If I were to choose only one quick destination in the New Territories, it would be Tsuen Wan with its excellent walled-village museum. It's easily reached by taking the MTR Tsuen Wan Line, which runs from Central through Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon, to the last stop. Tsuen Wan was a small market town just 100 years ago, with a population of about 3,000 Hakkas and a thriving incense powder-producing industry. The first of many designated satellite towns in the New Territories, it has grown to a population of more than 300,000 residents, living mostly in high-rise housing estates.
The main reason for visiting Tsuen Wan is its excellent Sam Tung Uk Museum, 2 Kwu Uk Lane, Tsuen Wan (tel. 852/2411 2001; http://hk.heritage.museum), located just a few minutes' walk from Tsuen Wan MTR station by taking exit B2. The museum is actually a restored Hakka walled village, built in the 18th century by members of the farming Chan clan and consisting of miniscule lanes lined with tiny tile-roofed homes. Once the home of as many as 300 clan members, the village was abandoned in 1980 and today serves as an oasis in the midst of modern high-rise housing projects. Four of the homes, all windowless, have been restored to their original condition and are furnished much as they would have been when occupied long ago, with traditional Chinese pieces (including some created from elegant black wood), and contain farm implements, kitchens, and lavatories. In the middle of the village is the ancestral hall, while other rooms contain exhibits dedicated to Hakka traditions and customs such as rice cultivation (rice, no longer produced in Hong Kong, is all imported) and to Tsuen Wan's history, complete with photographs of Sam Tung Uk before and during its restoration. At reception ask to see the 8-minute video, played on request, that describes the walled village's restoration into a folk museum and the purpose of its many rooms, including the ancestral hall. Be sure to take a look at the landscaped garden adjacent to the village. The museum is open Wednesday to Monday from 9am to 5pm; admission is free.
A free minibus, no. 95K, makes runs between MTR Tsuen Wan Station and Tsuen Wan West Station, a stop on the West Rail Line. Or, you can walk between the two stations in about 20 minutes via Tai Ho Road (be sure to stop by the customer service counter at MTR Tsuen Wan Station to pick up the Station Information brochure, which contains a map showing the location of both stations).
From Tsuen Wan West Station, take the West Rail four stops to Tin Shui Wai Station. At Tin Shui Wai Station, take exit E for the Ping Shan Heritage Trail, the start of which is easy to spot by its ancient pagoda (get the free Ping Shan Heritage Trail brochure at HKTB). This wonderful walking trail is only 1km (.6 miles) long and takes 30 minutes to complete, yet it passes a wealth of traditional Chinese structures along the way, most relating to the powerful Tang clan, who settled the Ping Shan area in the 12th century as one of the Five Great Clans of the New Territories. Although it lacks the wow factor of walled villages that the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail boasts , I prefer this walk because of its rural, traditional surroundings, which make for a fascinating stroll.
The three-story Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda (Wed-Mon 9am-1pm and 2-5pm) is the only ancient pagoda in Hong Kong, constructed more than 600 years ago to improve the area's feng shui and ward off evil spirits. Other highlights are a walled village (not open to the public), two temples, and two study halls built for members of the Tang clan studying for the Imperial Civil Service Examination (those who passed could become officials in the Qing government, thereby enhancing the social status of the Tang family). But the main attraction is the 700-year-old Tang Ancestral Hall (daily 9am-1pm and 2-5pm), still used by the Tang clan for ancestral worship, ceremonies, and festivals. Be sure, too, to take a peek in the village surrounding the ancestral hall, with its impossibly narrow lanes that hark back to earlier centuries. The trail culminates at the Old Ping Shan Police Station, built in 1899 atop a hill and now serving as the Ping Shan Tang Clan Gallery (tel. 852/2617 1959), a visitor center that introduces local folk customs and history. In addition to historic items like furniture, a wedding dress, implements used for cricket fights (forbidden today), and old photographs, videos throughout cover everything from traditional marriage ceremonies to the Tang educational system. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Admission to this and other sights along the trail is free.
If you have more time to spare, following the map on the Ping Shan Heritage Trail brochure, walk 5 minutes to the Ping Shan Light Rail Station (which is so small it looks like a tram stop). Take light rail Rte. 761 to Tin Yat Station and then transfer to Rte. 706 for Wetland Park Station, from which it's a 5-minute walk to the new Hong Kong Wetland Park, Tin Shui Wai (tel. 852/3152 2666; www.wetlandpark.com). This 61-hectare (150-acre) park was created to replace lost habitat due to construction of the Tin Shui Wai satellite town. A visitor center, overlooking the wetland reserve, introduces the importance of wetlands, from tundras to tropical swamps, with plenty of touch screens to engage kids. Outside, boardwalks and pathways lead past freshwater marshes, fish ponds, woodlands, grasslands, mudflats, and mangroves, which serve as habitats for 150 species of birds that live here or pass through (including the winter habitat of the endangered black-faced spoonbill; the prime time for bird-watching is Nov-Mar), as well as fish, reptiles, mammals, and butterflies. Unfortunately, surrounding high-rise housing estates detract from what would otherwise be a great outdoor experience. In any case, avoid weekends and holidays, as this is a very popular family attraction. It's open Wednesday through Monday from 10am to 5pm; admission is HK$30 for adults and HK$15 for children, students, and seniors.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.