Bus Tours on the Cheap: #64K from Tai Po Market to Yuen Long
Time for another installment of good cheap DIY bus tours – this time we’re looking at a route that is already well-known amongst those who’ve made the effort to come and see some of the more popular things in the Tai Po area. The 64K route takes us up into the Lam Tsuen valley and to various sites including the Wishing tree, Ng Tung Chai and Kadoorie Farm. However, unlike various minibuses/maxicabs, the 64K continues down into the Kam Tin plain and onwards to the west into Yuen Long – where it terminates before making the return journey.
Actually, it’s a great ride that takes in a large swathe of the NT and you get to see both the beauty and horror that is the modern NT for a price equivalent to the cost of a bottle of Coke Zero from 7-11 (or thereabouts). Of course, to enjoy this journey you first have to make the trip into either Yuen Long or Tai Po (which makes it less cheap than advertised, but hey ho that’s life) but getting to either place is a doddle these days thanks to overland rail lines (West Rail for Yuen Long, East Rail for Taipo Market. So, you have no excuses anymore, especially as I am about to give you the idiot’s guide…
So where to begin? Well, I’ll start from Tai Po simply because it’s where I do this trip from, but there is absolutely no reason why you can’t head to Long Ping Station in Yuen Long and walk 5 mins to the nearby bus terminus to catch the bus going back the other way – it’s up to you.
If you arrived at Tai Po Market station via East Rail, you need to exit the turn-styles and look for the pedestrian subway/underpass that takes you to the bus terminus – it’s located right next to the Uptown Plaza escalators, so is easy to find. Here is a snap.
No mistaking that place, it’s like entering the bowels of hell going down there, but you have no choice so onward and downward we go. At the bottom of the slope take the right hand branch and follow it around on the way you’ll pass an exit on your left and another on your right, don’t take either of these but keep walking until you hit the second exit on the right hand side. Look closely at the picture below and you will be able to see the second exit in the distance just before the tiles turn red.
Right, now that the confusing bit is out of the way, just walk up the right hand steps and you will see the 64K stop about 20 metres in front through the gloom.
Once on board sit back and enjoy the initial part of the journey through both the old and new parts of Tai Po. It’s possible to hop on the 64K later in its journey by catching it outside Tai Wo Station, but by then it could be quite full and you won’t get the pick of the seats (remember how I like to pretend that I’m driving the bus ).
Anyhow – all aboard, off we go and try not to be sick as the driver will invariably attempt full throttle whilst negotiating the tight bends and corners inside the bus station. Once daylight hits your face you know the initial puke-inducing tour of the terminus is over and the journey has commenced for real starting with a partial tour of Tai Po.
…and off we go.
After turning right at the first junction (above) we quickly pass Pan Chung New Village on the left which seems to be a bit of spillover from the original village of Pan Chung – Tai Po’s very own not-so-walled walled village. Read about it here before we zoom on towards Wan Tau Street, the railway bridge and the Tai Po Complex. Now, if you feel as though you are about to be decapitated Bond-style as the bus goes under the bridge, you could be forgiven.
The railtrack has passed over this point ever since it was first built at the turn of the last century. When Wan Tau Street (the road we are currently on) was constructed a bridge/tunnel was built so traffic could pass underneath.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy so far, except the problem was that with the introduction of large double-decker buses, the bridge was too low for them to get under. What could be done? The bridge couldn’t be raised because the railtrack is on top of it, so the clever engineers instead dug a big dip in the road under the bridge to allow even a large bus to pass under safely.
This is great, the problem is that when it pisses it down with torrential rain the dip, owing to exceedingly poor drainage, gets filled up like a swimming pool. Thankfully, downpours of this magnitude are not that common, but I will try and grab a snap next time it happens. Anyway, onwards we go. Just past here is the bright and shiny new(ish) Tai Po Complex. Here’s a partial snap I took a few years ago – the bus route travels towards the camera on the road at the bottom.
This building sticks out a bit amongst the 70′s-era tenements surrounding it (from one of which I took that snap), but this modern sleek ship-like building has a whole bunch of great things inside including two levels of market stalls, a cooked food centre, a couple of levels of local Govt admin offices, a fantastic and modern library (beaten only, I feel, by Causeway Bay’s Central library) and two floors of sporting facilities. Actually I remember when this plot was a sports ground so to return one year and find this thing in its place was quite a shock.
Onward down Heung Sze Wui Street – named for the Tai Po Rural Committee HQ that was, until recently, found at the very end (Heung Sze means “rural matters”) on Po Heung Street. It’s been there for years and even showed up on some dodgy old Alan Tam music video back in the 80′s. However, just recently the HQ has upped-sticks and moved around the corner to an old school building on Shun Tak St.
