By LUXE City Guides; images by Calvin Sit
Located far from the madding crowds in northwest Hong Kong’s New Territories, much of Tuen Mun District’s appeal lies in its bucolic coastal surrounds. Set by the mouth of the Pearl River and surrounded by the mountains of Castle Peak and Tai Lam, the area’s coastline and natural resources led to its early prominence as a fishing and farming town. During the Qing dynasty, its residents were mostly boat-dwelling Tanka fishermen.
In the 1960s, the government began developing Tuen Mun into a first generation “new town”, designed to accommodate the city’s booming population with enough housing, industry and community facilities to create thriving, self-contained neighbourhoods.
The arrival of MTR’s West Rail further cemented the area’s transformation from scattered rural communities into a buzzing urban town. It also meant that local attractions — including popular day-trip destination Gold Coast, complete with artificial beach and waterfront dining options — became all the more accessible.
Other foodie spots have emerged too, with everything from a famed roasted pig eatery to a local apiary to satisfy all manner of appetites, and should you wish, you can cook your own lunch or dinner at the many barbecue sites found at the area’s scenic beaches and near hiking trails.
Away from the new developments, Tuen Mun’s natural beauty shines, and thanks to public transport, they’re easier to reach than ever. Visitors will find plenty to fall in love with in Tam Lam Country Park’s endless hills, and the half-dozen beautiful beaches that stretch across the district’s coastline, which boast the kind of panoramic views and serenity that you won’t find in the city.
Take a leisurely stroll around the Gold Coast, an all-in-one resort-like seaside destination.
Hit the Tuen Mun Trail, snapping photos of the two tranquil reservoirs you’ll pass along the way.
Soak up serene green and water views from Tai Lam Chung Reservoir, aka Thousand Islands Lake.
Go camping at Butterfly Beach Park, where you can relax on the beach and barbecue under the stars.
Pick your fish at Sam Shing Hui Seafood Market, then have it cooked at one of the nearby eateries.
Enjoy roasted pig, cooked in traditional underground stone ovens at Red Seasons restaurant.
Run by the Crossroads Foundation charity, this multifaceted venue is one of a kind in Hong Kong. Their Global Handicrafts marketplace is a trove of artisanal fair-trade products from around the world, and with a range that includes Chilean clay ocarinas, wood carvings from Bethlehem and Ethiopian coffee beans, eclectic is an understatement. Next, enjoy a relaxing drink at the Silk Road Cafe, which serves a range of hot and cold fair-trade beverages and snacks — try the masala chai.
Beaches aren’t always about sunbathing and sandcastles, and Lung Kwu Tan, located in the far west of the district, is proof of that. This quiet stretch boasts unimpeded sea views, making it one of the best places to watch the sunset in Hong Kong. It’s also a popular spot for kite-surfers, and if you’re really lucky, you might even catch a rare sighting of the elusive Chinese White Dolphin (head up to the lookout pagoda for a better viewpoint). Another spot of historical interest is Emperor’s Cave, said to be where Emperor Bing of the Southern Song dynasty fled from China to hide from invading Mongolians.
Lung Kwu Tan Road, Tuen Mun, New Territories (View on Map)
Miu Fat Monastery is something of a tale of two halves. The three-storey Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall catches the eye before you enter, with a flamboyant red facade featuring two gigantic gold dragons coiled around its pillars, plus a stone elephant and pair of lions guarding its entrance. Inside is the Mahavira Hall, home to three giant gold statues of Buddha Shakyamuni, and walls adorned with the thousands of Buddha reliefs that give the building its name. The Miu Fat Monastery main complex next door couldn’t be more different; a modern glass and concrete affair, it’s topped by a magnificent lotus-shaped hall, which boasts stellar views over Tuen Mun.
Located on the site of a former kindergarten run by Ching Leung Nunnery, Casphalt is the kind of place where you can easily while away an afternoon in peace. Created to encourage “learning, creativity and cultural bonding”, this charming space includes a vegetarian cafe, bookstore, picturesque courtyard and art space, which regularly hosts exhibitions, workshops and expert talks (previous sessions include Chinese calligraphy and meditation). Sitting in Casphalt with a homemade rainbow vegetable pie and cup of freshly brewed tea to the strains of birds chirping outside, the stresses of the city couldn’t seem further away.
