Yim Tin Tsai: the salt farming island of Sai Kung

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Yim Tin Tsai, which directly translates to salt pan wood, but Tsai could also mean home. It is a small island in Port Shelter not too far from the Sai Kung Town Center. It was settled by the Hakka people around three hundred years ago and most famous for its salt pans and St Joseph’s Church. The island has been abandoned in 1997 with all of its residents moving to the UK or to more populated part of Hong Kong, and only recently be revitalised. The island might be small but you need a good 2.5 hours to see everything!

A short history of Yim Tin Tsai

arriving at yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

The island was first settled by the Chan clan of Hakka people in the 18th century, who moved here from Shenzhen and made their livelihood by fishing and salt farming. Around two hundred people lived on the island at its prime, all of them were converted in 1875 by the friars who arrived on the island in 1864 to spread the faith. The island  

How to get to Yim Tin Tsai and essential information

Most of the kaito services along the Sai Kung town sea front offer passage to Yim Tin Tsai, but it’s best to get the official kaito from the Yim Tin Tsai Salt Light Preservation Center.

official counter for kaito to yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat
This is the official stand – it’s at the very right (facing the sea) right by a seafood restaurant

They are only open to visitors on weekdays, unless you are a group (but group visits are currently suspended due to COVID) and you can find the shuttle schedule here.

return ticket for kaito to yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat
Keep your ticket for return

Cost: 60 HKD return, includes the 20 HKD fee for exhibitions and preservation of the island. If you take another kaito or visit by your own means, you have to pay 20 HKD to see the exhibits.

small beach next to the yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat
This is the small beach by the pier where people docks

You can also kayak to Yim Tin Tsai, as it is one of the closer islands to Sai Kung Town Center. See more about the details on kayaking in Sai Kung here. But bear in mind that you cannot enter the church in wet clothes and your knees and shoulders must be covered.

Restaurants in Yim Tin Tsai

There are two cafes on Yim Tin Tsai, both are right by the pier towards the Salt Pan. The one by the pier is Cef de Yim Tin and is more of a proper restaurant.

While Leisure Kiosk is more of a typical island local cafe.

public bathroom by leisure kiosk yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

There is one public bathroom on the island and it’s a short walk up the hill right of the pier. 

Yim Tin Tsai attractions

The two schools on Yim Tin Tsai has now been converted into 3 exhibition rooms that showcase the history of Yim Tin Tsai and the life of Hakka people. There are also many art installations from the Yim Tin Tsai art festival that would stay on around the island.

Salt Pan

wide view of salt pan yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

The salt pan is only a short walk from the pier, down in the valley where it can be flooded by seawater during extreme high tide.

salt pan yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

The Yim Tin Tsai salt pans are arranged in slight ladders with various pools, with seawater entering through the gate into a pool that is pumped into the three evaporation pools successively.

salt pan yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

The entire process takes 14 days, with the water remaining in each pool for 2 days or so to let impurity sinks. The process can be interrupted by bad weather and the salt water would be stored in brine pools to keep them safe.

evapouration pool salt pan yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong
Evapouration pools

Once the salt starts to crystalise, they need constant stirring and will be removed into the greenhouse to dry further in a pyramid pile. This allows further evaporation and lets any impurity sink.

green house salt pan yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong

Although hot, summer is actually not the ideal time to farm salt due to the heavy rain. Yim Tin Tsai sells the salt in their information center usually, however, production is halted because of the undesirable weather. 

St Joseph’s Church

st joseph's church yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

The most famous landmark of the island, St Joseph’s Church sits atop the hill facing the sea front and can be seen as ferries and kaito docks.

inside st joseph's church yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

The land was donated by the villages to build the church and school, and St Joseph’s Church was built in 1890 to replace the old one.

stained glass window st joseph's church yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

It fell into despair when the villages left in 1998, but it was renovated in 2004 and hosts yearly Christmas service. The pastel yellow exterior and the stained glass window at the front are worth seeing.

Jade Girdle Bridge

Jade girdle bridge yim tin tsai sai hong kong

As beautiful as the name sounds, the Jade Girdle Bridge is just a concrete bridge that connects the southern tip of Yim Tin Tsai with Kau Sai Chau. It dates back to the 50s when the villagers built the bridge to farm on Kau Sai Chau. The term Jade Girdle is used because farming was done by the Hakka women, who walked it every day to bring food to the table.

Twins Pavillion

twin pavilion yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

Just a short walk uphill from the Jade Girdle Bridge, the Twin Pavillion is a lookout point that has a view of Sharp Island, the mountain range that stretches from Kowloon Peak to Ma On Shan, and back towards the St Joseph Church.

sharp island ma on shan and church view at twin pavilion yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat
view to Kau Sai Chau from twin pavilion yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

On the other side, we can see the typhoon shelter and Kau Sai Chau. It’s a good vantage point and offers shade to hikers, too.

Round Pavilion

twin pavilion to round pavillion yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat-2
the round pavilion is just peeking out at the top

A little further on from the Twins Pavillion is the Round Pavilion, which doesn’t have that much of a view but a good route to take to go back towards the center again.

Spring of Living Water

Spring of Living Water yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

Although it sounds strange, this is actually the spot where the only well on the island is. For a long time, it is the only water source for 200 people! Which is really hard to imagine because it’s such a small well.

Former Residence of St Joseph Freinademetz, SVD

Former Residence of St Joseph Freinademetz yim tin tsai sai kung hong kong - laugh travel eat

Most of the buildings are in various stages of disrepair, but the Former Residence of St Joseph Freinademetz is infused with modern art with stained glass windows and various other cute installations.

There is a statue of the Freinademetz in the courtyard and a small tidbit of the Catholic history of the island, too.

Yim Tin Tsai Exhibition

The exhibitions are housed in the Village Schools. There are a total of three. The first one is the visitor center at the end of the pier, a small room with an overview of the island and the revitalisation project. There is a short video playing, too.

The other two are housed in the schools below St Joseph’s Church, respectively the primary 澄波學校 and the high school 澄波書院.

The one to the left going uphill also plays a video on the island’s history with a small model. The one on the right on Hakka culture with various items on display.

Yim Tin Tsai Art installations

For the art week, there are various art installations both big and small spread throughout the island. From what I gleaned from a short conversation with a staff member, they are here to stay (and I really hope so)!

I don’t think I’ve seen all of them, but a few that stood out are the the small chapel made of glass bottles washed up on the island. Another is the ratton structure with red and yellow glass paper.

Written by Nam Cheah

Hi, my name is Nam. I am 24 and spent half my life in Hong Kong and the other half in UK. I believe there's endless experience and beauty in the world and this is me chronicling how to experience the best at the best price.

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