Actually, I still have no idea what they are building here but I suspect it will be tall, shiny and have a really stupidly pretentious name such as Billionaire Heights, Bel-Air Apartments or perhaps just Royal Cheesy Bell-End Gardens (I could get a great job naming these places).
Actually, it’s at this junction with Po Heung Street that I was snapped by the Google Streetview car sometime last year. I won’t give anything away but will say that if you fancy taking part in a Tai Po version of Where’s Wally (or Waldo if you’re a yank) then now is the time to do it (on Streetview/Googlemaps I mean – not from the bus ). The sad thing is ‘wally’ describes me quite well and of course I do wear stripey shirts and glasses (but no woolly hat). All I will say is that I am somewhere along Po Heung Street with my youngest son and if anyone can spot me then…well, I’ll think of a prize later.
Moving on down Po Heung Street – as you can see a kind of leafy tree-lined affair – and we go past some of the market area’s older streets on the left hand side. If you have read my brief introduction to Tai Po Market’s development, then you will know that these street were laid down as long ago as the 1920′s. They still largely contain very ‘local’ shops run by local people (which is why I like wandering around here). Anyway, moving swiftly on and we hit the junction with what was Tai Po Road but now goes by the name of Kwong Fuk Road.
As mentioned, Kwong Fuk Road was originally the final stage of the old Tai Po Road – the NT’s very first major artery which terminated at Kwong Fuk Bridge. Later in life the road extended over the bridge and onwards into Fanling but when the Tai Po New Town development commenced the bridge was pedestrianised and the traffic re-routed over the newly constructed Po Heung Bridge – which we are about to cross. See the white and red buildings at the side of the road?
This is the Plover Cove resettlement estate which I have talked about previously. Just opposite them on your left, as you start to cross the bridge, is the small school that was built as part of the village resettlement deal. It’s official name is the Luk Heung San Tsuen Gung Lap Hok Hau – which basically means Plover Cove (6 Villages) New Village Public School.
View from the bridge – the Lam Tsuen River
(Kwong Fuk Bridge in the background)
Across the bridge we are entering Tai Po Centre (the New Town proper). In very simplified terms, all this land was originally part of Tolo Harbour and was reclaimed in the 80′s to create new housing for the rather large and ever increasing local population. A product of rather more modern planning this part of Tai Po feels pretty much like any New Town and, to me, lacks much of the character that can be found on the other side of the river bank, but hey, that’s just my humble opinion.
Down onto On Chee Road we go and we turn left towards Ting Kok Road. Not many people realise but actually Ting Kok Road is one of Tai Po’s early roads that ran along the western and northern coastline, so everything east and south of it was water.
As a result most of the buildings of interest are on the opposite side of the road. We don’t pass it on this trip but turning right at this junction will take us past the antique Tin Hau Temple. However, we are turning left and passing a couple more buildings of interest. The first is Sing Kung Cho Tong at 19 Ting Kok Rd, a temple complex that also has an associated TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) dispensary attached to it . Although this current building dates from 1990, its precursor was established in 1936 and was used by the Japanese Kempetai during the occupation for various interrogations and executions.
Just a few doors down at #9 is one of my favorite building in Tai Po, a sort of art deco designed shophouse. It has an old carpet shop on the ground floor and the Govt Home Affairs dept website lists its build year as 1945 which makes it possibly amongst the oldest private buildings in Tai Po. The chaps at Gwulo mentioned that (on the Buildings Department database) sometimes 1945 is used as a default build year when the construction year of a pre-war building is not known – so it is quite possible that this groovy looking thing is actually much older.
It’s not long before we are passing the fire station and local Govt offices and onwards towards Tai Wo Station with the Lam Tsuen River (originally known as the Kwun Yam River) and its two rather ornately designed bridges. The first one we pass is Kwong Fuk Bridge, a name with history if not the current bridge structure.
The second bridge not far away is the Tai Wo bridge built in the same style with decorative red pillars but without the historical past of its nearby neighbour’s name. Finally you will see the railway bridge before the bus turns away and we begin our next part of the journey.
Tai Wo is a pretty drab looking place to be honest. It’s a large Govt housing estate finished in a very uninspiring beige and it is just fugly.
Thankfully, it is but a brief stop before we move back onto what was once another part of the extended Tai Po Road, but now named Sui Wai Road after the small (but recently expanded) village situated just at the start of the road.
This is where the journey starts to get a bit more picturesque as we begin our journey into the countryside. On the left we have a couple of modern developments known as Parc Versailles and Tai Po Garden and along the right runs the railtrack on its journey from Tai Wo to Fanling.
Behind the track is a new village house development called “The Wonderland”. The only thing I “wonder” about is who is crazy enough to fork out for a brand new house that sits right next to a noisy train line. They should have just called this place “The Sidings” and had done with it. Anyway, moving swiftly on.
