Not far from Hong Kong’s very modern airport is an old fishing village with houses built on stilts. Visit this town for a glimpse of traditional life in China.
Although Tai O is less than 9 miles (15 kilometers) southwest from Tung Chung, the one-way trip to the village will take one hour by car, two by bus, or three on the more direct hiking route. You’ll feel as if you’ve traveled centuries into the past.
Over 300 years ago, fishing families lived on houseboats or on homes built on stilts above the tidal flats on the western side of Lantau Island. They fished in the rich waters of the South China Sea, in virtual isolation from the traders and sailors using the rapidly developing harbors of Hong Kong Island. Tai O is itself an island separated from the mainland of Lantau by two narrow rivers.
Visit Tai O to see and photograph the peaceful local culture. Walk across the manually operated pedestrian drawbridge to tour the small town of homes clustered along the rivers’ shores. Observe how the unusual houses seem to be floating on water at high tide, while at low tide they rise precariously from thin stilts stuck into thick mud.
Historically the town has been a center for salt production, illegal immigration and smuggling, but fishing has been a mainstay for the villagers over the centuries. Visit Tai O to see descendants of these families at work mending nets, sorting their catch and creating a specialty shrimp paste. As their children grow up, however, they often look for greater opportunity in larger cities, and the town’s population dwindles.
Tourism is important to the town. One landmark building, the Tai O Police Station, has been converted to a hotel and restaurant. Visit the Yeung Hau Temple, constructed in 1699, and a historically preserved building. Take a trip with a local boatman to see Chinese dolphins. Buy some shrimp paste and watch the sunset.
If you are in Central, the easiest and most scenic way to get to Tai O is by ferry to Mui Wo and then the Number 1 bus to Tai O. Alternatively, take the train to Tung Chung and then the Number 11 bus or hiking trails through Lantau North Country Park.