Sure, there’s enough to see and do in central Hong Kong to fill a lifetime. But if you’re looking to get away from the frenetic pace of the City for something completely different, there are few better ways than a day trip to Lantau Island and Tai O fishing village.
Mere miles from central Hong Kong, the stilted fishing village of Tai O appears unmoved by global financial markets, 100-story high-rises, and Michelin-rated restaurants — but for how long is anybody’s guess.
Tai O is easy to get to and, perhaps best of all, can effortlessly be tied into visiting other points of interest on Lantau island, including a visit to world-famous Hong Kong Big Buddha.
Even so, there’s lots to do in and around Tai O, itself, and you may want to consider an overnight on the island you’ve got some time.
(Psst…don’t miss our independent recommendations for where to stay near Tai O fishing village at the end of this post).
No doubt, central Hong Kong is an amazing place full of endless possibilities of things to see and do. But we were so glad we ventured out of the downtown core, as our time exploring the timeless fishing village of Tai O became one of the enduring highlights of our trip.
Visiting Hong Kong’s Tai O Fishing Village
And now for a [brief] Hong Kong geography lesson.
Hong Kong SAR is NOT an island! Well, actually it kind of is, but we’ll get to that.
The Chinese Semi-Autonomous Region (SAR) of Hong Kong is primarily made up of a peninsula connected to mainland China (New Territories and Kowloon), in addition to a number of islands, including Hong Kong island. Confused? Admittedly, we were.
Prior to researching what to do and see during our big Asia trip, I had been under the impression that Hong Kong, in and of itself, is a small island off the coast of China — and to get to “Hong Kong” one would sail/ fly/ swim across some body of water. But, in fact, nearly everything the Western world regards as “Hong Kong” constitutes about an eighth of the size of the Chinese SAR (and former British-administered territory).
This is important contextual information for this particular post because it covers a place that contrasts wildly from my preconceived notions of “Hong Kong,” yet exists well within the borders of Hong Kong.
Getting to Tai O On the Cheap
It is incredibly easy to move about Hong Kong. In addition to the very fast and efficient Metro, Hong Kong has an extensive network of ferries and buses for accessing nearly any part of the SAR.
We opted for the New World First Ferry “fast ferry” from the Central pier to Mui Wo town on the eastern shore of Lantau island. The journey took about 40 minutes and cost HK$28 each (about US$3.50), one-way.
From Mui Wo, we caught a bus up to see the Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha), before catching another bus onward to Tai O fishing village (about US$1.50 per person).
We opted to take a combination of bus and Metro trains for the return journey. Lori and I caught a bus from Tai O to Tung Chung (near the Hong Kong international airport), where we hopped the Metro all the way to Kowloon, where we grabbed dinner. Total cost of the return trip? About US$5 per person.
What To Do In Tai O Fishing Village
Upon arriving in Tai O, it’s easy to assume there’s not a whole lot to do in this deceptively tiny looking fishing village.
There’s plenty to see and do. Now, don’t go to Tai O expecting a lot of attractions, museums, or diversions along the lines of a modern, 21st century world city, like, say, Hong Kong. Presumably, that’s not why you’re here anyway, or else you wouldn’t have left the Central District!
The village has an interesting history as an illegal point of entry from China prior to 1997, as well as having a strong tradition of fishing and salt mining.
Nonetheless, Tai O is a dying village — one that is neither self-sustaining nor able to retain younger generations — and why would a young person stick around with one of the biggest, wealthiest and most exciting cities on earth beckoning a mere ten miles (and US$5.00 away)!
Exploring Tai O, in many respects, is a portal to another time, offering one of the last chances to authentically engage with a culture and way of life that is, for better or worse, critically endangered by progress and time.
With the right attitude, an open mind, and a sense of adventure, Tai O may amaze you in ways you’d never expect.
Here are our favorite things to do in Tai O
Follow along on the map above. Click on the map for a larger image.
Explore Tai O Market Street
Despite its small size, the village supports a fair-sized market rivaling those in much larger towns we’ve visited.
