The fishing village Tai O is located on the northwestern coast of Hong Kong’s biggest island Lantau Island and is popular for its seafood, stilt-houses and fishing culture. Especially on weekends, locals love to visit this unique fishing village, strolling through the small streets, exploring the surroundings, taking photographs (it’s a true photographer’s paradise) and looking for the best seafood and snacks. Unless you don’t find any other spare time than the weekend, we highly recommend visiting this unique fishing village during the week. Only during the week you will have a chance to experience a huge contrast to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s busy downtown areas and will experience the tranquil and authentic settings of the old Tai O fishing village.
Due to its vicinity to Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha Statue, Tai O became popular among tourists in recent years and some people even refer to Tai O as the “Venice of Hong Kong” or the “Venice of the Orient”. To be honest and frank, don’t expect too much of the comparison with the famous Italian city. The architecture of the stilt-houses is quite unique, but far away from the romantic Italian equivalent. Tai O and its community had to cope with several severe natural disasters in recent years including floods, fires and typhoons and the results can still be seen and experienced today. Tai O’s stilt-houses look like a conglomerate of fixing procedures (and some might think on a popular saying “if duct tape can’t fix it, nothing can fix it”). Having these unique settings attracts many local amateur and professional photographers and especially on weekend they flock in to thousands to get the best close-up shot of dried fish or unique picture of Tai O and its surroundings.
Tai O’s Story and It’s Disappearing
Like so many places in Hong Kong, Tai O has an interesting history and story to tell. If you ask locals about Tai O you usually will hear that this is the place to buy seafood, shrimp paste and sauce (XO sauce) or that you should try its famous snacks such as salted egg yolks, salted dry fish, donuts or laogong bin (husband cake). But Tai O has much more to offer than the obvious gourmet treats.
As a matter of fact, Tai O is one of the few remaining fishing villages in Hong Kong and a rare example of a traditional Chinese stilt-house community. Fishermen started to reside since the Ming Dynasty and reasons to build up the traditional Chinese Stilt-houses can be seen in the geographical and ecological location of Tai O. The small water channels between Tai O Island and Lantau Island were not only an ideal place to anchor boats and ships, but also to build up the unique stilted houses. The building style of the stilt-houses in Tai O dates back as far as the 19th century and Tai O is the only place in Hong Kong that has a sedentary fishing community for more than 100 years.
With hundreds of fishing boats, ships and vessels and a prosperous fishing economy, Tai O was one of Hong Kong’s most important fishing ports for more than 200 years. The rich fishing grounds led to a prosperous fishing industry. Tai O’s special geographic location with its shallow waters helped to develop the fishing industry. The fishing industry relied heavily on salt to preserve fish and the shallow coastal waters have been optimal to produce salt in large amounts. Taking a look back in time for about 50 years, here had more than 100 acres of salt-fields. Nowadays, many people are not even aware anymore that Tai O once had been famous for its thriving salt industry (hence the salty egg yolk snacks) back in the 1930s and 1940s. Unfortunately, Tai O’s salt and agriculture industry collapsed in the 1960s and led not only to a shrinking fishing industry, but also to shrinking population. For all of you who are interested how a salt worker lived back then should have a look at the exhibition project initiated by the local Tai O community called “Salt Workers’ Quarters”.
In addition, rumors and myths about smuggling, pirates and pirates’ hideouts still exist around the traditional fishing village with its stilted houses which are no wonder considering Tai O’s maritime strategic position between the Pearl River Delta (Mainland China), Hong Kong, Macau and neighboring areas. When you walk around Tai O and take a closer look at the canals and small rivers flowing to the hinterland of Lantau Island you almost can picture and feel how it was 200 – 300 years ago when pirates smuggled guns, drugs, tobacco and/or even people into and out of Hong Kong and Mainland China.
Although, Tai O is nowadays a popular sightseeing place, the village is struggling and it seems that it is only a matter of time when the traditional fishing culture will diminish. Tai O used to be one of the biggest villages (population above 30,000) on Lantau Island, but faces – as so many traditional villages in Hong Kong and around the world – a declining population. Currently, it is estimated that about 2,000 people are still living in Tai O and many young people prefer to live in the downtown area with an average 9-5 job instead of continuing the traditional fishing lifestyle which barely provide a stable source of income anymore. Due to these facts, Tai O depends and focuses more on tourism nowadays. Plans to revitalize the traditional fishing village have been made and carried into action (e.g. the old police station has been transformed to a boutique hotel called “Tai O Heritage Hotel”, nature and hiking trails have been established as well as plans to restore some old salt pans to show and educate interested people how Tai O once was famous for its salt production).
What can you see in Tai O Fishing Village?
Sun Ki Bridge: The Sun Ki Bridge was built in 1979. The Tai O community used to punt-across the river before the Sun Ki Bridge was built. Traveling between the tiny island became quite inconvenient for the Tai O community and the Sun Ki Bridge replaced similar to the Tai Chung Bridge (the newer iron bridge) the old hand-pulled ferries in the late 1990s.
Rope-drawn Ferry Bridge:Finished 1996, Rope-Drawn Ferry Bridge many residents’ life convenient that they don’t need boat to cross the river.
