23 October 2016
Coca-Cola company once offered a three-bedroom flat at Mei Foo Sun Chuen (left) as the top prize for a lottery. Lai Yuen (right) used to be a popular amusement park. Photo: HKEJ
Coca-Cola company once offered a three-bedroom flat at Mei Foo Sun Chuen (left) as the top prize for a lottery. Lai Yuen (right) used to be a popular amusement park. Photo: HKEJ

Those were the days at Lai Chi Kok and Butterfly Valley

Lai Chi Kok lies in the east of Kwai Chung and the west of Cheung Sha Wan.

Lai Chi Kok literally means “lychee corner”, referring to the evergreen tree common in Guangdong province whose fruit has white flesh, a large seed and pinkish-brown skin.

There are a few stories surrounding the origin of its name.

Some people say the place looks like a lychee on the map, although that is hard to verify that today because the landscape has been altered considerably by reclamation.

Another claim is that the name was taken from the Hakkanese phrase lai zu giok (孻子腳) – Lai zu means youngest son, and giok means foot.

The name comes from the beach of Lai Chi Kok Bay, where you’ll find tiny footprints of visitors on the sand.

It is also said that the bay used to be a forest of lychee trees, and so the place was named after the tree.

In the 1920s, the government started the development of a new town in Cheung Sha Wan while Mobil Oil had been using the reclaimed area of Lai Chi Kok for petroleum storage.

The bay next to the petroleum depot was previously desolate, but thanks to the urban development in nearby Cheung Sha Wan, a property developer decided to put up a swimming pool and other leisure and entertainment facilities in the area.

Eventually, an amusement park emerged — Lai Yuen.

Lai Chi Kok Bay and Lai Yuen used to be popular weekend sites for Hongkongers.

When Mobil Oil moved its petroleum depot to Tsing Yi, it turned the old storage site into a sprawling property project targeting middle-income families.

In the 1960s, in order to boost sales, Coca-Cola launched a promotion in which soft-drink buyers could find a stamp hidden under each bottle cap, which they collected for a lottery ticket.

The top prize was a three-bedroom flat at Mei Foo Sun Chuen worth HK$30,000, a king’s ransom back then.

As more housing estates rose in Cheung Sha Wan, Butterfly Valley, which is next to Lai Chi Kok, also became widely known to the public.

In fact, as early as in the 1930s, local tours to the valley were arranged for the viewing of golden yellow butterflies as they broke out of their cocoons.

Unfortunately, during the Second World War, Japanese soldiers cut down the trees for wood, depriving the butterflies of their habitat. Since then, butterflies can no longer be seen in the valley.

With the construction of a highway in the area, Butterfly Valley became notorious for its horrendous traffic jams.

The once beautiful valley where colorful butterflies fluttered about is now referred to in traffic reports as a “junction blackspot”.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 7.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The 7,000-square-meter Butterfly Valley Road Pet Garden, which used to be a habitat of different species of butterflies, now serves as a flood prevention, transport and recreation facility. Photos: GovHK, HKEJ

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