Unfortunately it’s not long before we are staring at eyesores again when we hit the Lam Kam roundabout and find all the road works going on. For the past two years the Highways Dept has been widening the highway here (adding 2 additional lanes to make it a 6-lane highway) and because the road is held up by a flyover along the greater length of it the amount of construction going on is staggering. I can’t see it being completed any time within the next few years. See all that iron work in the last photo? Something very similar was at the bottom of my road until very recently – it’s very disconcerting to walk underneath it especially considering a section of girder actually collapsed at one point quite soon after it was first put up – thankfully no one was underneath it when it came down.
Leaving the roundabout we start up Lam Kam Road, the main thoroughfare through the Lam Tsuen valley. Now, I have to admit that this part of Hong Kong is one of the prettiest in the territory and this road, that runs the length of the Lam Tsuen valley and its 26 villages, is a great place to come and see some rural countryside. The bit we are now on runs for about 5 km in a southwest direction and there is staggering scenery on both sides.
This road will of course be familiar with anyone who has already visited the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree – the first major sight along here. The Wishing Tree’s story is a perfect example of how to become a victim of your own success.
Originally only a Lunar New Year activity (the ‘wish’ was assembled using a kumquat – a symbolic traditional new year fruit) the appeal of throwing a wish (wish written on paper, paper attached to fruit with string, whole thing hurled into tree branches) into the tree proved too great. It became a nice earner for the villagers and was popular with locals and tourists alike until the accumulated burden on the tree – which no longer had a whole year to sit up there and rot away to nothing – became too much and it collapsed…onto someone’s head!
There’s a moral in there somewhere but if you need me to spell it out for you then you are probably the sort of person that would throw a piece of litter into a tree in the hope that it would grant you a wish.
Anyway, if you don’t want to partake in fruit throwing (I believe they have a replacement tree, but I haven’t ventured up here since a Da Jiu festival a few years ago so don’t know) then the antique Tin Hau temple and super expensive public toilets are worth checking out on their own (yes, you did read that last bit correctly!).
Moving on and straight ahead you will be able to see Hong Kong’s highest peak: Tai Mo Shan. Being tall has its advantages, in Tai Mo Shan’s case it means that we can see it from pretty much anywhere in HK…on a clear day that is. In this case, the Lam Tsuen valley sits at the bottom of the big mountain’s foothills, so it’s no surprise that it dominates the scenery here.
Fear not, we will return to Tai Mo Shan later from a different angle, but for the time being just sit back and watch some fantastic countryside roll by.
As you sit back try to imagine what this place looked like when the British took charge of the NT in 1899 and had to fight off the local militia. The 6 day war not only happened in and around Tai Po Market but also went up the Lam Tsuen valley as the British troops pursued the militia up, what was then, a small footpath towards the Yuen Long plain. The footpath has now been replaced by the Lam Kam Road (the road we are currently on) but thankfully the mountains remain as they always have been: green and spectacular.
Don’t relax too much though because you may also be tempted to hop off at Ng Tung Chai to visit either the waterfalls or the Man Tak Yuen temple…or both. The buses usually have a bilingual display at the front of the bus as well as audio announcements so missing the various stops – as long as you are attentive shouldn’t be a problem. The Wishing Tree at Fong Ma Po, Ng Tung Chai and Kadoorie Farm – the 3 most popular stops along Lam Kam Road – are all announced in both Cantonese and English with accompanying textual display, so don’t fret.
Speaking of Kadoorie Farm, this is actually just one stop up from Ng Tung Chai and is hard to miss (unlike Ng Tung Chai which is actually off up a side road) because it’s right on the roadside.
You can hop off if you like – although I should mention that this is a DIY bus tour and this is not a hop-on-hop-off bus in terms of only paying one fare. If you get back on again later then you will need to pay whatever the fare says on the meter.
The road gets quite steep uphill as we pass Kadoorie and this signals the end of the valley because once we crest the hill we will get views of Kam Tin and Yuen Long across the plain (and it really is flat in there) towards the Chinese border.
You’ll know when you are out of Lam Tsuen because not only will you be heading downhill but at the bottom is the roundabout that joins Lam Kam Road with Route TWISK. I’ll save the latter for another DIY bus tour at a later date but it’s worth knowing that this ex-military road is one of the most incredible in the territory linking – as its acronymous name implies – Tsuen Wan with Sek Kong. Nuff said for now but by all means get off here and catch the #51 bus into Tsuen Wan if you feel you have had enough of the 64K.