Old Man Rock: The Old Man Rock is as General Rock or Tseung Kwan Shek in Chinese. The rock is a local landmark in Tai O and somehow looks a little bit like a General taking a rest (hence the name General Rock).
Former Tai O Police Station: Situated next to the Tai O Ferry Pier, the Tai O Police Station is a western-style two-story building and dates back to 1902. Currently, the former Tai O Police Station was under renovation and this beautiful and historic building is converted as a boutique hotel and opened on March 2012. The profit from the Hotel will be used to maintain other historical heritages.
Hung Shing Temple: The Hung Shing Temple worships the Sea god.
Yeung Hau Temple:The Yeung Hau Temple is dedicated to the loyal court official of the Song Dynasty (1270s) Yang Lianjie (also known as Hau Wong). Inside the temple you can find a bell cast in the 38th year of Kang Xi (1699).
Kwan Tai Temple: The Kwan Tai Temple honors the God of War and Righteousness and was built during the Ming Dynasty (1488 – 1505). In real life, the God of War and Righteousness is known under the name of Kwan Tai, a general renowned for its loyalty. The Kwan Tai Temple is very popular among locals since it is believed that Kwan Tai protect devotees from all evil.
Tin Hau Temple: The Tin Hau Temple was in 1722 (Qing Dynasty) to honoring Tin Hau. Every year on the Birth of Tin Hau, people will gather here to celebrate and pray for healthy and safe life.
Lung Ngam Monastery: The Lung Ngam Monastery was built to worship Buddha and the Chu Deity. If it happens that you visit Tai O in April you should definitely have a look at the Lung Ngam Monastery. In April, one of the most important celebrations takes places and may be you have to enjoy and participate in the feast with some traditional vegetarian food.
Stone Obelisk: Erected in 1902, the small stone obelisk marks the boundary between Hong Kong and Mainland China waters. Recent studies found that the stone obelisk has been placed too far west and its stated height above sea level is highly inaccurate.
Insider Tips: The Deity statues of Yeung Hou Temple, Kwan Tai Temple, Hung Shing Temple as well as Tin Hau Temple will be used in the traditional Tai O Water Parade. It is an over 100-year traditional ritual and was listed as an item of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage” in 2011. If you are interested in the Water Parade, try to come to Tai O on Tuen Ng Festival.[Read more about Water Parade of Tai O on Tuen Ng Festival]
What can you buy in Tai O Fishing Village?
As a fishing village, Tai O is famous for its specialties such as dried seafood, salted fish, shrimp paste and sauce (XO sauce). When you walk in the Tai O Street Market, you will easily notice plenty of various shops and stores selling seafood-related products.
Most famous of all should be the salted fish that you almost can see it everywhere. It’s almost a definitely-buy for locals who travel here.
As famous as the Salted Fish is of course the Shrimp Paste which also a Must-Buy for all those local shrimp lovers.
What can you eat in Tai O Fishing Village?
When you walking in Tai O, almost every turning and corners you will encounter different street food and snacks. Most of them are related with seafood due to Tai O is a fishing village. People believe the seafood here must be fresh and delicious.
Insider Tips: Tai O is also famous for the Chinese White Dolphins. The Chinese White Dolphins are also known under the name “Pink Dolphins”. Several boat tours are available and offered just in front the harbor side (next to the bus terminus). Small motorboats and local “kaidos” will take you on a short trip to watch these rare and beautiful dolphins.
Last but not least, you should not miss the beautiful sunset in Tai O. For many locals the sunset is – snacks aside – one of the main reasons to travel to Tai O.
How to Get to Tai O:
From Ngong Ping: If you are already in Ngong Ping (Ngong Ping Village and Big Buddha) you can take either Bus No. 21 or a taxi. Taking the taxi is the most convenient and takes around 10 minutes. Expect to pay approx. HK$ 50. If you decide to take the Bus No. 21 traveling time approx. 20 minutes and adult fare is HK$ 6.6 for a single journey on weekdays (HK$ 14 on Sundays and Public Holidays). By following the link you will get a detailed schedule and fare table of New Lantao Bus No. 21 (http://www.newlantaobus.com/road_21.htm).
From Tung Chung: Take MTR to Tung Chung station and exit through Exit B. Transfer to New Lantau Bus No.11 to Tai O. New Lantao Bus No. 11 takes about 50 -60 minutes and will cost you about HK$ 12.0 for an adult single journey on weekdays (HK$ 20.0 on Sundays on Public Holidays). By following the link you will get a detailed schedule and fare table of New Lantao Bus No. 11 (http://www.newlantaobus.com/road_11.htm). You also have the option to take a cab which might be a good alternative if you travel with more than 3persons or if you are pressed for time.
From Mui Wo: Take ferry from Central Pier 6 to Mui Wo.Then transfer to New Lantao Bus No. 1 or a taxi. Be prepared for a curvy ride which will take at least 50 minutes by bus. Expect to pay approx.HK$ 12 for an adult single journey on weekdays (HK$ 20 on Sundays and Public Holidays). By following the link you will get a detailed schedule and fare table of New Lantao Bus No. 1 (http://www.newlantaobus.com/road_1.htm).
Map and Locations of Tai O and nearby attractions: