Located on the far side of Lantau Island, far away from the hustle of Hong Kong city, Tai O is an old fishing village famous for both its stilt houses, and for its pink dolphins. I had initially heard of Tai O while planning for my first solo trip to Hong Kong many years ago, but I never got the chance to make the trip out there. Finally, I made it out to Tai O – and I’m so glad that I did!
Lantau Island – the Biggest of the Hong Kong Islands
When most people think of Hong Kong, they think of high-rise buildings and crowds. But Hong Kong is much more than a city, in fact, there are large amounts of land that is uninhabited, and quite peaceful.
Lantau Island is one of those places that feels worlds away from the busy city life in Hong Kong. That’s partially because Lantau is the biggest of all the islands in Hong Kong, and most of it is actually protected parklands. So there is very little development on this island. You may choose to explore Lantau on your own, or you can save time and make it easy on yourself by booking a Lantau Island day tour.
Tai O Fishing Village & Stilt Houses
The Tai O fishing village has only been around for three centuries, but there is evidence nearby of human inhabitants dating back to the stoneage. There is also limited evidence that suggests the area could have been used by pirates long ago, who sought shelter here.
During the Chinese civil war, many mainland Chinese who were seeking refuge through illegal immigration made their way to Tai O. Many of these people, stayed in the area. The traditional ways of living included both fishing, and salt production in the nearby marshes. However, mostly these industries are dying out.
Things to Do in the Tai O – Lantau Island, Hong Kong
The main thing to do in the Tai O fishing village is just walk around and relax. As you wander town, you can also cross a couple bridges that give you a glimpse of the famous old stilt houses in Tai O, which allow for the rainy season flooding of the river.
As you wander around the village, you will find many local seafood shops and the Tai O Market. There are a few art shops, as well as touristy clothing and souvenir shops here and there. But honestly, there aren’t too many of these touristy shops compared to other similar villages. Mostly, it really is about the local seafood here.
Go For a Hike Around Tai O
Of course, there are also hiking trails around Tai O. As you hike around you can observe local life, such as fish and other forms of seafood hanging out to dry. You may also see flat baskets with pinkish-silvery stuff laying out in the sun. They are making shrimp paste or sauce, a popular item used in cooking Cantonese food.
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The main hiking trail will also take you past some old salt fields, as well as marshes and out toward the water. Along the trail you can stop off at a couple different old temples, and make your way in a circle back toward town.
Tai O Boat Trip – In Search of Chinese White Dolphins
When you arrive in Tai O, you will immediately notice people selling boat excursions out to see the dolphins. Resist the urge to do it right away. There are more than one group selling these around town, and you may find better prices if you head just further into town on an off-day (as I discovered).
The boat trip wasn’t very expensive, $20 – $25 HKD for a 20-30 minute ride. The boat took us through the heart of town and gave us great views of the stilt houses from the water. Then we headed out into the open ocean beyond the island to look for this famous creature. The area around Tai O is famous for these white dolphins.
Chinese White Dolphins are also known as the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin. The adult dolphins are technically white, but for some reason, the dolphins here in China actually look pink — because of overdeveloped blood vessels. But at birth, they are actually black (crazy!).
Unfortunately, these magnificent creatures are under a huge threat of dying out around Hong Kong due to the pollution. As of only a couple years ago, there were only very few left in these waters. Sadly during my trip, we searched and searched…but found nothing! What a bummer.
It was a nice leisurely boat ride, and the boat is covered — to help keep you from burning in the sweltering heat. But it’s sad to know that these dolphins may not be around much longer.
Places to Eat / Drink / Stay – in Tai O, Hong Kong
There aren’t a whole lot of options for dining out in Tai O — and most of what is available is very local. I recommend making a stop at the Tai O bakery to grab one of their famous Tai O donuts. You can also pop into the nearby coffee shop, where you can sit out on the stilt patio overlooking the river and the town. (Note: there is a minimum charge at the coffee shop for EACH person — while it looked great, I didn’t stop there).
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I did however, stumble across a little gem; the Espace Elastique. This quaint café and B&B was just what I needed after a severely hot day hiking around town.
I popped in for some a/c, a late lunch, and a drink. Immediately I was impressed with the modern design! It’s very different than all the structures around it in the village. It also had an inviting garden outside too. Inside, they serve a variety of drinks, from craft beer to gourmet coffee, to signature cocktails.
This great little B&B also offered some fantastic breakfast options, as well as other meals throughout the day! The food, and ambiance combined with the great location in town, made me want to stay for a couple nights. It would be nice to be able to hike around town in the cooler hours of the morning, or even better, at night when I can watch the famous sunset!
Another popular place to stay is the Tai O Heritage Hotel. Opened only since 2012, this was the former police headquarters, but the beautifully historic building has since been converted into this boutique hotel. With only 9 rooms and a restaurant, it is located just a bit away from the town and has fabulous views of the sea and the sunset.
Getting to Tai O Village on Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Tai O is easily accessible to visitors by bus, and most recently by ferry. Travelers who are staying on Hong Kong Island can easily take the ferry from Central Pier out to Mui Wo, on Lantau (about a 45 minute ride) and then hop on bus 1 — which will take you all the way to Tai O (it’s last stop).
Alternatively, visitors who are in the northern part of Kowloon or near the airport can make their way to Tung Chung and then they have two options to get to Tai O. First, they can take the number 11 bus from Teng Chung all the way to Tai O (it’s end point). Second, they can take the Ngong Ping Gondola up the mountain to visit this themed village attraction (as well as the Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha nearby), then get on bus 21 that connects them to Tai O.
During my most recent visit, it also appears that they now have ferry service between Tai O and Tung Chung (as well as a couple other areas in the New Territories). I believe it is a newish service, and it may be limited to certain days of the week — and there certainly are not very many available sailing times (as you can see by the photo below). So if you are interested in the ferry service, you best check with the ferry company / pier in advance to be sure.
If you want to have less stress and do want to fuss with all this planning, then definitely look into taking a day tour of Lantau Island in Hong Kong. There are a few different tour options to choose from. For a truly beautiful evening, you can stay and catch the sunset in Tai O with the sunset tour of Lantau.
A Great (But Hot) Day in Tai O – Hong Kong
I enjoyed my visit to Tai O. However, I do wish that I would have timed my visit better — perhaps coming a little later in the afternoon when it wasn’t so hot (I visited the end of June). Cooler temperatures would have made it more pleasant to hike around town. Also, I would have possibly timed it so that I could see the sunset, because I hear that is a beautiful sight – especially if you hike around to the west side.
I look forward to returning one day, and perhaps staying a couple days to relax and hike around the village more, and when it is cooler.
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