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This little place is sometimes called the "Venice of Hong Kong", though it is just a little village with many houses built on stilts over water. People get to their houses by walkways or by boats. Unlike Venice, few people would travel far to visit it. But a lot of Hong Kong urban residents make a short trip to visit it for an excursion and a break from the norm.
People go there as part of a hike on Lantau Island and can eat there cheaply, or they take motorboats. Dolphins are seen in the area, and tourists ride out in motorboats hoping to see them. It is unusual to see Hong Kong people living in houses on stilts. This draws tourists, as does the hiking in the area, the dolphins, a public museum and a private museum and two Hong Kong"graded buildings" called Old Tai O Police Station and Yeung Hau Temple that was built in 1699.
The small town has about 5,000 people who are somewhat isolated on the far western shore of Lantau Island. Lantau Island is a big island west of the city of Hong Kong. Some people live on rickety-looking wooden stilt houses. The village was damaged by Typhoon Hagupit in 2008 and by a major fire in 2000. The isolation and lack of jobs keep the town from growing. Since there are few jobs, most young people move out.
Besides tourism, the major industry is fishing. It was a major industry, but the fishing has grown poorer. Local residents fish mainly for their own subsistence or for enjoyment. During the 1930s, the area had a salt production industry. Despite the lack of growth and the disasters, Tai O is still is a tourist destination that has a market and some temples and old buildings.
In the markets, you can find some of the local catch and buy salted fish or shrimp paste. There are many stalls selling dried sea products close to the bus terminal and ferry terminal area. These stalls also sell souvenirs for tourists.
The Hong Kong government is protecting several hundred sites or buildings in the fairly large area under its jurisdiction. People visiting Hong Kong are usually surprised about how big the territory is. This town has two "graded buildings" designated by the Hong Kong Antiquities and Monuments Office. One is called the Yeung Hau Temple. It was built about the year 1699. It is listed as a Grade 1 site which means that it is a building of"outstanding merit, which every effort should be made to preserve if possible. This is one of the approximately 200 buildings in Hong Kong that are in the Grade 1 category.
The Yeung Hau Temple is said to be dedicated to the god Hau Wang. This title doesn't refer to a specific person, though in Hong Kong he is generally thought to be a general who defended the last Song Dynasty (南宋, 1127–1279) emperor who sought refuge in what is now Kowloon in Hong Kong and set up the capital there. There are several other Hau Wang temples in Hong Kong.
There is also one of the Grade 3 sites called Old Tai O Police Station that was built in 1902. It is an old, oddly ancient looking building that seems like it was dug into the side of a small hill above an old dock. It was built when the territory was a British colony. The Grade 3 sites are not considered very important to preserve, but preservation is encouraged. It is a building that is "of some merit, "but not yet qualified for consideration as a monument.
This building is at the western tip of Lantau Island; basically on the western end of Hong Kong territory. It was built to patrol the sea around it for criminals, pirates, and smugglers. The number of policemen stationed there increased from about 6 to about 170 in 1983. The station was downgraded to a patrol post in 1996, and left vacant in 2002. It has two stories. It looks rather ancient and sturdy, and there are plans to turn it into a hotel. The plan is to spend about 9,000,000 USD to renovate it.
From Tai O, several tour operators run short boat trips to the Pearl River Estuary, not far off the Lantau coast to see the famous pink dolphins. These amazing and rare creatures are also known as Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins or Chinese white dolphins (Sousa chinensis).
Their numbers have been decreasing in recent years due to fishing, shipping and coastal development in their native environment and it is thought they number less than 2,500 today. The pink dolphins are an increasingly popular eco-tourism attraction in Hong Kong.
The Tai O Heritage Hotel is a 110 year old, Grade II historic building and was previously the Tai O marine police station.
It has been revitalized and tastefully converted into a nine bedroom boutique hotel. This is an initiative of the Hong Kong SAR Government Development Bureau's Revitalizing Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme.
The hotel has been in operation since March 2012 and features a tour including the sight of a shootout complete with bullet holes and the converted ammo dumps that are now fine wine cellars.
Irene Flanhardt (a.k.a. Wong Manling (黄曼玲)) is a local artist with a gallery in Tai O, situated in the first floor of a village house on Shek Tsai Po Street, next to the Tai O Jockey Club Clinic.
Irene is a firm believer in local social issues, producing art to themes such as the hurdles facing Nepalese integrating in to local HK society. Many of her works of art are character studies.
Her studio is usually open for a half day from midday to 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays only, but her art can sometimes also be seen in Espace Elastique, a B&B, café and gallery, close to the Kwan Tai Temple, also in Tai O.
It is on the far western shore of Lantau Island that is west of Hong Kong Island.
This fishing village existed for several hundred years at least. It was temporarily under the control of the Portuguese. After 1949, this was a major point of entry for people fleeing China. They came in boats from the north or west, landed at Tai O and then continued eastward to the eastern side of Lantau Island and the Hong Kong urban area. Fishing was the main industry, but tourism may now be the main industry.
In order to preserve some of the history of the village and the surrounding area and to encourage people to visit, two museums have been built. A small private one was founded by a lady named Wong Wai-king. A public museum was founded by the Tai O Rural Committee. The public museum is near the bus station and admission is free. The museum is closed Mondays.
The ferry terminal is close to the bus station. You can go to and from
If you are coming from Central on Hong Kong Island, then go to Central Pier 6 to Mui Mo and then take Bus No. 1. Central Pier 6 is next to the IFC Mall under the second tallest building on the island.
You can also go by MTR (subway). Go to the MTR Tung Chung Station, and then take Bus No. 11 from Tung Chung Town Center.
If you are coming by plane, Hong Kong International Airport is nearby on Chek Lap Kok Island on the northern side of Lantau Island. In 2008, it was the world's 12th busiest airport.
Hong Kong Disneyland is on the other side of Lantau Island on the eastern side. It is about two kilometers from Discovery Bay.
Over half of Lantau Island is parkland. So it is an ideal place for hikes along the sea or on the small mountains. There are well-marked trails such as the 70 kilometer long Lantau Trail. You can find campsites, hostels, uncrowded beaches, and small mountains to climb on.