Tung Chung Fort – Hidden in Plain Sight

Yes indeed there really is a full-blown fort with cannons, ramparts and everything! You can find it all tucked away amongst the houses, restaurants and children’s play areas of the Wong Ka Wai village, just off the main Tung Chung Road.

Designated as a National Monument in 1979 by the Hong Kong Antiquities and Monuments Office, its setting may be a little less than auspicious, but the Tung Chung Fort is certainly an intriguing reminder of the depth of Lantau’s past and worth a visit.

The fort is originally believed to have been built sometime between 1174 – 1189, during the Southern Song dynasty as a deterrent against the salt smugglers, prevalent at that time on Lantau smuggling salt to Canton City, as well attacking the city government in the process.

Clearly this could not be left unchecked, so 300 soldiers were brought Tung Chung to build the fort and restore calm. They did the trick and after three years of peace the soldiers were recalled, but not before a 150 of them were transferred to Kowloon to help build the ‘Walled City’.

Not much then appears about the fort in the historical record, but during the Qing dynasty, many pirates, including the well known Cheung Po Tsai, based themselves on Lantau and made use of the old fort at Tung Chung.

The Qing Government recovered the fort after the surrender of Cheung Po Tsai in 1817, with the fort being rebuilt and garrisoned by the Right Battalion of Tai Peng to continue to defend the coast from pirates.

This continued up until the lease of New Territories to the UK in 1898, at which time the fort was then abandoned.

Tung Chung fort did however act as a military base one final time, when it taken over  by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. The Japanese occupied Hong Kong between December 1941 and its liberation in August 1945.

Following the war, Tung Chung Fort went through several transformations, serving at one point as a police station and more recently up until 2003, as primary school.

These days though only the old school’s basketball court remains in action, pretty cool for the area’s younger generation – it is also the base for the areas Rural Committee Office.

Refurbished in 1988, the fort is built out of granite blocks with three walls contain gateways on the north, east and west sides, but being built in to a hill, its south wall is gateless. Each gateway has a granite block above it inscribed “Jie Xiu”, “Lian Geng” and “Gong Chen”, respectively.

There are six  intact old muzzle-loading cannons, dating between the early to mid 1800s which are mounted on the north wall, each resting on a cement base facing out towards what was once Tung Chung Bay. These were however moved to the fort during its time as a British police station, so were not part of its original defences.

Entry to Tung Chung Fort, which also includes access to a small rural life museum, is free. You can inspect its cannons, explore its old gatehouses and even clock-up some daily exercise by walking circuits around its ramparts – you might even be lucky enough to drop in on a game of pick-up basketball if you time it right!

Although the old fort may not be one the landmark features of Hong Kong or even Lantau, it certainly holds a part of its story. The fort also has a certain atmosphere when you are standing on those ramparts and although these days you are faced with a vista of high-rise apartments, it still gives you the opportunity to pause and connect to the past – for that alone it’s worth adding to your Lantau tick list.

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