Header images courtesy of Enoch Hung (via Shutterstock) and @shamtsenghk (via Instagram)
We are sure that everyone, at some point in their childhood, has had to listen to their parents say something along the lines of, “When I was your age, I had to walk through three miles of mud and dirt to get to school.”
Now, in an era of expanding train lines, Ubers, and smooth pavements, that exclamation is hardly applicable. But for the descendants of villagers who lived along the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail, that line can still be applied, thanks to the preservation and creation of a nature trail stretching between the settlements of Tsuen Wan and Yuen Long.
Although no longer as treacherous and rugged as the original trail, you can still catch glimpses of old abandoned houses, family graves, and farmland here and there. Pack some snacks, water, sunscreen, and a friend for a jaunt through the aged woods and mystical landscapes of the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail.
Housed in Tai Lam Country Park, the second-largest in Hong Kong, the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail twists over the hill ranges of Tai Tong and Tin Fu Tsai. A key point of interest that beckons hikers to this path is the haunting promise of being able to follow in the footsteps of tradespeople as they plied their wares between Tsuen Wan and Yuen Long.
Before modern traffic was even a dream, villages along what is now a nature trail utilised the path as a route for agricultural exchange. Now a far cry from those days of tramping through the woods with back-breaking loads of goods, the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail still holds some of the remnants of that time.
Abandoned and dilapidated houses, small family cemetery plots, and abandoned agricultural fields dot the trail. When you reach the highest point of the hike, there is a side path that takes you down to the old abandoned Li Fa Shan Public School if you’re interested in checking out some creepy, outdated slides and ceiling-less classrooms!
Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail is now a well-paved path with only a few short stretches of dirt, with rest pavilions, picnic spots, and side paths to camping grounds along the way. Hikers will get a glimpse of Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, along with photo ops of Tsing Yi, Tsing Ma Bridge, and Ting Kau Bridge.
Long gone are the days of having to end the long trek with more trade and bartering at the marketplace. Although the trail officially ends by looping onto Tai Tong Shan Road, which will eventually bring you down to Yuen Long, the more popular option is to take the side path down to Sham Tseng for some charcoal-roasted goose at Yue Kee Restaurant.
Distance: 10 kilometres approx.
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate
Total ascent: 647 metres approx.
Total time: 5 hours approx.
You will start your journey in Tsuen Wan, a largely residential neighbourhood in the western part of the New Territories. It is easily reachable via MTR, but you will need to switch to either a bus or minibus to get to the start of the hike.
Don’t be daunted by the length of the trail. Aside from a climb at the start, the path is relatively even and paved. On a good day with fair weather, the hike should offer you clear views and little strain on your joints.
After you get off the bus, keep heading upwards along Tsuen King Circuit. A few metres past the bus stop, you’ll see a flight of stairs with a sign marking the start to the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail. Keep climbing the stairs with the green railing, with the first fork in the road taking you up the flight of stairs to the right, then right again.
Follow the sign signalling the entrance of your hike up Ha Fa Sha. At one point, the road opens up to a flight of stairs that runs alongside parallel—do not take it! You will know because there is no railing for the stairs.
But a bit further on, the path splits, so it either continues in a gentle slope upwards or a sharp right up a steeper climb. Take the steep climb, where you will get a lovely view of the Hong Kong skyline. So far, the path has been pretty shaded, but as you climb up, the cover grows a bit sparse, but you are almost at the top!
Keep going up to the left when the road splits. Do not take the path heading downwards to the right. From here, it’s a very straight-forward path with no shade until you reach the apex of the hike: Shek Lung Kung pavilion. Rest up for photos and a break. From here, you will get the best shots of Tsing Ma Bridge, Tsing Yi, and Park Island.
Continue along the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail towards Tin Fu Tsai, marked by official signage. You will see a sign pointing you towards Lin Fa Shan that takes you off the main road to visit the abandoned school. Otherwise, keep heading forward. Things get a bit more complicated because it becomes a bit of a “pick your adventure” situation.
If you continue on the paved path, you will merge with Tai Tong Shan Road, which will feed you onto Kiu Hing Road with plenty of transportation options back to Yuen Long. It is also a connection to the Tai Tong Nature Trail. However, if you are looking to end in Sham Tseng and its promised holy grail of roasted goose, take the well-trampled-but-not-paved-path off to the left, and prepare yourself to get very familiar with the flora and fauna!
Despite not being officially marked, there are helpful ribbons and strings tied to mark some of the forks in the road, and the path is well-traversed by previous hikers. At the first junction, head to the left, which is marked by some white nylon rope. Keep to the right and loop around the hill, before making a final left at the last fork in the road.
As you keep going, you will hit a paved road again! Head to the left for Sham Tseng. It should be another 30-minute walk on a well-paved road. Keep going along with the olive green railings, not the yellow staircase that veers off to the right. When you are walking slightly under the highway on your left and see Sham Tseng rooftops on your right, you are almost there! You will eventually reach Sam Hong Street, where Yue Kee Roast Goose Restaurant will greet you. From the bus stop on Castle Peak Road, buses will take you where you need to go next to finish your day.