then noticed that Tai O Rural Committee had set up a display about village life, so I went in and had a look.It was quite interesting and we'll worth visiting.

Main Bridge, Tai O.

Main Bridge, Tai O.

Sign for the exhibition in Tai O.

Sign for the exhibition in Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Inside the exhibition, Tai O.

Ships, Tai O.

Ships, Tai O.

After looking around this museum, I headed to the bus stop. There was quite a large queue and I got almost the last seat on the bus.

There was some lovely scenery on the drive to Tung Chung. I got off in the bus station and joined another massive queue for a bus back to Discovery Bay. It had been a fun but very tiring day. Fortunately, the pitch fork and burning torch bearing villagers had all been asleep when I passed by.

Posted by irenevt 07:19 Archived in Hong Kong

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Comments

Hello, Irene! Thanks a lot for your exciting story about your hike along the famous Tung O Ancient Trail. The villages, especially Tai O, are amazing places to explore...I am glad nothing bad and sad happened to you during your excellent hike. All's well that ends well!~

by Vic_IV

Hi Victor, yes thankfully the hike was problem free. I do feel a bit sorry for the residents though. It can be a struggle for rural Hong Kong to keep going amidst all the urban development. Thanks for visiting.

by irenevt

Nei hou, Irene! I understand, we have similar situation here. Doh jeh!~

by Vic_IV

Haha. You are better at Chinese than me and I ve been here since 1996.

by irenevt

Glad there were no pitch fork wielding residents. Lovely to see the banana blossom flower. We only heard of this recently as an alternative to cooking with fish. Tried it in a Goan curry too.. 😋

by Catherine

Is the flower edible? I didn't know this.

by irenevt

The temples at Sha Lo Wan were beautifully kept. It's too bad they can't have their road. You had quite an adventure!

by Beausoleil

Hi Sally, yes the whole village was beautifully kept. I enjoyed this walk.

by irenevt

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