Saturday, 19 August 2017

Hong Kong Railway Museum and Tai Po Market

Before the widespread development of roads in the mid 20th century, the main form of transportation for many industrialised countries are railways. Today, I visited the Hong Kong Railway Museum to find out more about how the railway helped shape the city. While I was there, I also visited a couple of sites at Tai Po Market.

Getting there

Hong Kong Railway Museum is located beside the East Rail Line track between Tai Po Market and Tai Wo stations. The stations are quite close to each other and the walk from either station is about 10 minutes. I choose to walk from Tai Po Market because it is one stop closer to the city and there are things to see along way.

[note] There is a lot of signage to the railway museum, but they are not always visible. The signboards are pink in colour and also point to other attractions in the area. 

HK Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum is built around the old Tai Po Market railway station. The station was built by the British during the colonial era and consist only of a small ticket and signalling building. There are also some interactive exhibits and showcase of old tickets and historic train models.

[tip] The museum offers an audio recording commentary system. Simply connect to the HK Railway Museum wifi and you can learn more details about the various exhibits. And the wifi is NOT FOR INTERNET.

Among the equipment preserved, the most interesting is the manual train control. Basically, a train must receive a hoop from the station master before it is allowed to enter the next section of track. The train conductor then pass the hoop to the station master at the next station, which will unlock a switch to indicate that the track is clear. This is a very labour intensive system and really shows how far we have come when it comes to rail signalling.

Dispatcher/Station master's office. You can see the signal hoop on the right side.

In the track area, there are also some preserved semaphore signals and track switches. These signals are controlled manually from a signal box, and a series of interlocking mechanical gauges (not shown in this museum) prevents conflicting signals or points. Interestingly, the British chose to use standard gauge for Hong Kong's railways, unlike many other colonies such as Malaya (meter gauge) and Indian (1676mm broad gauge). You can find out more about track gauge here (yes, don't look down on wiki guys).

The old semaphore signals. Most modern systems uses signal lights, and in high speed systems, the signal is displayed directly in the operators cab. 
At the railway museum, there are also some historic coaches and locomotives. The most iconic is a steam locomotive, which has its own shelter (I mean, how else can you tell it is the most important)? Okay just kidding. The steam locomotive is of a different track gauge from the other cars so it cannot fit on the preserved standard gauge track.

JUST managed to get a glimpse of the interior. So much for the no climbing rule...

Oh yes, you can also enter the cabins to experience how it was like to travel by rail in the olden times. It is quite interesting how even 2nd class seats on CRH (ie. standard seats) are more comfortable than first class seats of that era. Also, unlike modern trains where you stow the luggage in the overhead compartments, big luggage is actually checked in and carried by porters into a dedicated luggage compartment.

Wait! This is a first class seat??!

The luggage compartment. Notice how big it is compared to the one on...CRH trains

Is this a clinic waiting room or a train compartment?

oh! it is a classroom!

Tai Po Market

Since I was there, I also took the opportunity to have a walk around Tai Po Market. This market is located in the new territories so prices are a lot cheaper than in the city. There are a lot of butcher and dried goods stalls in the area. According to the HK Tourist website, its roots lie with these ancient—and oft crumbling—walled villages: inside you’ll find families who’ve lived here for generations who can give you an insight into the district of old. 

Anyways, there is also a modern market beside the MTR station, but the smell of raw fish in an AIR-CON market is so stinky that no one in the right mind will want to enter unless they already decided that they want to buy something.

There is also a temple located in the market called Man Mo temple. The temple is based on Chinese Folk Religion and is home to the literature god Man Tai (文帝) / Man Cheong (文昌) and the martial god Mo Tai (武帝) / Kwan Tai (關帝). The two gods were popularly patronized by scholars and students seeking progress in their study or ranking in the civil examinations in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The design is much more compact compared to the grand temples found at Ping Shan heritage trail

The Verdict

Tai Po Market is not a place where a lot of tour agencies will bring you. Yet, somehow, I find that it is a much more meaningful place to visit than the mass tourist locations like Avenue of Stars and Golden Bauhinia Square. Here, you get to experience a slower pace of life, a bustling historic community and relics of a bygone era which has shaped the society and culture of Hong Kong.

If you like Hong Kong, you may be interested in these other posts: