Just a 15-minute ferry ride from Sai Kung Public Pier lies Yim Tin Tsai, a Hakka village. Founded more than 200 years ago, salt farming was the village's main industry. Although it was one of the smallest salt fields in Hong Kong, the village swelled to more than 1,000 people before it was turned into a farming area. But about 20 years ago, the village was abandoned and nature began to take over.
A city swallowed by the jungle
Today, the village is overgrown with plant life, as the vegetation reclaims empty streets and houses. Small beaches surround the village, where people play water sports and enjoy the sun and sea. From the moment you step onto the pier, you can see green plants covering the island. Deserted houses stand on the mud on either side of a narrow gravel road that leads inland.
A small kiosk selling ice-pineapples, rice pudding, douhua and traditional Hakka dessert prepares you for your journey to the heart of the village.
As you walk along the cobblestone path you'll encounter the ruins of small houses, slowly being overrun by tall trees and shrubs. As the greenery swallows any sign of civilisation, it gives the whole area a mysterious air.
After a five-minute walk from the pier, you will reach St Joseph's Chapel - one of the first Catholic churches built in Hong Kong. The chapel was built in 1890 when Catholic missionaries arrived in Yim Tin Tsai.
The chapel was once a sacred place where every villager was baptised, but it was then left unattended for more than 20 years, after the people moved away.
Unfortunately, the chapel was damaged by war-games players in the 1980s, and the 12 candle stands and the ancient bell were stolen.
Chan Shui-jen, or Jen Jie as she is known, lived in the village for more than 20 years. She is sad about the decline, saying: "I did not defend this chapel, and it has always been the greatest regret of my life."
The chapel has since been renovated though, and after its restoration it was given a world heritage award by the United Nations' culture agency, Unesco.
The little pink chapel is in far better condition than the neighbouring houses, and has once again become the heart of the village.
"Now all the villagers celebrate Christmas and the Feast of St Joseph every year together, even if we live far away." Not only is it a landmark of the village, it also offers a spiritual reunion for the villagers.
Industries gone but not forgotten
A narrow road behind the chapel leads you to an ancient well at the back of the island, far away from the pier. It was once the lifeblood of the village, a clean, sparkling source, where everyone got water each day.
But with no upkeep, the well is no longer functioning, and even the path reaching the well has become overgrown with greenery.
After visiting the well, a pebbled path will lead you all the way to the salt pan. Once full of mountains of salt left behind by evaporating sea water, now they are empty. The salt pan is surrounded by mangroves and other greenery, creating a new home for countless fiddler crabs.
The old salt pan is under renovation, and soon it will be open to the public. Tourists will learn how to process the salt, and even take some home with them as a souvenir.
But a visit to the village offers far more than the soon-to-be-opened tourist centre. Here, life slows down, and as you gaze upon beautiful mangroves and the endless sea, you can feel the power of nature.