Tai O often comes as a surprise to tourists visiting Hong Kong. After all, it’s hard to imagine that this remote fishing village somehow manages to coexist in the same place as Mong Kok, Central or Wan Chai, which are its polar opposites.

No, you won’t find skyscrapers, neon lights or luxury stores in Tai O. Instead you’ll find yourself wandering through narrow alleys with curious looking dried seafood, bamboo baskets of pink shrimp paste sitting in the sun, tiny temples by the sea, and traditional stilt houses, still used by the Tanka fishing community.

Shrimp paste drying in the sun | Photo by Emily Dickson

This once isolated village on the southern tip of Lantau Island is no doubt unique. And with only one tiny winding road through the mountains for access, it is easy to see how Tai O has remained largely unchanged.

The area where you arrive at the Taxi Stand or Bus Terminal is the entrance to town, where you will find a small market, with dried seafood, bakeries selling local treats (be sure to try some!), interesting souvenirs, and some cafes.

Follow this path and you’ll reach the bustling waterfront, with a drawbridge that connects to the other side. This is where boat drivers wait to take you on a ride to see the endangered pink dolphins of Lantau—another thing which has put Tai O on the map.

The waterfront area of Tai O | Photo by Emily Dickson

The waterfront is also where you’ll find the traditional stilt houses which Tai O is now famous for. A few years ago the Hong Kong tourism authorities tried to promote it as ‘The Venice of the Orient’, but if you’ve ever been to Venice, you’ll be sorely disappointed by the strange comparison.

Stilt houses in Tai O | Photo by iStock.com/aphotostory

At low tide the muddy flats aren’t much to look at; it’s more picturesque at high tide, when you can see the boats come back to tie up for the night, and fishermen climbing the bamboo ladders up to the houses.

If you have time to stay the night, the Tai O Heritage Hotel is really something special. A former police station from British colonial days, it has been converted into a beautiful hotel, with sweeping ocean views.

Tai O holds a unique dragon boat race, known as the Tai O Dragon Boat Water Parade, so if you happen to be in Hong Kong in June, this is a great chance to see the entire town come to life for this local festival.

dragon boat Tai O Hong Kong
The dragon boat races of Tai O are a major event in the Hong Kong calendar. | Photo by yuen yan used under CC

How to get there

Tai O is not all that easy to get to, and can only be reached by New Lantau Bus, or by blue taxis, which only operate on Lantau Island. You cannot take a red or green taxi from Hong Kong Island or Kowloon to get there, as they are not allowed on the restricted South Lantau Road. You can, however, catch blue taxis in either Mui Wo or Tung Chung.

A day trip to Tai O is commonly combined with a visit to the Big Buddha, which is less than 15-minutes away. Most people take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car from Tung Chung up to the Big Buddha, and then a bus down.

Here are the three bus routes that connect you to Tai O:

  • Bus 11 from Tung Chung: First take the MTR’s Island Line from Hong Kong Station or Kowloon Station to Tung Chung, and then take New Lantau Bus 11 to Tai O
  • Bus 1 from Mui Wo: First take the New World First Ferry from Central Ferry Pier 6 to Mui Wo, and then New Lantau Bus 1 from Mui Wo Bus Terminal, which is directly in front of the ferry pier as you disembark
  • Bus 21 from Ngong Ping: After visiting the Big Buddha at Ngong Ping, take bus 21 from the Ngong Ping Bus Terminal to Tai O
  • Accessibility

    Accessible, but may need assistance going over the bridge. Wheelchair accessible public toilets are available.

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