Tai O Market Street is a treasure trove of local foods, ceremony and temple paraphernalia, and pretty much any product you can make with seafood, including jewelry and a variety of pastes.
You really can get almost anything in this market it seems, including…
Only HK$18! (about two bucks) Good thing we were already married by this point or else I’d have some serious competition. All joking aside, a Tai O Husband is actually a tasty shrimp/pork pizza roll. Still stiff competition, I’d say.
Marvel at Tai O’s Unique Metal Houses
Before arriving, we knew that Tai O was a stilted village, but we didn’t expect to encounter structures quite like these.
Apparently, the entire town was gutted by a massive fire in 2000. I suspect these newer looking metal structures have some link to that event.
There is an entire section of the village that is characterized by these shiny homes of every conceivable shape and size, and it’s interesting to see what residents come up when limited only by their imagination and metal sheets on hand, rather than those pesky building codes and ordinances.
The footprint of many of the homes couldn’t possibly measure more than 4 square meters. I am not a large individual, so the photo above might give you a sense of the dimensions we’re dealing with here. More amazing, perhaps, is the fact that several of the structures are multi-level!
We encountered many of these small concrete shrines amongst the metal homes.
Even the residential trash and recycling bins sport the industrial look of the neighborhood. And indeed, this has got to be one of the cleanest and tidiest fishing villages I’ve come across.
“Snow White Spouse Wanted.” I’m starting to sense a theme in this village.
Walk to 17th-century Yeung Hau Temple
The central fishing village of Tai O is certainly interesting, but there’s plenty to do around the village as well.
One of the most intriguing points of interest outside the center is Yeung Hau Temple, which dates to the 17th century and is an easy walk on a sea path from the western edge of the village.
Sample the Local Eats
If you’re hungry for fresh seafood, there might not a better place in Hong Kong to grab a bite to eat! And if you’re hungry for DRIED seafood, you are in for an even bigger treat!
Tai O is famous for its salted fish, which is certainly worth a try. And, of course, there’s the aforementioned Tai O Husband to devour, if you’re keen on trying all the local favorites.
You can even watch market women actively preparing the catch of the day to salt and dry right on the pier.
There’s also a number of market stalls cooking up noodles and other local dishes, particularly during lunchtime.
We also stumbled upon a little coffee shop called Solo Cafe which might just serve up the best cup of coffee in the village. They also serve an array of Western snack items, if you get fed up with fish.
Visit the Rope-Drawn Ferry Bridge
These days, the rope-drawn ferry bridge of Tai O may just be the village’s most “Instagrammable” landmark, but it also serves the important function of linking the two major halves of the village.
If you time things right, you can watch the bridge raised for larger boats passing into the village harbor. Unfortunately, none large enough to warrant a draw passed during our visit.
Hike on the Outskirts of the Fishing Village
Leaving the center of the village, visitors can discover a handful of scenic hikes as well. This one continuing on past Yeung Hau Temple features a strange cement and steel bunker and leads to a viewpoint overlooking the South China Sea.
From here, you can either return the way you came or continue on to the Fu Shan (White Dolphin) Viewpoint, where you may or may not see white dolphins. The path continues along the ridge of the hill, making a full loop back to town, via the Hong Kong Shaolin Wushu Culture Centre.
Where to Stay in Tai O Fishing Village
Central Hong Kong has a ton of lodging options for nearly every budget. Yet, as one might expect, the tiny fishing village of Tai O does not.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t quality offerings right in the heart of the village!
Here are our top picks for budget/midrange places to stay in Tai O fishing village.
Espace Elastique B&B
Tai O Inn, By the Sea
Another good budget/midrange option. A quiet and cozy vacation home for rent on the northern end of town overlooking the harbor. Rated 8.1 /10 on Booking.com. Check prices & availability.
One Final Word of Advice
The vast majority of travelers to Hong Kong don't encounter serious issues with safety and security. With that said, we've had stuff happen affecting our travel — severe weather, road accidents, broken bones, and other nasties.
When we've had these sorts of setbacks while traveling, it's been a huge relief to have insurance — from a financial standpoint, but also to have the support of English-speaking health care experts at any hour.