Sunday, April 10, 2016

Tai O: Where time stands still... for now

When we talk about Hong Kong, the first thing that comes to mind is their tourism board’s memorable televised advertisement made many years ago. It marketed Hong Kong to us so well that we remembered it ever since. Hong Kong is about shop, eat, shop, eat and then shop and eat some more (买东西,吃东西). We certainly enjoyed Hong Kong for its shopping and eating. If you have only a few days, exploration is usually limited to the city area which is a concrete jungle. We made sure to get out from the hustle and bustle and enjoy some slow life.
Southwest of Lantau Island, at the river fork lies Tai O island. It’s well-known for its traditional fishing culture but it’s slowly and surely dying out – common reality in developed countries. The village consists of some dilapidated stilt houses which add character but no doubt, the government will sweep in one day and develop it into cleaned-up tourist attraction. Come now or you’ll miss this nostalgic village. We came here twice, 3 years apart and did not detect much change yet. The tourist crowd is building which is a good thing really. We hope Tai O’s fishing village atmosphere will not disappear and become another residence estates or hotel resorts. We mourned the demise of Sveti Stefan in Montenegro which has turned from a quaint village to a keep-out-the-public upscale hotel resort. We certainly do not want it to happen to Tai O. Other than fishing, Tai O also used to produce salt. We don’t see evidence of it now. Focus is on seafood – fresh and dried. There are abundant restaurants and stores catering to tourists. Live seafood for sale abounds and you can take your pick from the array of choices available. Then choose a restaurant to cook them for you. You can certainly eat and shop to your heart’s content here. Be prepared for the fishy smells that permeate the air as the locals dry their catches and made bricks of their famous shrimp paste. Some travellers may not appreciate the quaintness of this fishing village and deemed it too boring as there’s nothing exciting to catch their attention. For us, we revel in the old-fashioned way of life and hope it’ll stay amid the fast-paced development in Hong Kong.

 Scenic ride on Bus 11
 Fishing boats anchored at the village
 Dried seafood in abundance for sale
 Take your pick of fresh seafood for a sumptuous meal

Cross this bridge to start exploring the rest of Tai O
 Photograph take in 2011
 Fast forward to 2014 and you don't see much change
General Rock – at the correct angle, you can spy a general taking a rest against the rock.
On our first visit, we took a boat excursion to try to spot the Chinese white dolphins. We were fortunate and managed to see some playful dolphins. However it was a bad experience due to a tourist on board with us. She started moaning her fears the moment the boat started off into the calm waters to see the stilt houses. When we went out to the open sea, she moaned louder, begging to be brought back to shore as she felt giddy. It was a memorable bad experience.
Wondered if this is the forgotten salt fields that has been taken over by mangrove swamps. It looks beautiful anyway.

Make your way to Tai O:

1) Cheapest and mountainous scenic route. Take the MTR to Tung Chung station. Take bus 11 from the bus terminus next to the MTR station. It’s about 50 min to Tai O bus terminus.

2) Take the MTR to Tung Chung station. Take Ngong Ping cable car to Ngong Ping Village (about 25min) and then take bus 21 to Tai O bus terminus (about 20min). 

3) Longest route. Take ferry from Central Ferry Pier no. 6 in front of IFC Mall to Mui Wo (fast ferry services take 35 - 40 minutes and ordinary ferry services take 50 - 55 minutes). Take bus 1 from the bus terminus to Tai O bus terminus (50min).