A guide to Coloane’s Ka Ho Village

By Jonathan Evans
Photography: Amy Wong / Wu Sai Cheong

Photography: Cotai Strip

While there’s no shortage of traditional areas across Macau, even since the development of Cotai, the southern parish of Coloane is unquestionably the island that’s most deeply rooted in the past. Wandering through its coastal villages – with their tumbledown housing, old-school businesses, walking trails and disused shipyards untouched by the passing of the decades – is a sensory experience akin to a stroll around Lamma island in Hong Kong, where modernity takes a back seat to the simple pleasure of hiking in the open air among the charm of decidedly timeworn landscapes. 

Photography: Port of Coloane

One of the Cantonese names for Coloane was taken from a translation of “Nine-Inlet Mountain” (Gau Ou Saan), the Portuguese transcription of which, Ka Ho, in turn gives its name to both the island of Coloane and one of its most scenic and distinctive villages – as well as parks and a school. Nestled in north-eastern Coloane, the hilly area’s modest appearance – notable for an abundance of industrial plants – belies a colourful history that stretches back well before the 20th century. In 1910, Portuguese forces occupying Macau reacted to pirates firing a cannon by overpowering them with a gunboat, an event known as the Coloane Massacre, which left 38 local people dead and Ka Ho largely destroyed by fire. (The Portuguese commemorated the event with a memorial in front of the Chapel of St Francis Xavier.) It was a turning point in the history of both the area and Macau; Ka Ho subsequently became a military barracks and a container port, while Coloane itself became subsumed into the territory.

Photography: (Left) Restored Portuguese houses, Coloane Massacre Memorial

But recent refurbishment in Ka Ho has brought to light a period well before the massacre, which had already put the village firmly on the map. In 2016 it was announced that five restored Portuguese houses – and potentially a sixth – were to be redeveloped as a centre for artists to exhibit their work, as well as a tourist area, with plans to bring travellers there by boat on day trips. However the villas had already known notoriety in the 19th and the 20th century, when they were used to house dozens of leprosy patients under the care of Don Gaetano Nicosia, an Italian missionary who lived in the area for almost half a century and was known as the “Angel of Lepers”. Just as many of the patients in the colony recovered from their illness, were rehabilitated and returned to their communities, there was a new influx of Vietnamese settlers in the 1970s and ‘80s who arrived in the area as refugees from the country’s long-running civil war.

Photography: (Top Left) Sam Seng Temple, Tan Sin Temple /  (Bottom) Kun Iam Temple

Another building in Ka Ho village to benefit from the recent restoration was the diminutive Our Lady of Old Sorrows, a triangular chapel dominated by its yellow roof and an impressive statue of Jesus on the cross on its façade by Italian sculptor Francisco Messima. The church was built in 1966 and frequented by inhabitants of the leprosarium, many of whom used the Bible to learn how to read and in doing so became adherents of Catholicism. It’s one of a triptych of religious buildings in the Ka Ho area, which also houses Sam Seng Temple (also known as the Temple of Three Divinities, dating back to 1883) and Kun Iam, a small Buddhist temple with a simple shrine dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy – not to be confused with the place of worship that shares its name in peninsular Macau. 

Photography: Our Lady of Old Sorrows Chapel

The wider area of Ka Ho is something of a haven for lovers of nature and the great outdoors. Ka-Ho Reservoir Natural Park, in particular, is celebrated among locals for its tranquility, expansive reach and natural beauty – it encircles the reservoir of the same name, and features an overhead walkway and rare bird sightings. A few hundred metres further south lies the Ka-Ho Reservoir Freshwater Wetland Ecological Zone, while the Ka-Ho Height Barbecue Park, just to the west of the reservoir, is a noted lunchtime spot for day trippers at the end of the Family Trail.

Photography: Ka Ho Reservoir Natural Park

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