"There are rumours that the inhabitants of this place disappeared overnight. I was alone on the day I visited. When I stepped in front of their homes, my head hurt but my heart hurt even more."
There is a trend in society to gossip and be particularly excited about ghosts and spirits. It is sad when everything is packaged in such a way before anyone pays attention to it. The village of So Lo Pun is one of these sad rumours. Hong Kong is full of high-rises and yet the forested area in the northeast of the New Territories takes up a huge amount of land and many of the villages are deserted.
So Lo Pun is located in the North District of the New Territories, near Lai Chi Wo, or to be more precise, behind these five areas, including Ah Kung Tsui, Kam Shan Tsui and Cheung Shek Tsui, part of the Sha Tau Kok Ten Covenants, the Hing Chun Covenant. The villagers are surnamed Wong, a branch of Lai Chi Wo Village. Because of its remote location and the fact that many people interpret So Lo Pun to mean a locked compass and hence it will not work in the village. There are rumours of getting lost but in my opinion, it is the once self-sufficient lives of the villagers that are worth exploring more than spirits.
There are many ways to get to So Lo Pun. For those who love long hikes, you can start from Wu Kau Tang, pass Lai Chi Wo to So Lo Pun and finish at Luk Keng. You can also walk from Luk Keng to Lai Chi Wo and take a boat. However, this service is only available on holidays. As the goal this time is to go to So Lo Pun only, we decided to take a shortcut via an old route. It was difficult to navigate. We knew the chances of getting lost were extremely high. From Luk Keng, the first 3km of the trail is along the coast through Ku Po Village, with picturesque scenery and plenty of places for refreshment and chat. It’s a great route for beginners or for a family. But I don't even have time to enjoy a bowl of signature tofu pudding. I hope that this journey, which is sweet and then bitter, will end with good memories.
When you arrive at Song Kee Store, continue ahead. Turn to the left to the stairway. Don't think it’s an easy road when you get there. At this point, you need an offline map. Turn left into the woods to officially embark on the Gu So ancient road. According to the map, it is a straight line from Ku Po to So Lo Pun via Tsim Kwong Tung Au, but the moment I took the first step, my feet were muddy. My head was covered in thorns. I knew I had miscalculated the area. The old road was used by the inhabitants to transport goods in and out in the past. I don't know if the road had been left untouched for too long as it had turned into a dense forest. The road was so slippery that one could accidentally step into deep mud which splattered over your face. This is not the worst part. It was frustrating when I accidentally took a wrong turn and had to clear the branches and thorns to find my way. I couldn't straighten my body, holding the phone in one hand for location and not knowing whether to protect the camera equipment or myself with the other. After the first km of the trail, there was a small stream at the bottom of Tsim Kong Tong Pass. I washed my hands immediately. The road up the hill is still full of gravel and easy to slip, but the main point is that there were lots of mosquitoes. Did the villagers in the past have antibodies that made them immune to mosquitoes?
It took about an hour to get out of the woods. I thought my nightmare was over, but it was only the beginning. I was lost! I was supposed to keep to the left to get to So Lo Pun Village, but I deviated from the route and walked out of the swamp. The trees around me were taller than me. I couldn't tell where I was going, but along the way I smelled something like lemons. I immediately recalled the information I had gathered before setting out on my journey:
"So Lo Pun is well endowed with natural resources supported by clear water from the valley with Kat O Bay in front. The village here is self-sufficient with terraced fishponds, sweet potatoes and vegetables. Most of the men go out fishing while the women farm and look after their children" and so on.
I believe I am in a rural area of the past or at least in the So Lo Pun area. I couldn't get the smell of lemons out of my mind but later realised it was verbena which repel mosquitoes. No wonder the villagers weren't afraid of these nasty pests. After my drone helped to locate my position, I finally entered the village, having heard many rumours and horror stories, but I didn't feel the least bit eerie. In the 1970s it was at its peak with over 170 people living here, but by the end of the 1970s villagers began to move out. By the 1980s the whole village was deserted. Although most of the roofs have collapsed, the couplets on the doors are intact and the remaining population who continued to stay here is not the result of nature but the perseverance of the village descendants over the years. It is rumoured that the inhabitants of So Lo Pun disappeared overnight, but in fact, they have prospered and left the village. They still remember their hometown, returning to the village every year on the first day of the year to put up couplets and clean the ancestral hall. The villagers express their hopes for the new year with auspicious words, adding life to these ancestral houses.
The couplets are very interesting. Besides being blessings, these are also inspirational quotations for life, showing the wisdom and insight of the villagers. My favourite line is "The cold snow ends when plum emerges; the spring breeze returns when willow appears.” As I continued to walk around the village, I saw a playground with metal frame facilities only found in old villages, the same of which I had only seen in Nam Shan Village, also over 30 years old. How can there be no school when there are traces of children's lives? There was once a school, the Kai Ming Primary School, built in 1932, which was said to have taken only students from Grade 1 to 3. It's a pity we couldn't find its exact location in the end. Imagine children running around the village after school. It won’t be quiet and dead as it is now!
Since I am here, I don’t want to miss any corner. The buildings are terraced, and you can imagine neighbours back then were like family, a close relationship which has disappeared in modern Hong Kong. The underground concrete road is marked in English, for example, DOTP 1958. In 1958, the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA) helped the Old District Office North (DOTP) in Tai Po to build this concrete road for villagers hence the abbreviation.
The dam at So Lo Pun village was built by the villagers to separate the sea water from the fishponds. Because of the lack of maintenance over time and the departure of villagers, sea water has flooded into the fishponds, creating a junction between salt and fresh water to form a mangrove forest. The view from here is spectacular. See the tall high-rises in the mainland and feel you have travelled back in time. It is both awe-inspiring and saddening to think that as the city develops, the things that used to be there are abandoned and don’t exist anymore. In the long run, we would be left, without identity or history. What we have left are just a cold exterior. Would we know who we are?
We sat down and had a bite to eat here before leaving. After passing through Yung Shue Wan, we return to the Song Kee Store in Ku Po where we started the journey. Some people say we should keep the ruins a secret and not disclose the location. But in my opinion, people have abandoned them. If these places are not conserved or promoted, they would only disappear without trace into the wilderness over time. I suggest not to have a vested interest and simply enjoy the footprints of those who have gone before you. Also don’t be selfish and destroy the unique beauty of the ruins by moving or destroying anything when you visit them.