Living in Hong Kong means that we are never short of restaurants to try, cocktails to sample and skyscrapers to assail. However, my “weekend excursions” list is significantly lacking… So after reading our article about a day trip to Tai O, I decided to try there!
Tai O on Lantau is famed for being the only remaining authentic-feeling Chinese fishing village. Relatively remote, it has a population of around 2000, a strong sense of community, winding alleyways, precariously balanced stilt buildings and mystical rafts of old-fashioned fishing boats. Arriving here truly does feel like stepping into the Hong Kong of old. Its sheltered bay position gives unparalleled views of the sunset and almost surreal images of Macau’s bright lights on the horizon after dark.
Ale and I headed there after work one day. The journey isn’t quick but is definitely worth it for the transportation to a seemingly alternate universe. After taking the MTR to Tung Chung, the aptly named Fortune Ferry took us to Tai O for $25. Seated on the upper deck, we cooed at the breathtaking scenery: rolling green mountains untouched by human development, still waters reflecting the sinking rays of the sun and sleepy little inlets with isolated beaches and ramshackle huts. Just as we were thinking it couldn’t get any more picturesque, a school of pink dolphins majestically surfaced alongside the boat!
The dinky streets of Tai O make the perfect maze to wander around and explore. For those feeling more adventurous, there are a number of hikes in the area heading up into the surrounding hills. Our main destination was reached by a two-minute speedboat – the new Tai O Heritage Hotel. Occupying the former police station on a headland overlooking the entire bay, this is run by an NGO Heritage group who have lovingly restored the property to its former glory. The old shutters, some still pockmarked with bullet holes from pirates, have been painted a beautiful dark grey. Original canons lie scattered around the grounds, authentic touches like the lookout point numbers remain and interesting features are highlighted with signposts and old photos.
For Tai O day-trippers, you can simply wander along the headland road to get there, peruse the hotel and admire the view. For the more committed visitor, the hotel has nine unique and beautifully decorated rooms. Each has a sea-view and tells its own story of its former use. With rates starting from $1300, I would definitely be tempted to extend my stay and get to experience all Tai O has to offer, from sunset to sunrise. However, weekends are booked up quickly so you may have to be patient or sneak a day out of the office mid-week.
Ale and I opted for dinner at The Tai O Lookout, the only new addition to the otherwise preserved colonial building. With large floor-to-ceiling glass sheets and bronze-coloured steel pillars, it makes the most out of its natural surroundings, allowing you to dine whilst watching the sun setting over the gorgeous peaceful bay beneath.
The restaurant is intended more as a humble café than fine dining establishment and is combined with an art gallery showcasing pieces created by local artists, with all the money collected from art sales going straight back into the village.
The food, therefore, is not haute cuisine, but is down to earth and comforting. My absolute favourites were the grilled Australian barramundi with lemon butter and the Tai O fried rice. I think I could live off the latter, made with local shrimp paste that is one of Tai O’s few remaining industries; it was full of flavour and had that perfect happiness-inducing touch that I have forever associated with chow fan. Tai O Lookout may not be a destination restaurant on its own, but as part of an adventure exploring the splendour that Tai O has to offer or if you are spending a night at the hotel, we would definitely recommend giving Tai O Lookout a try, particularly as a four-course meal costs only $250.
For those lucky enough to stay the night at the hotel, we recommend that you head over in time for sunset, have a lingering dinner and embark on the hotel’s tour of the local village the following morning. For the day-trippers amongst us, Tai O deserves a full day – plenty of time for ambling around the village, hiking, browsing the heritage hotel, and a light meal at Tai O Lookout before catching the last ferry back just in time to see the sun setting.
To get there: take the MTR to Tung Chung and then a Fortune Ferry to Tai O. Alternatively get the ferry to Mui Wo and the bus; see more information here. Once in Tai O, either walk to the hotel or take the $10 speed boat.
Tai O Heritage Hotel, Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O, Lantau, Hong Kong, 2985 8383
For more details of Tai O Heritage Hotel’s guided tours, see here.