A Step Back In Time

On our recent trip to Hong Kong, I wanted to visit Tai O Fishing Village to see if it had changed in the 12 years since we lived there. Tai O is a rare example of traditional Chinese stilt houses built over the water and was once a true fishing village. It is situated on Lantau Island between Hong Kong, Macau and Mainland China and dates back to the Ming Dynasty. In it’s hey day it had a reported population of over 30,000, however, now as few as 2000 residents live there.

Tai O Fishing Village

Tai O Fishing Village

So we set off from Hong Kong by ferry to Mui Wo, then bus to The Big Buddha at the peak of Lantau. After a walk around The Big Buddha, we boarded another bus down the hill to Tai O. I had read that there was a new hotel at Tai O which was a great stop for afternoon tea. After alighting from the bus, we walked for about 20 minutes following the signs to the Tai O Heritage Hotel.

The Big Buddha

The Big Buddha

Now this village is not a pretty village and the smell of dried fish is strong and attacks the nostrils. We passed the local school and many small houses some of which were made from metal. We couldn’t help but wonder how on earth people live in such small, dark homes with very low ceilings. The houses often have common walls with their neighbours which meant the fire of 2013 would’ve caught very quickly and destroyed so many properties. It’s a miracle no lives were lost and more damage wasn’t done.

Tai O Fishing Village

Tai O Fishing Village

As we walked further and further along the path away from the main area, I was starting to doubt that the reward would be worth it.

Sign Street Post

It was hot, and smelly and I had envisioned a beautiful oasis with potted palms, rattan fans and beautiful food but feared we would be dining in a house with animals and washing.

Cats Washing

There were fishermen fishing and women in big coolies sitting on the rocks collecting something.

Fisherman Oysters

There was a building out on it’s own that appeared to be sinking and for a few minutes I thought this was going to be our destination.

Sinking Building

But a turn in the road took us paste the shrimp paste drying in the sun. More overpowering fishy smells!

Shrimp Paste

And at last I caught a glimpse of a building high up above the path. It was exactly what I had imagined, from the outside anyway.

Heritage Hotel

There was nothing else around so that had to be it. A few more steps and the sign pointed to the pathway. Oh, wow, it was everything I had imagined and more. The building was the Old Tai O Police station built in 1902 by the British Government as one of the first colonial police stations. It closed in 2002 and was left vacant and dilapidated until it was restored in 2009. In 2012 it was reborn as a nine-suite boutique hotel and to help rejuvenate the historic Tai O fishing village.

Heritage Hotel 1

We found the dining room, with sweeping views of the South China Sea, and took our seats. I was thrilled to learn the furniture came from the now closed China Tee Club (another past favourite of mine).

The China Tee Club (formerly in the Pedder Building in Central but now closed)

The China Tee Club (formerly in the Pedder Building in Central but now closed)

The food was great and for a short time I could pretend I was back in Colonial Hong Kong.

The Dining Room of the Tai O Heritage Hotel

The Dining Room of the Tai O Heritage Hotel

It’s a beautiful spot and well worth the trek. It’s also pleasing to read that the hotel operates as a non-profit social enterprise with surpluses being used for conservation and maintenance of historic buildings. The hotel also provides local employment opportunities, employs local service providers and uses Tai O ingredients at the restaurant in order to support the local economy. There are numerous hiking and nature trails in and around Tai O and the hotel would be a welcome respite for overnight.

Looking back to the village from the Hotel - not the prettiest of views

Looking back to the village from the path to the Hotel – not the prettiest of views

I hope Tai O never loses it’s charm and remains available for tourists to visit and see how life used to be.

Drying salted egg yolks

Drying salted egg yolks


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  1. wOW!!! That really was an oasis, great to see they give so much back to the community though.
    Your trip sounds like it was pretty incredible!!

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