Just past the roundabout is the small village of Sheung Tsuen. Anonymous except for the fact that it was the site of the last major offensive by the Chinese militia during the 6 day war. Speaking of wars, there is also a commemorative obelisk here (see picture above) that was installed just prior to the handover as the local villagers suddenly discovered an immense desire to show their patriotic fervour. I can’t blame them, they had just spent the last few decades living with a very large British Military presence on their doorsteps and probably felt the need to purge some demons (white ones).
We have in fact now turned onto the Kam Sheung Road and now that we have the beauty of the NT out of the way, we now face the horror that is Pat Heung.
One of the Govt’s great failings in the NT is to sort out some of the complete and absolutely godawful unsightliness that has grown here. As you travel down Kam Sheung Road the one thing you will notice is the number of wrecker yards, heavy plant hire, container storage and assorted rusty corrugated iron-walled compounds where things are just left to rot and rust. It’s a real shame because there are some absolute gems here in the form of old houses, temples and the gobsmacking scenery that is still here, but hidden under all the crap. Here is a more mild example.
Actually, if you look at the picture above you will notice our old friend Tai Mo Shan in the background and far left is the distinct hump of Kwun Yam Shan. We did actually pass right by Kwun Yam Shan earlier – Kadoorie farm is built on its slopes – but it’s hard to see its pointy shape when you are that close. I seem to remember a reference on Gwulo by an ex-army man who was stationed at Sek Kong (the nearby airbase, now PLA occupied) who said he and his colleagues referred to the mountain as Betty Grable’s left tit – or something similar
Before we leave Kam Sheung Road we make a final stop along the way at the eponymous train station. Here is where the bus route conveniently intersects with the West Rail line.
One of the things that is making this part of the NT more appealing to live in (despite all the scrap metal yards) is the convenience of the West Rail line. From here you can be in Kowloon within 20 minutes. Or if you fancy heading a bit further west than the 64K will take you then it is quick – probably 10-15 minutes – to make it all the way to Tuen Mun from here. So feel free if you have had enough already to hop off the bus and head back home n the train. Or if you are staying in Kowloon and want to hop on the 64K at this point you can do that too. The bus actually comes here twice: first on its way into Yuen Long and again on the way back into Tai Po. Each one has its own stop so just make sure you get on the bus you need to (it will also have the destination displayed on the front).
Anyway, for those of us carrying on into Yuen Long we will now start to hit the outskirts of this rather large old market town (now New Town).
Sadly my knowledge of Yuen Long is lacking. I can talk for hours about Tai Po and can pull out hundreds of stupid inconsequential facts about the place but when it comes to Yuen Long I am as ignorant as any other TFG*.
What I will say is that as you approach the famous Po Oi Hospital, keep an eye open for what looks like a large temple on its western side (the bus goes right past there in a weird doubling-back kinda loop thang.
You can see it poking just over the bushes there. This place is actually a large living complex built by a local Hakka man in 1932. It’s called Pun Uk (literally “Pun’s House”) and I am glad to say it has a Grade 1 listing – although to be honest with its age and architecture it should have been made a monument a long time ago (first recommended in 1979). Why the Govt are dragging their feet I can only guess there are powerful vested interests that they are scared of annoying. Let’s face it, the Govt is scared of pretty much anyone these days. Interestingly the builder of the house was a major benefactor of the original Pok Oi Hospital – which may explain its immediate proximity. I am also reliably informed that this was also the Japanese military HQ for Yuen Long during the occupation. I’m sure its walls could tell many stories.
Nearing the end of this journey we turn onto the famous Castle Peak Road. This is the same road that originally linked up with the Tai Po Road to form a huge loop of the NT. If any of you have read Martin Booths excellent Gweilo/Golden Boy book (for a great project we did on its locations for Gwulo, just click here) then this route will be familiar as the one he took with his parents in his dad’s car. The road goes from here in a big loop through Tuen Mun and along the coast back towards Tsuen Wan. In Yuen Long it bisects the town in two halves.
This road in Yuen Long must be one of the busiest in the NT. It is packed full of all kinds of shops and also plays host to a great little transport system called the LRT (Light Rail Transit). Cheap convenient and fun to ride it’s a great way to get around the western part of the NT.
Anyway, that is pretty much it for our bus tour because when you arrive in this place…
Then you have reached the terminus. So get off and have a wander – Yuen Long, like Tai Po has a good mixture of old and new to see so it is easy to spend quite some time exploring stuff (I can personally recommend a trip to the park – especially if you have kids).
You have several choices for getting back home: the same bus back to Tai Po, West Rail from Long Ping Station (situated just north of the bus terminus you got off at), onwards into Tuen Mun via West Rail or LRT etc but the quickest route back to Kowloon, if needed, is the West Rail. catch the train and you will be in TST within 30 mins if not quicker).
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this installment of the DIY bus tours. There will be more in the future, but if anyone has any preferences either leave a comment or send me a message.
*TFG – typical fucking gwailo