A sludge treatment facility might not sound the most enticing of venues, but there’s more to T · PARK than scientific jargon. Although the main objective of this plant (the first of its kind in Hong Kong) is to convert waste to energy, this state-of-the-art development also includes a water bird sanctuary, beautiful gardens, an environmental education centre, self-service cafe, stunning vistas over Deep Bay and even three spa pools of differing temperatures, which are heated by the energy from the sludge treatment process. While entry is free, advance booking is required; visitors can book online here for guided tours and spa pool sessions.
Although there are dozens of seafood restaurants in and around Sam Shing Hui Seafood Market, there is one local favourite situated away from the bustle that has been attracting crowds for decades. The venue, once a leisure facility with tea houses and playgrounds that were a popular film shoot location, was transformed into the Dragon Inn Seafood Restaurant in 1989, and eventually regained fame as a Michelin-recommended eatery. Many regulars drive from the seafood market with bags of their own fish ready for the kitchen to work its magic.
For food, family, culture
Hong Kong is a renowned foodie destination, with speciality gourmet delights spread across the city. Tuen Mun District is no exception, delighting visitors and locals alike with its abundance of fresh seafood and produce.
Famed for its super-fresh catches is Sam Shing Hui Seafood Market, where a wide variety of fish and shellfish are caught on the day and eaten by the evening. Located inside Sam Shing Hui, a historic fishing village named after a nearby Chinese temple, the spot used to lie on the Tuen Mun coastline before land reclamation pushed it further inland.
For Keith Leung, a Tuen Mun native whose family has lived in the neighbourhood for two generations, Sam Shing Hui is where the family goes for a feast. “Whenever there’s a reason to celebrate, be it birthdays or Chinese New Year, the entire family always go to Sam Shing Hui,” he says. “As a child, I loved watching the fishes swim around the tanks while my parents picked out the menu for the night. Now that I’m a chef, I’ve become the one in charge of picking the seafood for my family.”
What used to be makeshift seafood stores on anchored fishing boats have turned into a full-blown wet market, strategically lined with seafood stalls and tanks filled with catches on one side, and Chinese seafood restaurants on the other. In scenes unique to Hong Kong’s wet markets, red plastic lamps hang over tanks and trays overflowing with all sorts of seafood (watch out for some slippery critters making a jump for freedom), while shoppers haggle with vendors for the best deals. Diners can handpick their ingredients here before bringing them to their restaurant of choice for preparation — be it steamed with garlic, wok-fried with black bean sauce or deep-fried with salted egg, to name a few of the most requested cooking methods.
For a different gourmet experience, head to ForME HONEY in the small village of Wo Ping San Tsuen. This family-owned apiary is located next to verdant hills of Tai Lam Country Park, home to an abundance of lychee and longan trees (the main source of spring honey), and ivy trees (for winter honey). The former has a distinctive fragrant aroma, and the latter has a richer sweetness.
On weekends, ForME HONEY hosts hour-long walking tours of both the apiary and its surroundings, giving visitors the chance to learn more about the area’s natural beauty and the honey-making process. You can also opt to don beekeeper gear and get up close and personal to handle the bees and their hives — an opportunity to discover how this locally harvested liquid gold is made.
Another foodie must-have in the area is the ground-roasted pig at Red Seasons — an eatery that shot to fame having featured in the 2011 edition of the Hong Kong Michelin Guide. Roasted in off-site underground stone pits, the whole pigs are initially placed in these traditional wood-fire ovens at 300°C to crisp their skin. The temperature is then lowered to around 100°C for the pork to cook thoroughly, thus ensuring the meat remains succulent while the skin gains an unmistakable sesame-like, crunchy texture.
These grounded wood-fire ovens are the last of their kind in Hong Kong, as the government stopped issuing licenses for them back in 1986, and Red Seasons is the only place left where you can sample this dish.
A unique aspect of the roasted pig lies in its unrivalled crispy skin and subtle smoky flavour, explains local food blogger Gloria Tsang. “Every detail in the roasting procedure has to be executed with precision,” she explains. “Technicians monitor the temperature of the ovens, and put the pigs in only at a specific temperature for an exact amount of time. They monitor every step of the process in a hot and humid environment all day long.”
