Looking for an off-the-beaten-track spot in Hong Kong for your next day trip? You’re in luck, as the government has opened up the city’s most isolated village — Sha Tau Kok — up to visitors. The decades-long restricted area is home to only about 4,000 residents, and has been something of a mystery to even longtime Hongkongers who need special permits to visit the area. Now that it’s easier to enter the 852’s northernmost town, check out our guide to Sha Tau Kok that tells you everything from how to get there and where to get your permits, to what to see and eat there.

Where is Sha Tau Kok?

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Sha Tau Kok is Hong Kong’s northernmost town (©Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong)

Sha Tau Kok is in Hong Kong’s North District, right across the border from Shenzhen’s Yantian District. In 1951, it was included in the territory’s Frontier Closed Area — a regulated border zone in Hong Kong that extended inwards from the border with Mainland China. Since then, only Sha Tau Kok residents have been allowed to move freely within the town, and non-residents could only enter with a Closed Area Permit.

The HKSAR Government started opening the area up to visitors in 2022, when it allowed group tours to visit Sha Tau Kok Pier on weekends and public holidays. The arrangement was a trial run for what would follow in January 2024 — complete access for tourists to Sha Tau Kok, with daily limits on the number of visitors to the town. From July 1, 2024, the daily individual visitor quota to the area will be set at 2,300 — a substantial increase from the previous limits of 600 independent tourists and 700 group visitors per day. Non-residents still need to get a Closed Area Permit to enter Sha Tau Kok.

How To Get a Closed Area Permit for Sha Tau Kok

Anyone interested in visiting Sha Tau Kok can visit the Hong Kong Police Force website and apply for a Closed Area Permit online on a first-come-first-served basis. These free permits are valid for one day, and take three full working days to process. The number of available visitor slots to Sha Tau Kok are updated twice a day. Individual applicants need to provide the following documents to get a Closed Area Permit:

  • Hong Kong residents: Hong Kong Identity Card (HKID)
  • Non-Hong Kong residents: Passport or other valid travel document, and valid immigration proof such as tickets to and from Hong Kong, hotel booking records or other visit-related information.
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Visitors applying to visit Sha Tau Kok as part of a tour can provide these documents to a licensed travel agent, who in turn must also provide authorities with their relevant licence, business registration, tour itinerary, and identify proof.

What Can I See in Sha Tau Kok?

Tourists to Sha Tau Kok have unrestricted access to the entire town from 7am-9pm every day, except for Chung Ying Street, as one side of the street belongs to Hong Kong and the other comes under Mainland China. Here are some of the major attractions in Sha Tau Kok.

Cape of Sha Tau Kok

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Visitors to Cape Sha Tau Kok can get panoramic views of Starling Inlet (© Hong Kong Tourism Board)

This is the easternmost corner of Sha Tau Kok, where visitors will find an old signpost that says ‘Cape of Sha Tau Kok’ along with coordinates of the spot. The sign stands in front of a stone plaque bearing poetic verses that pay tribute to the picturesque surroundings, supposedly written by a Qing dynasty minister. This is a great vantage point to get sweeping views of the natural coastline of Starling Inlet.

Sha Tau Kok Pier

shau tau kok pier hong kong
Sha Tau Kok has Hong Kong’s longest pier (© GovHK)

The 280-metre pier in this remote town is the longest in Hong Kong, and handles passengers that travel between Sha Tau Kok and Kat O, Ap Chau, and Lai Chi Wo. Since the waters along Sha Tau Kok are quite shallow, the pier extends into the deeper part of the sea to allow vessels to berth more easily, so the boarding point is actually positioned halfway out in the sea. It’s a great spot to get views of Plover Cove Country Park on one side and the urban skyline of Shenzhen on the other.

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Chung Ying Street Garden

chung ying street garden hong kong
Get a glimpse of the goings-on at Chung Ying Street from the observation deck at the garden (© GovHK)

Chung Ying Street is off-limits to visitors as one side of the street is on the Mainland China side of the border. So only people who live and work here can enter the street, as well as those who have relatives or friends who stay here. Chung Ying Street Garden is the closest that tourists can get to this unique thoroughfare, and they have a full view of the goings-on here from the garden’s observation deck. Visitors can also find a life-size locomotive model against the walls of a retro railway station model, and make wishes by hanging wishing plaques on the viewing deck’s railings.

