Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong is defined as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. It borders the neighbouring city of Shenzhen immediately to the north (where I lived for two years previously) which is physically divided from Hong Kong along the Sham Chun and Sha Tau Kok rivers. I recently visited the border town of Sha Tau Kok (沙頭角) on the Hong Kong side…

Sha Tau Kok Mist

For the majority of people who live and work in the commercial hub of Hong Kong, towards the south of the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island itself, visiting the New Territories is somewhat of a rarity – most people only ever pass through on their way to Shenzhen unless they have relatives living there.

Silent Sha Tau Kok

Some areas along the border are “Closed Frontier Areas” designed to restrict illegal activities, of which Sha Tau Kok was one, although restrictions were eased in February this year making our trip possible. We decided to visit purely out of curiosity to see what was there!

Sha Tau Kok Houses

Most of the Shau Tau Kok’s residents are from Hakka farming or Hoklo fishing backgrounds but due to the decline of these industries in the area over the last few decades, younger better educated generations have long moved to live and work in more urban areas of Hong Kong. Some of the remaining older generations live on in the villages, with families returning at festivals and holidays to spend time with them but the areas is clearly in serious decline.

Fallen Doorway

Many of the traditional houses are empty and abandoned with nature being left to take its course. Above a rotten doorway gives way to an empty house filled with debris and hanging vines.

Wicker Chair

Although some of the houses have been cleared out you can still see the remains of items left behind by their previous residents.

Broken Ceiling in Decaying House

Entering these premises is probably not recommended  since many of their ceilings and floors have collapsed.

Abandoned TV Set

We came across this old black and white tv on table open to the elements – an eery reminder that people were living here not that long ago.

Tunnel Vision

Foliage is slowly regaining a foothold in every nook and cranny – concrete walls and floors are no match for mother nature.

Doorway

Ancestral Home

Once house was particularly creepy with various trinkets and photos of ancestors still lining the peeling walls. It looked as if someone might almost be living there still, although maybe not of the walking and breathing kind!

Window Bars

Abandoned Outhouse

A crumbling outhouse sits beneath a tree with broken pots lying scattered around – perhaps this was a latrine or part of a kitchen.

Former Sha Tau Kok School (Closed)

Further up the hill a school lies empty, having closed in 1998 (so a local told us). It doesn’t look like anyone plays basketball much here anymore.

Decaying Buildings in Sha Tau Kok

The same theme continues everywhere with buildings at various stages of disrepair and ruin. While this might not be grade A listed heritage, it’s a shame to see it disappearing.

Old Sha Tau Kok Resident

One of the few residents we came across didn’t seem to mind me taking her photo – I wondered what she thought about what’s happening to her village.

Wicker Baskets

In another outhouse large dusty wicker baskets lay unused for who knows how long.

Frontier Closed Area

Some areas are still off-limits and due to the lack of human activity have become a thriving natural habitat for animals and plants. It reminded me of the DMZ between North and South Korea.

Hong Kong - Shenzhen Border Fence

On the other side of the border fence, in contrast to the rotting buildings, you can see some of Shenzhen’s towering apartment blocks – a sharp reminder of China’s rapid rise.

You can reach Sha Tau Kok by public light bus no. 55k about 30 mins from outside Sheung Shui MTR Station.

Comments

  1. Love the pictures David, I am curious if this is the other side of the area I kept looking at on my walks in Shenzhen? The black and white is also a really nice touch!
    D

    • David says:

      Thanks David – to be honest it was a pretty overcast day so I converted all the photos to B&W otherwise they would look pretty dull!

  2. R says:

    Interesting to see this side of HK, in people’s mind HK is full of Skyscrapers.impressive post:)

    • David says:

      Thanks R – it’s certainly a very different side of HK which most people never see. I only spent a couple of hours there so will hopefully make a return visit at some point!

  3. Sarah says:

    Great stuff! I’m actually going to try to get to Ching Ying street (or Zhong ying street on Shenzhen side) to see if I can cross the border there and if it is any different from the HK side.

    • David says:

      I’m not sure if you still need a special permit to do that but hope you’ll blog about it! There’s a lot more around there I want to explore 🙂

  4. Pam Yau says:

    Great pictures and write up – my brother found your link by accident and forwarded it to rest of the family.
    One of the derilect houses belonged to my Grand parents. There are fewer and fewer people living there now as you can see. The older generation (including my Father) have so many wonderful memories but at the same time have bad memories of the Japanese invasion.
    It is such ashame the way most of these buildings have been left abandoned. You are right, we only go back on festive seasons.
    I see this as a sign to go back to visit our ancestoral home.
    Thanks David

    • David says:

      Thanks for your comment Pam – I’m very pleased your family found my post!

      Are you and your family allowed into the restricted area still? I really hope some of these old houses are restored since like you say it such a shame to see them abandoned.

      Good luck for your return trip 🙂

  5. Kaz says:

    All the houses in the old villages look the same, however, I noticed the familiar living space a portrait of my grandfather in one of your pictures! The creepy house is our family home – most of the older generation of my family were born in that house, the area holds a very special place in my heart. Thank you so much for posting this!

    • David says:

      Thanks Kaz – I’m still amazed that you and Pam (see comment above) managed to find my post! Hope you don’t mind me describing it as ‘creepy’ 🙂

      • Kaz says:

        Not at all, I’d admit it is strange seeing the original house with the old relics & portrait, there used to be another portrait of my granny.
        Just out of interest, how did you find out about Sha Tau Kok? Did you know Hakka people have our own dialect? It’s mainly spoken by the older generation) & we have our own style of food.
        I haven’t been for 3 years, did someone let you in? I hope you didn’t go upstairs because the structure is extremely unsafe.
        A lot of Hong Kong locals & visitors aren’t interested in the old Hong Kong, I’m just so pleased you took an interest & wrote about it.

        • David says:

          A friend of mine, who is a Hong Kong local, heard that some of the access restrictions to the border area had been lifted this year so it seemed like a good time to visit. It was really fascinating to see the Hakka culture so I hope I will return again soon before it’s all gone.

          The photos I took of your ancestors house were just taken from the doorway which was open – we didn’t go inside but it looked like maybe someone was keeping animals in there (stray cats perhaps) because there were food bowls on the floor.

  6. josh says:

    how do you get to this area? I’ve been trying to research it since I live so close. Some sources say that the main street is closed and you need a permit while others don’t really say much. Also, I live in Shenzhen across the border, maybe 20 minutes away.
    Thanks!

    • David says:

      Hi Josh – I mentioned the bus I took from the HK side at the bottom of the article. I’m not sure about the status of the main street still but certainly a number of areas have opened up in the past year so it would be worth exploring if you can find your way from SZ!

  7. Lee says:

    Hi there could I check how do you get access to sha too kok? I tried but was told it is only for official business and no sightseeing allowed.

  8. Joy says:

    My father is from Sha Tau KoK and his surname is Yau and I was wondering if Pam Yau is a relative of my father.

  9. Justo says:

    Hi David , love your blog , and this is the post that brought me here, Photos are great too . but my question is a bit off topic , its regarding your twitter stream at the front page, its very nice specially the images showing and filling up the whole widget space , I wonder if its coded or its a plugin. I wish I could find it on WordPress plugin. Thanks.

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