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Lai Chi Wo: a near-empty nest

Lai Chi Wo_1

Deep inside the northeastern New Territories, within sight of Mainland China, the Hakka village of Lai Chi Wo remains eerily quiet on the first day of Chinese New Year. Even on this day of celebration, the village exists in a semi-abandoned state, with the confetti-like remnants of firecrackers scattered at the threshold of several houses.

Bama, my father and I have hiked here from the main road two hours away, snaking along the bed of a valley on an eroded dirt path, past a recent landslide, bubbling brooks and mangrove swamps. This is not a trail anyone should tackle in wet season; the rock underfoot can be slippery and several signs warn us of flash floods.

Literally ‘Lychee Nest’, 400-year-old Lai Chi Wo no longer produces the succulent, red-skinned fruit that first gave the settlement its name. It rests in a tight cluster at the foot of a hill, backed by a feng shui wood planted to safeguard its wealth and prosperity.

At its height 1,000 residents made this their home, but Lai Chi Wo’s fortunes in recent decades have mirrored that of countless villages around the New Territories. The sole village school closed in 1980 as younger generations trickled away, departing for better opportunities in the growing city. Today Lai Chi Wo is more a realm of itinerant hikers and campers, a small, forgotten enclave surrounded by country park. 

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kamila #

    Interesting to read about not so well-known places. It is also what I search for on line and struggle to find. I like this. Just wonder how you keep the feeling of the place that you write about when so much passed by since you visited.

    April 30, 2014
    • Thank you, Kamila. Sometimes all it takes are a few photos to jog the memory, and it always helps to write down some notes once you get back home. Even if you forget to do that there are often several impressions that stay with you for a long time.

      May 1, 2014
  2. It might be near deserted but it looks beautiful. I guess the feng shui wood didn’t work, at least for the town, but maybe still does it’s magic for the surrounding countryside.
    I have vague memories of going on a day trip in a rattly old bus to the New Territories way back in 1978. I imagine it’s changed quite a bit.

    April 30, 2014
    • It may have worked for some time, at least according to local folklore. But once modernity kicked in I guess it was no match for the lure of the big city. You’re right about the effect on the surrounding area – it is the best preserved feng shui wood in Hong Kong – so that makes it something of a haven for all sorts of critters.

      Wow, so you came by in 1978! Buses here are no longer old but some are still rattly (although that has more to do with the drivers). Sadly the New Territories have largely changed beyond recognition… so much of it is built up now and more people live there than in the original city itself.

      May 1, 2014
  3. I remember the waterfalls, the pool, the rocks, and the long trail to Lai Chi Wo. Overall it was a nice trip and pretty much what we needed after those hearty meals the days before. 🙂 However the village itself was somewhat eerie. Maybe most of them were in relatives’ houses in other parts of HK. One of the day’s highlights for me was seeing bizarre-looking trees behind the village, including that strangler fig. Such an amazing sight of how a tree is overrun by another tree. Thanks for taking me there, James!

    April 30, 2014
    • I agree Bama, the feng shui wood was certainly atmospheric with those strange trees – I wouldn’t want to be caught there in the dead of night! Glad we also stumbled across firecrackers being set off along the way. You’re more than welcome for the hike, although it was my dad’s idea so you can thank him instead. 🙂

      May 1, 2014
  4. Reblogged this on moneyfromhomesa.

    May 2, 2014
  5. Reblogged this on We're meant to be..

    May 3, 2014
  6. So the houses just sit empty but someone still own the places? Sad.. at least turn them into simple vacation homes.. I know it would get commercialized.

    May 4, 2014
    • A lot of the owners have either moved to the big city or emigrated overseas… that explains how quite a few of the houses have fallen into complete ruin.

      May 4, 2014
  7. Even Feng Shui cannot plug the exodus to the cities! 🙂 But the desolation does seem to make for a tranquil day trip. Lovely and evocative images James.

    May 13, 2014
    • Thank you, Madhu – and yes, it seems like the effectiveness of that Feng Shui wood was short-lived. But the well-preserved forest is now a major draw for weekend walkers and hikers… can’t say the magic is all gone I suppose!

      May 18, 2014
  8. Kamila #

    I just feel, with such villages disappearing , also certain values and quality of life, identity and roots are slowly lost .

    May 13, 2014
    • It is a shame… and it’s happening faster than we all think. If the village here were not so remote, it may have had a better chance of keeping its younger residents.

      May 18, 2014
  9. I love going offbeat…. This post is so interesting… And informative… Thanks for sharing with us lesser known places like these.

    May 19, 2014
    • You’re more than welcome… I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      May 23, 2014
  10. BC Lim #

    Hi James
    Thanks for the post and great photos. I would like to visit the village this November. As there are very few villagers left ,by any chance, is there any public transport from downtown HK to the village? if not, how do I get there? Many thks

    June 9, 2014
    • Hi BC,
      Unfortunately the village is only accessible via a two-hour hiking trail. To get to the trailhead at Wu Kau Tang also requires some effort, as you would need to take the 20C special minibus from Tai Po Market railway station (which is about 45 minutes from the downtown area). It really depends on how much time you have in Hong Kong itself – Lai Chi Wo requires at least half a day just to get there, have a look around and come back.

      June 9, 2014
      • BC Lim #

        my loss then and it really looks so inviting…..,. sigh
        thanks for the reply.
        best regards

        June 10, 2014

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