Fish Lantern Square

 chung ying street sha tau kok hong kong
The installations at Fish Lantern square is a homage to the centuries-old Sha Tau Kok fish lantern dance (© GovHK)

This landmark pays tribute to the Sha Tau Kok fish lantern dance, a tradition that goes back more than 300 years and was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2008. Dancers mimic the movements of fish in time to gong and drum music, as they hold candle-lit fish lanterns, in a demonstration of the Hakka people’s custom of worshipping Tin Hau.

Old Sha Tau Kok Fire Station

old sha tau kok fire station hong kong
A replica of a 20th century fire-fighting hand cart is sometimes exhibited outside the old fire station (© GovHK)

The old fire station at Sha Tau Kok built in 1962 has distinctive red gates that are much shorter than their modern counterparts, and its original appearance has been preserved. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a 1:1 replica of a century-old fire-fighting handcart at the station’s entrance — the only one of its kind on display outdoors in Hong Kong.

San Lau Street

san lau shreet sha tau kok hong kong
The Cantonese veranda-type shophouses on San Lau Street were built in the early 20th century(© GovHK)

Take a trip back in time by strolling through Hong Kong’s largest Guangzhou-style arcade complex on San Lau Street. The buildings here were built on reclaimed land in the early 20th century, and are among the few preserved Cantonese veranda-type shophouses in Hong Kong, which are known for their blend of Chinese and Western architectural styles. The ground floor houses shops, while the upper storeys are residential. In 2011, all 22 veranda-type shophouses on San Lau Street were accorded Grade 2 historic building status.

Old Street Signs

old street signs sha tau kok hong kong
The three T-shaped street signs in Sha Tau Kok are quite rare in Hong Kong (© Hong Kong Tourism Board)

If you’re a history buff, there are three street signs in Sha Tau Kok that should pique your interest. The T-shaped boards on San Lau Street, Car Park Street, and Yim Liu Ha are among the less than 80 such signs left in Hong Kong. They’re embedded in exterior walls of old tenement buildings, or tong laus, and the Chinese characters are read from right to left, unlike their modern counterparts.

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The ‘Wish Fish’

wish fish sha tau kok hong kong
Send your wishes to the sea with ‘Wish Fish’(© Hong Kong Tourism Board)

If you walk down the Sha Tau Kok Pier, you’ll notice little wooden fish hanging from railings. These are ‘wish fish’ that you can write your wishes on, which will get passed on to the sea. All you need to do is get one of these fish from the self-service souvenir vending machine at the entrance to the Sha Tau Kok Pier, and wish away!

What to Eat in Sha Tau Kok

There are quite a few Sha Tau Kok-specific dishes that you can try during your trip here. There’s the Hakka-style pork bowl that married women from the Hakka community would prepare in the run-up to Chinese New Year — which you can get at Golden Prosperous Cuisine, aka Hoi San Restaurant. The cuttlefish cakes in the neighbourhood are rolled omelettes with cuttlefish paste, while the pineapple buns are served with corned beef and fried eggs, along with bottled milk tea.

dried seafood street, rice crackers and pineapples buns at sha tau kok hong koong
Visit Dried Seafood Street to pick up foodie souvenirs or try rice crackers and pineapple buns (© Hong Kong Tourism Board)

Want to pick up some seafood to take home? Then head to the Dried Seafood Street for fish maw and salted fish. If you’re in Sha Tau Kok just before Chinese New Year, try the traditional rice crackers dished up by Hoklo women from wood burning stoves. Another festival favourite, especially during the Ching Ming Festival, is cha kwo —  traditional Hakka sticky rice dumplings.

How to get to Sha Tau Kok?

Private vehicles are not allowed to enter Sha Tau Kok, so you have to get there using public transport. After you get your Closed Area Permit, you can travel to the town by:

  • Bus: Take bus 78S (express departures) from MTR Sheung Shui Station, or 78K from MTR Sheung Shui or Fanling Station. Another option is bus 277A from MTR Lam Tin Station.
  • Minibus: Board minibus 55K from MTR Sheung Shui Station.
  • Ferry: Sail to Sha Tau Kok on a kaito ferry from either Lai Chi Wo Pier, Ap Chau Pier or Kat O Pier.

Image credits: Derek Yung via Canva, Hong Kong Tourism Board

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From the Middle East to the Far East and a couple of places in between, Anjali has lived in no fewer than seven cities in Asia, and has travelled extensively in the region. She worked as a lifestyle journalist in India before coming to Hong Kong, where her favourite thing to do is island-hopping with her daughter. You can check out her musings on motherhood, courtesy her Instagram profile.

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