While the days of dead-cheap bargain shopping in Hong Kong are long gone it is still a popular tourist destination, but those who spend their time trawling in and out of mostly the same stores as they can shop in at home are really missing out – as I’ve said before, Hong Kong has more to offer than shopping. If you’ve flown in to Hong Kong then you’ve been to Lantau Island – and probably left it almost immediately. However, it’s worth hanging around or making the short ferry-ride trip to enjoy a little more of Lantau.
Here you can visit the Po Lin Monastery with it’s 85 foot high bronze Buddha, visit the 19th century Tung Chung Fort, check out the Catholic Trappist Haven Monastery, entertain the kids at Disneyland, ride the cable car for 5.7 km trip to the culturally themed village of Ngong Ping, or visit the real thing – the sleepy little fishing village of Tai O.
Once a major fishing port with a flourishing salt producing industry, Tai O has managed to maintain it’s unique cultural heritage and is the territory’s last remaining stilted fishing village. It is largely populated by a cultural group called the Tanka’s, a nomadic fishing people who settled in the area over the last couple of hundred years. The distinctive charm of the village comes from the fact that these folk built their interconnected houses right on the water on stilts, forming a very tightly-knit little community.
Fishing is still a central part of life for the Tai O villagers, although tourism is now a major contributor to the local economy and the local Chinese flock here on weekends. Salted and drying fish decorate nearly every verandah and the streets are lined with stores selling fresh and dried fish as well as the local shrimp paste which is a specialty of the town.
While some refer to Tai O as the “Venice of Hong Kong” I wouldn’t like to mislead you with hyperbole, dear reader. Although, like Venice, there are no motor cars here, in reality this is just a simple, charming, little fishing village. I’d suggest arriving in the morning, as when we arrived at about 10.00 am there was very little traffic. By the time we left at noon-ish a few tourist buses had pulled in and the streets were becoming quite busy, but on the up-side the local street-food vendors were beginning to get up and running and there was no shortage of seafood-based snacks on offer.
Tai O is accessible from Hong Kong by ferry and there are several local, online, private tour companies who include it in day trips to Lantau Island. If you are staying on Lantau there are regular buses going there. We caught a taxi so we could wander around by ourselves – not expensive given the low cost of taxi fares in the region.