Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a thing for old towns and villages. There is just something magically charming about these communities, where you can catch a glimpse of traditional life long forgotten in the big city – especially in Hong Kong where rapid urbanization can change both landscape and livelihood in the blink of an eye. And these villages are of course great places for photography.
The village of Tai O (大澳) is a fishing community on the north-western corner of Lantau Island. Often (somewhat optimistically) dubbed the “Venice of Hong Kong”, it’s about as far away as you can get from the city core, being the westernmost village of Hong Kong. The best way to get to Tai O is by bus from Tung Chung or Mui Wo, or you could hike the Tung O Ancient Trail like I did a few weeks ago. As with most villages it gets very busy on the weekends, so if you want a more relaxed experience, plan your visit for a weekday.
Tai O is famous for its wooden stilt houses built on top of the tidal waters, one of the few places in Hong Kong where you still see these traditional structures intact. Many of the houses are densely packed together which also contributes to a tight knit community. Originally settled by the Tanka fishing people, Tai O is now seeing tourism as another income source for its inhabitants. The main streets are lined with shops selling local fresh and dried seafood to weekend visitors, with preserved salt fish and fermented shrimp paste among the popular products made here. The fishing livelihood has been in decline for some time due to severe pollution in the surrounding waters, and this is now exacerbated by the construction of the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge project.
As is the case with many small villages, the younger generations head to the big city leaving the traditional lifestyle behind them. Many of the houses are now dilapidated and abandoned shacks. From a historic heritage point of view I do hope the government does everything possible to preserve these villages.
I’m fortunate enough to live relatively close by in Tung Chung, so an occasional visit is only a bus ride away – and this time I brought my camera. Some friends were visiting from Toronto, so that was a bonus too. If you have the opportunity to see Tai O, I would highly recommend you make the trip. In 20 years time this quaint and picturesque village could be all but gone.