Header image courtesy of David Yeung
Isolated on the southwest part of Lantau Island, Tai O is one of those rare places in Hong Kong still rich with history and cultural heritage. With many customs and traditions still intact, exploring Tai O is a great way to spend your weekend. Take a step back into the past in a city that is ever-evolving with our neighbourhood guide to Tai O.
Houses on stilts occupy two sides of a shimmering emerald canal, while a lush picturesque mountain radiates in the backdrop. Tiny speed boats carrying locals and tourists alike cruise up and down the narrow canals, creating a vivid and charming scene. Within the village, local fishermen known as Tankas (or boat people) rise at the break of dawn to produce local delicacies such as shrimp paste and dried seafood. Tai O is surely Hong Kong’s most distinctive and idyllic fishing villages.
Often coined as “The Venice of Hong Kong,” Tai O has a long history that can be traced all the way back to the Ming dynasty. During the sixteenth century, Tai O was briefly occupied by the Portuguese and became a haven for illegal activities, such as gun smuggling and human trafficking. Later on, during the twentieth century, it became an entry point for illegal immigrants fleeing mainland China due to the Chinese Civil War. Though Tai O has always had a large industry in fishing and salt production, it is now slowly dying out.
Today, many locals have turned their stilt homes into restaurants and shops, and while local customs are still prevalent, there remains a fine balance between the newer establishments and the older institutions. From vivid landscapes to scanty alleys and the nostalgic heritage buildings, here are some of our top picks of things to do and eat in Tai O.
When travelling through new areas, it is always nice to get lost and wander onto unfamiliar paths as you never know what you will uncover. What makes Tai O so different from other neighbourhoods in Hong Kong is its narrow footpaths and alleyways. While the houses may seem to be organised in a haphazard fashion, it also comes with a certain grace and tranquillity. Oftentimes, while walking around, you may find pleasant surprises such as modern murals and local artwork among the old dried seafood shops.
There’s no better way to experience Tai O than by boat. A boat excursion around the area is one exciting way to soak up the overall vibe. Right when you arrive, there are kiosks by the water selling tickets for only $25. The 20-minute boat tour will take you through the narrow canals, which allows for a deeper appreciation of the distinct stilt houses, known in Cantonese as pang uks. On the tour, you will also come across natural beauties such as General’s Rock and—if you are lucky enough—you may even spot a pink dolphin or two!
Tai O Market is a centralised place where vendors sell mostly local produce and souvenirs. One of the things to spot is dried seafood, as it is one of the best-known signature commodities available in Tai O. You can find all sorts of dried seafood in the market, ranging from dried squid, scallop, fish, prawns, and much more. Dried seafood is a very important aspect in Cantonese cooking as it provides dishes with texture and an explosive umami flavour profile, so why not make a few purchases to share with friends and family?
Tai O Market, Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O
Kwan Tai Temple is the oldest temple in Tai O, dating back to 1488 during the Ming Dynasty. This is where locals go and pray to the gods of war and righteousness, in hopes that good fortune and protection will be given in return. Kwan Tai Temple is located right in the centre of the village, and the powerful smell of burning incense can be sensed from around Tai O. Naturally, as an important landmark, the temple has also been classified as a historic Grade II historic building by the Antiquities and Monuments Office. Other places of worship you may want to check out in the area include the Yeung Hau Temple and the Hung Shing Temple.
Kwan Tai Temple, Kat Hing Back Street, Tai O
If you are feeling active and want to connect with nature, make sure to check out Fu Shan Viewing Point. This family-friendly hike requires little skill and takes only approximately 10 minutes to complete. Once you’ve reached the pavilion, you will be invited to gorgeous views of the Tai O and Lantau coastline. It is best to go on this hike towards the afternoon as you can get a spectacular glimpse of the sunset.
To get there, walk towards Yeung Hau Temple via Kat Hing Back Street. Once you’ve passed Kat Hing Back Street, walk past Kau San Tei Lookout Pavilion, where you will see stairs which will take you directly to Fu Shan.
Another quintessential place to check out in Tai O is Cheng Cheung Hing Shrimp Sauce. Shrimp paste is a fundamental ingredient to Cantonese cuisine as it lends an extra punch of aroma and fragrance to dishes, and it is primarily made from finely crushed shrimp or krill mixed with salt, and then fermented for several weeks. This family-run business has been doing the same thing for years—making Hong Kong-style shrimp paste! Two types are made fresh daily: one in a more solid form while the other is softer with a paste-like consistency.
Cheng Cheung Hing Shrimp Sauce, 17 Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O
Treat yourself to a classy night at the Tai O Heritage Hotel. Built in 1902, this estate was once a marine police station but due to the declining crime rates in the area, the station ceased to operate and functioned as a patrol post from 1996 to 2002. In 2009, it was transformed into an award-winning boutique hotel with just nine rooms, which all feature an elegant, colonial-influenced interior design. It is the perfect getaway for a night or two, and doubles as a popular wedding venue as well.
Tai O Heritage Hotel, 14 Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O
During weekends, this longstanding bakery boasts the longest queues in the area! Tai O Bakery is famous for its freshly-made Chinese sugar doughnuts—it even has a reputation for being one of the tastiest sweets in Hong Kong. At only $13, this sugary ball of dough is both fluffy and mouthwatering and a visit to Tai O Bakery should definitely be on your bucket list.
Tai O Bakery, 66 Kat Hing Street, Tai O
For a taste of authentic Cantonese food with premium local Tai O ingredients, Crossing Boat Restaurant is where to go. This no-frills restaurant cooks up delicious classic Hong Kong-style dishes. When there, you must try the in-house favourites, such as their Charcoal-roasted Goose ($538), Steamed Salted Fish with Roast Pork ($85), or their Deep-fried Eggplant with Garlic ($98). Almost every dish here includes fresh and premium products from the Tai O area, including shrimp paste, salted egg, and dried seafood.
Crossing Boat Restaurant, 33 Kat Hing Street, Tai O
If you want to unwind and relax on a hot summer’s day, be sure to pop by Solo Café. This homespun café has a beautiful outdoor terrace that overlooks the canal. Not only is the view on point, but the coffee is also unmissable. Make sure to try their speciality coffee and cheesecakes for just $95. If coffee is not your cup of tea, be sure to try their special-tea! Be sure to sip your beverage while taking in the spectacular view of the stilted houses and the vibrant landscape.
Solo Café, 86–88 Kat Hing Street, Tai O
Another little lively café that rests along the row of stilt houses, Tai O Banyan Tree Café is quite a popular spot amongst locals. This charming spot was featured on Netflix’s Restaurants on the Edge and now locals flock to it like bees to honey. Tai O Banyan Tree Café offers refreshing things to eat and drink on a scorching hot day and also sells various keepsakes like handmade bags, clothing, and jewellery!
Tai O Banyan Tree Café, 68 Kat Hing Street, Tai O
Another must-have when in Tai O is tofu pudding. This Cantonese delicacy is both smooth and sweet and is the perfect summer treat. Bing Bing Dessert Shop is the place to go for some tofu pudding. At just $15 dollars a bowl, it comes in either hot or cold. This silken delight is the perfect way to fill your sweet tooth desire and wrap up your unforgettable day trip to Tai O.
Bing Bing Dessert Shop, 18 Tai O Market Street, Tai O