If you are looking for a wonderful day trip in Hong Kong, where you can explore a slower and quieter rural side of life, then look no further than the charming old-world fishing village of Tai O located seafront and on the banks of a river on the west side of Lantau Island.
Top Reasons to Go:
- There are houses on stilts!
- Although it’s located just a ferry and bus ride away from Central, you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time and won’t be able to stop taking photos
- Most of Tai O is filled with pedestrian-only streets so it’s blissfully and peacefully quiet
- People walk slowwwww on Tai O– a welcome change from the bumping, hustle and bustle of HK
Tai O History Is Fascinating
Tai O is over 300 years old with a volatile and sometimes shady history. Per Wikipedia, ‘stories that would be impossible to substantiate have Tai O as the base of many smuggling and piracy operations, the inlets of the river providing excellent protection from the weather and a hiding place.’
Sadly a fire broke out in 2000 that destroyed most of the charming old-world residences leaving mostly squatter huts and dilapidated stilt houses but as a visitor, that makes things even more interesting. For some reason, there is a lot of metal used there for building homes. From old silver vintage caravans propped up on stilts to fences seem to be used as actual walls, there is a lot to gander at on Tai O, especially once you cross the river. My favourite was a house on a hillside that was built around a large tree that grew through it.
To cross over to the main part of the village, a rope-drawn sampan ferry was used but now people cross on foot thanks to a rope-drawn ferry bridge. When I visited, it was without a plan or map so we simply followed the signs to the Tai O Heritage Hotel because it looked most up our alley (posh logo!) and we were starving, and it turned out to be the perfect thing. You’ll walk about 15-20 minutes through delightful residential areas, past a school and church, along a long inlet where you’ll see boats on dry land if the tide is out, ladies digging for cockles and more.
If you are up for a bit of shopping, you will be happy to know I didn’t see one franchise there (unlike the very cheesy feel at Ngong Ping when you realise there is a Starbucks and Subway in the village you just traversed in order to see the infamous Tian Tan Buddha!). As it’s a fishing village, there are never ending stalls selling dried fish like you’d expect. There are also quaint shops selling organic oils and soaps, touristy trinkets and even a fancy pastry shop. NOTE: I don’t mind the smell of dried fish but my friend was really sensitive to it. Just be aware that you’ll be unable to avoid it at times for rather long stretches.
Where to Dine
Although there are lots of little mom and pop dining options, late lunch at the Tai O Heritage Hotel’s Lookout restaurant was just perfect – with a stunning view of the aquamarine waters. First and foremost because the air conditioning was blasting and we were about to wither away we were so hot. Secondly, because they had an amazing assortment of Asian cuisine, local fish, healthy salads, western food and a gorgeous fruit platter with cream stuffed strawberries for dessert. The only thing missing was wine but they do have beer! The view is breath-taking and we were fortunate to sit by the window overlooking the point where the river meets the sea.
I went in June with a friend, leaving Central post-lunchtime. Although we both agree it was an amazing day and we would do it all over again, man did we turn beet red more than we’d like from the heat. So if you are going in summer, I would suggest starting out early in the morning, explore Tai O for a few hours and then take the bus about 2/3 of the way back and stop off for an afternoon on one of the beautiful lagoons or stretches of beach that you spotted on the way in. We stopped off at Tong Fuk Beach but there were a dozen places I would have loved to spend the late afternoon swimming or picnicking at. No need to really pre-plan that in my opinion.
How to Get There
If you plan your journey well, you can make it to Tai O in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Top up your Octopus Card so you can travel easily:
- Take the ferry from Central Pier #6 to Mui Wo (cost is around HKD$20).
- Then exit the ferry terminal and cross left to bus #1 (cost is around HKD$10). The bus ride takes close to 40 minutes through some of the most amazing jungle-esque countryside, lakes and beaches so the time goes by fast. You’ll exit at the very last stop.
The Community of Tai O website is loaded with history, things to do and see. It’s not all in English but if you use Chrome you can translate the bits that aren’t.
© 2015, Angela Carson and AngelasAsia.com. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.