Hong Kong’s forgotten and abandoned places make for chilling, compelling landmarks—and a history lesson in their own right.
Hong Kong might be one of the most densely populated cities in the world, but in between stacks of high-rise apartments, ultra-narrow lanes, and crammed shopping malls, a handful of spaces lie empty and derelict as if frozen in time, untouched by locals. Some of them date back to the early 20th century; others are remnants of the city’s British colonial past; others still are failed residential developments turned eerie.
But keep in mind, these aren’t your typical tourist sites. You won’t be able to enter some of them, only observe them from a distance. But even from there, they offer a fascinating glimpse of the city’s history, former architecture, and even social structures.
Disclaimer: Many of the locations listed here are abandoned, under construction/renovation, maintained by security, or otherwise a potentially dangerous and/or an untenable attraction to visit. Don’t break any laws, trespass on any properties, or do anything dangerous to gain access to them. Just enjoy this article.
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British Military Barracks
WHERE: Fanling, New Territories
Disclaimer: Grounds monitored by security
Hong Kong’s New Territories, an area of the city stretching from north of Kowloon up to the border with Shenzhen, teems with historical, cultural, and natural attractions. Among the former is a cluster of decrepit army barracks not far from the Chinese border, which you can get close to with some patience and a few subway lines changes. Dating back to the 1950s, the place was once a base camp for the British Army as well as a contingent of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers, who fought alongside the British in a number of conflicts during the first half of the 20th century. Interestingly, their legacy here was left in the form of a Nepalese Hindu temple on the premises. After the handover to China in 1997, the barracks were converted into a drill space for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s armed forces, and eventually abandoned. The barracks are in Pat Sin Leng Country Park, but hidden from view. Your best chances to catch a glimpse of them is to embark on one of the many hikes in the park.
INSIDER TIPHikes in Hong Kong can be demanding. Always make sure to pack plenty of snacks and water, as there are often no shops or facilities along the way.
Cheung Sha Wan Abattoir
WHERE: Lai Chi Kok Road, Kowloon
Disclaimer: Active construction site
Opened in Kowloon in 1969, this decaying, sprawling structure was one of Hong Kong’s three main slaughterhouses for some thirty years. Its facilities shut down in 1999, when a more modern abattoir was established in another part of the city. But the building still stands, although starkly at odds with the taller, newer, and generally better-looking urban complexes around it. A footbridge connects it to an operational wholesale vegetable market, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to access it: barbed wire and high walls fence off visitors, and security is constantly guarding the place. Still, a quick peek through is enough to get plenty of chills from all the livestock butchering that took place here. The Hong Kong government tried to turn the space into an art hub shortly after its closure, but with no success: apparently, a few artists felt it gave off a weirdly spooky vibe. Cheung Sha Wan is the closest MTR Station.
Tak Tak School
WHERE: Yuen Long, New Territories
Disclaimer: Grounds monitored by security
With the reputation of being one of the most haunted places in Hong Kong, Tak Tak elementary school in the New Territories’ district of Yuen Long keeps luring in ghost hunters and thrill-seekers (and scaring taxi drivers: quite a few of them might refuse to drive you to it). Opened in 1931, it first occupied a century-old ancestral hall—now a listed monument—and later moved to its current location, where it operated until 1998. Over the decades, it has become the source of a number of rumors. It is said to have been the site of a massacre of local villagers in 1941, during the Japanese occupation, and that the hillside next to it was turned into a graveyard to bury the victims’ remains. Before its closure, its school mistress supposedly committed suicide by hanging herself in the girls’ toilet while wearing a red dress. Subsequently, passers-by claimed sightings of a red-clothed ghost walking the premises. In 2001, a group of students who went to explore the school was left in hysterics, with one girl trying to strangle herself during their visit. So yes, creepy stuff. What’s left today are rusty desks and broken windows, empty courtyards, and discarded notebooks. To get to the school (if a taxi won’t take you) get off at Ping Shan MTR Station and walk for about three minutes. Mind though: security often lurks around the premises.
Nam Koo Terrace
WHERE: Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island
Disclaimer: Grounds monitored by security, active construction site
Built between 1915 and 1921 as a family home by a Shanghainese silk trader, this century-old mansion perched above the bustling streets of Wan Chai still maintains its original architecture—a mix of ornate European and Chinese elements, from a colonnaded veranda to an octagonal pavilion on its rooftop. But it’s its sordid history that makes Nam Koo Terrace worth a visit, even just from the outside, as an important reminder of the brutality of war. In 1941, as the Japanese army invaded the city, the villa was converted into a brothel, where so-called “comfort women”—basically local sex slaves subject to constant abuse—were brought in to work and, often, die. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the place was left to rot at the end of WWII—albeit still prized as a heritage location in Hong Kong—and sold to property conglomerate Hopewell Holdings in 1993. Still empty, it’s supposed to be turned into a wedding registry at some point in the near future.
