Tai O fishing village, on the far, far side of Hong Kong’s Lantau Island, is a tiny settlement as famous for its pungent shrimp paste as it is for its stilt houses perched on the edge of the sea. They’re funny little dwellings, like miniature wartime Nissen huts on rickety wooden stilts, painted all over with silver rust-proofing paint. They look like the homes of sea-faring hobbits, everything being just a bit more miniature than usual – 8/10 normal height doorways, 3/5 normal size windows, 1/2 strength satellite dishes on the roofs, and 1/3 sized letterboxes. Tai O’s residents aren’t really that much smaller than any other Chinese people I’ve met, but they must enjoy the snugness of cramped living quarters and constantly banging their heads on the door lintel.
|Pint-sized house, normal sized human.|
The village can only be reached by a long and winding road up and over the tropical green hills of Lantau, and while it was once an important port for salt production and fishing, now it relies heavily on tourism and dried seafood for income. The main street is festively lined with garlands made from unidentified dried and flattened marine creatures, strung on long strings from the shop awnings. They look quite lovely but I have no clue what they actually used to be before they were dried and flattened. Squid? Sea cucumbers?
I pass by the stalls selling the local specialty and I’m all but handing over the money for a jar of really fragrantly stinky shrimp paste when common sense finally gets the better of me. My freezer is full of unused shrimp pastes, usually bought for the cool colourful labels, and stored in the deep freeze to mask the smell. I do not need another cutely labelled jar of stinky stuff.
I like Tai O because it’s unlike any other place I’ve ever visited, with its quaint pint-sized architecture and dried seafood. I also like it because the tourism side of things is extremely half-hearted, with tatty old boats offering to take us for rides to see Hong Kong’s famed and endangered pink dolphins (it seems unlikely we will spot any), and occasionally someone asking us in to their restaurant for a feed. It’s as though the locals don’t really believe an entire village of houses on stilts could be of interest to tourists, so they’ve given up on tourism and are all waiting for the day when they can move to the modern side of Lantau Island and get a real job in finance or IT, like everyone else in Hong Kong.
Adding to the sense of quaintness I walk past a house with a very strange and surreal-looking tree in the garden, bearing enormous prickled green fruit hanging directly from the trunk and branches. Durians! Growing wild! And in the background a giant blue tub of….shrimp paste. Bet that house smells nice on a hot day……
It’s an intriguing little place and I highly recommend a day trip next time you’re in Hong Kong just for the sheer…oddness…of it all.
Getting to Tai O
Tai O can be reached by taking the MTR to Tung Chung Station. Exit the station and walk towards the cable car where you will find the terminus for Bus 11, running every twenty minutes to Tai O (approximately 35 minutes).
Alternately, take a ferry from Central Pier 6 to Mui Wo on Lantau Island, then catch Bus 1 to Tai O.