The 270-hectare nature reserve includes the Mai Po Visitor Centre at the northeastern end, where you must register; the Mai Po Education Centre to the south, with displays on the history and ecology of the wetland and Deep Bay; floating boardwalks and trails through the mangroves and mudflats; and a dozen hides. Disconcertingly, the cityscape of Shēnzhèn looms to the north.
Access to Mai Po is restricted – it doesn't allow walk-ins. The best way to see it is by joining one of the several guided tours run by the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWF), which manages the reserve. You can book online (www.wwf.org.hk). Half-day English tours (HK$150) leave the visitor centre every Sunday at 2.30pm. Other tours include the 'Mangrove Broadwalk' tour (adult/child HK$216/180) lasting four hours, and the seasonal Night Safari, the Migration tour and Shrimp Harvesting. Note that the tours have different age requirements for child participants. The website has details.
To visit the reserve unaccompanied, you'll need a permit issued by the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation. Call 852 2708 8885 or email with a letter and supporting documents to firstname.lastname@example.org to apply.
Visitors are advised to wear comfortable walking shoes or boots but not bright clothing. It is best to visit at high tide (minimum 2m), when birds in their tens of thousands – mostly ducks, gulls, cormorants and kingfishers, but many rare species as well – flock to the area. The Hong Kong Observatory website (www.hko.gov.hk/tide/predtide.htm) and app have tidal information.
Bus 76K, which runs between Yuen Long and the Fanling and Sheung Shui MTR East Rail stations, will drop you off at Mai Po Lo Wai, a village along the main road just east of the marsh. The car park is about a 20-minute walk from there. Red minibus 17 from San Fat St in Sheung Shui also goes to Mai Po Lo Wai. Alternatively, a taxi from Sheung Shui will cost HK$88.