Kam Tin valley has probably the most interesting heritage in the Hong Kong SAR. It has probably the largest expanse of flat land in the territory, so historically the rich soils were fertile farming land. When southern China starved before the British occupation, Kam Tin valley provided rice and vegetables.
I was told by no less an authority than AFCD that there were no paddy fields left in Hong Kong. This is therefore an illusion.
‘Tin’ in a name like Kam Tin or Sha Tin means rice field, or rice paddy.
Still actively farmed in the mid-1990s
The last of the Kam Tin farmers?
New fruit tree plantations sprang up in the late 1990s on long abandoned agricultural land, as farmers smelt a quick profit of compensation from the huge civil engineering projects which were about to rip through the valley.
The view north across Kam Tin Valley towards Lam Tsuen Country Park
The indigenous people were also preyed upon by bandits and warlords, so they built walled villages as a defense. The largest British army camp (Sek Kong) was situated in the middle of the valley, complete with an airstrip. When the British withdrew in 1997, the PLA took over the same camp.
The valley still has well preserved temples and shrines and relics – unfortunately, ‘progress’ and ‘development’ have, or are, destroying or overwhelming heritage.
The walled village of Kam Tin. Wholly inappropriate ‘Spanish style villas’ now occupy most of the interior. This is fairly typical of unplanned, unregulated development in the ‘new territories’.
The gatekeepers of the Tang clan walled village. They are smiling in the photo because they’d been paid. No one escapes the village without crossing their palms with paper!
The four ladies standing are wearing traditional ‘Hakka’ hats which keep the sun off the face during long days in the fields. They are probably the last generation to wear this clothing in Hong Kong. Back in the office, I mentioned to a Chinese colleague about the hassle the old girls had given me. He roared with laughter and told me I should have told them to take a hike. His name was William Tang, they were his relatives, and he was about to become the head man of the village and the clan!
I found this fabulous old abandoned building along Kam Sheung Road. I presume it was knocked down and redeveloped soon after, as I could never relocate it.
Rice grinders are quite common in remote or abandoned villages (like this one in Ma On Kong). Desirable they might be to Western antique collectors, it would take four strong men to share the load over a long walk back to a vehicle. So they stay gathering moss.
Near Ma On Kong is another barely inhabited village, Yuen Kong San Tsuen. I was surprised to find this small christian church there.
Old is not esteemed in Hong Kong.
Yuen Kong San Tsuen – the detailing under the eaves is a common feature on old residences and temples
Banyan trees though are believed to be inhabited by spirits and are revered.
Banyans can grow to an enormous size. A type of fig, they drop roots from the branches which become new trunks
When found on the edge of villages (such as this tree at Sheung Tsuen), there is usually a fung shui shrine nearby.
For the poor old banyan, being nominated as a fung shui tree isn’t always a good thing. This is probably the most famous ‘lucky tree’ at Hang Ha Po on the Lam Kam Road. At every traditional festival, but particularly at New Year, people travel from all over the New Territories…
…good luck messages tied to oranges are lobbed onto the branches of the tree. Combined with candles and fireworks, this proved indendiary. This tree was burned – not so lucky for the tree.
This very large grave was on the banks of one of the rivers in the Kam Tin valley
The village of Sheung Che
The huge cage on the front of this temple at Shui Tau adds little to its aesthetic
A brightly decorated temple in the Kam Tin valley
One of several temples in the Kam Hing Wai and Shui Tau area. Not so brightly coloured, but the roof is nicely detailed