Tai O is on the island of Lantau, one of the larger islands of the collection which make up Hong Kong. Tai O is home to the Tanka people and has been a fishing village with houses built on stilts along the sides of the creek, leading in to the harbour. This is one of the few places in Hong Kong that these traditional Chinese homes can still be seen. These houses date back to the 19th Century and a village has been here since the Ming Dynasty. The geography of the area lends itself to the stilt house with the channels between Tai O Island and Lantau Island being perfect for fishing and building the stilt houses. This small village is rife with stories of smugglers and pirates and as you wander the narrow alleyways and take a boat trip it is easy to see how people could disappear into the waterways when needed.
As with many places, Tai O village is becoming smaller. The younger population is choosing to work in the city and fishing is being replaced by tourism for the main income of the village.
Photography at Tai O Village
This village is a photographers dream. Traditional houses framed with the mountains behind, a busy fish market as well as the daily activities of the local people give it a bustle that inspires photography. Tai O has been called the Venice of the Orient, but the name is about as close to Venice as the comparison goes.
Wandering the lanes will provide plenty of opportunities to capture the remaining fishing industry in the village. Remember to look up as lots of fish dry above street level. Salted fish is everywhere and the woven baskets add to the rural feel of the process.
Tai O is also the place to be at sunset. It is perfectly positioned for the sun setting in the west and on clear evening the view can be stunning.
Tai O Market
At first glance the village feels shabby and the aroma of drying fish wafts in the air. At low tide the boats are hauled out on the mud flats, not the beautiful South China Sea that you would expect in this small village. However this is more than made up for by the bustle of the market.
This market is a favourite for locals to buy seafood and the famous local shrimp paste.
Everywhere there are racks of drying fish, hanging fish and any other inhabitant of the South China Sea that you can think of. There are tanks of live seafood as well as the usual souvenirs and trinkets. Whilst it is an interesting insight to how Hong Kong 'could be', with very few tourists, the ever present smell of fish cooking in the sun and the over enthusiastic shop owners, makes it an experience that will linger.
Tai O Stilt Village
The village can be reached by a short boat ride in a local boat pulled by the Tanka women or by using the modern bridge that crosses the canal. The new bridge was built in 1990 and is called Tai Chung Bridge. The earlier Sun Ki Bridge is also interesting.
Part of Tai O village is located on a separate island but the stilt houses are located up the estuary, protected from the elements slightly. The houses give an insight into life in the fishing village and a boat ride around the village and the coast of Lantau Island will show how fishing has been and remains an important part of the villages heritage.
Next to the Tai O ferry pier is the old police station, now a boutique hotel. The profits from the hotel will be used to help preserve the heritage of this small village. This keeps the historical facade of the police station but the inside is beautiful. The inmates today have a far more comfortable night than the prisoners of 1902 when this police station first opened its doors.
Tai O also has a number of temples - Kwan Tai Temple, Yeung Hau Temple, Hung Shing Temple and Tin Hau Temple. There is also the monastery - Lung Ngam Monastery which has a large festival each April. The deity statues of these temples are all used in the Tai O Water Parade in April each year. This one hundred year old festival is worth visiting for the boat racing and tradition.
Outside the Village
If you want to escape the village there are nice views from Old Man Rock or General Rock in Chinese (Tseung Kwan Shek) as it looks like a general taking a rest.
Further along the headland, Fu Shan has views across the harbour, beautiful on a clear day.
A circular walk into the hills leads to some lovely landscapes and views away from the village.
Tai O Wildlife
It is hard to believe with all of the fishing going on that wildlife is important in this village. However this small village is the starting point for trips into the harbour to see the famous and rare Chinese white dolphins. There are a number of boats that take trips into the harbour, but ensure you select the boat with care to ensure the safety and respect that these creatures deserve. For a higher chance of seeing these rare mammals the longer boat trips from Tung Chung are much better value.
Visiting Tai O Stilt Village
Getting to the village involves a ferry ride from Central Pier 6 to Mui Wo and then a mad bus ride on the Lantao Bus number 1 where opening your eyes was optional. The village is near to the Tian Tan Buddha and the two make a good day of exploration you can get to the village from Tian Tan Buddha on bus number 21.
First published 24th March 2014
Updated fully January 2019