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Fleeing Song dynasty princesses, ancestral halls, temples and walled villages. A walk through the history of the Tang Clan.
After an epic hike yesterday across Lantau Island I deserve some rest. And when I say rest I still mean walking, just not as much. Today's metrotrek is a heritage walk I found on the DiscoverHongKong website, the so called Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail. The trail journeys through the historic buildings of the Tang Clan, one of the largest clans in the area and with a history dating back to the Yuan dynasty (1279 -1368).
However, before exploring the ancient walled villages, halls and temples of the Tang clan I need to get there and also take a diversion to visit the nearby Fung Ying Seen Koon, one of Hong Kong's most important Taoist Temples. Getting to the area is easy, I just rode the train to Fanling Station, exited via the well signposted gate and then crossed under the Fanling Highway/Pak Wo Road to Fung Ying Seen Koon. In total a couple of minutes' walk.
Fung Ying Seen Koon was founded in 1929 and is named after the islands of Fung Lai and Ying Chau in the Bohai Sea (near Beijing). As I pass through the entrance gate I am greeted by ...
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A flight of stairs. Not the best start for someone who is trying to rest their aching legs, but the climb is worth it (there is an elevator if you really need it). At the top is some brilliant architecture and craftsmanship.
Inside the main temple is a shrine for the worship of Taishang Laojun, Lu Dongbin and Qiu Chuji. Taishang Laojun is one of the highest deities of Taoism and is believed to have manifested himself into Laozi, the great philosopher and author of the Daode Jing (a fundamental text of Taoism). Lu Dongbin is one of the earliest masters of Internal alchemy (esoteric doctrines and physical, mental, and spiritual practices) while Qiu Chuji was the founder of Longmen Sect.
Behind the Main Temple I walk to beautiful decorative wall. On one side of the wall is the "Wall of Daode Jing" where a fundamental text of Taoism is inscribed and on the other side is the "Mural of the 72 Immortals".
The most interesting aspect of the entire grounds would have to be the Ancestral Halls and the crematorium located over a courtyard from the Wall of Daode Jing. There are walls and walls of walls covered with black and white photos of those past. It was really interesting to see some of the people that once lived here. Some very old, some who didn't get a full chance at life. There are also plenty of vacant lots if you are interested in spending eternity here.
And this is where the deed is done.
Those not cremated are buried further up the hillside behind the Ming Terrace.
That's enough wandering through the graves for today. Time to check out the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail located about 1.2 kilometres away as the crow flies (obviously longer without wings and only legs to get me around). It really isn't that far but my legs are still aching from yesterday’s journey so I decide to follow DiscoverHongKong’s advice and take minibus 54K to Lung Yeuk Tau from the bus station on the eastern side of Fanling Train Station. I change my decision once I reach the bus station. There are heaps of bus stops and I really cannot be arsed working out which is which, so instead I just start walking. I change my decision again when I find a taxi rank on Fanling Station Road just outside the bus station. I feel kind of guilty but stuff it I have walked plenty, time to give myself a bit of luxury. A few minutes later and a few Hong Kong dollars shorter I arrive at Lok Tung Street and the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail. Before delving into what I find let me give you a bit of a background on the area.
The Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail is a 2.6km trail which links together heritage sites in Lung Yeuk Tau and gives you a glimpse of the Tang Clan's traditional life. The history of the area dates back to the end of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) when Tang descendants of a fleeing Song dynasty (960-1279) princess migrated to the area from Jishui in Jiangxi province on the Chinese mainland. The migrant community flourished and within a few hundred years the clan established five Wais (walled villages) and six Tsuens (villages).The number of walled villages gives an idea of what life must have been like in an era when marauding bandits and pirates plagued the area. Remnants of these villages in addition to Temples and Ancestral Halls of the Tangs can be visited along the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail. So let's get walking.
The first place of interest on the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail, the Tsung Kyam Church, doesn't have much to do with the Tangs but with the Hakka people (Han Chinese people who speak Hakka Chinese). The history of the church dates back to 1903 when a retired pastor began preaching Christian Gospel to the Hakka people. The preaching worked and as the congregation grew a church was constructed in 1927 with an extension in 1951. Worshipping now takes place in a new church further down the road.
Just a little further up the road is the spooky looking Shek Lo, the former residence of Mr Tsui Yan-sau, a mainland Chinese immigrant who founded the Wah Yan Colleges on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Shek Lo was built in 1925 and it looks like little has been done to the building since that time. I'm not really sure of Shek Lo's link to the Tang Clan, but regardless, it is a cool building if not a little eerie.
Next up is Ma Wat Wai, a walled village which is definitely linked to the Tang Clan.
What you see above is the entrance to the walled village which, along with parts of the perimeter wall, is all that remains of the original structure built during the Qianlong reign (1736-1795) of the Qing dynasty. Originally, Ma Wat Wai was enclosed by walls on four sides with a watchtower at each corner. The main entrance is now a declared monument and is constructed from granite and grey bricks. A top the entrance is a gun emplacement but today the only security is an old dog lurking at the entrance (inside is not open to the public). Above the door is a red sandstone lintel stating "Wat Chung" or "flourishing growth of spring onions". This may explain the urban farm I walked past near Shek Lo.
The next walled village on the list is Lo Wai and on the way I pass an Earth God Shrine which was built to protect the villagers.
Lo Wai is much more impressive than Ma Wat Wai as it is well preserved and feels like a real fort. Walking around the walls feels like I am stepping back in time. I wonder what the bandits thought when they came across this structure.
Lo Wai was the first walled village built by the Tang Clan. The lookout tower above the entrance and the walls are now declared monuments. Next on the list is the Tin Hau Temple which is dedicated to Tin Hau, protector of fishermen, and her guards Chin Lei Ngan (who can see a thousand miles) and Shun Fung Yi (who can hear a pin drop in heaven).
The Tin Hau Temple is beautifully decorated. I especially liked the stunning craftsmanship of the roof and the artwork under the eaves.
The date of construction of the Tin Hau temple is unknown, but it is believed to be older than the adjoining Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall which I visit next.
The Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall was originally built in 1525 and is the oldest and largest ancestral hall in Hong Kong. There are three halls with the rear hall divided into three chambers dedicated to the ancestral soul tablets, ancestors who made a significant contribution to the clan and virtuous clan members. The Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall is still used today by the clan to resolve differences, discuss family affairs and holds events, but not much is happening here today.
The Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall is exquisitely decorated with an array of brackets, eave artwork, wood carvings, murals and sculpture.
Even the brickwork is amazing to look at.
Further along the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail I am greeted by Tung Kok Wai walled village, which has a history dating back more than 500 years. To reach Tung Kok Wai you need to divert off the main drag (Sui Wan Road) and head along a path between a drain and backyards.
It isn't the most inspiring part of the walk but the destination is worth it.
Tung Kok Wai was originally enclosed by a moat and grey brick walls with watch towers at each corner. However, only the entrance and some of the walls remain. Although behind the entrance is not open to the public I did stick my head in to see the Earth God Shrine. It appears the Earth God likes oranges, tasty, tasty oranges.
Back on the main road I pass by Wing Ning Tsuen, Fuk Tak Tsz Shrine and Wing Ning Wai before crossing the busy Sha Tau Kok Road. Wing Ning Tsuen and Wing Ning Wai are not in the best state and are a little boring in comparison to the other villages in the area.
On the other side of Sha Tau Kok Road I continue along the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail but for some reason become a little disorientated, miss the Sin Shut Study Hall and head south again back to Sha Tau Kok Road. Going around in circles does have its advantages though as come across some other interesting buildings. Not sure what these are, but thought they were worthy of a photograph.
On second thought this may actually be Sin Shut Study Hall. If you go onto the Antiquities and Monuments Office website section for the Sin Shut Study Hall the building does not look like the one above. However, on the Wikipedia page this building is recognised as the Sin Shut Study Hall. The geolocation of the photo also suggest that it is indeed the Sin Shut Study Hall. The lack of signage and unknown buildings have me completely confused. Anyway, here are some more random photographs from my lost state.
After regaining by bearings I once again head north and find the best walled village on the entire Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail, San Wai.
San Wai is extremely well preserved and the four watchtowers on each corner of the walled village are super impressive and intimidating. Originally there was a moat surrounding the wall but today it has been filled in to make a carpark. Once again you cannot go inside the village walls but there is no need as the exterior is brilliant.
Less impressive is the final destination of the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail, Siu Hang Tsuen. The village does have a history dating back 200 years when members of the Tang Clan moved from Lo Wai, but there isn't much to see. The only spot of interest is an archway on the eastern side of the village which was built for better feng shui and an Earth God temple called Fok Tak Tsz.
Even though Siu Hang Tsuen was a little disappointing I am glad I came this way as there is Green Minibus stop right out the front which will take me back to Fanling Station. No need for a taxi this time.
The Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail was just what the doctor ordered. Short, no crazy heights (the staircases at the Fung Ying Seen Koon Taoist Temple did get a little puff going), no mist and plenty of history packed within a few kilometres. Some of the villages were a bit dilapidated and boring but the restored villages, temples and ancestral halls were well worth the visit.
Think I might call it an early day and relax with a few beers near my hotel in Yau Ma Tei. I am sure my aching feet and legs will thank me tomorrow when I am walking along the Dragon's Back, the final section of the Hong Kong Trail and thought to be the best urban hike in all of Asia. Tomorrow is my final day in Hong Kong.
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