Tsang also recommends the restaurant’s roast goose, which is cooked using the same ovens, and the signature suckling pig stuffed with fried rice and dried shrimp, which must be ordered a day in advance and only uses pigs less than 20 days old.
Although Red Seasons is in Lam Tei, about 30 minutes away from Tuen Mun’s main city centre, Tsang believes the roasted pig alone is well worth the journey, wherever in Hong Kong — or beyond — you’re coming from: “It is truly a one-of-a-kind taste.”
For family, adventure, relaxation, nature, physical activity
Tuen Mun District might not be the first destination that springs to mind for a day trip, but the area has plenty to offer, with beautiful beaches, scenic hikes and good campsites all within easy reach of the city.
Located in the northwest of the New Territories, Tuen Mun is believed to have housed some of the earliest settlements in Hong Kong, while its “new town” residential areas were built in the 1970s. As a result, this vibrant coastal district sandwiched between Castle Peak and Kau Keng Shan hill is a charming mixture of old and new, where families and friends come from across Hong Kong to spend relaxing weekends.
Among the neighbourhoods, the Gold Coast is a highlight. Built in the 1990s, this private resort-like development includes the 545-metre-long Golden Beach (the first artificial beach constructed in Hong Kong), a resort hotel, shopping complex, marina, yacht and country club, waterfront dining and 20 residential buildings offering a seaside lifestyle and modern convenience. In recent years, the area has hosted annual boat and vintage car shows, which attract curious onlookers and aficionados from near and far.
The development has a Mediterranean-Asian atmosphere, with buildings the colour of sunshine, arched windows and tropical greenery. Walking along Gold Coast’s seaside Piazza, you’ll find restaurants offering everything from kebabs and sushi to dim sum and desserts; on weekends, there are clowns, balloon artists and inflatable slides for children to enjoy, plus seasonal bazaars.
Amy Wong is one such Hongkonger who keeps returning. “The Gold Coast has seen a lot of changes over the years, but we keep coming back because it feels like a beach holiday every time,” she says. Although her children have grown up, the area still holds a special place in her heart. “I used to take my daughter here when she was around five,” Wong reminisces, “we had a caricature of us drawn at the Piazza, which I’ve kept to this day as one of our most treasured memories.”
If you prefer trees and grass to sand and sea, the Tuen Mun Trail boasts stunning views that are worth hauling your camera for. This relatively easy hike is about four hours long and starts from MTR Pui To Light Rail Station, taking you through two reservoirs before finishing at Nai Wai Light Rail Station. Forty five minutes from the starting point, you’ll reach Lam Tei Irrigation Reservoir, where the tranquil waters, trees and skies merge to form one harmonious picture. Hung Shui Hang Irrigation Reservoir, the second in the trail, shimmers an even more vivid shade of emerald. If you want to make a full day of it, bring some supplies and set up at the Fu Tei Barbecue Area before hitting the trails.
If you’ve only got two hours to spare, head to Tai Lam Chung Reservoir. Located within the sprawling 5412-hectare Tai Lam Country Park, the reservoir was the first water storage facility built in Hong Kong after World War II and involved the construction of an enormous dam that towers 60 metres above a lake. After taking a minibus from MTR Tuen Mun Station to So Kwun Wat Village, the trail leads you to an intersection with the MacLehose Trail, before turning up a hill. Your reward for the climb lies in the knockout panorama known as Thousand Islands Lake — think irregular hills and small islands dotted inside the reservoir, with blue skies as the backdrop.
Tuen Mun’s beauty and seclusion makes it a popular destination for city dwellers looking to escape the urban hustle. “On Sundays, my friends and I like to go hiking there and get some fresh air away from the concrete jungle,” explains Tania Ng, a young professional who works in Central. “One of our favourite things to do is go camping at Butterfly Beach — it’s so convenient to get to, but so spacious too.”
The beach is located beside Butterfly Beach Park, which includes gardens, a pavilion, barbecue area and areas for ball games. Its adjacent camping site boasts ocean views, and nearby shops abundant with barbecue supplies will help you take care of dinner. “We love that we can barbecue next to the beach and chat under the stars,” says Ng, who, with her friends, has enjoyed many unforgettable evenings at this Tuen Mun gem.
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