So Lo Pun Village
WHERE: Plover Cove Country Park, New Territories
Deep into Plover Cove Country Park in the New Territories and only accessible on foot—the nearest road is over three-and-a-half hours away once you get there—So Lo Pun is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and most picturesque settlements. Shrouded in dense vegetation, it is said to have been first inhabited by the Hakka people, an ethnic group from southern China, as early as the 1600s. Its last residents left in the late 1970s, lured by more developed urban areas and non-agricultural work. Today, all that remains are a few withering structures at the village entrance, a handful of shrines, and slightly better-preserved homes as you walk through, some still adorned with intact red couplets. So Lo Pun literally translates from Cantonese as “the compass is locked,” as in the past hikers and locals supposedly reported that compasses tended to stop working in the area. A few eerie legends surround it: according to one, many of the village’s inhabitants died on their way to a wedding in a boat accident, for instance. Another claims a visitor suffered a heart attack after seeing a ghost roaming its empty alleys. Sinister stories aside, the trail to reach the village is super pleasant and boasts plenty of wetland and wildlife, making a visit to So Lu Pun a great activity if you’re into hiking. Get off at Tai Po Market MTR, then take the 275R bus until Bride’s Pool. From there, start walking towards the picnic area and onto the trail. To get back, catch bus 56k to Fanling MTR station.
INSIDER TIPBuses to Bride’s Pool only run Sunday and Public Holidays, so plan accordingly. Also, the pool itself is pretty spectacular and is fed by tumbling waterfalls. Bring a picnic and stay awhile before embarking on your hike.
Ma Wan Ghost Town
WHERE: Ma Wan Island, Tsuen Wan District, New Territories
In the looming shadow of the Tsing Ma Bridge—one of the longest suspension bridges in the world—the 200-year-old settlement of Ma Wan lays idle, its crumbling stilt houses and abandoned shrimp-drying and shrimp paste-making farms left to fade away. Located on an island by the same name, the small, once-thriving fishing town used to count a population of several thousand up until the 1980s. Then, in 1997, all of its villagers began moving out or were rehoused in the northern part of the island, after a real estate developer bought most of the land. The plan was to develop a luxury residential estate and turn the village into a tourism and cultural heritage site. While the former was completed, the latter has been stalled for the last two decades. To this day, old Ma Wan remains dilapidated, with curious visitors and the occasional wedding photographer strolling down its streets over the weekend. Amid Hong Kong’s struggle for space, a few are calling for the government to transform the place into temporary housing for the poor, but no action has been taken so far. For a glimpse of what Hong Kong fishing villages used to look like, this town is hard to beat. To access it, get off at Tsing Yi MTR station and catch the NR330 bus. Alternatively, hop on a ferry from Pier 2 in Central.
Tiger Balm Garden
WHERE: Tai Hang, Hong Kong Island
Ask any elderly Hong Konger about Tiger Balm Garden (also known as Haw Par Mansion), and chances are they’ll have a few childhood memories about the place. Opened to the public in the 1950s—but first built in 1935—the estate was one of the first theme parks in the city (and Asia in general). Behind its constructions were Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, businessmen who created Tiger Balm, a menthol and camphor-based balsam used to relieve muscle and joints pain. The Aws’ ambition with the park was to promote traditional Chinese beliefs and values, and to that end, Tiger Balm Garden took the form of a rather unique playground: it featured colorful, wild-looking sculptures inspired by Chinese mythology; bizarre, sometimes disturbing religious caricatures and, unsurprisingly, a huge Tiger Pagoda. After the brothers’ death in the mid-1950s, it continued to run, although in a state of constant decline, changing owners and eventually closing for good in 1998. The garden was replaced by a huge housing complex in 2004, while the mansion laid abandoned for decades—though you could still visit it on pre-arranged tours—and only recently reopened as a music school. Its architectural legacy is still very much worth a tour.
INSIDER TIPBesides Hong Kong, the Aw brothers opened similar theme parks in their ancestral homeland of Fujian and Singapore. The latter still stands today and has a wonderfully weird display of over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese folklore.
WHERE: Central, Hong Kong Island
Disclaimer: Currently under construction
Right in the center of Hong Kong, Central Market first opened for business in 1842. The current three-story, Bauhaus-style heritage building dates back to 1939. In 2003, it was formally closed with plans to build yet another skyscraper on top of it, but public protests stopped the project and succeeded in convincing the government to protect and revitalize the market instead. For over a decade the complex has laid semi-abandoned however, with just a handful of shops inside still in operation. A couple of years ago, an almost $100 million redevelopment was announced, and now the idea is to transform Central Market into a new cultural and retail center, while still preserving some of its key architectural details. All tenants have been evicted and the space is mostly rubble and stripped down walls.
WHERE: Mount Davis, Hong Kong Island
Not many people know Hong Kong has its own White House. Unlike its American counterpart, no presidents ever resided here, however. Instead, the building, originally built as the clubhouse of the Royal Engineers Association, came to be known as the hellish home of a number of dissidents, leftists, communist and political prisoners during the British colonial rule from the late ’50s all the way to the early ’70s. Its official name? “Victoria Road Detention Center.”
The premises were under the control of the Special Branch (SB) of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, the local division of the British MI5, and held hundreds of thousands of political prisoners thought to be working for the Chinese Communist Party or the Kuomintang. Many of them were detained without proper trial, interrogated repeatedly, tortured, and, by some historical accounts, even secretly executed by British intelligence. The complex was left to rot after the SB was dissolved in 1995 (its use as a detention center had stopped in the mid-70s) and only visited by the occasional urban explorer. In 2014, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business proposed to renovate and rent it for 10 years as its first overseas campus in Asia. Initially, the idea was to completely raid the old structure, but opposition from conservancy groups convinced developers to preserve one section of the original White House, which is now accessible to visitors.